The View from Here – Richelle Schuster

Richelle Schuster, head and shoulders portrait smiling to camera

In this series we ask key figures in the region and from our core sectors to share their insights.

We spoke to Richelle Schuster, Head of Innovation Programmes at Leeds City Council and Regional Development Lead at West Yorkshire Combined Authority, about future opportunities and tomorrow’s innovation leaders in our region.

How much of a role does innovation play in our region’s economy?

It is fundamental. Innovation used to be a choice, but now it’s central to how we deliver products and services in a dynamic environment. It’s key for businesses who want to create a positive impact for both the economy and society and the main lever for Government to increase UK R&D investment across all parts of the country.

The “make, break and learn” mindset which drives innovators, creates a valuable business competency which can disrupt business models and change perceptions.

We need radical new thinking to tackle the climate crisis and social inequalities. The rise in impact investing and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) demonstrates the increasing role innovation needs to play. There is $103 Trillion of assets invested in funds that have signed up to the UN’s responsible investment principles. Innovators who use their expertise to solve globally scalable challenges will play a particularly vital role as we see increasingly transparent and accurate use of ESG metrics, move to the heart of investment.

And it’s not just about technology – innovation enables collaboration to  unlock complex problems which require different skills, perspectives and expertise across different domains: in science, data, ethics and the creative industries.

Mariana Mazzucato’s “The Value of Everything” explains this elegantly – Innovation needs both ‘rate and direction.’ As well as pace: doing more and better; innovation needs to answer the critical questions: who does this impact? and who is designing it?


What are the opportunities for our region through innovation?

We launched our Innovation Prospectus in May, which introduced the “innovation arc” concept. The Leeds Innovation Arc is a unique opportunity to collaborate with partners to re-imagine what innovation can do for a city, its citizens and as a world-class hub. Home to Nexus, the Health Innovation Village, and the British Library North, it brings together anchor institutions such as Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, University of Leeds, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds City Council and a network of businesses, to stimulate innovation which drives and delivers measurable impact towards a healthier, greener and inclusive future for our city and the world. Find out more here.

We have one of the UK’s fastest growing digital sectors driving innovative solutions across different markets. The really exciting opportunities are where creative approaches to technologies are transforming the future of the region’s most established industries, for example remote healthcare, green finance, plant-based food manufacturing and recycling technologies for textiles.


How can you help those businesses achieve their ambitions?

It is vital that innovation is driven through the lens of inclusivity and as our Inclusive Growth Strategy explains, we’re committed to backing diverse innovators and entrepreneurs – particularly people with impactful ideas, but without the experience, connections, or funding to move forward.

Leeds participated in MIT REAP a two-year (Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program), alongside seven global city regions. This experience helped us analyse the strengths and weaknesses of our support ecosystem and led to the development of BUILD, an accelerator for diverse founders with socially impactful innovations. The ‘inclusive’ design of which has informed new regional programmes.

The Innovation@Leeds scheme also creates a launchpad for the next generation of business innovators and provides networking and collaboration opportunities for entrepreneurs from across the city. Over 1000 people attended the events in Spring, accessing the latest trends in AI, LegalTech, SpaceTech, FinTech, Green Finance and No Code.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority provides a range of business support for businesses of all stages from starting up to established. The West Yorkshire Mayor, Tracy Brabin underlined her commitment to Enterprise in West Yorkshire by announcing a £6m funding package to support people starting their own business. There will also be another exciting West Yorkshire Innovation Festival in October to inspire and connect business innovators from across the region – a perfect way to find out about all the opportunities available.


What role do universities and innovation communities such as Nexus play?

Fast track connections to experts and networks are critical to nurturing innovation and that is where our region’s exceptional universities and communities such as Nexus come into their own.

It is about much more than the academic networks – these communities connect like-minded businesses and experts in their field and help them tap into the wider international support and expertise required to scale and grow.

Innovation is one of the reasons that teams have come back into the office. Physical spaces for collaborative problem solving, learning and inspiration are essential. Networking is also key and Leeds Digital Festival which returns 19-30 September with a two-week showcase of the city’s digital talent – is a great place to get connected.

For investors, these communities instil confidence, demonstrating how serious we are as a region in supporting innovation-led business and providing them with a home for success.

Explore more insights from our ‘the view from here’ series: