April 2020 marked the beginning of the Acceleration Through Innovation 2 (ATI2) project, a 3 year ERDF project which launched during lockdown.
Our first year has been a year like no other, but we are proud to have been able to support Cornish businesses during one of the most challenging and difficult periods in history.
To date, ATI2 has engaged with 283 businesses and registered 134 small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) with the programme. We’ve also awarded 17 innovation grants to a total value of £266K, to support business innovation and growth, and accelerate projects throughout Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
The ATI2 team are the busiest they have been and it’s a sign of the times that businesses in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (particularly those in the retail, hospitality and tourism sectors) are struggling.
But with radical change also comes opportunity and we have observed certain patterns emerging in the type of innovation support that Cornwall’s businesses are seeking.
Of the SME’s we are working with, we’ve noted that the majority have been focusing their innovation efforts on two key areas:
Making incremental improvements to their existing products, for example adjusting existing products to new markets or producing changes to those products to create new ones.
Reviewing process improvements and streamlining systems, such as the introduction of new software to improve business outputs.
Mostly due to the adverse effects of the pandemic, a large proportion of businesses engaging with our programme have seen a reduction in orders from their existing client base. This has created a need for them to diversify, pivot their existing business strategy, perhaps digitise their offering and explore other opportunities by entering and growing their share of new markets.
That being said, due to ongoing financial uncertainty and the instability of markets, there has been some hesitancy to invest in higher risk R&D projects or prototyping. It’s worth noting that several businesses we’re working with have opted to redirect costs to efficiency and process development instead, and this is reflective of what’s happening nationally in the current climate.
As a consequence of Covid, and to a certain extent Brexit, several innovation projects have slowed, however, high tech start-ups are still making progress despite experiencing delays. This is something we are mindful of as a project and, where possible, ATI2 remain agile and able to adjust our approach to address the emerging needs and challenges of businesses here in Cornwall.
Pop-up Centre Facilities Move Online
Just like the businesses we work with, ATI2 has also had to adapt our support and services by temporarily moving the Pop-up Innovation Centre online. For obvious reasons, with the changing Covid-19 restrictions and successive lockdowns, the project was unable to operate our face-to-face Pop-Up facility or mobile unit as we had originally planned when ATI2 was conceptualised.
Until such times when we can meet again, the programme launched the Virtual Pop-up Centre on Facebook to support SME’s in this increasingly challenging and difficult climate. Similarly to our in-person facilities, the purpose of the virtual group is to continue our outreach activities in those harder to reach areas, by shining a light on the vast array of business support pathways across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
The group now consists of over 100+ business members and acts as a platform for business owners and entrepreneurs to engage with ATI2’s various business support partners and extensive network of advisors. If you would like to join the group to keep up-to-date with all the latest business support news, updates, events and grants, click here.
The Virtual Pop-up Centre is currently working with thirteen other delivery partner organisations, examples of which include the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Growth Hub, Cornwall Council’s Business Regulatory Support and the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce.
Looking towards the future and as soon as Government guidelines allow, we hope to once again open static Pop-up Centres and begin operating a mobile unit (an ATI2 van) within Cornish towns and harbours.
Switching to Knowledge Sharing Webinars
A large part of ATI2’s client engagement activity, consultancy and support was historically delivered via a programme of workshops and events. Once again, the pandemic had other plans and along with the rest of the world we switched to running these events online as webinars.
Thus far, we have delivered a total of 15 webinar events to 300 businesses who registered online. The bulk of these online events consisted of smaller, more intimate knowledge exchange workshops led by ATI2 specialists, such as our Intellectual Property Webinar and our renowned IKE Masterclass.
We’ve also run four Cornwall Innovation Clubs (CIC), which accounted for 57% of all webinar attendance. The appetite for this type of knowledge sharing webinar remains strong, with an average of 43 businesses attending each event. In total, the CIC has now grown to comprise of over 180+ member businesses. If you would like to become a member and begin receiving priority invites, sign-up here.
Although online events do have some drawbacks, in terms of screen fatigue and reduced networking opportunities, there are also clear advantages. Accessibility and the ease of attending online from anywhere with an internet connection is a positive thing. Many of ATI2’s webinars are now also recorded and uploaded onto our new digital platform ‘The Innovation Studio’, which means you can view and re-watch them at your leisure.
Additionally, a reduction in travel and expenses for both attendees and ATI2 staff creates efficiencies and saves the planet. It also means we can invite experts and specialist speakers from far and wide to share their knowledge and expertise.
Although we look forward to running these events in person again (when it is safe to do so), it is likely that we will offer a blended approach from now on.
The Innovation Studio is Now Live
February saw ‘The Innovation Studio’ go live for ATI2 clients. We’re pleased to report that the new digital platform has welcomed its first users and Verity Wilkinson, ATI2’s Business Innovation Officer, is offering businesses a guided tour to demonstrate how businesses and their teams could be utilising this free resource to boost their innovation capabilities. If you would like access to IKE accredited innovation tools, frameworks, insights and webinars, simply register your interest via the ATI2 website.