Digital innovation stands as a catalyst for growth, productivity, and inclusivity, something we at Tech Educators hold at the core of our value system. Digital inclusivity has the potential to affect positive change, regardless of gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status.
According to the recent UK Tech Cluster Group report, which is downloadable behind a contact form wall, a paradigm shift is needed to transform this potential into reality for all individuals, businesses, and communities in the UK.
The crucible for innovation lies within UK tech ecosystems, where businesses embark on their journeys, individuals cultivate skills, and interwoven relationships propel innovation across sectors.
The report outlines that the past decade witnessed a dominance of top-down digital policies, often sidelining local tech communities. Because growth flourishes in collaboration, there is a need for Science, Innovation, and Technology policies to foster partnerships.
The UK Tech Cluster Group (UKTCG) seeks to collaborate with government and local leaders to craft interventions tailored for success. Representing the entirety of the UK outside the City of London, the UKTCG charts a course with its ‘Four Big Ideas' for the next government to unleash tech’s potential nationwide.
Globally competitive tech talent pipeline in every region
The first idea emphasises the imperative of cultivating a globally competitive tech talent pipeline in every region of the UK. As such, there is a need for collaborative efforts between educators and businesses to create early career opportunities for individuals with tech skills.
The UKTCG report urges a shift in focus towards efficiently matching industry needs with talent. It actively advocates for government incentives to encourage SMEs to hire individuals from tech skills programs.
Furthermore, the report also highlights the challenges faced by tech SMEs. To clear these challenges, the UKTCG stresses the significant benefits of acquiring digital skills, which enable workforce flexibility.
Driving digital innovation at the foundations
The second UKTCG idea highlights the importance of driving digital innovation at the foundations to achieve a long-term increase in regional productivity. The view here is that contrary to centralised efforts, local initiatives have successfully fostered inclusive growth. They do this by ensuring that technological advancements do not leave behind businesses and individuals in communities.
The UKTCG defines “Successful Digital Adoption” as supporting organisations in the meaningful use of digital technology. This involves process transformation, product and service development, and organisational digital adoption.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for businesses to enhance digital capabilities became so critical that it accelerated the rate of digital adoption. The UKTCG report urges the government to learn from the successes of pandemic-era digital adoption and design a locally commissioned and delivered “Help to Grow successor.”
This approach ensures targeted support for SMEs, often overlooked and best reached by grassroots organisations. It is important for informed, grassroots intelligence to shape government digital adoption support, encourage network effects, and provide new markets for small tech companies.
Furthermore, it advocates for transferring Growth Hubs’ role in supporting the tech industry to Cluster organisations as LEP functions move to Combined Authorities and local government. The report calls for a more structured commissioning pathway to enhance coordination between national and local initiatives.
A UK Innovation Policy which gives every place a chance
The third idea advocates for a UK Innovation Policy that fosters equitable opportunities across all regions. The UKTCG proposes embedding digital tech at the core of regional development strategies through incentivizing “Distributed Innovation Programmes.”
This model is demonstrated by large regional investors collaborating with ambitious tech companies. It also proves effective for place-based economic development. Real-world examples showcase the potential of tech as a catalyst for regional productivity, emphasising the need to leverage industry relationships for collaborative Research and Development (R&D).
The report urges the next government to collaborate with the UKTCG in developing and implementing “Distributed Innovation Programmes.” This involves incentivizing R&D through open collaboration between corporates and the tech sector, fostering effective engagement between larger firms and tech SMEs. The goal is to drive innovative supply chains, create jobs, and attract inward investment, aligning with various economic development objectives.
Recognizing barriers to collaborative working, the UKTCG emphasises the need for Cluster organisations to be central to the design of “Distributed Innovation Programmes.” While universities have a role, Cluster organisations possess the requisite knowledge, networks, and credibility with innovative tech firms.
That being said, the report avoids a one-size-fits-all approach, as it acknowledges the unique characteristics of each region.
Mobilising ecosystems to help businesses start and grow
The fourth and final idea emphasises mobilising ecosystems to assist businesses in their startup and growth phases. The UKTCG asserts the significance of agency and place, collaborating with the government and local leadership to bolster the success of devolution.
The UKTCG maintains its organisations can serve as a connective tissue for a successful ecosystem. Highlighting the need to address structural challenges hindering growth, the report acknowledges the diversity issue in tech and highlights the dominance of specific institutions in spinouts.
To cultivate a more robust startup pipeline, the report suggests R&D Tax Credit enhancement and grant funding runway support outside traditional hubs. It also advocates for targeted tax incentives and carefully designed schemes to transform innovative ideas into commercial value and job creation.
About the Author
James has 8 years with Fortune 200 US firm ITW, experience of managing projects in China, USA, and throughout Europe. James has worked with companies such as Tesco, Vauxhall, ITW, Serco, McDonalds. James has experience in supporting start-up and scale up companies such as Readingmate, Gorilla Juice and Harvest London. James completed his MBA at the University of East Anglia in 2018.