How digital innovation can have a big impact on small businesses in the East of England

When we think about the East of England, we often think about the region's farming, beautiful beaches and windmills. But there is so much more!

How digital innovation can have a big impact on small businesses in the East of England

When we think about the East of England, we often think about the region’s farming, beautiful beaches and windmills. But there is so much more! 

For example, there’s a huge offshore energy sector in Norfolk and Suffolk and a major shipping and logistics industry through the Port of Felixstowe. In telecoms, BT has had its main R&D hub here at Adastral Park for decades. Norwich meanwhile is home to financial services firm Aviva and sports car manufacturer Lotus, a life sciences and agritech cluster at Norwich Research Park, as well as a thriving tech startup scene. And Cambridge is, of course, a world leading innovation cluster in the life sciences and in AI and digital tech.

Meanwhile, newer innovation hubs are springing up across the region. Colchester has the Innovation Centre at Knowledge Gateway close to the University of Essex while Stowmarket has its own Innovation Labs, a community hub and incubator which gives local people a place to gather, collaborate, share ideas and build. Examples like this are emerging all the time and are helping to change perceptions about the area’s potential for innovation.

Levelling up and regional growth

Regional growth has been on the government’s agenda for a long time, however COVID-19 has been a real wake-up call and a catalyst for change. As well as driving many more of us onto digital platforms, leading to a spike in demand for services and skills alike, the way we live and work has also changed.

Research published by economic consultancy, Public First, has shown that cloud computing is an important driver of economic prosperity, and can play a vital role in levelling up productivity across the UK. However, there remains a significant disparity in cloud uptake across regions. For example, 52% of companies use cloud platforms in Greater London, while by comparison just 18% of companies in the East of England have adopted cloud technologies.

We know that small and medium sized businesses (SMB) in the East of England want to reinvent, grow and innovate but, particularly in the context of COVID-19, some often feel like the tools, skills and processes required are only available to big businesses. This is simply not the case, and we want to help businesses to realise that innovation is for everybody. 

Technology for all

Adopting cloud technology can be a springboard for innovation across a range of industries, and that’s what we’re trying to demonstrate through our free, Digital Innovation Programme, which we launched with Amazon Web Services (AWS). 

We want to show SMBs – whether they’re already on their digital journey or about to begin it – how they can use the cloud to transform and differentiate their business, discover new opportunities to drive growth, reduce costs, and innovate for their customers. Ultimately, we want to help democratise and demystify how businesses go about building in the cloud, showing them the ‘art of the possible’.

We have been working with local businesses in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridge on an event series designed to introduce small businesses to Amazon’s approach to innovation, and show them how to apply it. We selected ten businesses from a range of different industries including financial services, tech for good and manufacturing, who participated in a week-long, ‘Invent with Amazon Challenge’, where they received hands-on support and access to specialist AWS teams to help them develop their application, product, or service idea. Six businesses were selected and have the opportunity to bring their idea to life working with one of AWS’s Advanced Partner Network (AWS APN) partners.  

The skills opportunity

COVID-19’s levelling effect means businesses have been able to access talent in a new way ‘ less focused on a physical location, and more focused on skills across a wider geographic talent pool. There has also been a renewed interest in entrepreneurialism among those furloughed, made redundant, or working remotely, as people have time to reflect about what they really want to do.

Looking ahead, developing skills through courses, bootcamps and apprenticeships in schools, colleges and universities will be vital to create a virtuous circle of knowledge, innovation, growth and mentorship. Demand for skills in data science, for example, outstrips supply ‘ we must address that imbalance through partnerships, inspirational role models and education.

Small businesses in the East of England are poised to reach their full potential. By collaborating with partners, other businesses and technology firms, taking advantage of regional initiatives and adopting cloud technologies, businesses of every size and in every sector will be able to capitalise on opportunities to innovate, transform, level up productivity and drive economic prosperity in their region and across the UK. 

Tim Robinson
Tim Robinson

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