Thought piece Dr David J Hardman MBE, CEO, Innovation Birmingham.
A well-documented fact is that cities create economic potential, but not all deliver to the fullest possible extent. In large cities – which by their very nature stimulate ideas and opportunities – individuals with related or complementary objectives become buried in city infrastructure. This limits connections and thwarts delivery of economic growth. The solution is in part visible clustering, or the establishment of knowledge quarters; but too often these fall victim to hype or become sector specific and limit serendipitous opportunity.
External influences on an ecology change the [genetic] diversity therein. In the same way, innovation ecosystems are intrinsically dynamic, subject to technological, socio-economic and political influences. Growth stimulation strategies often focus on single issues – key sectors, business support, skills and/or access to finance. All are issues in their own right, but in reality they are components of a complex ecology across the city region; strengthen one component in isolation and the factor limiting successful growth just shifts elsewhere.
City-based support interventions needs to be considered as part of a connected web of activity – not a single linear intervention – and delivery must be achieved in a sustainable, additive and supportive manner that can move to reflect prevailing needs.
In the past, city economies were driven by local supply chains comprised of small and micro-businesses. Today too, the vast majority of businesses are micro or small; but especially in the knowledge economies. Supply chains are no longer local – like their markets, they are global. This means the types of connectivity have also changed.
We talk about smart cities; they need to be connected cities – connected internally and externally. As the importance of data as a commodity grows, sector boundaries become blurred. Opportunities derived from the application of data spread cross-sector and such horizontal approaches yield real and unique scope.
Cities generate data and the innovation community needs to be free to derive new and novel products and services. We pay tribute to the importance of entrepreneurs in terms of enterprise development, but are city administrators creating the fertile data rich environments – sufficiently free of red tape – to truly enable smart economic development?
A smart city is a city engaged with its citizens. To achieve this, innovation needs to be driven from the ground up – not top down; which will always limit outcomes through lack of ‘2020 vision’, or a crystal ball. New ideas and business concepts need to be connected into the innovation ecology, as well as to an environment and holistic services that meet local business needs. These need to be defined and supplied by groups that actively understand the clients, are intimately engaged with local economies, and can create complete innovation ecologies.
This is not about PR hype and coffee-shop discussions about entrepreneurship. It is about real and sustained connected support infrastructures that generate connectivity and catalyse communication and collaboration. More interconnected focal points need to be provided where like-minded creatives can access the sources of data, the skills and expertise to drive innovative new products and services, without unnecessary limitations on their potential.