Beverley Nielsen knows a thing or two about entrepreneurship and innovation. This is the reason why she thinks the West Midlands are well positioned to foster their economic growth and she is the best fit to pursue this aim:
We are in the heart of England, in the heart of an ecosystem but need a clarity of vision to make our resources work.
Born in the region,
with an incredible heritage in terms of innovation,
she argues over a cup of tea for this exclusive interview, Mrs Nielsen is a global citizen as she spent several years living in cities such as Dublin, London and New York.
When got back in the area, she founded Birmingham Made Me (BMM) to promote the best region’s brands as well as IDEA, a think-tank aimed at generating greater understanding of the region’s economics.
Furthermore, with a dozen years’ experience lobbying as Regional Director for CBI West Midlands where she raised over £1 million from industry to launch West Midlands First and Midlands Excellence, the LibDem candidate in May’s Mayor Electoral Competition worked at Birmingham City University and founded a social enterprise to promote outdoor education,
so vital to many underprivileged children, she confesses.
Education still plays a central role in her vision, especially now that Birmingham has been championing entrepreneurship on a national level surpassing London to become the country’s leading city and being named the most entrepreneurial city outside London.
However, the West Midlands region has been struggling with the lowest employment rate, according to a new study.
“We need to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem much more clearly. Over the years, education became too disconnected from the market, research from Universities has been focused on blue skies instead of being closer to the market development. We need to be focused much more on impact instead – she contends -. What I would like to see are students from first grades up to university much more aware of the opportunities there are in the market in our region. For example, we have an amazing innovation hub in Birmingham which could serve the region but we also have a huge brain drain as talents leave for cities like Paris or London.”
OLIVER*: How can Birmingham compete with London or similar global hubs?
Beverley: What I am keen to do is to create an innovation fund targeting £1 billion to support the creation of 100,000 new start-ups in the next three years across the West Midlands. It would be an incentive to make the ecosystem work.
If, for instance, we consider places like the Silicon Valley they have access to a huge amount of money but at the same time they can fulfil the supply chain of entire sectors bringing in amazing levels of innovation and creativity.
The key is to think about new areas within existing sectors considering, for instance, what fintech has been doing with the traditional financial services industry, driverless cars are doing for advanced manufacturing sector as well as cyber security talking about defence, real estate considering the building needs there are in the area and so forth and so on. And there is a lot of money around to do some sort of things as well as a huge market opportunity.
However, two ingredients are vital from her perspective. The first one is talent retention.
B: We do retain talent after graduation but mobile talent, coming up from business, engineering, and science, tends to leave more readily. The talent that’s going to drive a truly innovative ecosystem tends to leave as they are really mobile. The more we are able to retain that talent the more we will are able to succeed in our effort. For me this is the biggest challenge.
Along with diversity. According to her view, from women
Research confirmed that start-ups led by women are most successful than the ones lead by men,
to young people,
30 percent of Birmingham population are young people under thirty.
The potential is massive, but:
B: We have this huge diversity with around 160 languages spoken in the region. It is like travelling the world but in fact only going around a small part of the country and this is tremendously exciting.
There is the potential of an incredible rainbow coalition in the Midlands which could lead to wonderful growth opportunities by leveraging different perspectives and value systems. But we need to value it properly which means getting back into schools again to engage young people in this challenge.