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Why being a member of a cluster is a winning decision for businesses

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The West Midlands Health Technologies Cluster is one year old, so it cannot yet match the track records of the world’s best clusters – yet. But it is our ambition to become world-class.

In our first year of operation, the new cluster organisation’s most significant contribution has been to help bring a clearer identity to the region’s health tech sector. A year on, there is clarity that this identity revolves mainly around the 4 Ds of:

DATA: A diverse and stable population and records of millions of patient treatments provide huge appeal in terms of clinical trials and support for innovative treatments and services

DEVICES: Major manufacturers like Salts Healthcare as well as innovative smaller companies are meeting more patients’ needs for their health and wellbeing while increasingly having regard to sustainability, Net Zero and circular economy approaches

DIAGNOSTICS: A growing mass of diagnostics businesses led by The Binding Site coming up with ever-more innovative ways of diagnosing a breadth of medical conditions and reducing the need for patients to travel to hospitals for tests

DIGITAL : Allied to diagnostics at home and in communities, digital health allows doctors to come to patients (instead of the other way round) with patients’ health and wellbeing monitored and reported on outside hospitals.

This identify is prominent in everyone’s promotion of the West Midlands health tech sector.

For example, the Department for International Trade has circulated to British Embassies worldwide the West Midlands HPO (High Potential Opportunities) prospectus called “Data-driven healthcare” which describes our health tech businesses in terms of the 4 Ds.

The West Midlands appeared on the world stage this summer as the Commonwealth Games took place in Birmingham.

The region’s health tech sector – and the 4 Ds – will be a key focus of the Business and Tourism Programme that has been woven around the Games.

The Cluster has contributed to a promotional video of the sector and has helped in the design of a “Health Day” for the Government’s “UK House” which will be in Birmingham for the duration of the Commonwealth Games.

In the year following the Commonwealth Games, the West Midlands Health Technologies Cluster will build on this work to promote health tech businesses across the region.

We will help businesses follow up on new leads, get into new markets and build up their networks. We will support those businesses which have come up with innovative solutions to get their products and services to market.

In its Levelling Up White Paper (February 2022) the UK Government announced a substantial investment in creating an Innovation Accelerator in the West Midlands.

This offers the Cluster the opportunity to plug into this exciting leap forward in the region’s ability to promote and support innovation.

According to the Levelling Up White Paper, the public investment is intended to foster innovation – and one West Midlands sector where innovation is increasingly an engine for growth is the health tech sector.

We saw giant strides forward in Covid diagnostics and treatments driven by the severity and urgency of the pandemic and its impacts on our society and economy.

These were advances born out of the need for innovation at speed and at scale. Truly, necessity has been the mother of invention. But recent innovative developments have not been limited to our Covid response.

In the world of medical devices, innovative products and services are being developed in response to health policies which seek to embed more involvement in their care by patients as well as reaching out to fill unmet need and help reduce health inequalities.

Makers of devices are also increasingly accepting the Net Zero challenge and tackling the climate crisis.

There is recognition of the need to reduce our reliance on single-use products which are then thrown away.

The drive towards Net Zero brings in its wake consideration of how a circular economy approach might work for devices and the services that support them.

Government, NHS and business leaders are all convinced of the case for greater innovation to promote a healthier planet as well as healthier people, to prevent further harm to our planet as well as prevent illness.

The Cluster encourages and supports businesses in diagnostics and in digital health as well as devices as they turn their ingenuity towards new generations of carbon-reducing products and services that are more sustainable for businesses and their customers as well as more sustainable for life on Earth.

There’s nowhere better for accelerating innovation than in our use of data and digital health solutions.

It is now possible to bring doctors to their patients virtually, cutting the need for patients to travel to hospital for consultations.

It is possible to monitor patients’ conditions in their homes and provide timely interventions when their vital signs warrant them.

It is possible to provide training and re-training for medical staff in simulated settings as well as virtually in their actual workplaces.

The way we channel innovation can offer relief for hard-pressed hospitals, a more significant role for primary healthcare services (GP practices, clinics and community hubs, for example) and greater support nearer to home for patients and their families and carers.

The Cluster’s Executive Chair, David Kidney, says the Cluster is geared towards making the West Midlands economy even more successful:

“Our mission is to grow the health tech sector in the West Midlands in terms of the wealth it generates and the good quality jobs it can offer people.

“We are focused on this economic imperative in everything we do – and we are independent, interested only in getting the most appropriate support for companies.”

Cluster Manager, Emma Yeap, says member businesses appreciate the advocacy, network opportunities and flow of relevant information that the Cluster provides:

“We have become a very connected organisation, working with all the key agencies such as universities, Growth Hubs, the West Midlands Combined Authority and the region’s local authorities and elected representatives, particularly the region’s elected mayor, Andy Street.

“My own position includes the role as the health tech’s member of the region’s Virtual Innovators Team, which helps me to understand and tap into the cross-sector and multidisciplinary potential for innovation.”

In Michael Porter’s cluster theory, collaboration and competition among cluster businesses can promote growth (by increasing the productivity of companies), innovation, (by driving the direction and pace of innovation) and competitiveness (by stimulating the formation of new businesses).

It is our cluster’s mission to meet these three goals in the West Midlands.

This is an excerpt from our Special Report – Global Health Tech Clusters

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