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Digital health innovation boosted in Bradford

Source: Public Sector Executive Aug/Sept 2014

Dr Liam Sutton, the University of Bradford’s head of knowledge transfer, talks about how a new programme of investment will help transform the city into a digital health innovation leader.

Bradford is hosting a £12m investment programme to cement the city as a leader in digital health innovation in the UK.

A partnership bid led by the University of Bradford secured £3.8m from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) to establish a University Enterprise Zone in digital health innovation – one of only four bids selected for funding across the country (see box out).

Although the bid was led by the university, it brought together academia, the public sector and commerce: the partners were BT, the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, and NHS organisations including the three Bradford NHS trusts – Airedale, Bradford Teaching Hospitals and Bradford District Care Trust – to cement the Leeds city region as a UK hotbed of digital health innovation.

Additional funding of some £8.3m from the partners brings the total funding for the initiative to over £12m.

Dr Liam Sutton, the University’s head of knowledge transfer, who compiled the bid, told PSE: “The main reason for the bid’s success was the partnership we built up. We’ve got, obviously, academic excellence at Bradford in relevant areas – particularly healthcare management, practice-based medicine and digital technologies – but we invited BT, as a really strong private sector partner, to participate as well.

“We were also fully aware that the idea that was forming was completely aligned with what Bradford City Council wanted to do, in terms of its ‘Produce a City’ strategy.  In other words, the Economic Development Strategy has digital technologies as a major component. So we knew there was a strategic alignment to be found here, between actors in academia, public sector and commerce.”

Over the next three years, through the University Enterprise Zone, the initial phase of the digital health zone will involve the creation of two digital innovation spaces in the centre of Bradford – one on the university’s campus and the other in the Little Germany area.

Health and Wellbeing Centre

Dr Sutton said that a new Health and Wellbeing Centre will be built on the university campus and it will provide services to the public – by housing practising health professionals such as doctors, opticians and dispensing pharmacists.

“It will also be an environment in which our students can learn, and our researchers can innovate and evaluate around healthcare service models,” he said. “Importantly for that, because of this bid, we will be able to include some incubator space in those plans.”

The grant has enabled the university to bring forward those plans by a couple of years, and it is hoped the incubator space will attract companies and potentially teams from the NHS and other health organisations to innovate around healthcare service provision.

The Health and Wellbeing Centre is expected to be built by autumn 2016, and be up and running by spring 2017.

Digital Exchange

As well as delivering the new Health and Wellbeing Centre, the university will be taking control of the council-owned Design Exchange in Little Germany.

The donation of the converted wool mill, which is now a managed office space, is the council’s largest contribution to the project.

“We will be changing its name and calling it the Digital Exchange, and it will do exactly what it says on the tin,” said Dr Sutton. “The site will be majorly devoted to business incubation, with a demonstrator unit as an innovation showcase – populated with BT technology or telehealth more widely.

“There will also be space for around 100 individuals working with ICT and digital communication companies – with a theme of health – and with the ability to learn from the on-site BT team about the technology and business of integrated communications-enabled healthcare.”

The bid partners are hopeful that the Digital Exchange will also allow people to take advantage of the university’s capacity to support invention and discovery.

PSE was told: “One of the really salient points about doing this in Bradford, and the Leeds city region, is that we have the Department of Health and NHS England based in Leeds, and we have at least one pioneering hospital in the Bradford district – Airedale NHS Trust – which is very good at digital healthcare.

“We also have two other hospitals that are very active in new developments in this area, and as well as BT who operate the NHS Spine from Leeds, we have a lot of different companies innovating in the area.”

The Design Exchange was last updated in 1999, but the University now has plans to invest £1m in the facility’s upgrade. “We want to get it up to scratch with the very latest standards in technology and security. When it comes to data and health, privacy and cyber-security are absolutely paramount,” said Dr Sutton.

Economic asset 

It is hoped that developing these sites in Bradford will provide the springboard for growth and attract innovative companies to the city.

“We’ve predicted, based on the occupancy we’ll have in the two incubator facilities and the potential for growth of the organisations – over a 10-year period – that we should stimulate the creation of around 2,000 jobs,” said Dr Sutton.

During this time about £20m will be spent on the business incubators. PSE was told that “this means we’d be delivering 2,000 jobs for £20m, which means £10,000 per job, and that is about on par for incubator performance worldwide”.

On top of the job creation, the Leeds City Council Regional Economic Intelligence Unit has estimated that the project could deliver a net gross value added of £375m.

Although the plans sound ambitious, Dr Sutton is convinced the Leeds city region – already a pioneer in this area – is the best place to use knowledge and innovation to drive further growth.

He said: “It will only make research in this area better and what Bradford adds, in particular, is very strong international connections.

“We’re going to be able to develop really strong export markets for what goes on in the digital health zone.

“Bradford University is the BIS UK China focal point for health innovation, which essentially means we coordinate very high-level meetings at ministerial and chief executive level between UK organisations and Chinese organisations in this field of health innovation.

“Already we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Peking University International Hospital, which will be at the centre of China’s healthcare reforms that will be bringing digital healthcare to 1.3 billion people.

“We intend to bring our innovations in the health zone to one million UK patients in the next five years. There are only 60 million people in the UK – if we can harness that particular pathway for growth for our UK companies, the future is phenomenal.”

Strength through unity

Dr Sutton highlighted that one of the key aspects that has led to the success of the digital health innovation project has been engagement.

He stated that there is the harsh reality of life that councils can’t do as much as they used to be able to do under their own steam, so they’re seeking partners to help deliver services.

“But the more positive way to look at this,” said Dr Sutton, “is that universities are critical to local and regional economies and we can’t continue to do our good things – and to have solid impact – unless we’re collaborating with those local political actors.”

He believes collaboration between academia, the public sector and commerce will be vital to delivering innovation and making sure its impact is felt in the wider society.

The four successful University Enterprise Zones


Led by the University of West of England in partnership with the University of Bristol, the West of England University Enterprise Zone will deliver a 4,000 sq m (33,000 sq ft) incubation and grow-on facility on the Frenchay Campus for businesses in Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS), Biosciences, Health Science and related sectors.

It will bring together business, academic expertise and networks in the two universities and the wider city-region, and access to advanced technical facilities and technical support, along with undergraduate and postgraduate placements, projects and graduate recruitment opportunities for businesses in the zone.


Led by the University of Nottingham, a new Technology Entrepreneurship Centre will be created for the first time at Nottingham. It will provide on-campus intensive support to external business start-ups and early-stage SMEs.

Delivered by Nottingham University Business School the Centre’s technology/sector focus will be Big Data & Digital (including Satellite applications), Advanced Manufacturing & Aerospace, and Energy, aligned to national and local growth priorities - exploiting the proximity of existing UK-leading technology centres of excellence and the ready supply of highly-trained postgraduates.

Bradford (Leeds City Region)

Led by the University of Bradford, the University Enterprise Zone pilot will create ‘The Digital Health Zone’, aiming to be the best place in the UK to innovate and grow businesses in communications-enabled healthcare.

The zone will be built around two bespoke facilities adjacent to the city centre: a Digital Exchange to support technology development and a Living Clinical Laboratory to pilot new products and processes in healthcare.

These facilities will house 140 groups from the digital and healthcare sectors as the core of a city region cluster in this field, alongside 50 practitioners, carers, students and researchers delivering health services to the community.


The University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University have been successful in their bid to create one of four University Enterprise Zones, with £5 million match funding from government.

The £15m facility will house and support new high tech  ‘sensor technologies’ businesses. Sensors are the crucial link between technological devices and the world around them, capturing data on a whole host of areas such as temperature, humidity and pressure.

They can be used in everything from home security systems to medical technology and high value manufacturing.

‘Sensor City’ will help inventions go from the lab to the factory floor even faster, and act as a shop window for foreign investment into the city’s high tech start-ups.

Source: HM Treasury

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