Northern Powerhouse lacks bite without industry innovation

The lack of innovative research and manufacturing technologies currently converted to successful businesses in the north of England is a threat to the Northern Powerhouse’s potential, according to the Bessemer Society North.

The Bessemer Society, a forum for business leaders founded in Cambridge and focused on science and technology innovation, has critiqued government’s ambition to create a Northern Powerhouse, stating that technology developed among the N8 universities aimed at driving economic growth will continue to underperform in the region without greater levels of business collaboration and investment,

Chairman of Bessemer Society North, Tim Harper explained: “Building a Northern Powerhouse isn’t just about better transport links; it needs to include new companies manufacturing materials, components and products the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be built on.

“But while the north has some of the UK’s top academic institutions and the N8 Research Partnership, hardly any of the new technology created here is commercialised in our region, with more intellectual property and revenue being generated elsewhere in China, Korea, Japan and the US. This is despite the Northern Powerhouse region having a number of well-funded academic and translational institutions devoted to advanced materials.

“This leads both to the departure of skilled graduates and – as the British Venture Capital Association reports – an imbalance in national investment. In 2015, 77 per cent of 2015 venture capital investment was in London and the South East, with only six per cent in the North.

“Though it’s understandable that investing in software technology can deliver healthy returns more quickly, investing in manufacturing technologies – while more capital intensive and long-term – can create fantastic businesses.

Harper continued: “If the North neglects these technologies and fails to create successful spin-off companies, the Northern Powerhouse will be a service economy only, in which jobs are already under threat.

Stock Image Industry 4.0 Fourth Industrial Revolution Automation Robot Technology
Building a new, hi-tech manufacturing base could help make the North of England region a world class exporter.

“However, building a new, hi-tech manufacturing base will help make the region a world class exporter. And, make no mistake, this region does have people with the corporate experience and expertise to create innovative companies that will get funded.”

The Bessemer Society North – which is holding its inaugural event and fielding Tim Harper to speak at the UK Northern Powerhouse conference in Manchester this week – is seeking solutions to why northern cities are not currently hubs for manufacturing technology start-up businesses.

This is despite disruptive technology being developed in the region’s universities such as graphene and medical imaging.

Harper added: “Exploiting scientific excellence and catalysing high growth innovative businesses requires more than just academic excellence. It is not the primary role of academics to exploit emerging technologies, which is why the Bessemer Society has brought to the North its approach of combining academic excellence with entrepreneurial and commercial skills.

“Developing a community of serial business leaders and funders willing to take risks that academic and publicly-funded institutions are averse to is about bridging the gap between great technology and the markets that need it to solve their problems.”