Celebrating innovation across the region

High angle view of hotels, restaurants and bars in the centre of Leeds. Leeds City Square and panoramic night view of skyline.

Last month saw a major celebration of innovation in our region with the West Yorkshire Innovation Festival.

An event-packed week – co-ordinated by the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and curated by partner organisations through the West Yorkshire Innovation Network – saw virtual seminars, online workshops, masterclasses and knowledge-sharing forums, brought to life by an incredible array of businesses, entrepreneurs, academic experts and support networks, watched by an extensive online audience from across our region.

Nexus and University of Leeds colleagues really enjoyed being part of the festival and in celebration of this brand new festival on the block, we’ve asked some of our community and stakeholders across the region to share their key takeaways from a jam-packed 5 days:

“Even in the current climate – and coming together on virtual platforms – it was very clear just how vibrant and active our region is,” said Barry Singleton, Chief Relationship Officer at Nexus member business Scaled Insights.

“There is a true spirit of collaboration in Leeds and the wider city region and that shone through across every event I took part in or observed. For SMEs and scale-up businesses such as us, that knowledge-sharing and support is a vital resource and enables us to build further connections, widen our networks and be part of an incredibly innovative community.”


“I was delighted to see innovation put centre stage at the Festival – it was a clear signal for our region’s businesses that they are not alone and that they have the City and Regional authorities firmly behind them,” said Richelle Schuster, Head of Programme Innovation for Leeds City Council

“It was particularly encouraging to hear from a large number of women in senior leadership positions, playing key roles in fostering a culture of innovation across our region. Diversity is an essential part of successful innovation and has been a key focus of our work with the BUILD initiative through MIT REAP to open up opportunities across all communities.

“We are well designed for collaboration in West Yorkshire – innovation has helped us to adapt in the face of uncertainty and brought us closer together tackle new challenges, so we can quickly review, reset and grow.”


“The breadth of content for the Festival was incredible and very inspiring – we’ve been busy sharing, retweeting and mailing out key sessions to all our colleagues and networks,” said Liz Mear, Managing Director at Leeds Academic Health Partnership.

“There were some valuable new learnings around how we work with our partners and customers and our personal values. In health and social care it has been a heads-down, high-pressure period of time and people are now taking time to reflect and ask ‘how am I as a leader?’ and ‘how are we as a business?’. There is a definite theme of working together and wanting to give something back.”

“I witnessed a real recognition of collaboration, not competition,” said Dr Harrison Evans, Nexus Collaboration Manager.

“The power of our region in terms of relationships, connections and community was evident throughout the Festival week and we saw how true innovators have accelerated in a rapidly-changing market. Innovation is a precondition of resilience and entrepreneurs are inherently resilient – they have demonstrated that decisively in recent months, particularly in the healthcare and healthtech sectors.”

Helicopter view of Leeds City skyline

We also asked our Festival commentators if they had one top tip for businesses for successful innovation – here are their thoughts:

“You can’t innovate in a bubble – you need to sense-check your idea, utilise networks and talk to potential partners and customers.” – Barry Singleton.

“Put empathy at the forefront of your innovation and make time to understand new needs: introduce small tests, trials and experiments so you can get rapid feedback to adapt and improve.” – Richelle Shuster.

“Consider your value sets and business leadership role – everything needs to be focused on the end user and the capacity to transform great ideas into life-changing initiatives.” – Liz Mear.

“Good collaboration works for both parties – there is mutual value across funding, results, timelines and commercialisation and for start-up businesses, universities are an excellent partner, providing vital cross-discipline thinking and problem solving.” – Dr Harrison Evans.


We hope you enjoyed the festival as much as we did and if you’d like to explore more on the theme of innovation, keep an eye out for the second event in our ‘The Future of Innovation’ series, which takes place on Monday April 19.

The debate: “How can Leeds lead the way to a resilient, low carbon future?” is part of the University of Leeds’ Connecting Voices for Climate Action week of activity in preparation for the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow in November. The session will also showcase the new Leeds-based UK Centre for Greening Finance and Investment. You can find out more and register here