Liz joined Exeter City Futures as Head of Innovation, coming from BAE Systems, where she has 13 years’ experience developing complex systems, defining technology strategy and leading transformational change. Here at Exeter City Futures Liz is responsible for developing an innovation programme that will maximise the opportunity for us to deliver impact on our energy demand/supply and achieve our goals.

In this series of blogs we will explore the ways that we are supporting, validating and scaling innovative, data-led solutions to create innovation that is truly aligned to local needs.

Welcome to the first of our Innovation Diaries. As Head of Innovation here at Exeter City Futures it’s my job to work with businesses and organisations across the City to help identify challenges and collaboratively build solutions that help Exeter meet its meet its vision for a more sustainable city. Through these diaries I want to share with you the innovative approaches that we are developing and begin to showcase some of the exciting projects that are happening.

Innovation is a surprisingly hard word to define. Everyone thinks they know what it means, but when you ask them to explain exactly what an innovation is, it gets complicated. Innovation can be a new product, a new business model or even a new policy. It can even be a an old product, but used in a completely new way.

Exeter’s Challenges

Our vision for Exeter is for a place with optimised energy and transport networks, great open spaces and well-connected vibrant neighborhoods. This vision aligns well with many of the UN Sustainability goals and offers an opportunity to position Exeter as one of the leading Cities that is directly tackling these goals. Delivering this vision will be no easy feat and presents many challenges. As a City we will need to innovate: finding ways to work collaboratively to co-create the kinds of solutions that meet our needs. We will need to think differently about how we finance the delivery of those solutions and develop a political environment that promotes the right kinds of developments that align with our vision.

At its core, Exeter City Futures is a process for defining problems, building partnerships to find solutions, and managing and measuring impact. We have created a comprehensive change programme that engages all stakeholders across the City around a shared vision for the future and ensures that the solutions developed are directed by those who will benefit the most from their creation: the people and businesses of Exeter.

We aim to make four kinds of impact through our work:

  • Deployment of innovative solutions created by and for the residents of Exeter
  • Increase in finance towards solutions that address City challenges
  • Increase in recognition of Exeter in smart city rankings – to show Exeter as a leading city and help attract inward investment and business growth
  • Establishment of policy frameworks and governance structures within Exeter that promote long-term management of city challenges

Accelerating Changemakers

We recognise that innovation can come from all groups in Exeter – businesses, communities and entrepreneurs – and our transformation programme includes a range of initiatives that enables everyone to play an active role in shaping the future of their city.

Exeter City Futures uses an innovation programme called Exeter Velocities; an impact accelerator that provides training, mentorship and access to investment for entrepreneurs developing solutions to City challenges relating to mobility, transport and energy. With just one class of entrepreneurs that successfully graduated from Nurture (the Exeter Velocities Incubator programme), it is already having a positive impact on the region:

  • Supported 6 start-ups
  • Facilitated £75,000 in grant funding to these start-ups
  • Kick-started 3 new innovative companies in Exeter
  • Created 7 local jobs

With another three teams having recently joined our Nurture programme, we look forward to seeing the positive impact that these startups will begin to make on the region.

We are also helping to seed change for local communities and individuals through the #EveryonesExeter crowdfunding movement on Spacehive – a civic crowdfunding initiative, that is dedicated to making Exeter and the surrounding region a better place to live, work and play. Working alongside local groups we are helping to define local projects and identify the resource requirements, skills and fundraising needed to turn them into a reality. We are in discussion with some potential project creators that could be facilitated by #EveryonesExeter, and I’m looking forward to telling you more about these exciting projects in later editions of this blog series.

Innovating With Our Partners

On 5th December we launched the first in a new set of workshops designed to bring together members of our Partner Network to take part in identifying ideas, co-developing solutions and considering next steps to city challenges that will create significant positive change. Each of these workshops will focus on a specific area – we’ve called these our “10x” workshops – using “10x” as a way of indicating significant change from where we are now. Our team will invest resource support alongside our Partners, into leading ideas that are identified during the workshops.

Our first 10x workshop focused on how the city can create significant change to deliver ‘10x more active transport’. The assembled group included representatives from Devon County Council, Exeter City Council, Devon and Cornwall Police, Stagecoach SW and Active Devon plus individuals from Exeter Cycling Campaign and businesses in Exeter including marketing, solicitors and civil engineers. We considered a range of ideas that may have the potential to:

  • Provide easier safer routes for walking and cycling
  • Provide facilities and storage areas for people who have chosen active commutes
  • Provide appropriate incentives for employers and employees to choose active commutes

The most popular idea that emerged from the workshop – via democratic vote – was Safe School Streets. The theme of the project is to consider how to encourage active modes of transport being selected over vehicular transportation for the school run. Through this project we will explore whether temporary car-free zones around school arriving and close times could lead to less congested (and thus less polluted) roads and promote Safe School Streets; fit for walking, scooting, cycling and using public transport to get to school. The intended output of this project is to create a toolkit that can be deployed by all primary schools to help them close roads and encourage staff, parents and pupils to take active modes of transport to school.

I look forward to sharing the outcomes of all of these unique activities with you over the course of these Innovation Diaries. If you want to get involved in the innovation process we’re creating you can apply to join our impact accelerator Exeter Velocities, develop an idea for #EveryonesExeter or sign up to our Partner Network to show support for our vision and take part in the 10x innovation workshops.