Salford Innovation Triangle: Creating an inclusive economy powered by innovation

By Bella Copland

HOST, the Home of Skills & Technology, operated by IN4.0 Group, brought together leaders from across the Salford Innovation Triangle to discuss how Salford is creating an inclusive economy that is powered by innovation.

Broadcast live from Media City at the Digital City Festival on 13 April 2021, the expert panel included Stephen Wild, Managing Director of MediaCityUK; Tom Stannard, Chief Executive of Salford City Council; Raj Jain Chief Executive of Northern Care Alliance; and Helen Marshall, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Salford.

As Programme Delivery Manager at HOST, I was delighted to present the event and wanted to share my highlights and the key discussion points.

It was fantastic to learn more about Salford and how the three distinct innovation districts are interconnected, not just with each other, but also with the opportunities that the innovation triangle as a whole is bringing to the wider Greater Manchester economy, the North West and beyond.

What is the Salford Innovation Triangle?

At its core, the Salford Innovation Triangle comprises three distinct innovation districts or ‘nodal’ points – MediaCityUK, Salford Royal Foundation Trust and the University of Salford.

The Salford Innovation Triangle is the community and the economy that represents both the geography of the triangle with the three key anchor institutions, plus Salford City Council. It is all about the vibrancy and both the predictable, and the unpredictable, sides of what innovation represents for the economies of the future.

Chief Executive of Salford City Council, Tom Stannard, explained that Salford and the innovation triangle already has a very strong success story over the past few years.

Salford is home to around 75,000 jobs, 60,000 people live in the area, the population has grown by 8,000 to 10,000 in the last five years and there are about 5,000 companies in the area.

This represents its attractiveness as a destination where people want to live and work as well as a key area of investment. Essentially, it has all of the ingredients for innovation and business growth. The Salford Innovation Triangle is also right at the heart of Greater Manchester’s growth and recovery plans and forms a part of the wider Innovation GM approach.

Tom said: “We can be reasonably confident about the prospects for growth and investment in the long run, but we’ve got to make sure that it is inclusive growth. For me, it is about the connection of real people to opportunities. Without making opportunities reach all the residents of the city with the skills programmes as well as the accelerator work, we’re doing through HOST and with IN4.0, we’re not really going to turn the corner on a truly inclusive economy which is a massive opportunity for the innovation triangle, and for innovation in Greater Manchester generally.”

HOST’s Skills City aims to provide fairer access to digital and technology career starts, creating the most diverse technology talent pool, while being a magnet for investment and technology businesses to move into the region.

Skills City comprises leading digital technology bootcamp academies and aims to break the barriers faced by those from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds, by fast-tracking 450 people into careers in digital technology every year.

The Salford Way

The Salford Way is a range of initiatives that are aimed at creating a fairer, greener and healthier Salford. Its approach is going to be expanding opportunities for both young people and adults in the existing labour market in the city of Salford, more widely across GM and across the innovation economy of the north of England to support access to future jobs and growth opportunities.

Tom stated that Salford City Council is working alongside partners and investors to continue bringing new jobs into the area, but also highlighted the importance of skills training, upskilling and retraining which is crucial for adults and young people.

He emphasised that understanding the future job market to equip people with the skills they need, as well as working closely with employers to understand their requirements, through the programmes with HOST and other future activities, will help them to connect with communities across Salford.

HOST’s Skills City is driving forward this collaborative effort by working with employers at all levels to create a clear pathway to jobs and diverse talent recruitment.

IN4.0 is also collaborating with AWS (Amazon Web Services) re/Start to build an inclusive and diverse global pipeline of new talent by focusing on unemployed and underemployed individuals to help them launch a career in the cloud.

Caring about people

The Northern Care Alliance NHS Group (NCA) has been widely recognised as forward-thinking in the space of innovation by using technology, data and different tools in how health and social care are delivered.

The best example of this is Salford Royal’s Digital Control Centre, a 10-year project which is being delivered by the NCA in partnership with the Japanese technology company, Hitachi.

The aim is to advance acute and integrated care using data and digital technologies at Salford Royal. The Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) is a world-first that links operational and clinical demands by embedding new technologies linked to change and improvement in working behaviours.

Raj Jain, Chief Executive of The Northern Care Alliance NHS Group (NCA) explained how transformative linked data sets between primary care and hospitals has been for both patients and the health care system. Alongside its partners, it is pushing the boundaries of a care model that is more focused on people as opposed to the hospital.

For instance, it was recognised that patients who at risk of having a heart attack were more fragile and distressed while in the care of a hospital so by using a combination of patient data and visualisation, they were able to gather solutions for caregivers. As a result, in three years they managed to reduce heart attacks in their wards by 50 per cent, so they are now in a position where they do not have any heart attacks on their wards that are avoidable.

HOST is focused on developing data science, cyber, AI and immersive technology usage across sectors, including healthcare. It is working with public and private sector organisations as well as individual learners to upskill them in digital technologies.

Industry and academia driving inclusive growth

The Crescent area at the University of Salford is undergoing an exciting campus redevelopment at the moment with a different spin to incorporate building facilities that will blur the lines between teaching, research and industry. The idea is that the facilities will be very industry-focused and related to real working environments, rather than being academic-focused.

One of the buildings is a science, engineering and environment development, which will include labs and facilities that reflect where the students might be in three years in industry roles. The labs are not like traditional academic labs but will be much more like factories with productive and automated production lines. While the Northern Robotics Centre will be working with SMEs to help improve their productivity by creating robotic solutions for them.

The third building, Energy House, will be looking at both domestic and commercial areas of the built environment to champion a green digital economy that will drive towards zero carbon emissions.

The university is also building its digital skills pipeline, particularly in industry 4.0 digital technologies, by working with employers and industry partners. It is creating the Greater Manchester Institute for Advanced Technical Skills, which will offer degree apprenticeships with the first courses being offered this September.

Helen Marshall, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Salford said: “My ambition is for Salford to become the Silicon Valley of the UK in this digital innovation triangle. And I think that is seriously possible. The university and the Crescent master plan are driven by industry collaboration.”

She also highlighted the importance of introducing young people to innovations such as AI, big data and cyber security – the technologies of the future – at an early age while they are still at school.

In collaboration with Salford City Council, HOST’s Skills City will be launching Kickstart Digital to provide digital skills development to young people aged 16-24, engaged with the government’s six-month Kickstart employment scheme.

While the Unity Cadets will also support 150 disadvantaged youngsters from Greater Manchester in Years 10 to 13, to educate and inspire career starts in the gaming and immersive sector.

In line with HOST’s commitment to removing the present barriers impacting diversity and inclusivity, the Unity Centre of Excellence will launch a comprehensive training programme working with UK universities and industry to deliver professional certified Unity training.

Media City, and the world

Following over 10 years of success, the second phase of Media City’s expansion is well underway. Managing Director of MediaCityUK, Stephen Wild, described the vision for Media City in 2004 as an “explosion of creativity” to develop a place where people want to innovate, evolve and grow.

With its accreditation as one of the best-connected places in Europe, Media City has become a magnet for talent and is home to some of the greatest creative industry partners like the BBC and ITV, and 250 businesses including HOST – all working together to grow a great innovation community that will become globally renowned.

Raj said: “I think Salford as part of GM offers an opportunity for the government to invest in a way that they’ll get a far higher rate of return, firstly directly to the populations that are in Greater Manchester, but also in developing solutions that can be applicable in many other parts of the country, if not the world.”

Based at the heart of Media City, HOST combines the three pillars of skills, innovation and start up all under one roof, with a focus on building a world-leading reputation in data science, cyber, AI, gaming and immersive technologies.

HOST has already established significant partnerships with Amazon Web Services, Barclays Eagle Labs, Greater Manchester AI Foundry, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and The Cyber Resilience Centre for Greater Manchester (CRCGM), mobilising the most diverse and innovative business community.

The five floors of the building are also being refreshed to include a state-of-the-art Innovation Lab, which will house a 24/7 Security Operations Centre (SOC) and Network Operations Centre (NOC) cyber support as a service. The centre will provide public sector organisations, enterprises and SMEs with a secure, tailored and scalable cyber solution.

In the coming months, HOST will also be recruiting up to 10 start-ups and scale-ups, looking to rapidly develop and commercialise disruptive cybersecurity solutions with AI and machine learning capabilities.

Salford has an abundance of attractive reasons for people to live and work there, from the amount of greenery and open spaces it has, to its connectivity and quality of housing. While the innovation triangle itself offers strong career prospects and gives people a real reason to stay in the North West, it also has a growing number of opportunities to help people thrive.

Raj added: “People want to have purpose and meaning in their lives, just as much as they want to have a good career and a good salary, and there’s a real social fabric that you can link into so you can actually see the contributions you make at work, impact on real people.”