The Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Chris Skidmore MP, visited the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in January to see how its ‘model for innovation is powering a manufacturing renaissance in the North of England’. Jill Theobald takes a look at how innovation is powering Sheffield City Region’s companies, products, services – and mindset
“Driving innovation in all parts of the UK is vital.”
So said Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Chris Skidmore MP, after a visit to the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) last month.
Mr Skidmore was taken on a tour of the AMRC – part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult – to see how it allows academia, industry and government to work together to address challenges around productivity, processes and skills in a range of sectors, including aerospace, energy and construction.
Meanwhile Sheffield Hallam University has also been announced as one of three delivery partners for part of the Department for Education’s (DfE) ‘EdTech’ strategy to encourage digital innovation in schools and colleges.
And what’s clear from talking to people and businesses in the Sheffield City Region (SCR) is that innovation is firmly becoming a part of our mindset – and fast.
Take SOT Consulting. Set up by director, consultant and trainer Phil Hornby, the name stands for Strategic / Operational / Tactical ‘because we help at all levels’, with a strapline of ‘Helping entrepreneurial product teams to be successful’.
While the Chesterfield-based firm operates across areas including learning and development, consultancy and intervention, and coaching and mentoring, one of the three core areas SOT Consulting focuses on is innovation and technology management, as well as team and personal effectiveness, and product and services.
But it is the innovative area of product management that Phil is keen to bring to SCR and get businesses exploring and engaging with.
He said: “It can be a little confusing because product managers don’t just deal with products, they look after a holistic proposition. It’s an area that the US has been leading on for some time, an interdisciplinary role that sees teams working to understand customers better so they can bring better products to market.
“I don’t just work with product managers, I work with the whole team at a company across all the departments and disciplines, to bring that understanding and knowledge. The product manager might set the direction, but it’s for the whole team to work together to deliver it. Cross-functional working is the name of the game.”
Phil, who describes himself as a former ‘wantreprenuer’, set up SOT two years ago and today is working with a wide range of businesses from fledgling start-ups through high-growth scale-ups to multi-billion, multinational companies – indeed, he’d just returned from a three-day training session in London when we talk and has travelled as far as Singapore to help clients.
“Big global organisations like Netflix and Spotify have been doing this from day one. But the role is much older, going back to the 1930s and Proctor and Gamble. The challenge here in the UK is most people have either never heard of product management or don’t realise how it can help their business by enabling them to understand their market and customers better – but with SOT I bring ways of helping solve customers’ problems in a way that delivers next level value.
“You don’t have to be a start-up or scale-up, in fact many of the companies and teams I work with are larger, more established businesses. I’ve worked with businesses in fintech, engine technology, cyber security, visualisation and many more. They, too, can also benefit from applying an innovative product and entrepreneurial mindset. Effective teams transcend the business size and really focus on helping deliver customer and business value.
“Instead of each function living and operating in a silo, it’s about building an innovative and collaborative mindset, because serving customers well is a team sport.”
And Phil is already making real in-roads in the SCR, with a number of projects under his belt, including training with the team at SCR Growth Hub and RiDO’s Y Accelerator and also at Sheffield Hallam University’s business incubation hub, the Hallam i-Lab, with a start-up methodology programme for SHU’s ScaleUp 360.
Looking ahead, the SOT schedule is filling up, too, with plenty of collaboration with other current ‘wantreprenuers’ as he works to support the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“There is a new two-year initiative at Kollider, in collaboration with Roaring Mouse PR, called Startup Scale and, having been involved since the initial idea, I will be one of the organisations supporting the start-ups going through the programme. We are also planning the next Startup Weekend Sheffield event, scheduled for April 3-5.”
When it comes to the theme of our feature, Sheffield Innovation Programme (SIP) pretty much explains itself.
Led by Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Sheffield and Sheffield City Region Growth Hub, the regional initiative is part-financed by the England European Regional Development Fund, SIP is now into its second stage after a further £1.8m in funding, following SIP stage 1 finishing in September last year.
SIP covers Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Doncaster and Chesterfield as well as Bassetlaw, Bolsover, North East Derbyshire and the Derbyshire Dales and key areas of support include computing and software design, food engineering and sustainability, materials science and engineering, and packaging and product design.
Client relationship manager Antony Davies said: “SIP aims to stimulate business growth and promote the development of long-term relationships with SMEs, by providing access to a broad range of academic expertise and university facilities and support in the form of bespoke research and innovation based consultancy, workshops and other events. It can be businesses that have a technical challenge and require some level of innovation to help them progress.
“We match them with the skills and knowledge the academics in our Universities have and who are working to a high level of expertise to develop bespoke consultancy packages for SMEs and it doesn’t cost the SMEs to use those services.
“At SHU we have Design Futures which recently won Design Team of the Year for the third time at the UK Packaging Awards 2019.”
Baileys of Sheffield, a firm which engineers stainless steel jewellery at their Portland Works base, enlisted Design Futures to design The CABLE bracelet clasp, a unique quick release feature not readily available in the market.
Founder Scott Bailey described the output as “second to none”, saying Design Futures ”took great time to deeply understand not only what we needed in terms of a short-term project, but what we were trying to achieve as a company. When we are at shows and exhibitions, the development work and design assistance is a large part of our story that we proudly tell everyone.”
Healthcare is another area in which the Sheffield City Region is taking the lead when it comes to innovation, including B. Braun Medical Ltd’s pioneering new physio app which is speeding up patient recovery.
Designed to transform the treatment of patients recovering from hip and knee replacement surgery, personalised BPMpathway app has launched in the NHS and already been shortlisted for a Health Service Journal (HSJ) Innovation Award.
It means patients are now discharged home on the same day with easy-to-use wearable motion sensors and access to the app where they follow a series of personalised physiotherapy routines, displayed in graphics and videos, and can communicate with a doctor through an instant messaging system. They can also report how much discomfort they are in with a ‘pain scale’ and discuss progress at six-week virtual clinic appointment with their consultant.
David Oates, group managing director of the B. Braun companies in the UK, said: “We believe in improving people’s health through everything we do, and we are passionate about developing world-leading medical devices, products and services.
“We are improving the patient experience, reducing the potential for hospital-acquired infections and freeing up beds. Following the pilot, this concept could become more widespread and applied across other specialities within the NHS.”
Accounting might not be the first industry that springs to mind when talking innovation – but the numbers are clearly up in this sector, too.
Hentons is a national chartered accountancy, tax specialist and advisory firm with offices across Yorkshire, including Sheffield, Leeds, York and Thirsk, as well as in Central London.
But the firm has been quick to acknowledge – and respond to – the digital revolution sweeping the business, tax and accounting landscape.
While using new digital tools to simplify their clients accounting behaviours, Hentons is also supporting innovation in their relationships with start-up digital and tech companies – not least with their Sheffield office move to Kollider this month.
Sheffield-based national head of business development and digital Tim Baum-Dixon explains: “Our market is being disrupted with big changes in the way accounts are being done.
“Digital innovations are allowing businesses of all sizes to take advantage of new opportunities and get better and more insightful information to allow better decision making and automation – ultimately creating opportunities for growth and increased profits.
“We work with the best cloud accounting software, including Xero and QuickBooks, to offer a number of cloud-based accounting solutions and packages which are all Making Tax digital (MTD) compliant.”
And the digital innovation is opening up the market to businesses large and small.
“Due to the low costs of software and a move towards a rental model, there really is no reason for businesses of any size not to take advantage of these innovations by moving to digital accounting and selecting the right software for their business.”
By switching from spreadsheets to software, a paper-less office and cost-savings aren’t the only benefits.
“The move to digital accounting gives businesses of all sizes better control of their finances by offering the ability to create and send invoices on the go, connect to online banking, create estimates, purchase orders and manage stock.
Rather than data inputting, it’s a great way to review and improve so it’s a good way to get a snapshot of your business performance.”
As well as changing the way their clients handle their accounting, the digital innovations are shaping the way Hentons operates as a business, too – and the move online doesn’t mean less of a traditional client-facing service, either.
“It’s meaning we are moving into more of an advisory role. Where before you may have seen your accountant at the end of the year, with these digital innovations it makes sense for us to meet on a quarterly basis so we can review and advise.
“Rather than looking back over the year and the client trying to comprehend all that data to ask ‘how has the business got here?’, meeting quarterly means we can sit down and analyse the most up-to-date information.
“We’ve got the tech expertise and the automation doing the behind the scenes work but that frees our team up so that instead of data inputting and processing we can review and advise clients on the current information – do you need to stock more of this? Less of this? Does this profit margin need to increase?
“Our team are local people who know the area and know the market.”
And the move to Kollider is a sign of Hentons commitment to the innovative tech and digital sector in Sheffield.
“There are so many fantastic ideas and little clusters – like the Geek brekkie sessions at Tamper – springing up all over the city, and we’re looking to capitalise on that with our move to Kollider.
“We’re also hosting our own event on innovation and harnessing new tech (see our calendar pages for full details) in association with HSBC as this is the growth area for the Sheffield City Region. Tech and digital businesses are the future big businesses – the Forgemasters of 10-15 years’ time.”