TEAM SY contributes to the Chambers of Commerce quarterly podcast
By Laura Bennett
I was delighted to be invited to take part in the latest edition of the ‘South Yorkshire Policy Pod’, a quarterly podcast hosted by the Chambers of Commerce in Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley. The topic at hand was innovation, and I was joined by Steve Foxley, CEO of the AMRC, and Tom Rumboll, CEO of Synetiq.
I was invited to talk about our work at TEAM SY to develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem in South Yorkshire. TEAM SY is now working with 16 partners across the region who are running a range of different business support programmes covering everything from Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things to Gaming, Social Good, and MedTech. Understanding how entrepreneurial ecosystems work is also the topic of my PhD which I’m currently writing up at the University of Sheffield.
This blog post summarises some of my responses to the topics we covered in the podcast. For the full discussion, and to hear the contributions from Steve and Tom, you can listen to the podcast via your favourite podcast app here.
Innovation in South Yorkshire: attributes and challenges
As a region, we are collaborative and genuinely want to see business owners succeed. We have two world class universities spinning out businesses, for example FourJaw who have recently raised £1 million, supported by one of the TEAM SY partners, NorthInvest. I’m excited about the activities that will support these spin-outs further, for example the Northern Gritstone fund which is seeking to raise £500 million to invest in businesses. The Sheffield Incubator and Accelerator Network (SIAN) brings together programmes managers from accelerators and incubators to share knowledge and best practice. This means that entrepreneurs and businesses are well signposted between the various offers.
We have innovative businesses and people here, but we need our economic landscape to accommodate more of them. This calls for a bolder approach towards taking risks, i.e. for more people to think about turning those innovations into businesses. This doesn’t need to be a risky endeavour per se – with the right support, potential entrepreneurs can be encouraged and supported to take risks and fail fast within a supportive environment. It’s this kind of business support that the TEAM SY programmes (and others in the region) can provide. If our region performed better at innovation (i.e. if more people were supported to take risks) then I think we’d see more businesses start up here, and grow here, creating jobs for local people and for graduates of the two universities.
What can we learn about innovation from elsewhere?
South Yorkshire has already learnt a lot from other regions, certainly in terms of entrepreneurship. The TEAM SY approach is based on CASTS, a highly successful entrepreneurial ecosystem support programme that Capital Enterprise ran in London in 2017-2019. Of course, the challenges in South Yorkshire are very different to those in the capital city, but the expertise in working with partners and in entrepreneurial ecosystem support means that we’ve been able to embed a lot of the learning from CASTS. Our 16 partners mostly come from outside the region, and through them we are able to learn more about high quality accelerator programmes as well as bring in specific technical expertise.
The Super Connector role that myself, Ceri Batchelder and Samantha Deakin fulfil at TEAM SY is based in part on the Scaleup Enabler role that was successfully implemented in Bristol in 2018. The driving idea is that it requires dedicated resources to connect up the entrepreneurial ecosystem, thereby making it easier for entrepreneurs to access the support they need. You can read more about the Bristol experience here, and follow the link on this page to download the Scaleup Enabler Yearbook.
We also shouldn’t overlook the fact that South Yorkshire can act as an exemplar for other places too. For instance Barnsley is leading TechRev, sharing their examples of good practice with six European partners as part of an URBACT network. The good practice from Barnsley is two-fold: first, there’s Enterprising Barnsley which provides tailored business support and investment. Enterprising Barnsley has been successful at leveraging private sector investment too: for every £1 invested by Enterprising Barnsley, they have been able to secure over £5 worth of private sector investment into the local economy. The second part of Barnsley’s good practice is the Digital Media Centre, a hub for digital and creative businesses, which is at 95% occupancy and delivers surplus income to the council through a wide range of activities.
How can we promote more business innovation in the region?
We are lucky in South Yorkshire to have Sheffield Technology Parks and the Barnsley Digital Media Centre, both of which provide high quality support for early-stage ventures. What STP and the DMC provide goes beyond traditional business support: they provide a supportive community for entrepreneurs; highlight success stories which can inspire others; and support entrepreneurs in gaining the skills they need for their business to succeed. Both centres provide that opportunity to “fail fast” and we’d love to see similar tech-focussed support and incubation facilities in Rotherham and Doncaster too.
At TEAM SY, we’ve long advocated for a public sector led co-investment fund in South Yorkshire. A co-investment fund leverages public sector and private sector funding to provide startups with the cash flow to cover a 12-18 month period. It’s a clever way to double a public sector funding pot, as half is offered by the co-investment fund and half by market investors. It also attracts private investment to the region and showcases the ventures we have here. Our TEAM SY partner programmes are supporting a large number of early-stage ventures which have the ambition to raise investment. We are creating a strong pipeline and we don’t want to lose that to investors from outside the region, when we could be de-risking their growth and enabling them to stay in the region. Enabling startups operating in high growth sectors to make the crucial transition from the startup to the growth phase means those companies will have the potential to create high-value jobs. Furthermore, startups gravitate towards geographies where funding is available. By requiring them to maintain a presence in the region, a South Yorkshire co-investment fund would encourage businesses to stay in the region.
Innovation can feel like a buzzword. The focus of most business owners and entrepreneurs on a day-to-day basis is to keep their business going, to increase sales, and to keep evolving so as to respond to market demands, and / or to make the world a better place. A lot of businesses are innovating all the time, but they might not see it that way. A tweak to some internal processes or a new way to bring on board clients, are both ways to innovate for example. Our regional policymakers already recognise the value of entrepreneurs and business leaders, and at TEAM SY we would strongly encourage policymakers to continue to put those entrepreneurial individuals at the heart of policy design.