A note from Marty Reid: It’s all about community

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While this newsletter is full of our usual mix of exciting stories from the Bristol & Bath region, the eyes of the world were on Glasgow this month at COP26.  

This piece isn’t going to be an analysis on the implications of the talks for the technology and innovation sectors, but I can certainly point you in the direction of exciting activity in our region’s sustainability space right now, from research to city initiatives.  More on this topic another day.  

So back to COP26. Being from Glasgow myself, I still have many friends and family living in the city and knew a number of people who travelled from Bristol to be part of the occasion, so I thought I’d share some insight from those who were there.  

Tangible community outputs from COP26 and our region 

While the press coverage centred around the official delegations and discussions of world leaders, people in the city shared a sense of dislocation from these “official” events and activities due to a lack of meaningful access or engagement. 

Encouragingly, however, they also shared tremendous enthusiasm for the potential demonstrated in the breadth and quality of grass roots and community-led discussions. I’ve heard that if there is to be tangible near-term action coming out of the events in Glasgow, it will be built on the output of the networks, community groups and social activists that came together to share, discuss and challenge one another to start implementing collaborative plans in the fringes of the main event.  

This resonates strongly with my experience of one of the technology and innovation clusters around Bristol, Bath and the South West. The strength and depth of networks and peer communities is a hard thing to measure, but it was only as we saw them really stretched due to the pandemic, and then start to adapt and grow again in recent months, that their importance has really come to the fore.  

The community-led ethos of the cluster is one likely reason why our regional ecosystem seems to produce a greater number of rising stars in ‘impact-led’ business fields, where social and societal contribution and successful economic models regularly go hand in hand (TechSPARK and Rocketmakers’ Tech for Good microsite is a great place for case studies). There’s also nothing like peer mentoring and engagement for supporting the kind of cross-sector innovation that our region is really good at. 

In that context, two highlights for me this month… 

Firstly, even though our tech incubator partner SETsquared Bristol was in the running, we were delighted to see DigiLocal take home last week’s Tech South West’s Commitment to Diversity award. This fantastic Bristol charity has been working since 2019 with local communities to deliver free technology clubs for young people; a case study in grass roots action which should have a lot more attention from anyone talking about tackling the ‘talent gap’, alongside inclusion and accessibility in the sector. 

Secondly, the opening of Science Creates’ new facility is a really notable event for the city region. While the accessibility of even bigger, better facilities will be critical for the growth of scaling deeptech and life-sciences ventures, it’s also exciting that we could see a step change in the depth of this community with teams at the new facility able to engage with peers at the original Unit DX, the Quantum Technology Innovation Centre, Future Space and the Bristol Robotics Lab.  

All of this thinking is also why Engine Shed is taking the time to build a collaborative FinTech Accelerator model in partnership with FinTech West and SETsquared Bristol. “A collaborative regional programme placed at the heart of a partnership of industry, academia and the regional technology cluster” which we hope will become a vehicle for tackling financial inclusion and equitable opportunities access, as much as for supporting the next generation of start-up superstars.  


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