Water companies have a huge role to play in improving our environment and addressing the big environmental and social issues. North East water provider Northumbrian Water Group (NWG), who kindly sponsor our ‘Day 2′ afterparty, proactively pursue these challenges through innovation, inviting startups and SMEs to join the debate and boost the economy. We sat down with NWG’s Head of Innovation, Angle MacOscar, to discuss what NWG are doing to support SMEs and drive innovation.
1. Can you tell me a little more about your business and how it helps entrepreneurs?
At Northumbrian Water we’ve got a really open approach to innovation that runs right through our organisation, recognising that big and clever ideas can really change how we work. We want to collaborate with businesses of all shapes and sizes and have a proven track record of working in partnership with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to tackle water-related challenges.
2. You’ve got the amazing Innovation Festival coming up on 8-12 July 2019 in Newcastle. Could you tell us a little more about it?
Our innovation festival is a huge, loud, exciting, five-day festival that’s all about ideas and innovation. We gather some of the greatest and most innovative minds from the worlds of business, science, tech, engineering, utilities and customer services and put them all together inside big tents in the middle of a field in true festival style, only with less mud!
Our festival goers then set about tackling real world problems in these ‘sprints’ and after five days they come up with ideas and solutions and present them back to the other attendees.
We held the first Innovation Festival in 2017 and saw over 1,000 people from 140 organisations join us at Newcastle Racecourse. These days, it’s even bigger and better and we’re expecting 3,000 people along with over 1,000 school children join us this year.
3. Just like startup week, the festival is taking place for the third time in 2019! What key insights or learnings could you share from the festival from the previous years about how to drive innovation?
The very nature of the festival and its amazing atmosphere encourages collaboration and enables conversations to happen that wouldn’t ordinarily happen. Everyone has a voice regardless of their position or organisation, and that’s where the magic lies. Taking people out of their normal workspace, into the festival environment and throwing in lots of creative activities, helps to power all of the enthusiasm and ideas, and really nurture it.
4. The innovation festival brings together big businesses and startups. In terms of generating innovation, how do you think these organisations complement each other?
The Innovation Festival is unique in bringing together a large group of diverse businesses from right across the world, each bringing with them their own set of skills and ideas and innovative minds. We recognise the agility and fresh new ways of thinking from start-up businesses and we want to really harness that and bring it into the work that we do. This makes them great organisations to work with at the start of a project, who then may just need a helping hand from a larger company and the two complement each other.
5. From your experience of facilitating hackathons, what do you think is a good mix of different skillsets to drive innovation?
A hackathon applies data-led thinking to real-life challenges and we’ve seen that we can use the power of data to really help change the game when it comes to some projects, such as our approach to finding and fixing leaks. But there’s so many different aspects of data, from text data to numerical correlations, so having a wide range of skills allows us to gather all those different aspects and come up with a suite of different options to be able to apply them to our big business challenges.
6. Northumbrian Water is always striving for innovation and business improvement. What advice do you have for businesses interested in becoming part of your supply chain, or innovating with you in some way?
We love innovation so much that we hold an entire festival dedicated to it and that’s a great place to start. Our doors are always open to new innovations, new ideas and new ways of working. In fact, we’re just about to launch an online innovation platform, where we will be actively welcoming and encouraging businesses to throw their ideas into the ring and work with us on our big social and environmental challenges.
7. Your focus is on addressing social and environmental challenges. Being environmentally and socially responsible can be difficult for small, cash-strapped organisations. Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs on how to take steps toward becoming greener?
I believe that sometimes smaller companies have a great opportunity to embrace environmental and social responsibility and really embed it into the early DNA of their business. They can make the choices about how they travel or how they participate with the community for example, and really champion those green choices as a company, encouraging everyone, regardless of their role in the organisation, to do the same.
To learn more about NWG and how they are supporting innovation, speak to them at Newcastle Startup Week by booking your ticket today.