Innovation needs to be more visible and include ideas from a wide range of people across all disciplines, according to one of the North East’s leading experts, speaking at the region’s first Innovation Festival.

Hans Moller, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Innovation Director, was attending Northumbrian Water Group’s Innovation Festival, where he spoke to hundreds of delegates including businesses, academics and young people, as they looked to tackle key environmental and social issues.

He said: “Until 10 to 15 years ago, corporations tried to deal with innovation internally. They had huge research and development departments and budgets. But in the modern innovation context, the process of bringing ideas into prototyping and into the market is so quick that you don’t have time to spend years and years with your internal department, waiting for something to happen.

“When you have your engineering and research and development teams focussing on their own challenges, they don’t think outside the box. You have to bring in ideas, wherever they come from, and you have to be open to them.

Innovation is at the heart of the Strategic Economic Plan, which was drawn up by the LEP, with support from businesses and academia, said Hans.

“Innovation is extremely important to the North East. One of the ways of delivering that Strategic Economic Plan is supporting innovation, because we have to stay competitive. Post-Brexit, it’s even more important, for economic development, sustainability and climate change.

“I think it’s an absolutely amazing decision from Northumbrian Water to go with this. It’s exactly what I think companies need to do, because it’s about promoting and explaining innovation internally and externally, and making it visible to people, because that’s one of our challenges: dealing with and supporting innovation and making it visible.”

The NWG Innovation Festival aims to engage the best innovative minds, using design ‘sprint’ thinking to explore and create new solutions to some of the biggest social and environmental challenges we face. ‘Sprints’ apply leading design thinking techniques to problem solving. Around 400 people a day are expected on site for the festival, including representatives of a wide range of businesses, academia and members of the public – young and old.

The festival is supported by headline sponsors IBM, Microsoft, Reece Innovation, CGI, Ordnance Survey and BT, who will be leading the search for answers to other big social and environmental questions.

Also at the festival, Anthony Mullen, Research Director at global research and advisory company, Gartner, talked of the need for people to come together to innovate.

He said: “It’s key to make the time for events like this. They are not ‘nice to have’, they ensure the future.

“It’s going to be quite a long time before you can automate what’s happening here today, given the speed with which businesses change and technology disrupts - it’s organic, face to face, lateral thinking.

“The people here really seem to be very engaged and passionate. There is nothing like practical exercises or hackathons to create an extra level of depth, in terms of meeting people and creating working relationships that can drive ideas and actions.”

Heidi Mottram, Chief Executive of Northumbrian Water Group, said: “We started planning the festival with some ideas, but when we started talking with partners and people who come at things from a completely different perspective, things were started to be added in, saying what about this and what about that.

“We’ve got global, leading businesses, like Microsoft, IBM, CGI, BT and Ordnance Survey, as well as Reece Innovation, who are more local, but still very much like that, on board and they have taken it and put it in a different place. So, now what you are seeing in the sprints is the result of people bringing new ideas, and our ideas in areas like waste water and water being pushed and pulled and built on.”

Carol Bell, Executive Director of the Great Exhibition of the North, said: “For a business to do something which is going on the journey and taking the risk, where they don’t know what the answers are, but they want to find out, is great to see.”

The big questions under consideration during the week are:
• ‘Rain, Hail or Shine’: How can we reduce flooding? Led by headline sponsor IBM
• ‘Keep It Flowing’: What do we know about leakage from water pipes and how can we fix it? Led by NWG, alongside a Microsoft-led Hackathon of data relating to leakage.
• ‘Preparing for the Future’: How do we upgrade our infrastructure for the 21st Century effectively and affordably? Led by headline sponsor Reece Innovation
• ‘Tomorrow’s World’: What will living and working look like in 2030? Led by headline sponsor CGI
• ‘How Green is Your City?’: What can businesses do to improve the environment in the North East? Led by headline sponsor Ordnance Survey
• ‘21st Century Reach’: How can we optimise a mobile workforce for a complex network business? Led by headline sponsor BT

The NWG Innovation Festival is also being delivered in association with Newcastle University, Durham University, Genesys, Interserve in partnership with Amec Foster Wheeler, Costain Resources, PC1, Tech Mahindra, Mott MacDonald Bentley (MMB), Wipro, Virgin Media Business, Schneider, Wheatley Solutions, Sopra Steria, Accenture, 1Spatial, Infosys, Unify, ITPS, Esh-MWH, and Pen Test Partners.

People can find out more about what’s taking place at the NWG Innovation Festival at