On 25 April, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority launched its Innovation Prospectus at the Houses of Parliament, outlining its strategy to realise its ambition as a science superpower. Hot on the heels of the government’s Levelling Up White Paper, launched with a fanfare in February, which sets out a plan to “transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it”, Liverpool’s stated ambition could not be more timely.
“Our confidence is founded on a track record of delivery and one of the UK’s most highly developed place-based innovation approaches that helped deliver £2bn of investment in just five years before the pandemic,” Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, says in the prospectus. “A further £1bn of projects is under way and we have a future R&D pipeline worth more than £3bn that would maximise our world-leading and connected strengths in materials chemistry, infection control and AI solutions.”
But ambition will only get you so far. An Innovation Investment Summit – a joint initiative by ICAEW North West, Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the Growth Platform and ICAEW’s Corporate Finance Faculty – taking place on 25 May will bring together experts to discuss how the region can best develop its innovation ecosystem.
In practical terms, that is about ensuring that technologists, entrepreneurs and companies get the high-quality business support and expert advice that they need, underpinned by access to funding, investment and talent in the region’s most dynamic and entrepreneurial ventures.
The Chair of the Professional and Business Services Board, part of the Liverpool City Region LEP, is ICAEW member Steve Stuart, who has practised corporate finance in Liverpool and beyond for the past 30 years. Professional and Business Services already generates more than £4.3bn per annum in gross value added, represents more than 12,000 businesses employing 93,000 people, and constitutes 14.4% of all jobs in the region.
There is no silver bullet to putting Liverpool on the innovation map, Stuart warns. Certainly, technological innovation, R&D and commercialisation are essential for economic recovery and business growth. “If we’re to see sustained private sector investment in the right areas and enjoy the right degree of collaboration between the private and public sector, there needs to be an awareness of what the needs, aims and ambitions of both sides are,” he says.
Mayor Rotheram, who will deliver an address at the Summit, has already set an aggressive target to invest 5% of regional GVA on R&D by 2030 – nearly double the government’s UK target. “It’s really important that we get all the key players behind this ambitious plan,” Stuart says.
“We need to understand what’s going to have the biggest impact on GVA in levelling up. The war for talent is going to get more severe, so it’s important that people understand the quality of jobs coming through in the innovation stakes because these are the jobs of tomorrow.”
The region already has a solid foundation for innovation growth. It is home to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, National Science and Innovation Campus Sci-Tech Daresbury, and has around £20bn of innovation projects either in progress or about to come off the stocks.
Collaboration and repurposing existing technology is key to nurturing innovation, and forums that allow organisations to collaborate on projects are increasingly important, Stuart believes: “Player A sees player B and makes project C. That repurposing is the low-hanging fruit. We’re also aware now that more SME growth comes from innovation than anything else, so if SMEs don’t innovate, they don’t grow. So, it’s really important that these people speak to each other,” Stuart says.
This is about improving the promotion of some of the success stories across the region, but it’s also about getting under the skin of the current modern-day business to understand what it needs to thrive tomorrow. “A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work – innovation requires a bespoke solution to a particular problem. We need to be more aware of what the high-growth SMEs are looking for,” Stuart says.
Access to funding remains a significant challenge, and an issue tackled head on in the Summit, with representatives from the VC community, Innovate UK and the British Business Bank all present. “We have to make sure that doesn’t become the big inhibitor,” Stuart says.
Although universities have historically been the principal applicants for innovation grants, Stuart hopes that more SMEs will muscle in on the action, even though analysis suggests that spin-outs from Liverpool universities are lower than most of the comparable regions. Similarly, Liverpool has a history of not being as successful with Innovate UK Smart Grants and other financial incentives designed to spur innovation.
Steve Stuart, Alex Pilkington (ICAEW North West), Shaun Beaney (formerly a member of Corporate Finance Faculty) and Danielle Carrington (Growth Platform) initiated and organised the Summit. It will include expert contributors from Arete Capital Partners, Barclays Eagle Labs, the British Business Bank, CageCapture, Edge Hill University, Innovate UK, Inovus Medical, Liverpool City Region LEP, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, LYVA Labs, Sci-Tech Daresbury, Unilever and ICAEW.
“I hope we can address that as part of this innovation drive, and there’s no reason why we can’t, because there are deep-rooted seams of excellence and world-class assets in Liverpool,” Stuart says. “We just need to help the world understand that.”
• The Liverpool City Region Innovation Investment Summit will take place from 10:00-12:00 on Wednesday 25 May at The Spine in Liverpool’s Knowledge Quarter.
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