Innovation Birmingham – An increasingly important asset for Birmingham’s Digital Sector

Innovation Birmingham – An increasingly important asset for Birmingham’s Digital Sector

Birmingham launched its Smart City Road Map in 2014 and a key component in delivering its vision around growing the digital economy, is Innovation Birmingham. I talked to the CEO David Hardman recently to find out more.

Dr David Hardman, CEO Innovation Birmingham

Innovation Birmingham is located in the emerging Knowledge Quarter comprised of Aston University, the new Birmingham City University campus, the 3 Academies, Birmingham Metropolitan College and the Innovation Birmingham Campus.

Innovation Birmingham was the brainchild of David who arrived at the then Aston Science Park in November 2008. He found a science park  based on real estate not science;  with a tech-innovation centre with ‘approximately 50% occupancy of which only 45% was tech based’.

His leadership has been vital in turning round the rebranded Innovation Birmingham. David is a real advocate of the importance of the digital economy and has increasingly focussed Innovation Birmingham around this sector and as a result he is the Tech/Digital City lead for Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP.

He has often been quoted as saying that the wider Birmingham area is under rated for the size and breadth of its digital sector.  Looking at the recent Tech Nation Report it falls into the trap of looking solely at Birmingham. However, by adjusting to a Greater Birmingham focus this shows that outside of London, Birmingham vies with Bath and Bristol in the size of its tech cluster with only 20% fewer firms than that of Greater Manchester i.e., it is joint third in the UK. Innovation Birmingham is increasingly a key asset in this economy.

David has focussed his efforts significantly on building a digital community both in the buildings but also connecting to a wider community. Innovation Birmingham for instance run regular TechWed events focussed on key issues in the digital field.

Innovation Birmingham has also become one of the best connected buildings in the UK. It currently boasts 30 gigabits per second connectivity – and through its partnership with CISCO was a founding member of the National Virtual Incubator network.

He also has overseen the growth of incubator activities. The Entrepreneurs for the Future programme has to date supported 110 start ups since 2009; business which have raised over £7.6 m of equity finance and created over 200 jobs.

When he arrived there was vacant and under-utilised space. He outlined that ’ the Faraday Wharf Innovation Centre is now 100% full and there is a waiting list of occupants and great demand for the incubator programmes. There was a 19% churn last year but it remained full.’ 

The building is now 80-90% tech focussed and now hosts firms such asSynapse and Majestic12 which are now both well established each employing over 25 staff. Upwards of 750 people now work in the building and because of this success he has had to downsize his management offices to create more space for clients.

So what’s on the cards looking forward. He stressed that 2016 is going to be a really significant year. There are three exciting developments.

The ICentrum centre is under development currently. David believes that ‘iCentrum will be a beacon for Birmingham’s Smart City/Knowledge city ambitions’

ICentrum – under construction June 2015

I-Centrum image 1 - without logo

This facility will be focussed on four key areas where digital technology can make a difference in the wider economy/society.  Namely:

  • Intelligent Mobility
  • Digital Health
  • Built Environment (including low carbon and energy)
  • Internet of Things

A whole floor of the new building will be dedicated to  ‘Serendip’ a Smart City incubator – where 4 corporate partners will work alongside Innovation Birmingham to mentor and support SMEs in these four key sectors. He is keen for these sectors to interact as well as he stressed ‘Creative spillover will be encouraged’.

He wants to strengthen the concept of community and co-working that has evolved in the current building. He indicated how it will move from ‘creative chaos on the ground floor to more structured space on higher floors’ with event space/café and co-working space on the ground/ mezzanine floor.

This £7.8m development will have space for up to 400 people to work from it and is forecast to create an extra £25m GVA per annum for Birmingham. This is due to open in March 2016.

Working closely with Aston University they have also recently been awarded Local Growth Fund monies to extend the existing facility to link SMEs to the five key local Universities via state of the art video conferencing facilities. This for instance will link activities in the building to the Incubator/co-working space BizzInn at the University of Birmingham. This is due to open in August 2016.

Innovation Birmingham is also planning to develop a maker space as part of the campus. ‘Maker Wharf’, due to its proximity to the canal, will help the local manufacturing economy benefit from the growing digital strengths of the region. They are working with the London Fablab and Aston University to detail it and already two floors of the building are pre-let. The aim is to open this facility in December 2016.

Birmingham is really focussing on growing its digital sector. Some success has been had in attracting inward investment such as the location of ASOS’s international web team in the city in 2013. David in his LEP role is keen to attract more such significant investments and stresses the importance of getting such big players involved in growing and promoting the Birmingham digital eco system. What is clear though is Innovation Birmingham and David through his leadership will be playing an increasingly important role in nurturing this vital sector.

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