A work in progress…Manchester’s Innovation Ecosystem
By Clare O’Neill, on 16 April 2010
The epic journey that an entire city can go through is phenomenal. And the great thing is, we don’t just get to observe it – we can all be part of it, and help to lead it too.
It was in 2005 that Manchester: Knowledge Capital first published its vision for an “Innovation Ecosystem” approach to developing a truly innovative city region. The point of this approach was to encompass the complexity of real life. National innovation policy was trailing behind what many innovative organisations already knew: that innovation does not just happen in a laboratory, that innovators and entrepreneurs do not act in isolation, and their work is the product of social, economic, and cultural forces.
A thorough, ‘total environment’ approach to nurturing innovation means that a whole smorgasbord of inter-dependent factors has to be considered, including talented people, skills, risk finance, physical infrastructure, business support services, networks and partnerships to build up relational capital and strategic connectivity, and the intangible cultural “buzz” of the city.
In the past 5 years Manchester has moved forward in leaps, bounds, and the odd stumble. And most importantly, this is not a story of any one organisation – it never could be. It’s a story about the talent and the spirit of partnership in our great city.
We have far greater choice for business incubation, with the Core Technology Facility, Innospace, Salford Innovation Forum, and ever-developing work of Manchester Science Park; and the city has won national strategic bids such as the Biomedical Research Facility. Major city developments including the Corridor and MediaCityUK are escalating our position in the UK and internationally. There have been countless successes on the part of innovative businesses and world-leading researchers.
We’ve had a UK first in the form of the Manchester Innovation Investment Fund, supporting pilots and experiments to boost the city region’s capacity for innovation. The Innovation Manchester network and the Innovation Boardroom are steadily transforming the landscape in which our business and civic leaders can collaborate, generate great ideas for mutual benefit, and turn them into action. And in 2009 Manchester won a global award for Most Admired Knowledge City Region, recognising its outstanding journey so far.
It’s also cheering to hear people like Will Hutton, of The Work Foundation and journalism fame, extol the virtues of the Innovation Ecosystem approach and the importance of developing a knowledge-based economy. Will visited Manchester earlier this week, and is working on a report on the future of British cities for the Core Cities Group.
Despite the obvious progress, we all know that we’ve got a long way to go before we can call ourselves a truly innovative place. Anyone who’s visited one the handful of places in the world that really get it right, knows that Manchester needs at least another 10 years, focused effort, and a big dollop of serendipity before we can really say we’ve arrived.
And I think the fuel for that journey will be the loyalty that Manchester generates – it’s a great city and I know a lot of people reading this will continue to play their part in making it better and better.