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Growth Hubs – Growing Nicely

Written by Tristan Wilkinson, Lead Consultant at Digital Citizens

This week Digital Leaders asked me to chair the first Digital Day organised by BEIS and Digital Leaders. We had representatives from 90% of the 39 Growth Hubs attending a very full day of presentations and discussion.

Having not been very close to what has been happening with the Growth Hubs on the ground for a while now, I started the day with my usual cynicism, not sure how much real progress and impact has been made since I last paid attention. I ended the day pleasantly surprised and somewhat impressed with what has been achieved so far and optimistic about the potential to effect real impact at a local level.

It became clear as the day progressed that all of the Growth Hubs have really forged excellent working relationships within their local communities, both with business, academia and local authorities. Although many had similar visions: expand economic activity, improve the digital skills of SME’s and encourage investment and innovation, they all had different strategies to make this happen. Mostly due to the unique eco-system or needs of the local economy. I was struck with how this level of local understanding and diversity of solutions would have been almost impossible with a traditional tops down national programme.

Along with the insightful sharing of progress around specific projects, I was also struck by the enthusiasm and high level of skills and engagement in the room, I have to be honest, this hasn’t always been my experience when working on these types of project. The Growth Hub delegates demonstrated a real knowledge of the local challenges and had clear strategies of what they could do to move the needle. The biggest hurdles they faced were common problems of resourcing, funding and prioritising the opportunities.

However, those Growth hubs that shared their innovative projects to the audience in the morning were a true inspiration and just showed what is possible with creative minds and a willingness to get things done with limited funding and resource.

The afternoon session focussed on corporates sharing their global thought leadership and on the ground projects, all demonstrated examples of how they have worked with Growth hubs and the value the network provides.

It is not often you can attract three Global giants in the technology sector – (Microsoft, Intel and Google) on the same stage with a willingness to help develop ideas and solutions to support Growth hubs to provide an effective business support service to their regional small businesses.

I thought I would share my observations:

  • The growth hubs are effecting genuine and impactful change
  • Being embedded at a local level creates true value
  • The network possesses some highly valuable skills and experience that can be transferred into the local business community
  • Corporates are willing and able to work with Growth hubs

Recommendations:

  • Facilitate more collaboration and sharing of resources across the network
  • Develop an open and honest ‘no blame’ culture to evaluate what works and what doesn’t
  • Get together more often in a structured organised and focused way
  • Increase focus on scale and sustainability – how can Growth hubs forge greater collaboration and partnerships with corporates

I left the day feeling hugely optimistic and positive that there is a bright future for Growth hubs. I think there is a general consensus that there is a still a long path to travel but the network is heading in the right direction supported by a talented group of creatives and visionaries. So thankyou again to Digital Leaders for asking me to Chair and I hope they invite me back for the next one.

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