Innovation Diary of ATI Paul Rogers: Developing & Innovating in Challenging Times
Richard Bowley of Ignition Credit Plc, one of the attendees at our recent Bude Pop-up Innovation Centre launch said “…fantastic to see local businesses keen to develop and innovate in challenging times for business” and I cannot help but think that this quote also sums up the journey of how we brought the Pop-up to Bude.
Being new to the role of Pop-up Innovation Centre Coordinator, this has been the first Pop-up that I have launched alongside my ATI colleagues. For me, personally, it has been an exciting challenge. Nevertheless, Bude is the eighth successful Pop-up Innovation Centre which has sprung up as part of the three-year Acceleration Through Innovation (ATI) project.
Reading back through the files and speaking to my colleagues, every Pop-up area has been different and each location has it’s own unique charms and challenges. This blog will discuss some of these challenges, many of which are faced by Cornish business owners and Pop-Up Innovation Coordinators alike.
Challenge 1: The wilderness…
Back when ATI was first launched (2017), the three Cornwall Innovation Centres, operated by the University of Plymouth on behalf of Cornwall Council, were already in operation in Truro, Penryn and Pool. ATI’s Pop-up Innovation Centre became part of the University’s outreach activity to provide business innovation advice, networking opportunities and office facilities within 9 temporary locations: Bude, Liskeard, Bodmin, Launceston, Saltash, Newquay, St Austell, Penzance and St Marys. These towns were chosen due to their vast distance from the Cornwall Innovation Centres and/or where the need was considered greatest.
As Bude’s Mayor, Councillor Bob Willingham, once said “here in Bude-Stratton we are situated in a wilderness , so every aspect of help should be capitalised on” – and we think he hit the nail on the head. In the North East of Cornwall, Bude is located off the A39 and there is no direct route from the A30. Its unique location makes it an idyllic harbour town, however, the lack of direct transport infrastructure can make it challenging for those small businesses that want to grow and expand into areas outside of Cornwall. It is aspirational businesses like these that the Pop-up Innovation Centre can support.
Challenge 2: Pop-up location, location, location!
Like many businesses, we carefully considered both High Street and ‘out of town’ Industrial Estate locations for the Bude Pop-up Innovation Centre. Our experience of previous pop-ups proved that the more visible High Street locations tended to attract more businesses, created more awareness of the ATI project and the innovation support available through the programme. However, the vibrancy of the two main High Streets in Bude meant that there were very few premises available.
We searched high and low for a suitable location in Bude, the handful of available options all had issues; too big, too small, or needed services to be added which were not achievable within our short pop-up timeframe (within a matter of weeks). We came to further difficulties in two out of town sites and had to enlist help from our local contacts and partners within Bude.
The advantage of making local connections paid off (as they often do in Cornwall) and our contact told us of some unused office space at Bude-Stratton Council. After viewing the space, which included a separate meeting room, we had found a home for the Pop-up Innovation Centre.
To quote the Mayor again, although Bude is out in the “wilderness” and can result in its isolation, he points out that this same isolation also builds resilience and self-reliance within the business community. It serves to show that nurturing contacts that help you tap into local knowledge is essential for success in challenging areas such as these.
Challenge 3: It is who you know
As demonstrated by our challenging search for premises, it is ‘who you know’ in Bude that can make a massive difference to your business circumstances. I think this tale rings true throughout business and Cornwall in particular – after all, we are a close-knit community and for “one and all” is our Cornish motto.
Our research into the Bude area has relied on past studies of the economic make-up of the area such as the Bude Coastal Communities Team (BCCT) Report. The BCCT have also been very useful in signposting information to us and we look forward to working with them throughout our time in Bude, and beyond. The legacy of a Pop-Up, and challenge, is to maintain those links within the business community.
Challenge 4: Getting social media savvy
Understanding the local economic environment helps to shape our Pop-Up Innovation Centre marketing and enables us to engage with influential groups (like the BCCT), who can share our message, ensuring it reaches as many local businesses as possible.
The industrial estates are a physical presence for businesses in the town and we have already done some leaflet drops. However, our research also suggests that there is a large proportion of businesses in Bude, especially within the digital tech-sector, that mainly work from home. These people are trickier to communicate with whilst their presence is virtual and not physical.
Social media has been key to finding the digital footprints of these businesses and reaching out to them, via my LinkedIn profile (Paul Miles Rogers) or Twitter (@ATI_PopUp). One of my top-tips is; if you send someone a LinkedIn connection request, take a few moments to write a personal message telling them why you would like to connect.
Remember. Be social! It is called social media for a reason! I find you get far better results by writing a personal message or thoughtfully commenting on a post. It gives your new connection something to reply to, and presents an opportunity to start up a conversation. Ultimately, it’s best to speak in person, so to all my new and future connections I invite you for a cuppa of your choosing in the Bude Pop-Up.
Challenge 5: Spreading the news
Another challenge for a successful Pop-Up or new business is to spread the news of your arrival. Talking about your business successes, creating case studies and launch events are a great way to spread the word about your business’ products and/or services. The Cornish business landscape provides many opportunities for all industries and sectors to celebrate success, exposure through the Cornwall Business Awards and the Cornwall Manufacturing Group Awards are just two examples, but there are many more!
Blogging and generating news is another means to the same end goal. The purpose of this blog is, fundamentally, to celebrate the Bude Pop-up launch and to share the challenges that we (just like any other business) had to overcome.
Challenge 6: Success of a Bude Pop-Up in challenging times
Testimony to our success is what others say about us. We were honoured by the kind words offered by one of our existing Bude clients, Cleaner Seas Group’s Marketing Director, Avril Sainsbury, who spoke of her experience of working with ATI and how it’s benefited their innovation journey:
“Through the Growth Hub and ATI, Cleaner Seas Group were introduced to Marine-i which has been a gamechanger for us, unlocking access to the world class research support available through the University of Plymouth. This is helping us bring our product to market far more quickly than would otherwise have been possible.”
So whilst there have been challenges along the way, it’s a matter of implementing strategies and tapping into local expertise that can help to achieve successful solutions and outcomes. I am pleased to say since the Pop-Up opened, we have had a healthy number of hotdeskers, meeting room bookings and workshops taking place here. We’re also taking future bookings over the next few months of our tenure here.
If you want to know more about how ATI can support your business; follow us on Twitter, connect by joining our Cornwall Innovation Club, book onto our events and let’s innovate together in these challenging times.
Pop-up Innovation Centre Coordinator