RTC North - Competing for tomorrow, not just today

For nearly 20 years, technology and innovation specialists at RTC North have been working with North-East companies on commercialising new products.

For nearly 20 years, technology and innovation specialists at RTC North have been working with North-East companies on commercialising new products.

Today, the company covers the complete innovation cycle from establishing intellectual property to finding overseas markets for products reaching maturity.

The business employs 60 people with offices in Sunderland, Liverpool and at the NETPark Incubator in County Durham, writes managing director Gordon Ollivere MBE.

At a recent foresight lecture, I learned that the world's population was growing by 30 million per month, that non-nuclear energy supplies will be exhausted in 25 years, that 33% of people do not have access to clean water and that if all our economic resources were shared equally, then each citizen of the globe would have 85 cents per day to spend.

Will our regional economy be able to survive in this global environment and can our social institutions adapt quickly enough?

Innovation

Surely, the answer depends on the degree to which we exploit the ingenuity of people and find alternative resources and new ways of doing things.

The North of England was the cradle of the industrial revolution at a time when scientists and engineers were considered heroes and role models. Innovators in the 18th Century did not get depressed about the future. They had real "attitude".

As we enter the 21st Century it is not really about regions any more. We are all part of one massive global system in which the benefits of technology can no longer be monopolised by the powerful few.

In future, the difference between rich and poor societies will be determined by the number of people they can produce with the capacity to innovate and engage in the knowledge economy. There is no reason to believe that the North of England cannot rise to this new challenge.

Nasa

To highlight this challenge, in April we invited some of the most innovative companies in the world to one of the most important international events to ever come to the North-East.

Speakers from Nasa, Honda, Google, P&G and Daimler Chrysler and a host of important research lead organisations came to the three-day conference - Innovation in the 21st Century at the Hilton Hotel on Tyneside.

Any one of the 200 delegates attending was left in no doubt as to the importance of the knowledge economy and creating high value industries driven by highly skilled North-East people.

However, it's clear that developing technology on its own is not enough anymore, we need to apply it to world wide markets and have the foresight to anticipate market changes.

To this end, the event included the formation of working groups that explored central themes of globalisation, new technology and long term strategic planning.

Having a longer term strategy is the only way businesses will remain competitive and a key theme of the conference was about having foresight and encouraging a forward-looking approach where we compete for tomorrow, not just today.

It's an approach that lies behind a groundbreaking initiative which is run by RTC North that invites North-East industry, education and society to play a more active role in the region's future.

Launched by Prime Minister Tony Blair at NETPark in December 2005, Future Matters is already working with 2,000 individuals, 700 companies, 100 schools and a host of organisations in the public sector on futures-thinking activities designed to help the North-East embrace the future.

Future Matters

One of the leading strategic futures consultancies of its kind in the UK, Future Matters provides a regional resource to collect and disseminate information on the major forces acting on the regional economy and society.

The project team is working in three distinct areas and while the Business Futures team employs futures thinking methods to enhance companies' strategic planning, Society Futures works in partnership with regional organisations to create policy options which capitalise on strengths and address weaknesses.

Meanwhile Education Futures works with schools and colleges to promote work-related learning in science and technology and create a highly skilled and enterprising workforce that can take the region forward.

Berwick

And we have recently been putting all three strands together as part of a special project to help build a brighter future in the extreme north of the region.

During 2005, we launched the Berwick Innovation Forum in partnership with a group of local businessmen concerned for the future of their town.

The forum has already identified opportunities to develop the port and marina, capitalise on the region's heritage and countryside for tourism, diversify the agricultural base to exploit new markets for higher priced crops and exploit markets in both Scotland and England.

All this is being translated in the classroom by the education team to help young people appreciate their town and its prospects.

Whether it's innovation in the latest technology or simply new ways of managing change, the visioning approach championed in the North-East by Future Matters is the one which will prepare us for the challenges of tomorrow.

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