DIATOMIC has brought together a very promising cohort of firms representing a diverse cross-section of society through its accelerator with Birmingham City Council. But for the good start to continue, there will need to be a strong group of specialists actively developing ideas in future years from across the West Midlands, and who are committed to developing innovation in the areas of environmental and social gain.
In addition, the Inclusive Innovation Network is about gathering best practice and sharing learning across the West Midlands and the UK to broaden the innovation economy. Inclusive innovation can be considered as part of a three-staged approach; considered in the design, delivery and diffusion of innovation activities.
We need to challenge the idea that innovation happens behind locked doors: because to be an innovator, you don’t have to be the next Steve Jobs of Apple and promise to change the world. There are many different types of innovation, and not all have to be about disruptive technology. Innovations could be ideas that build on existing processes; making life better for people or work more efficient.
The wider innovation economy must continue to engage with our next generation of innovators to entice the curious. I sometimes ask a group of young people I teach to raise their hand if they consider themselves to be an innovator. Very few of them do. But when I ask who has issues they are passionate about – and great ideas for adding value – many hands go up. ‘Well’, I say to them, ‘you are all innovators’.
Parents and teachers must help to feed the curiosity that children have about the world; and the business community can help to harness that enthusiasm too when they are older.
For me, successful innovation programmes are those that feature great stories that are relevant to different sections of society. But there must also be a plan for such programmes to exist in future years, and an aspiration to share experiences with others: a blueprint of what works, and what doesn’t work so well. From these playbooks, the successes of programmes of inclusive innovation such as DIATOMIC can be repeated elsewhere.
Details of the DIATOMIC programme and innovation in the West Midlands will be covered at the Connected Places Summit in London on 20 and 21 March.
Alex Cole is the chief executive of TIN Ventures, supporting under-represented entrepreneurs, and the founder of Digisheds – a digital skills programme for young people. Alex is also an Entrepreneur in Residence with The Open University, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Independent Deputy-Chair of the West Midlands Race Equality Taskforce. He is a former smart city co-chair of the Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands, and was a transformation director with CapGemini.
DIATOMIC is part of the The West Midlands Innovation Accelerator, which is delivered in partnership with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, Innovate UK and the West Midlands Combined Authority.