Local innovation helps shape South-East Midlands’ bright future

DARTeC and Cranfield University campus from above

Local businesses supported by Innovate UK are getting the South-East Midlands ready to build back better after coronavirus.

South-East Midlands businesses are crucial to help the area and the whole country to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19. Government support is available to help them do it.

This is the message from the UK’s innovation agency Innovate UK and the South-East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP).

They will showcase some of the great South-East Midlands success stories they are supporting in a virtual conference and exhibition on 26-28 January – including:

  • pop-up paper desks for pandemic homeworkers
  • a world-leading aviation tech facility
  • a state-of-the-art 5G network.

Support to innovate

The event will also include free advice for local businesses looking for investment or support to innovate.

Julian Bowrey, Regional Manager, South East and East Midlands at Innovate UK said:

The pandemic has hit businesses hard and impacted the economy here and across the whole country. But South East Midlands based companies and universities are doing the kind of pioneering work that has a positive impact on communities and helps drive economic recovery. At Innovate UK we want to help them do that.

University-business collaboration

During the free, three-day Innovate Local and SEMLEP event, people from local companies and universities will get together to talk about innovation in:

  • Milton Keynes
  • Northampton
  • Luton
  • Bedford
  • Kettering
  • Corby
  • Wellingborough
  • Cranfield.

The event will demonstrate how the ideas that are being developed right here, on our doorsteps, are supporting local business and jobs. The ideas are being developed by ground-breaking organisations such as:

There will also be discussions about the strategies that are supporting technology-led, innovative companies in our area, and the ways they are developing local skills and talent.

And in the virtual exhibition hall, businesses can:

  • find out about funding opportunities
  • gain practical skills such as writing funding bids and pitches
  • discover new sources of information and support.

The next level

Julian Bowrey said:

The South-East Midlands has a really dynamic economy, with great companies in a highly accessible location. There is so much innovation taking place here. This event is about how we take that to the next level.

Anyone with an interest in local technology-led innovation should attend the virtual event to find out more about the work that’s already happening, as well as how our ongoing support for ambitious businesses is benefiting the people of the South-East Midlands.

We’re running this event in partnership with the South-East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership and we have great speakers from Innovate UK, Silverstone Technology Park, the University of Bedfordshire plus three high profile local innovators, Kieron Salter, Dolores Sanders and Jenny Murray.

There will be workshops on topical issues such as accessing finance, developing skills and working with our four local universities. And we’ve got a range of local business support agencies exhibiting.

Further information

Find out more about the South East Midlands Innovate Local event.

Examples of Innovate UK-backed innovation in the South East Midlands

Paper pop-up desks for pandemic homeworkers

Until the first national lockdown in March 2020, Wellingborough-based Pallite was the manufacturer of products made from paper honeycomb board that are designed to move, protect and store goods.

Pallite is 100% recyclable and made from over 80% recycled materials. It had already demonstrated innovation by introducing more environmentally friendly alternatives to those typically found in the warehousing and logistics industry.

However, when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, and people everywhere found themselves working at home, the Innovate UK-backed team at Pallite realised there was a demand for pop-up desks. The desk are made from the same materials as its core ranges, which could be easily assembled and stored away.

Pallite has met rapidly changing consumer requirements by producing desks for adults and children, which can be popped-up, personalised, packed away, and eventually, recycled. Following the success of the desks, Pallite went on to create divider screens for the workplace which are now in use by large organisations and universities.

The pop-up desks have now formed the foundation of the new Paper Hive brand. The company has since gone on to launch even more consumer products, including its newly launched Playhouse Castle.

Encouraging and empowering young local innovators

Milton Keynes’ very own Folu Ogunyeye has been named one of Innovate UK’s Young Innovators for the year 2020/21.

The Young Innovators programme has encouraged and empowered 18-to-30-year-olds from all backgrounds to innovate and succeed. It provides access to the right support and opportunities to turn their ideas into successful businesses.

Folu and the other 63 award winners from across every region of the UK, will be presented with a one-year tailored package of financial support, mentoring and business growth opportunities.

A former Member of Youth Parliament, Folu is now seeking to make change through:

  • innovation
  • social enterprise
  • online platforms.

Enter Folu’s innovation: Vamos Careers. Vamos is a student-led platform that leverages technology to boost social mobility in the transition from university to employment.

Making the very first steps onto your career journey can be confusing. Vamos provides online tools that will make navigating the mysterious world of work much easier. Tools on their Pathfinder platform allow students to explore career pathways that best match their current skill sets.

The peer mentorship community empowers users to upskill, with collaborative resource banks and opportunities to get involved in student-led projects.

Folu said:

I applied to the Young Innovators programme so that my business can make a positive impact as soon as possible.

Milton Keynes-based Catapult ensures the South East Midlands is an innovation hotspot

In Milton Keynes, the Connected Places Catapult is funded by a number of partners, including Innovate UK and SEMLEP’s Local Growth Fund. It is providing exciting new 5G technology to help innovative start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises to address challenges related to:

  • transport
  • health and wellbeing
  • clean energy.

It includes a 5G mobile network designed exclusively for research and development purposes that will cover key areas in around the Milton Keynes area including:

  • the Stadium
  • Bletchley and Milton Keynes Central rail stations
  • hospital
  • universities
  • key junctions on the M1
  • a number of rural communities.

Ten businesses are already set to use the infrastructure and data hub facility for development and trials.

These include Cranfield-based briteyellow, an indoor location technology company that specialises in visualising the ways in which spaces are used. A key component of their solution is the ability to have a reliable, secure and low latency network for the transmission of data. The MK 5G testbed will enable briteyellow to safely and securely transmit private data with greatly reduce risk of a data breach.

Connected Places Catapult is an independent, not-for-profit centre of excellence that bridges the gap between industry, government, academia and research.

Bedfordshire-born aviation technology takes flight

Innovate UK is supporting the future of the UK’s research into digital aviation technology through the Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC). DARTeC is due to open this year at Cranfield University in Bedfordshire.

Amazing things are going to happen at DARTeC, including:

  • game-changing research addressing the integration of drones into civilian airspace
  • increasing the reliability and availability of aircraft through self-sensing, self-aware technologies.

Cutting-edge technologies will create a truly unique research and development environment including:

  • the UK’s first operational digital air traffic control centre
  • next-generation radar technologies on the university’s licensed airport.

The facility is attracting global companies such as Boeing, Saab and Thales to the area, directly and indirectly creating jobs for local people.

DARTeC is being built by a consortium that includes the Innovate UK-funded Connected Places Catapult and Satellite Applications Catapult, and with funding from Research England.

Top image:  DARTeC and Cranfield University campus from above (credit: DARTeC)

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