Yesterday, Knowledge Capital in Manchester brought together innovators from across the city; social entrepreneurs, consultants, researchers, digital companies mostly from small organisations. Sir Richard Leese opened the event attended by about 100 people, many reported how the KC exchange network had helped them and regretted that this was their last event. Along with manyother connecting bodies, KC will close at the end of March 2011 due to public sector funding cuts. Participants discuss a future exchange network: most wanted a network between those with common interests, easy navigation between networks and some investment in bridge-building across busines and public innovators and with the universities. Manchester Business School had a strong presence at the event which was appreciated and those from fron those leading public engagement from www.manchesterbeacon.org, www.mimit.org.uk and corridor connects. People mentioned new initiatives – like James Duggan a post-graduate in Education who is now helping NESTA adn NEF with their Co-production roadshow http://www.coprodnet.org/wiki/Nesta_Co-productionRoad Show
There is a need for some minimal resource for organising connection with those outside of the common interest group, to those ‘who don’t hear about their work or get what they do.’ There is a wall between the mainstream and innovators in all sectors and innovators find ‘getting to market’ difficult. However, it is not just individual businesses that need to be innovative but those in leadership positions who can help evolve new business and public co-systems. As an example of this was the Sharp Project in the Northern Quarter, Sue Woodward gave a brilliant presentation on how the Sharp Project work, it doesn’t provide space for any creative digital industry, only those who can see the benefit of collaboration and exchange.
Exchange does not require heavy investment but it does involve some investment. At present, few in public bodies or business are promoted or rewarded for such activity, yet this is the work that adds most value to the supply chains, particularly where the chain is weak. The problem for most social enteprise and SMEs is their lack of access into national or global markets> To emphasise this point one speaker talked about how the ‘geeks’ in the northern quarter were not at the meeting because they were not comfortable with socialising. If HE and business recognised the potential of these innovators, who are the same people thay created facebook, google etc they would find ways of reaching out to them.
Perhaps it takes a community organiser like Obama to appreciate the need for building bridges back into communities. Cathy Garner Director of KC had organised for a link to Professor Richard Seline who linked us into the White House – where the chief economic advisor described the new US strategy for supporting SMEs and entrepreneurs – this strategy includes£2 billion investment, tax breaks, incentives, mentors, outreach and investment in connectors. Meanwhile in the UK small businesses such as Pinchjos are being crippled by NI tax contributions, VAT and increases in supplies.
There is tendency in Britain to talk about supporting innovative small enterprises but in reality giving them very little. Often this is because the experience of being an innovator is not appreciated by those who work in large corporations or public institutions. Small social enterprises do not have the contacts or the time to connect – yet, they can see the benefits of collaboration adn attend the Innovation Network – there should be more capacity within the civil service and public insitutions to reach out, along the lines of the Beacon Projects and an understanding within politics of the need to invest in building connections and developing collaborative capacities. Something we referred to in Place Based Innovation. www.nsg.gov.uk/whitehallinnovationhub.