Chamber Partner Louise Hunter, Director of Corporate Affairs at Northumbrian Water kicks off the new year and Great Reasons to do business in the North East campaign with her blog on our January theme of North East Innovation. Read more to find out how Northumbrian Water embed innovation within their culture, and how they came to build their own Innovation Festival to tackle challenges with the region's great innovators.
At Northumbrian Water, we often get asked why we spend so much of our time talking about innovation.
Innovation runs through the company just like water runs through our networks, and if we didn’t challenge ourselves to come up with new and exciting ideas, or different ways of operating, we would never be able to keep up with the ever-changing demands of our industry - especially during recent times.
Thanks to innovation, over the past few years we have been able to adapt in order to make Northumbrian Water both a reliable and high-quality service for our customers, and a fantastic and safe place for our people to work.
Now, innovation has cemented itself as a key part of NWG culture.
In our opinion, the North East is one of the most innovative places in the world.
Stephenson’s Rocket, Swan’s light bulb and Armstrong’s hydro-electricity are all part of our history here. We play host to some of the most cutting-edge work in the country including the National Innovation Centre for Ageing, the National Innovation Centre for Data and the National Institute for Health Research Innovation Observatory at the Newcastle Helix development, and the National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth.
Therefore, it’s easy to see why innovation in the North East is so successful. Where else could you possibly find such a strong business network filled with opened-minded professionals who are keen to form partnerships or support each other?
With such a fantastic culture of innovation right on our doorstep, integrating innovation into all of our ‘business as usual’ activity made sense.
In 2017 we took a bold step and started our very own Innovation Festival, which has built on that incredible legacy and engaged the best innovators around our region.
This was created in order to tackle some of the industry’s most difficult challenges, such as climate change, diversity and social inclusion.
For the past three years, the festival has been held at Newcastle Racecourse, where scores of innovation experts gathered to hack, dash and sprint their way through a week’s worth of ideas and solutions.
However, last year we were forced to be more innovative than ever before, as we transformed our Innovation Festival from a physical tent-based event into a digital extravaganza – due to obvious COVID-19 restrictions.
Although this didn’t come without challenges, the first ever digital Innovation Festival was a roaring success.
The 2020 festival, themed 'build back better’, presented us with new topics to discuss – including how to improve business efficiency and battle home-working isolation.
We were joined by almost 3,000 innovators from 37 countries all over the world including Europe, Australia, Asia and North and South America – contributing to the North East’s global reputation for innovation.
Many innovative organisations around our region brought their own expertise to the event, including sponsors such as the University of Sunderland, Karbon Homes and Integrel.
While teaming up with some locally-based brands, including Siemens and Esh Stantec, as well as other world-renowned companies, our innovators looked closely at several challenges that businesses faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The festival also encouraged local SME’s, such as Wordnerds, to get involved and share the fantastic work products and services they’re developing.
In the weeks following the festival, we granted almost £130,000 worth of funding to develop a variety of ideas. Eight different projects received financial backing in order to further improve the way the way we operate.
The projects, which will be developed early this year, will focus on areas including customer service, staff wellbeing, leakage prevention and environmental impacts.
I’m also pleased to say that our festival will be returning again in 2021, so make sure to register your interest at - https://www.innovationfestival.org/register/
We look forward to seeing many more ideas generated that will continue to add to the Great Reasons to live, work and do business in North East England.