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Innovation Pilots: We’re Halfway There!

Halfway through the Innovation Pilot projects, we brought the teams together to ask where we are, what’s happening now, and what’s on the horizon.

When we launched the Innovation Pilot programme last autumn, I remember writing that we have absolutely no idea what we’ll be working on in the next few months. This was completely true. I also wrote that we weren’t worried – but this was only partly true.

The task we’d set was no small thing. We were asking teams to build relationships (often from scratch) across multiple organisations and sectors, and then channel their combined skills, experience and creativity into complex projects within a relatively short timescale. Success was absolutely not guaranteed, but we went for it.

The teams didn’t disappoint.

The Midpoint Meet-Up was structured in two parts: a series of informal Pecha-Kucha style presentations from volunteers across the Innovation Pilot teams, followed by a relaxed social, with music, drinks and the fantastic atmosphere of Cobalt Studios’ event space.

Despite the logistical challenges of herding a large group of busy people from across the region into a single location at 4pm on a Tuesday, attendance was high; with representation from 24 of the 31 project teams. This made for some lively discussion – sharing stories, ideas, and enthusiasm. Everyone was very excited to see what the others had been up to.

Here’s a taster of some of the presentations, showcasing snippets of projects from some of our key themes.

Part of NE Culture is Digital Project Team catch us up on their progress. Photo Credit: Nate Sterling @nasdesignmdi

Theme: Future Cities

Project: Passive Management of Building Environment Systems Using Phase Change Materials, (Developing Energy Store Sculptures)

Aim: To develop innovative ways of using Phase Change Materials that are attractive to designers and architects, creating beautiful architectural elements with the added benefit of passively cooling and heating to control the temperature of a building.

So far: The team from Full Blown Studio, Starbank Consulting and Newcastle and Northumbria Universities have developed two prototype models, encasing spiral PCM structures within inflated metal.

Next steps: The team are moving into the testing phase, logging temperature data to evaluate the performance of these prototypes.

Beyond the Pilot: Beyond the testing phase, there is real potential for a successful prototype to be developed for market – creating wall panels, tiles, office partitions, sculptures, and even furniture that could help reduce energy consumption and heating/air-conditioning bills for businesses and homes.

Theme: Digital Heritage

Project: Bowes North Digital Creativity

Aim: Matthew Read, Director of the Bowes Museum’s Centre for Art, Craft and Design, applied for a small sum of Innovation Pilot funding, asking for a conversation with Creative Fuse academics and digital business, Spearhead Interactive. This project was about exploring the potential of digital to enhance the collections at Bowes, considering new perspectives and creating some early proof of concept.

So far: Matthew spoke about a series of successful ideation days with “great inspiring friends, great minds, and amazing collections.” The outcomes of these were an exploration of VR, and a planned photogrammetry project to bring some of the museum’s key objects to life in a 3D digital space.

1730s Ladies Embroidered Shoes by catdixon on Sketchfab. An example photogrammetry project, included in Matthew’s presentation. A similar approach could be an excellent way for people to interact with museum collections, both in situ and virtually.

Next steps: In the immediate future, the team will share the initial progress and project ideas within the wider organsiation, advocating investment in digital.

Beyond the Pilot: Exploring the (usually closed) museum gatehouses through photogrammetry, bringing the public to these spaces in a new and exciting way.

Theme: Smart Data Innovation

Project: Shoes2Run

Aim: To develop wearable technologies that could analyse an individual’s motion data and recommend that most appropriate running shoes.

So far: Craig and the Shoes2Run team have been working with Northumbria and Sunderland academics to develop a prototype wearable and AI algorithm for testing.

Next steps: The product design is ongoing, along with patent approval and trademarking. The team are planning some treadmill tests in the coming weeks with a large group of runners, supported by a leading sports podiatrist. The team are also working on a software solution for the end-user.

Beyond the Pilot: Once these work packages are complete, it’ll hopefully be all systems go for the product marketing and launch – we can’t wait to see the complete version!

Theme: Digital (R)evolution

Project: NEone Creative

Aim: To develop an online platform to facilitate collaboration and support between freelancers in the region.

So far: The NEone Creative team have been running a series of drop-ins and workshops at Campus North, asking freelancers for their perspectives on sharing, collaboration, and co-creation, as well as identifying some key challenges commonly experienced by the freelance community. These included social isolation, advice on day rates, managing client expectations, and sourcing new projects.

Top Secret NEone Creative Plans. Photo Credit: Nate Sterling @nasdesignmdi

Next steps: NEone Creative are about to start a 3 day design sprint with their UX designer-developer, turning their insights into a working prototype platform. They are anticipating the first iteration to be completed in June this year. Planning for showcasing and engaging audiences is also in the works.

Beyond the Pilot: Laura (project lead) and Nate (one of our Creative Fuse Research Associates) are working on the long term sustainability of NEone Creative, and are exploring future funding avenues.

Theme: Immersive Innovation

Project: Applying Digital Technologies to Create New Ways of Designing, Manufacturing and Selling Clothing

Aim: To explore an apply AR technologies to the clothing and textiles industry, making these tools accessible to small businesses in the North East with a proof of concept demonstrator.

So far: The team from Design Network North, The Northern Clothing & Textile Network, hedgehog lab, Teesside and Sunderland universities and 6 specialist fashion and textile SMEs have so far experimented with the possibilities of digital and immersive technolgies, narrowing down the possibilities that can produce an MVP for the greatest number of businesses.

Zara AR Studio Collection Video via Youtube. An example of a similar app, referenced in the team’s presentation as current best practice.

Next steps: Having decided on an AR virtual catwalk which can be used in meeting with buyers and targeted directly at customers, the businesses will soon be filming their product showcase, to be transformed into a digital apparition.

Beyond the Pilot: It is hoped that a number of the businesses involved move beyond the initial proof of concept model to develop more expansive digital showcasing tools for their companies, putting the North East ahead of the curve in digital fashion retailing.

Theme: Health & Wellbeing

Project: Resilience & Authentic Leadership for Entrepreneurs

Aim: To spark conversation about resilience and mental wellbeing between other business owners; developing scalable models to support the wellbeing of entrepreneurs. An exploration of what works, and what doesn’t within a network.

So far: This project has brought together a great team of regional business-owners with a passion for entrepreneurial wellbeing. They have developed a programme of discussion forums to work through potential wellbeing solutions.

Next steps: Claire explained in her presentation that these events have had fluctuating attendance with many intimate and productive discussions, spattered with some difficulties in converting interest into participation. Undeterred, the team are regrouping over the coming weeks with a nuanced approach. To quote Brené Brown along with Claire: “if we are brave enough often enough, we will fall; this is the physics of vulnerability.”

Beyond the Pilot: This project is currently fluid and responsive, with longer term applications yet to be determined. You can follow this team’s progress (and get involved yourself) via their blog.

Photo Credit: Nate Sterling @nasdesignmdi

Although this is just a glimpse into a large range of Innovation Pilot projects, this hopefully gives a flavour of the kinds of opportunities and amazing creativity we’re harnessing through the Innovation Pilot programme. These projects are not without their challenges – e.g. the limitations of small-scale funding, the need to quickly establish common understanding and language within a new and diverse team, swift time frames, carving out space to innovate against the day-to-day demands of business, etc. – but the Midpoint Meet Up fills me with admiration and optimism for every one of these projects.

Speaking to people during the drinks and discussion session, it quickly became clear that it’s not just me that feels this way: time and again, across different teams, I was hearing stories of the transformational effect the Innovation Pilot process was having. Some even went so far to say that it’s “changed the way they work” as an organisation. The spirit of exploration and collaboration wasn’t limited to the current Innovation Pilots either – there were some early signs of links forming between pilot teams, taking ideas from various projects and combining them into something new.

As we left Cobalt at the end of the evening (so that our brilliant host could get away to his yoga class), I was able to answer the questions we’d posed at 4pm:

“Where are we?” – On the verge of realising some very exciting ideas.

“What’s happening now?” – Effective collaboration between creative, digital, and academic organisations.

“What’s on the horizon?” – Innovation. That and the makings of a pretty impressive sunset in Ouseburn.


Want to keep up to date with the Innovation Pilots as they progress? Follow @CreativeFuseNE on Twitter and search #FuseInnovation for direct updates from each team. Be sure to register for The Creative Fuse Conference, and keep your eyes peeled for future blogs and videos focusing on some of these projects.


Frances Hardcastle is the Creative Fuse Network and Communications Coordinator. She is based in Culture Lab, Newcastle University.
All ‘Fused Views’ Blogs aim to present a variety of views and voices in the Creative, Digital and IT sector. The opinions included in the above blog post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the wider Creative Fuse North East team. You can respond to this article by mentioning us on Twitter @CreativeFuseNE or by completing a contact form. We may follow up on a selection of responses for future blog posts.