Whilst the new decade has certainly brought with it a period of change, I’m sure that out of this will come great opportunities and the innovative businesses within our region will be integral in capitalising on these, and ultimately kick-starting our economy again.
Leeds and the University has a history of world-changing ideas, with many of the innovations having a positive economic and societal impact globally. Today, that work continues at the University of Leeds and Nexus, where our community is already making significant impact on our evolving environment and has been able to adapt to the challenges of the recent pandemic – something I’m immensely proud of.
What that new world will look like is concentrating the minds of our scientific advisers, political leaders and data analysts – and nobody can really say for sure right now how the future will look. But as leaders we also have the ability to shape this and our own environment going forward.
COVID-19 has proved more than ever our ability to work virtually, embracing technology which in reality has been around for a decade or more, and has seen digital, cloud-based and online companies thrive in this time. Whilst as a whole we’ve coped well with this, for me certainly and many others, it hasn’t replaced the need for face-to-face interactions. It’s particularly critical whilst businesses are trying to re-invent their products and services and developing new commercial models. This is all about innovation and thinking creatively which is most effective in person. Often the most significant inventions came out of spontaneous meetings and conversations, which are difficult to plan when you’re working remotely. It’s also hugely important in re-skilling and upskilling colleagues – nothing will truly replace face-to-face interactions.
Something which is ingrained into the Nexus culture, is working in a space that allows those spontaneous conversations and promotes collaboration. Employees are undoubtedly getting used to working from home and their ‘new normal’, but the need to bring teams together for specific activities around engagement, communication and innovation remains. Spaces like Nexus provide an excellent environment for facilitated workshops and seminars to drive innovation and connectivity within a business.
We’ve also seen a change in the way in which we live and work in city centres. Our online activities have accelerated which has led to the further decline in the high street, and gone are the days of large corporates and SMEs competing for large central offices who offer nothing more than a space to work. As the demand for city centre spaces reduces, commercial property prices will drop, and the need for office spaces to add value in other ways will increase. There’s also likely to be a large number of budding entrepreneurs and graduates who will be struggling to get a job in this changing world who make the leap to start their own business. With that, we’re likely to see an increase in the number of start-ups and entrepreneurs starting their journeys from outside the city centre too, and as a region, we have to make sure that the support available to these businesses isn’t location-specific.
This has been a focus for Nexus for a while, and as a result, we have launched our Community Membership Package. This will provide many of the benefits of being part of the Nexus community, including access to research and innovation at the University and connection to the wider ecosystem, for those who don’t have a space requirement.
More than ever, the world’s rapidly changing and we’re constantly finding new and innovative ways to support our members, their requirements and the challenges they’re facing. Whilst recently we’ve been looking back on the great successes of our first year, as innovators and entrepreneurs, we habitually look forward, and there’s a great deal of things happening at Nexus to look forward to…
MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (MIT REAP)
Based on what has been a truly inspiring first year of innovation and business development from our member businesses we’re busy planning for future growth and looking at all the ways we can support collaboration between our entrepreneurs, the brilliant academic minds from the University of Leeds and across the Leeds City Region and beyond.
We’re expanding our business support programmes and developing new initiatives to help take member businesses to the next level and further increase our contribution to the Leeds City Region ecosystem and the wider UK economy.
Leeds’ place on the prestigious Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT REAP – has enabled us to develop an evidence-based strategy to support entrepreneurs and fast-growing businesses, make Leeds and the City region globally recognised as a place where those with the most innovative ideas can solve societal problems, and create new market opportunities.
In order for this to happen, it’s essential there’s a strong pipeline of entrepreneurs with great ideas, and that they have the support networks in place to help them thrive. This in turn will drive regional economic growth, delivering job creation and solutions that are societally useful and commercially viable.
To date, Professor Lisa Roberts, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research and Innovation at the University of Leeds has been leading Team Leeds. As Lisa moves into her new role as VC at Exeter University, I am delighted to be taking over that leadership following Nexus’ and the University’s contribution and commitment to the programme to date, and I look forward to our continued work as part of the programme going forward.
Mentoring to Innovate
Based on the MIT VMS model, and in my experience, we believe that start-up businesses are far more likely to thrive when the entrepreneur can draw on the advice and guidance of a team of mentors with proven skills and experience in their area. This model has a 20-year proven track record of success and so we’re using it to launch the Nexus Venture Mentoring Service (NVMS) – a team-based mentoring programme to support the leaders of our high growth tech-led member businesses to develop, grow and expand their network.
Our mentoring service will also be expanded to support the new Michael Beverley Innovation Fellowship Programme, which aims to embed innovation at the heart of academic life at Leeds by focusing on the next generation of research leaders.
Providing a boost for innovation engagement across targeted cohorts of early career academics, external experts and senior academic mentors will support the fellows in implementing their plans. Our aim is to further build the reputations of both the University and the City of Leeds as destinations where entrepreneurs should base themselves in order to thrive.
Partnering with Professional Services
We’re also further expanding our member businesses’ access to the best professional services advice and support. It’s imperative that businesses receive the right advice at each stage of their journey and as such we’re delighted to announce two new strategic partnerships.
Squire Patton Boggs have joined the Nexus community as our new legal partners and HGF join us as IP partners, offering access to a wealth of support services for our members. They’ve already started to make an impact on our member businesses and we look forward to introducing them to many more over the coming months.
Our vision is for the University of Leeds and Nexus to become an even stronger powerhouse for innovation, recognised nationally and internationally as a benchmark for how universities work seamlessly with businesses. In the short term, we’ll be turning our focus to supporting the regional economic recovery, and ensuring that businesses have the support and capabilities to thrive and kick-start the economy again.
There is a great deal to look forward to and we can’t wait to see the amazing achievements and impact of our community over the next 12 months.
Find out more about the vision for Nexus and our thoughts on the future of the Leeds Innovation Ecosystem in our Community Report: We Are One