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Inside Innovation Hubs: Secrets to Success and Challenges Faced

In a constantly adapting market, innovation is a key element for the majority of organisations to stay competitive. In the innovation economy, there is a need for new ideas and products to be continually developed and brought to market to encourage growth. One way in which innovation can be nurtured and accelerated is through innovation hubs. Innovation hubs provide a platform where businesses can increase capability, focus investment, and stimulate enterprise. They have been recognised for their part in accelerating businesses to the next level through collaboration and conglomeration. To stay true to the name, innovation hubs must establish a work environment that motivates and enables businesses to learn from each other, develop new skills and make connections. Successful innovation hubs will facilitate creativity and entrepreneurship, boosting the innovation economy and securing long-term economic development.

An example of an established innovation hub in MediaCityUK Manchester is HOST. Formally known as The Landing, HOST was established by Salford City Council in 2012. HOST is one of many innovation hubs across the UK and is operated by IN4, a leader in digital transformation and talent development. The hub spans across five floors and offers innovation support to individuals, freelancers, start-ups and SMEs through to established businesses. Within the hub a variety of facilities and services are offered including labs, prototyping environments, specialist advice, technology training and social spaces that allow users to connect and collaborate. Through its facilities and diverse range of users, HOST has established a community of innovators in data science, AI, gaming and immersive technologies.

Since its set up in 2012, HOST has enjoyed continued growth and success. HOST has certain attributes associated with successful innovation hubs that have enabled the right conditions to foster innovation, collaboration, learning and development.

Success Factors

1) Location and Focus

HOST is in the North-West of England, a hotspot for technology growth. International investment and growth in the area has shown no signs of slowing. More specifically, Salford has the fastest growing economy in Greater Manchester, within which MediaCityUk is found. MediaCityUK is one of the fastest-growing innovation districts in the UK and is set to double in size by 2030. The area makes up part of the Salford Innovation Triangle, which is accelerating innovation and contributing significantly to the economy. The scale of digital connectivity across MediaCityUK creates a living and working environment that supports collaboration, productivity, and innovation.

There are multiple benefits associated with being physically close to organisations within the same or similar sector. Not only does it increase the likelihood of users making connections with likeminded individuals and organisations, but it can also increase competition and creativity, both of which are positive for accelerating innovation. HOSTs location in such a technologically thriving area that supports innovation is key to the hub’s success and longevity. HOSTs focus in the high-tech sector has also contributed to its success. The sector already has an established market, which given the high future growth will only increase with time.

The decision to locate HOST within a technology and innovation intensive location and align its own focus to the area not only contributes to the innovative nature of MediaCityUK but also contributes to the success of the hub itself.

2) Partners

The partners involved with an innovation hub directly correlate with the tools available for users and the quantity of resources available. HOST have over 40 industry partners from a range of sectors including technology, education, and health. It is important for organisations and individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds to be involved to truly enhance creativity and encourage innovation. The quantity of partners involved with HOST and the variety of business size and type exposes their users to an abundance of ideas and is a critical success factor for the hub.


Although many innovation hubs including HOST have a range of positive characteristics, there are also challenges faced due to the nature of their functioning:

1) Knowledge Exchange

For the successful operation of an innovation hub, it is important to consider and understand the exchange of knowledge between parties. Ideally, the flow of knowledge will go between the organisation who initiated the hub and its partners, and those using the facilities. This is important for partners to feel as though their knowledge and input is being fully utilised. If partners do not feel as though their knowledge is being used to its fullest capacity, they may reduce their input or pull out all together, both of which have direct negative consequences for innovation. On the flip side, it is also important for knowledge to flow back from the users of the hubs to those managing the hub and its partners. This is especially important considering the nature of innovation, which is at no point static. Therefore, communication and active knowledge exchange between all parties is key for an effective hub that encourages innovation.

2) Business Data

Alongside the exchange of knowledge being crucial for an innovation hubs success, the quality and availability of knowledge also needs to be considered. There can be a fear of sharing business critical knowledge and ideas with hub users due to the competitive nature of the markets in which some businesses operate. At HOST for example, partners such as Microsoft, Unity and Siemens, are significantly large organisations that could be subject to limiting the information they make available due to the risk of competitors accessing the data. It is essential for this challenge to be considered and addressed to limit barriers for hub users and ensure an environment that fosters innovation and collaboration.

The above challenges are indicative of what innovation hubs must consider to increase their success. These challenges are ongoing throughout a hubs lifecycle and there is a need for active leadership and governance within the hub to ensure its successful operation and functioning.


Overall, to ensure the success of innovation hubs there are several actions that can be undertaken to enable the right conditions that facilitate innovation and collaboration. Elements discussed within this blog are not exhaustive and other factors may aid success or create challenges for innovation hubs. However, based on the factors discussed to increase the success of innovation hubs they should:

  1. Ensure the location and focus of the hub is carefully considered to accelerate innovation through the conglomeration of likeminded organisations.
  2. Engage with a wide range of partners that relate to the hubs focus but are diverse in respect to their size and background.
  3. Encourage open-mindedness between the partners and hub users to truly unlock the hubs full capability.
  4. Enable access to high quality and readily available information for hub users by enforcing the proper organisational structure so partners are confident disclosing their business knowledge