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Previously MD Club, the recently relaunched Innovation Network South Yorkshire is looking for businesses and organisations to join its network.

The partnership between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University delivers free-to-attend events and activities that welcome South Yorkshire’s academics and industry to engage with each other and build links with both Sheffield Universities. The Innovation Network is a forum for thought leaders to innovate, share ideas and drive future collaborations, to support economic growth across the region.

To find out more about what’s in the pipeline, unLTD spoke to Yasmin Knight, Assistant Director, Partnerships and Regional Engagement & Head of Regional Engagement at the University of Sheffield, and Alex Prince, Head of Innovation Services at Sheffield Hallam University (both pictured above).

Innovation Network

How did the idea for the Innovation Network come about?

Alex: The Innovation Network has been around in its previous form since 2015. The two universities came together thinking about how we could collaborate to form links with the region’s businesses, so the original idea was to provide a forum for our academic colleagues, business leaders and innovation leaders to come together and share ideas, to ultimately help the region’s economy to grow and prosper.

Yasmin: As Alex said, it’s been in existence for some time, but we’re in the process of relaunching and refreshing it based on the feedback we’ve had from people who’ve been part of the Network for the last few years. It’s also about responding to the future and what partners are telling us that they want from the universities.

Alex: We’re relaunching the Innovation Network to broaden the scope and open it to organisations beyond local businesses. When it comes to the innovation space, there’s a plethora of other organisations, bodies and actors, so we want to make it clear that anyone who’d like to participate would be welcome to do so.

Innovation Network

What are the benefits of the two universities working together on this?

Alex: The two universities have a long history of collaborating together. We are both naturally collaborative as academic institutions, so there’s a lot of overlap there, but we also have a great interest in helping the region’s businesses to have as many opportunities as possible to flourish and thrive. There’s a whole range of things that we work with businesses on – collaborative research, mentoring, student placements and employment are just a few examples.

The Sheffield Innovation Programme has been running for around six and a half years now – that’s a collaboration from both universities to allow businesses to access academic expertise.

Yasmin: Another example of this is the South Yorkshire Sustainability Centre – which is a partnership between the two universities, the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority and a whole range of private, voluntary and community sector organisations – bringing together all the actors who can help the region towards achieving its net zero goal.

South Yorkshire has two fantastic universities that are totally complementary; both really feel a deep sense of responsibility for our region. As such, reinvigorating the Innovation Network comes at a really exciting time for South Yorkshire – the time is now and this is an opportunity both universities are really keen to lean into.

Innovation Network

What types of businesses and organisations would benefit from getting involved?

Yasmin: Traditionally, we have focused on the local industrial business base. However, what we are trying to do now is make the Network much more inclusive to recognise that innovation is happening across multiple sectors, multiple agencies, and we want to harness that to make sure there is the opportunity for everybody to learn from each other.

What can people expect from the upcoming events?

Alex: We’ve always tried to keep the events varied, particularly in terms of where they are and how they function as not everyone responds to the same environment or venue. We’ve tended to think about where the challenges and opportunities for the business space are, then brought in either individual expert speakers or panels on those topics to give as much value as possible to people attending the sessions. There’s always an element of networking; peer support is an important thing and always relevant to these events. We’ve also run summer socials as a celebration of activity, and I don’t see any reason why we won’t continue to do that this year.

Yasmin: The summer socials are really well attended and even at the main networking events there are splinter groups who might peel off and go to the pub afterwards to continue discussions. That’s a perfectly natural way to continue the ideas discussed at the events and forge new collaborations moving forward!

Innovation Network

How can the Innovation Network South Yorkshire offer support in the face of challenges facing the region’s business community today?

Yasmin: I think there’s a basic answer to that, which is the benefit of getting people together and talking to discuss solving these problems. That’s a starting point. Then when you bring in expertise and diverse, innovative minds, you tend to find effective solutions.

Alex: That nods back towards the inclusive nature of what we’re trying to achieve here, a broad spectrum of people with different perspectives is key. It’s also important to say that while this is the two Sheffield universities putting this together, we want this to appeal to businesses across the whole of South Yorkshire.

Yasmin: Across the universities, we’ve got a team who are embedded in networks across the region and can facilitate introductions to other partners across the region. The events are free to attend and everybody is welcome!

The Innovation Network South Yorkshire launch event will take place at Millennium Galleries, 15 March, 4pm-7pm. More information can be found here