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Boosting innovation across the Western Gateway

Dave Tansley, UK vice chair at Deloitte, looks at innovation and reports back on the breakout session he facilitated on scaling innovation at Western Gateway’s Green Growth conference in March 2022.

Being involved in the drive to innovate across the South West and Wales thrives is a passion of mine. Between being a governor of UWE, collaborating with SetSquared on their iKEEP programme, and my role at Deloitte, there are many opportunities to look at the future of innovation in the region. Just earlier this month I was involved in the launch of the South West Tech Analysis Report which explored the scale and size of the technology sector across the whole of the South West.

Western Gateway’s Green Growth conference


The following week, I was delighted spend a day at the ICC Wales and participate in a conference on green growth organised by the Western Gateway– not just as a delegate, but to facilitate a breakout session on scaling innovation, as well as give the sponsor’s address, as Deloitte was the headline sponsor of the conference.

One of the aims of the conference was to shape how the Western Gateway can boost and scale innovation, at the same time as delivering green growth, opening doors to international trade and connecting communities on both sides of the Severn to make sure no one is left behind.

An agenda very much aligned to our own commitments as a firm.

The breakout sessions in the afternoon provided a platform for a deeper dive into various topics. Two of my colleagues and I facilitated three of the five breakout sessions that took place clean transport, innovation clusters and scaling innovation - where we invited the assembled panel of experts to present key points before taking questions from the audience.

Scaling innovation


In the scaling innovation session I facilitated, the panel, which included experts from Innovate UK, FinTech Wales, SetSquared, and the British Business Bank, together with the audience discussed how this could be supported and scaled across the Western Gateway area.

The passion of the audience shone through in the questions and there were a number of areas where there was a healthy debate and even ended up agreeing to disagree at times, for example when exploring the blockers and barriers to scaling innovation across the Western Gateway geography. For me, it demonstrated the importance of keeping the conversation going, and the conference was really the start of a longer journey that needs to continue.

To synthesise the highlights of the discussion, I would say key points were:

  • Behaviours. There is a need to create a behavioural shift to make the geography really work. Be less focused on postcodes and locations and switch to fostering the right behaviours and the right level of collaboration.
  • Business advice and access to funding. A well-made point revolved around the importance of having timely, appropriate access to business advice and support for access to funding. Adequate funding and appropriate business advice will help smaller, high growth businesses to thrive.
  • Access to tech skills. Technology seems to underpin much of the opportunity in the region, and it’s really clear that getting the tech skills agenda right across the region is absolutely critical, and there is more that we can all do on this.
  • Undercapitalisation of start-ups and SMEs. There was quite a bit of discussion about the undercapitalisation of start-up businesses and SMEs, particularly compared to the US market, and the need to address this.
  • Diverse economy versus centres of excellence. A very interesting point which came up in the context of accessing funding and the need to take a bit more risk. There is a need to get the right balance between having a diverse economy with centres of excellence that reside across multiple sectors and subsectors, whilst at the same time really focusing down on those things where we are truly exceptional and really world class. And then leveraging that focus to attract differentiated levels of funding into the region.
  • Regulatory environment. There was a conversation around whether the regulatory environment in the UK was conducive and supportive to inbound investment and businesses locating here, or whether in fact, particularly for US companies, it proves a bit difficult and might provide a barrier. No consensus was to be found and based on how the discussion went, I’m tempted to file that one under ‘agree to disagree’, but there’s clearly a broader conversation to be had on this one too.

As you can see, in one hour we managed to fit in a lot of healthy discussion, touching on points that impact many businesses looking to scale, identifying gaps in the landscape as well as cross-cutting many themes and challenges.

All in all, this conference has, I hope, provided an important opportunity to either start or progress the engagement and discussions needed to deliver real change in the region.

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