Machine Creates Businesses Opportunities; WITH Public Sector Funding Set to Be Far Less Available in Future Years, the Onus Is on Private Business to Bring Money and Success to the Region. JOHN HILL Talks to Entrepreneurs from Newcastle Science City's Innovation Machine, a Project Designed to Give Talented Entrepreneurs That Extra Push toward Becoming Heads of High-Growth Enterprises

The Journal (Newcastle, England), November 4, 2010 | Go to article overview

Machine Creates Businesses Opportunities; WITH Public Sector Funding Set to Be Far Less Available in Future Years, the Onus Is on Private Business to Bring Money and Success to the Region. JOHN HILL Talks to Entrepreneurs from Newcastle Science City's Innovation Machine, a Project Designed to Give Talented Entrepreneurs That Extra Push toward Becoming Heads of High-Growth Enterprises


FORMER Nissan digital designer Jo Chan has heard a lot of talk about the opportunities that renewable energy provides for the North East.

However, he believes there hasn't been enough talk about keeping the structures running after they've taken root in the region.

Chan is looking to solve this problem by setting up Seaward Innovations, a company that will offer advice on cost-effective maintenance of things such as wind turbines.

He says: "Everyone is very focused on manufacturing sites, but that commissioning will last for maybe 10 to 15 years. I'm looking at operations and maintenance, which is what gives it the longevity in the North East. Up to 1,000 people will be required to service these turbines offshore and that's a lot of job creation for the region. I'm interested in reducing the cost of these operations. The two major problems at the moment are capital expenditure and operating expenditure. It's a huge engineering challenge, and you need fresh approaches."

Chan does not have a long history of involvement in the renewables sector. He previously worked as a digital design chief at Nissan and helped to design the Qashqai line. However, he decided to change careers and headed off to do an MBA at Cranfield University, and it wasn't long before he found himself brought in as an innovation manager at Newcastle Science City's Innovation Machine project.

The Innovation Machine was set up last year with the aim of encouraging bright entrepreneurial minds to dream up promising business opportunities and pursue them. The project was designated pounds 6.5m over three years from backers such as One North East and the European Regional Development Fund at the beginning, although discussions are ongoing over what exactly happens to this funding once One North East disappears next year. The money partly allows the entrepreneurs to draw a working salary while looking at ideas, but Science City hopes the results will provide a larger payback for the region. Innovation managers are encouraged to explore ideas which will result in high growth and extra jobs, and it is hoped that some of the best ideas could achieve pounds 10m turnover within five years.

As four innovation managers officially launched their businesses last week, another four have begun the process of tossing around ideas that could turn into North East enterprises.

Science City chief executive Peter Arnold says: "We're screening these people as they come through. We're saying they've got to have the talent to lead a successful business, the technical competency and the willingness to look at our approach.

"I feel the individuals have matured to the extent they understand how to build a business. They're likely to be successful one way or another."

Chan's staff is currently working from an office on the Quayside. He hopes his business will grow from a firm offering cost-cutting and operations advice to a leasing company selling important services to the offshore companies. Seaward is already talking to companies in Scotland and wants to work UK-wide, but is keen to remain based in Newcastle.

He says: "We're not an R&D company. A lot of it is about looking at open innovation and how we can transfer it into other industries. I'm applying a lot of knowledge from the oil and gas industry to these areas. It's about having a creative approach.

"The beauty of working in the Innovation Machine is the network of opportunities that open up for you. For example, we're constantly talking to Newcastle University's marine department."

The thinking behind the Innovation Machine is that managers have a little space to explore potential opportunities before picking their best hope of success with assistance from mentors and the rest of the group. Newcastle Science City business support manager Vivek Unnikrishnan handles the day-to-day operation of the project. He says: "It's been very exciting. …

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Machine Creates Businesses Opportunities; WITH Public Sector Funding Set to Be Far Less Available in Future Years, the Onus Is on Private Business to Bring Money and Success to the Region. JOHN HILL Talks to Entrepreneurs from Newcastle Science City's Innovation Machine, a Project Designed to Give Talented Entrepreneurs That Extra Push toward Becoming Heads of High-Growth Enterprises
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