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Becoming the innovation institute for the West Midlands

With its new accreditation and stunning facilities, Birmingham City University (BCU) is positioning itself as the West Midlands’ primary innovation institute. Joanna Birch, Director of Innovation, Enterprise and Employability at BCU, discusses what this means for the institution, the region and its businesses.

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Becoming the innovation institute for the West Midlands

With its new accreditation and stunning facilities, Birmingham City University (BCU) is positioning itself as the West Midlands’ primary innovation institute. Joanna Birch, Director of Innovation, Enterprise and Employability at BCU, discusses what this means for the institution, the region and its businesses.

Making business innovation accessible and impactful 

One of my favourite books is Ten Types of Innovation by Larry Keeley. In our research, we have found that many businesses think innovation is something only professors can lead. 

However, Larry explains that innovation is the creation of a new, viable offering. It is about identifying problems that matter and systematically creating solutions. 

I think every business in the future needs to be thinking about future customer needs, and can benefit from creating new ideas to solve the problems they face. 

It is key that we make the prospect of developing viable new offerings easier. 

In part, that is about making it more commonplace, accessible and easier to do. It’s about making sure the ecosystem works seamlessly to support that work.

Recognition as a leading innovation institute 

BCU’s mission is to transform lives and we believe innovation has a central role in supporting that. 

As the University for Birmingham, we want to create ways of working that are accessible to all, driving inclusive thinking that encourages us to work collectively to drive change for the better. 

Recently, BCU has received accreditation from The Institute of Innovation and Knowledge Exchange (IKE), becoming the first institution in the Midlands – and only the second in the country – to be awarded such an accolade.

To be accredited, BCU has had to go through a rigorous assessment process. We were assessed on strategy, organisational readiness, core technologies and intellectual property, among other areas. 

I believe BCU’s application stood out as being ambitious, fresh and highly embedded within the SME community. 

They were interested in the ecosystem we have evolved with high levels of stakeholder engagement, as well as the way that we work with our partners, businesses and practitioners.

With our £72 million STEAMhouse innovation centre opening shortly, IKE assessors could see:

  • Our strategic commitment;
  • How our processes take customers from idea to prototype;
  • Our appreciation of the end-to-end user journey;

Creating an innovation centre 

As a practice-based university, BCU has always supported businesses to grow. 

Feedback has shown, however, that businesses wanted more infrastructure, technical knowhow and support, so that we can go on their journey with them. 

STEAMhouse has been central to creating that infrastructure.  

Through it we have created a space for everyone to experiment, test and develop new knowledge products and services using a STEAM-based approach with a view to establishing a vibrant community of practice. 

This community of learners is under one roof with our startups, micro businesses, SMEs, artists, academics, policy makers and more. 

Combined, it is a powerful force for creating responses to the future challenges, needs and opportunities of our world.    

The IKE accreditation forms a powerful alliance with this infrastructure to help these communities build the knowhow to take those ideas and opportunities back to their respective organisations, in order to implement and scale them.

Building innovative capacity for businesses, students and more 

Our IKE accreditation will afford us the ability to help skill up innovation practitioners to support them in scaling up their ambitions, equipping them with step-by-step guides on where to start, how to support new ideas and implement them. 

Through the process, they will become part of a wider innovation community. 

They will use that insight internally or with our specialist academics to signpost them to the wider ecosystem, should they require alternate support. 

It is our intention to encourage and work with businesses, stakeholders, public and third sector and practitioners to ensure Birmingham and its global partners become a real force for innovation across the UK and beyond.  

In the short term, our focus will be on building up innovative capacity, ensuring more students, more graduates, more SMEs and larger businesses have access to the toolkits which really help seed a shift the culture that is critical to drive innovation. 

We hope that this accredited learning will empower businesses and partners to drive innovation and growth in a practical, inclusive and informative way, making the challenge feel much more accessible. 

I believe that STEAMhouse and our IKE accreditation show that BCU is wholly committed to supporting the region to continue its journey in supporting growth. 

Looking to innovate your business? Look no further than our STEAMhouse facility. Click the button below to discover how our products and services can help you.

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