How Coventry University Group are driving ‘challenge-led innovation’

Alliance universities are defined by their ethos of continuous innovation and collaboration. In the latest instalment of UA’s ‘Innovators’ blog, Paul Fairburn explains how Coventry University are delivering ‘challenge-led innovation’, supporting businesses and commercialising research to benefit regional economic growth

“The pace of technological change and the disruptive nature of technology is continuing to transform our world. There is no hiding, shying away or opting out. It is everywhere and anywhere.

For Coventry University Group, and indeed all higher education providers, adaptability and a willingness to keep pace with change is essential to our ability to remain competitive. We must continue to operate in the here and now, yet constantly have one eye on the future and have an answer to the question: ‘What next?’

Challenge-led innovation

Innovation plays a critical role in this process. Not only does it enable flexibility and foster growth, but, as a concept, it allows us to stay ahead of the competition. This isn’t a new phenomenon – for over 20 years, open innovation has been a widely accepted model for driving change and promoting growth.

Rather than simply relying on internal knowledge and resources, organisations have been using multiple external sources to inform the development of new products, services, business models and processes. The information sources typically include customer feedback, supply chain engagement, published patents, emerging technologies and competitor intelligence.

The idea of ‘challenge-led innovation’ has emerged in recent years to further develop our approach to open innovation. By defining projects into modular ‘challenges’ it is becoming increasingly common for academics, researchers and private organisations to seek solutions through a network of problem solvers from diverse backgrounds and experiences.

As a global organisation and anchor institution, we have a responsibility to support economic development, local growth and regeneration in the towns, cities, regions and countries in which we and our partners are based, and where we deliver our education and research. It is a commitment reflected in our mission of creating better futures. Identifying emerging real-world challenges and delivering innovative solutions to the world’s societal and economic needs is vital in us achieving this.

Embracing Coventry University Group’s commitment to impactful, transdisciplinary and challenge-led research is therefore of paramount importance. As Director of the Innovation Ecosystem, I lead a specialist team dedicated to supporting pre-commercial and early-stage innovation. Working together with experienced research and academic colleagues across the Group, we focus on delivering support for business, Intellectual Property (IP) realisation and commercialisation, industrial research, and support and advice for SMEs.

This represents a significant growth area for the Group and, by building strategic partnerships and alliances with local, national and international entities, we’re actively supporting challenge-led innovation and the co-creation of knowledge.

What does this look like in practice?

Let’s start with The Electric Revolution Skills Hub, which is a Coventry University-led capability committed to accelerating and enabling the success of UK electrification. Working in collaboration with UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) and the Driving the Electric Revolution (DER) initiative, we’re helping to energise and grow the UK Power Electronics, Machines & Drives (PEMD) community so that it can meet the challenges of the future. Our digital platform not only connects the PEMD community but also provides inclusive access to training, development and jobs across the UK.

Running parallel to this is our involvement in the Clean Futures Innovation Accelerator, a project led by the Connected Places Catapult in collaboration with Coventry University and the Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation. The exclusive six-month accelerator programme is designed to inspire growth and will see 40 SMEs, selected over the course of two years, provided with up to £50,000 to trial, test and refine their solutions. Through this programme we are helping to solve some of the most pressing challenges facing society today, while also demonstrating our commitment to driving innovation. Our approach includes offering bespoke technical and commercial support, as well as networking and showcasing events with SMEs, industry and financial partners.

I am delighted that the first 20 SMEs have already been selected, with a further 20 to join throughout 2024. Each will address specific issues in the rail and automotive manufacturing sectors with those selected covering green electric vehicle components, the circular economy of transport, road freight alternatives, greener transport infrastructure and future fuels.

All of these initiatives work best when those involved come together to share knowledge and skills. It is a common theme running through our most successful programmes and we must continue to collaborate and embrace new perspectives today if we are to grow and succeed tomorrow.

At Coventry University Group, we are committed to doing just this and, by pushing boundaries and disrupting the status quo, we will continue to employ challenge-led innovation to address the most urgent challenges facing our global community.”


Further reading