A major study by consultants SQW, leaders in the field of innovation and economic analysis, highlights that the Bristol and Bath city region is well positioned to rival the top innovation cities in the UK and across the world in the future.
The report has identified the city region as one of the most exciting innovation clusters in the UK with a portfolio of dynamic, home-grown businesses combined with inward investment in technology and knowledge-based sectors.
SQW, whose previous work has profiled the Cambridge Phenomenon and Oxfordshire Innovation Engine conclude that “with its pace of development and the potential going forward, the Bristol and Bath city region is well placed to become a global innovation force in the future”.
The study revealed a number of drivers behind the city region’s innovation success. Its innate culture of collaboration was singled out, boasting a strong interplay between specialist sector and local networks which bring together organisations and individuals from the fields of creative and cultural, high tech and digital, aerospace and advanced engineering, health and professional and financial services.
The success of these local networks is facilitated by the compact scale of the city-region, as well as the fact that many are privately funded and self-sufficient with little dependency on public funding. The network relationships also support a fluid workforce that has moved between the different industries that make up the innovation economy, supporting cross-sector working, technology transfer and collaboration opportunities.
The outstanding quality of life across the region with its rich mix of cultural and creative assets has been key to establishing a thriving innovation economy in the city region as it has enabled a workforce that is rooted in place and unlikely to go anywhere soon. This “stickiness” factor supports the retention of talented people, particularly graduates who have a commitment to “the place”.
With its concentration of talent, the city-region has made a name for itself in specialisms including high value product design, virtual reality, games technology, computer science and engineering, animation, digital design and publishing, TV and film and finance and business technology.
A particular driving force for innovation is one of the highest concentrations of higher education, research and innovation centres in the UK. There is the National Composite Centre set up by the University of Bristol which develops new technologies for the design and rapid manufacture of high quality composite products; CAMERA at the University of Bath, which explores motion capture and VR in gaming and health applications; Bristol Robotics Lab, a joint venture of the University of the West of England and University of Bristol; and the Centre for Creative Computing at Bath Spa University. New initiatives include Bath University’s Automotive Propulsion Institute, the Bristol VR Lab and UWE Bristol’s Health Technology hub.
Together the four Universities are a major source of graduate talent, meeting the needs of local businesses – over half of all graduates qualify in science, technology, engineering and maths and there is a strong focus on entrepreneurship and enterprise across many courses.
There is strong support as well for business start-up and growth with SETsquared incubators ranked the top in the world, at the University of Bath and University of Bristol’s Engine Shed; Future Space at University of the West of England; UWE Bristol’s University Enterprise Zone; the Network for Creative Enterprise; and the recently announced Creative Industries Cluster – a partnership of all four universities, the Watershed digital media centre and industry partners.
Another major factor which has established the city region as a major innovation force is the hard core of ‘anchor’ organisations and outstanding individuals across the two cities. Historically many current leading-edge companies in the city-region have their roots in earlier innovation, investment and business growth. UK semiconductor firm Inmos was a formative influence. Hewlett Packard, itself much smaller now than at its peak, has however been a major part of the technology landscape bringing thousands of engineers, scientists and consultants to the city, many of whom have gone on to work for other companies or start their own.
Aerospace giants Rolls Royce and Airbus draw on numerous suppliers and subcontractors. The MoD’s Defence Equipment and Support organisation, itself a massive employer, has also been a magnet for defence supply companies locally. Whilst the BBC and Aardman Animations have played a huge role in the evolution of the commercial TV and film-making industry which employs 3,700 people, the third largest cluster of its kind in the UK.
The report also shows how outstanding individuals in the innovation space have been instrumental in linking innovation and cultural assets to nascent businesses, established regional organisations, universities and other stakeholders across the city-region.
Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman of SQW Group, says: “The scale of achievement and the trajectory of development are such that the Bristol-Bath city-region already represents an innovation cluster of potentially global significance and one that could aspire, more ambitiously, to follow in the footsteps of North American power-houses such as Seattle or Boston.”
Tim Bowles, West of England Mayor, added: “This study shows that we are a great place to innovate and that we’ve got so much to offer innovators in the region and inward investors. It is important that we take on board recommendations of the report in order to build on the reputation we have worked so hard to establish over the years and fulfil our true global potential.
“That means making sure we bring through the next generation of innovation leaders in the region; create the conditions for firms to scale-up from start-ups to beyond medium sized businesses; further develop the specialist skills-base, as well as talent from all corners of the community, that will be critical to attracting investment by major technology corporates and enable rapid growth by local firms.
“We also need to address infrastructure challenges – affordable housing and employment space, congestion and mobility - to ensure we can accommodate the very best innovators in years to come and earn our right to be seen as a global force in innovation.”
Professor Steve West Chair of the West of England LEP and Vice Chancellor of the University of the West of England said: “This is a landmark study for us in the West of England, a real wake-up call. It is telling us how fantastic we are. But it is also telling us how much more we could achieve if we all work together to realise the potential that is identified here – and that means all of us recognising and getting behind the strengths of our business communities, innovators and entrepreneurs.”
For further information, access the full report here: Bristol-Bath Innovation Cluster Report 2018 (PDF)