Innovation will be key to unlocking Bristol’s bright future, conference hears

October 16, 2013

Bristol will have a bright economic future if it harnesses the innovation of its key sectors and the talents of its skilled workforce and also markets itself effectively, a major conference heard this week.

But it needs to overcome some serious issues, particularly around transport, and it needs to close the gap between its wealthy and disadvantaged communities if it is to fulfil its potential.

The Bristol’s Bright Future conference staged yesterday took as its starting point a report by forecasting group Capital Economics that painted an upbeat picture of the city’s economic outlook.

A strong platform of speakers looked at the building blocks that need to be put in place to ensure this success and meet its potential – from tourism to transport and economic development. Key themes were the need to help the city’s creative and technology sectors grow further and support new business creation as well as the often-asked address the question: What is Bristol’s brand?

Optimism centred on a number of topics including the city’s achievement in becoming European Green Capital 2015 which will put it on the world stage for environmental issues, along with Mayor George Ferguson’s ambition to make Bristol a ‘laboratory for change’.

Other areas for optimism included Bristol’s inclusion as the third point on the UK’s creative industry ‘golden triangle’ along with London and Manchester, its leading role in growth sectors such as technology including micro chip design and robotics, advanced manufacturing including composites and 3D printing, and professional services.

Added to these were Bristol’s location, its strong cultural offering, its independent outlook and its highly-skilled workforce.

The speakers were Paul Wilson, chief executive of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP); Clive Wray, Business West’s director of public service contracts; Paul Appleby, chair of Bristol Media; Nick Sturge, centre director SETsquared Centre and director of The Engine Shed; Bonnie Dean, chief executive of Bristol and Bath Science Park, Nick Hounsfield and Tobin Coles, co-founders and directors of The Wave UK; Ned Cussen, property consultant with Jones Lang LaSalle; Roger Griffiths, a social entrepreneur and chair of Ujima Radio; Kelvin Davies of BAE and James West co-founder of Bristol-based Crux Product Design, Louise Stewart of VisitEngland and Zoe Seer, mayoral initiatives and partnerships. The event was chaired by Dick Penny, managing director of Watershed Media Centre.

Organised by Elaine Brown as a follow up to her highly-successful Bristol’s Bright Future Conference in April 2011 and was staged in partnership with Business West, the event was sponsored by property consultants BNP Paribas Real Estate and The Business Showcase South West 2014.

Mr Wilson kicked off the half-day conference at Ashton Gate with an overview of Bristol’s trading heritage as a major port city to its more recent technology achievements, including its role in developing both 3G and 4G mobile systems and the little-known fact that a third of all cars contain a microchip designed in Bristol.

He described its “culture of connectivity” as one of the reasons it had a bright future, along with the presence of the five key sectors of advanced engineering, low-carbon technology, professional and financial services, creative and digital and hi-tech.

His opening themes were echoed by Nick Sturge, Paul Appleby and Bonnie Dean.

Mr Sturge looked at some of the success stories to emerge from SETsquared, including Tidal Generation, which was sold to Rolls-Royce, Digital TV Labs, now the world’s largest, independent, specialist digital TV testing company, and Xmos which has shipped 1m chips.

More of this type of business was emerging, he said, because Bristol had now got its act together and was providing a fertile eco-system.

“The city has a bright future because real stuff is happening and it looks really joined up,” he said.



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