Norwich poised to become an innovation hub

Seattle by night

Seattle by night - Credit: Archant

We already have the coffee shops and the music scene to compete with Seattle, but very soon Norwich could also have an 'innovation hub' to rival the American city, according to an expert in the field.

Mal Fletcher, who lectures and broadcasts on innovation leadership for the think tank 2020 Plus, believes the city has many of the right factors to position itself as a magnet for innovators alongside the likes of Seattle, Cambridge, Eindhoven and Zelenograd but what is needs is leadership to push it forward.

'Innovation is always born out of connections between existing ideas and if ideas are going to connect, people must connect in an atmosphere of trust. That process begins with leaders who can take the long view, creating a generous culture in which inventive people flourish, for the common good,' he said.

Mr Fletcher believes the combination of relatively high graduate retention rates, quality of life, and grants for research in cutting-edge areas such as genomics make Norwich a perfect candidate – something many of the city's education and enterprise leaders agree with.

Prof David Richardson, pro-vice-chancellor for Research, Enterprise and Engagement at the University of East Anglia, said: 'I am delighted that Norwich is being recognised as an international centre of excellence for cutting edge research and innovation – particularly as UEA celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

'More than 100,000 students have graduated from UEA and I am very pleased that the city's graduate retention rates are acknowledged by Mr Fletcher, alongside grants for research.'

Prof Richardson believes a £26m project to expand and develop the Norwich Research Park will help cement the city's position as a leading international research hub.

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Matthew Jones, Norwich Research Park's chief operating officer agreed. He said: 'Recent government investment has kick-started the development and expansion of the Park which will increase our offering to commercial occupiers and allow us to nurture collaboration between business and academia.'

But former Norwich MP Ian Gibson, who was also Dean of the School of Biological Sciences at UEA, believes it will take leadership to make Norwich an innovation hub. 'We need to be thinking about it more along the lines of the way people would in America. We need a go getter philosophy rather than what we see which is people who find reasons why it would not work.'

Dr Gibson, who worked at the University of Washington in Seattle before moving to UEA, has been a long term campaigner for Norwich to become a science city.

'I think we need a completely new initiative with a figurehead willing to keep people together and keep the vision going. We need someone prepared to take risks to succeed and that is what we don't have at the moment,' he said.

Norwich City Council should hear any day whether a bid submitted to government last month to be part of the second wave of City Deals – giving it the ability to unlock new and innovative ways to drive growth – is successful.

Mr Fletcher will be speaking about Creating Innovation Hubs at a 2020Plus Event in the city on Thursday . For more details visit