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Norwich's science city ambitions lauded

PUBLISHED: 11:00 27 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:32 06 July 2010

Steve Downes

Norwich is set to follow in the footsteps of Cambridge and be acclaimed as a science city within two decades - but only if University of East Anglia (UEA) academics develop a 'culture of innovation'.

Norwich is set to follow in the footsteps of Cambridge and be acclaimed as a science city within two decades - but only if University of East Anglia (UEA) academics develop a “culture of innovation”.

The man who oversaw Cambridge's enterprise explosion made the prediction before he spoke to 200 Norfolk business leaders to urge them to play a part in kick-starting the economy.

Walter Herriot is the new chairman of Norwich Research Park's Enterprise from Innovation Board, where he is aiming to work his magic on a second East Anglian city.

Mr Herriot said UEA must “do better and do more”, and said there were “too few spin-off businesses” being born out of the academic research going on at the university and the neighbouring science park.

UEA responded by saying it had made “great progress” in promoting a culture of innovation among its academics.

But Mr Herriot added that there needed to be a step change in local attitudes towards linking with universities and creating an entrepreneurial culture.

And he threw his weight behind the EDP-backed campaigns to fully dual the A11 and develop a reliable, 90-minute Norwich-London rail service, saying: “If Norwich and Norfolk are going to achieve their aims, the transport infrastructure must be set up for a 21st century, not 19th century, economy.”

Mr Herriot was appointed in December 2009 as chairman of the Enterprise from Innovation Board of Norwich Research Park (NRP), which is at the centre of plans to develop 5,000 new jobs by 2021.

His previous career included 18 years as a manager for Barclays Bank, then a spell as corporate finance director for Coopers and Lybrand in East Anglia.

From 1990 to 2008 he was managing director of St John's Innovation Centre in Cambridge, where he played a key role in transforming the city into a regional centre of innovation and enterprise. He was made an OBE in 1999 for services to business in the East of England.

He said UEA and NRP had “started on the journey”.

He said: “We are well placed to play a really important role in the growth of the knowledge-based economy. In order to move forward however, we have to make a step change in local attitudes towards linking with universities and creating an entrepreneurial culture.

“It seems to me that in the recent past it was pretty difficult for businesses to interact with the university and make the best use of the expertise and advice available.

“Also it seems likely that, given the growth of the environmental sector, there's been too few spin off businesses. We need to make it easier for businesses to interact with the university.”

He said future development hinged on getting in “people of high calibre to make things happen”, including a full-time director of the science park and a dean of enterprise at UEA, to “stimulate entrepreneurship and ensure various programmes necessary are in place”.

Mr Herriot added: “What UEA is doing it could do even better and it could do more. There isn't at present a culture of innovation among academics, but there wasn't at Cambridge when I started there 30 years ago.

“But the opportunities are there. With a fair wind Norwich will be internationally acclaimed as a science city in 20 years and will be regarded as an example for others to follow.”

Prof Trevor Davies, UEA pro-vice-chancellor for research, enterprise and engagement, said: “The university has made great progress in promoting a culture of innovation among its academics and the event showcased a number of case studies presented by businesses highlighting their positive experience of working with us.

“We have rapidly expanded our business interaction activities since 2004 when we successfully obtained £1.75m from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

“In recent years we have had a number of major successes in creating new businesses, spin-off and licensing ventures in addition to innovative business support and investment programmes particularly in the low carbon arena. We are extremely keen to build on this, and Walter has been appointed to bring his long-standing expertise in this area.”

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