The Lib Dem candidate in the West Midlands Mayoral campaign has issued a passionate plea for the region's creative digital sector to embrace the wider business community. Beverley Nielsen has spent the last decade at Birmingham City University (BCU), acting as a catalyst for numerous productive partnerships between employers and the education sector.
As Mayor, she would deliver such engagement strategies across the region, spanning all areas of business, from metal-forming and manufacturing, to ICT, creative and digital.
She also feels that many of the new generation of digital-based ventures could learn, and develop more sustainable business models, from traditional sectors.
“Unfortunately, many new creative start-ups still operate from 'silos'. They share business space with their peers, network with their peers, and socialise with their peers," she says.
"From my experience, it's largely because they think people of their generation understand the digital landscape better than anyone else.
“However, I think though if they fully understood the benefits which would accrue from engagement with more established business sectors, and the experiences (both good and not-so-good) about which they could learn, they'd be much keener to integrate.”
Nielsen is certain that such collaborations would prove of significant value for all parties, and cites two examples from her work at BCU.
“There are numerous instances, but one which always comes to mind was when a group of our students worked with William McGrath, the chief executive of Aga Rangemaster. They were millennials, and very much of the digital generation, but were also happy to engage with a manufacturing business.
“They went away to think up concepts for a new type of night storage heater, and in just 72 hours, they had analysed the sector, learned about the technology involved and come up with innovative ideas which really impressed William.
“Another instance was when BCU students used standard components from Triumph Motorcycles to create a contemporary design of corkscrew. Fresh eyes, plus different knowledge and experiences, are always huge assets, and the digital and creative ventures would benefit as much as their partners.
“I do genuinely get the generational challenges here, just as I see that the digital platforms of our service economy are seen by many as 'sexier' than manufacturing and industry, but as a very successful entrepreneur once said to me: 'We can't live (for long) by selling cappuccinos to each other over the web.'
“The logic of using 'disruption' to identify new ways of working has become accepted. However, I think many creative and digital ventures need to widen their definition of disruption to include much wider collaboration with traditional business sectors.”