The West Midlands ICT Cluster has revealed an ambitious three-year plan to bolster the technology sector in the West Midlands.
By encouraging greater risk taking and more investment in innovation, the ICT Cluster, funded by regional development agency Advantage West Midlands, aims to secure a future for the region to compete nationally and globally in the ICT sector, while encouraging economic growth and helping create jobs for local people.
The 2008 – 2011 strategy outlines the infrastructure and initiatives needed to achieve the ICT Cluster’s goals including: focus on disruptive technologies, promoting partnerships and collaboration between small businesses, large corporate organisations and academics in the UK and Europe; workforce development by retaining graduates who study technology in the region; and helping SMEs to achieve funding from local, national and EU sources.
The ICT Cluster’s work is aligned to the aims and objectives of the West Midlands Economic Strategy - which strives to close the £10 billion output gap that the region faces compared to the England average.
Disruptive technologies, which have the potential to generate large revenues for the companies that develop them, are technologies that will make a real difference to the way people work and live. The ICT Cluster has classified these into emerging technologies including ICT security, informatics, mobile and wireless, photonics and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID).
Examples of disruptive technologies from the West Midlands include: Forensic Pathways Maverick forensic system (Tamworth), DPS’s pay as you go route-planning software to help cut carbon emissions (Birmingham) and a specially designed box from IRIS which monitors where a car is and can help reduce insurance premiums as drivers are only charged insurance when they drive (Coventry).
These companies were all winners of the 2006 or 2007 West Midlands ICT Excellence Awards.
In terms of EU funding, the ICT Cluster is putting a framework in place to assist technology companies to gain funding.
The ICT Cluster is creating a pool of profiled companies with information held on file for matching; when a relevant opportunity for European funding/collaboration arises, the ICT Cluster will then guide the company through the process.
There are nine billion euros of funding available over the next five years.
This new framework will open up access to a large amount of financial support and European participation for the technology sector in the West Midlands and ease the process for small to medium-sized technology companies which may not otherwise have the time to apply.
Companies behind these technologies are often found in the thriving science parks in the region including Wolverhampton, Warwick, Keele, Coventry, Malvern Hills, Staffordshire, Birmingham and Aston.
These science parks and the nine regional universities with computing departments are critical to the West Midlands retaining its graduate talent. “By working with these educational establishments, as well as organisations like the National Computing Centre (NCC), Business Link and UKTI, we will be able to keep our future bright stars here in the region”, added Mike Musson, ICT Cluster Manager.
“The West Midlands is regarded by the NCC as a forward thinking region, through initiatives such as Accredit UK, UK IT Association, iCentrum, RFID Centre and events such as the ICT Cluster Conference and regional awards,” explains Mike Musson, ICT cluster manager.
iCentrum is of particular interest as it helps SME technology companies grow by enabling personal introductions to other SMEs and large IT companies. Its activities have gained business for regional companies with the likes of Oracle, EDS and CSC – all major players in the IT sector.
In conjunction with the University of Warwick Science Park, the ICT Cluster is gathering data intelligence about technology SMEs in the region.
This will help to shape the work and support that the ICT Cluster offers. For example, two thirds of West Midland SMEs have been identified as needing help in sales and marketing. It will also be used to introduce companies to each other that work within the same vertical sector, such as airport technology, to foster collaboration and create critical mass.
Finally, the ICT Cluster runs the largest regional technology focused conference in November. The next one is due on 20 November 2008 and the accompany awards will see the best technology companies and public sector initiatives celebrated in a glittering evening awards ceremony.