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Mayor pumps extra £3.2m into driving Liverpool City Region innovation

INNOVATORS in the Liverpool City Region have received a major funding boost after Mayor Steve Rotheram unveiled plans to pump an extra £3.2million into local businesses and jobs. Under the Mayor's proposals, the City Region's unique innovation investment company, LYVA Labs, will receive additional funding to help innovators across the Region to turn great ideas into high growth businesses and good quality jobs for local people. The City Region's Combined Authority approved funding at its meeting on 10 June, enabling LYVA Labs to expand its activity into new sectors, beyond its initial health and life sciences remit.

Speaking about this new funding, Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said:- "Our Region is home to a thriving ecosystem of innovators who have got the talent, ambition and creativity to rival anywhere else in the world. I want to offer them a helping hand with additional funding that can help them to realise their potential; because when local businesses flourish, the rest of our economy does too. I want the Liverpool City Region to develop a global reputation as a place that creates more businesses, attracts greater investment, files more patents; and is ultimately more productive and prosperous. The more we can encourage businesses to tap into their entrepreneurial spirit, the faster we can realise our ambition of becoming an innovation powerhouse."

As the City Region's dedicated innovation commercialisation vehicle, LYVA Labs will be key to achieving Mayor Rotheram's ambition to invest 5% of Regional GVA on Research and Development (R&D) by 2030; nearly double the Government's national target.

As part of its drive to boost innovation, the Combined Authority has published its Innovation Prospectus, a multi billion pound plan to supercharge the City Region's innovation powerhouse credentials linked to its distinctive world leading capabilities in materials chemistry, infection control, and AI solutions, plus emerging strengths in net zero.

It has also launched the £2.24m High Growth Innovation Fund to help small businesses innovate, which itself builds on 2 pilot rounds of the Future Innovation Fund which saw 35 local companies receive support worth £2.1m.

LYVA Labs was initially set up to provide:- "incubator" services and funding to very early stage start up companies in the Liverpool City Region's health and life sciences sector, which is one of the strongest in the country, involving over £2b research in infection alone per year.

It recently announced its 1st funding of £175,000 for Frequasense Ltd to develop technology that rapidly detects sepsis; an infection that affects 245,000 people and is responsible for at least 48,000 deaths in the UK every year.

Lorna Green, CEO of LYVA Labs said:- "It's fantastic to see the LCR Combined Authority and Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram further investing in LYVA Labs, enabling us to recruit four new team members and provide funding for innovative businesses across the Liverpool City Region. We've had amazing support from the innovation community for the launch of the Health and Life Sciences Challenge Fund and have already established a strong pipeline for investment. This second phase of funding allows us to work with established businesses across all sectors who want to innovate, and to establish up to twenty new deep tech businesses. The Combined Authority approved an initial £7.5m investment to create LCR Ventures, later rebranded as LYVA Labs, in August 2022, with the intention to allocate a further £3m."

The additional funding for LYVA Labs is a response to Project Boom, commissioned by the LCR Innovation Board to examine how economic growth could be maximised and accelerated by the distinctive innovation assets of LCR.

This financial boost will enable LYVA Labs to address the 3 urgent needs identified by the report, namely improving the commercialisation of ideas generated by the City Region's knowledge base; enhancing innovation collaborations between the knowledge base and City Region industry; and developing large scale collaborations to exploit the City Region's unique base and capabilities.

LYVA Labs will do this with a 4 part programme:-

  Creating a £1m Challenge Fund supporting the establishment of start-ups from the LCR knowledge base.

  Consultation work to create a portfolio of new high value innovation opportunities linking larger businesses and HEI across a Liverpool City Region.

  Developing new consortia between established businesses and the knowledge base both by deploying insights and through the provision of grants to fund the development of initial concepts.

  General support to ensure that initial ideas are supported to access other business support mechanisms within the Liverpool City Region.

The drive to tackle racial inequality is in uncharted water, but 1 year on we're starting to move in the right direction...

EMY Onuora knows 1st hand how immigrant families can succeed against the odds. The academic and author hails from a sporting family; growing up with professional footballer brother Iffy Onuora and sister Anyika, an Olympic sprint medallist. But as a key member of the team delivering the City Region's biggest ever investment in addressing racial inequality, he also knows that many College children fail to overcome the racism which puts up barriers to success.

Having grown up around Smithdown Road, near the City Centre, he knows all about the famous Liverpudlian history of community and solidarity. As Project Manager of Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram's race equality programme, he now faces the tough job of extending that proud tradition to the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. Emy explains:- "Historically the City Region has always prided itself with issues of social justice; you think about the Hillsborough campaign, the dockers strike and the boycott of the S*n newspaper. Unfortunately, that has not manifested itself in terms of race equality. We have had minority ethnic communities for longer; this has not, by and large, been a post Windrush community; it predates that by a couple of centuries so structural racism has been ingrained for longer. We have had positive action initiatives over the years but there has been no continuation, no structural change. Hopefully now things are beginning to change and we are starting to move in the right direction."

25 May 2022 marked 2 years since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, that sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the world. In the wake of the protests, Mayor Rotheram committed to tackling institutional and systemic racism with a bold declaration of intent. By 2025, his Combined Authority will help an extra 5,000 Black Asian And Minority Ethnic residents through employment and skills programmes. It will more than double its own Black Asian And Minority Ethnic workforce from 3% to reflect the City Region population of 6%. And under the plan, 6% of senior positions will be held by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic employees and the authority will be required to increase representation each year.

A year on, it seems like a timely moment; Liverpool has its 1st Black MP and City Mayor and a £3.2 million Race Equality Hub is starting to take shape. It is designed to target employment inequalities and remove barriers in the labour market. Emy, 57, says community leaders are impatient for change, but he is acutely aware that in the past such initiatives often produce little lasting effect. It is hoped a combination of long term funding, political will and genuine involvement from the communities affected can deliver lasting change. He explains:- "Our research tells us that no one anywhere gets this right. We looked for successful models in the UK and USA and we found none, so we really are in uncharted waters."

Early research ahead of the project showed that initiatives in the past had floundered due to a failure of political will, with people often trying to crisis manage solutions.

City Mayor:- "Heads might roll, but the issue inevitably moves down the list of priorities and we move on. What people fail to do is understand barriers, learn lessons and develop a new kind of policy. We want to embed long term funding and make sure we do this with communities rather than doing it to them; hence our co-design approach. The Mayor is on board and is very supportive. We need to ensure the hub is long term and commercially viable. It is going to take more than two or three years to achieve."

Work to establish the Race Equality Hub began last autumn and triggered a flurry of activity.

It aims to deliver:- business support, job readiness schemes, leadership development and mentoring programmes, as well as race equality training for businesses and organisations.

That will include rolling out a programme of race equality training to the 22,000 people employed by the Combined Authority and the 6 Local Authorities.

It will also include involvement in The World Reimagined, a national art education programme that aims to help reframe cultural narrative on what it means to be British.

In the City Region this means a project looking at the transatlantic slave trade and connections to coal mining in St Helens and the Leeds Liverpool canal.

A full business case for the Hub is currently being developed. External people with expertise in different areas have been appointed to a 16 strong steering group with nine board members driving various aspects of the service delivery.

Cultural ambassadors have been despatched to each of the 6 Local Authority areas to talk to communities and report back the barriers and issues people are facing.

Premises are planned for a Liverpool City Centre site and in each of the 6 Local Authorities; a hub with satellite offices for people to get support and advice.

The Hub is expected to be up and running in October.

Emy's 2015 book:- 'Pitch Black - The History of Black British Footballers,' looked at footballing racism through the eyes of some of most influential players of their generations, including John Barnes, Viv Anderson and Cyrille Regis.

His academic interests have seen him study for a master's degree in Ethnic Studies and Race Relations and he currently is working towards a PhD in Researching Barriers to Race Equality in English football.

Emy explains how initiatives to increase diversity in employment will be broadly based around demand and supply and centre around a strategy of persuasion and encouragement.

He points to a lack of diversity among professional roles such as:- Doctors, Teachers, Architects and Engineers, as well as the affect, that has in both working class and Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.

This absence of role models creates an aspiration issue:- "if you can't see it, you can't be it." But he also highlights a:- "dearth" of people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities going into areas like engineering and construction, where they could progress to managerial roles such as site manager.

Emy added:- "We will target our growth sectors and ask them to provide positive action; to ring fence opportunities for Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. We will provide pre-support, through things like interview, applications and CV preparation, so that they are able to gain entry to those opportunities. We will do work with organisations that want to diversify, but don't know where to start, for example an engineering firm with a family ethos, perhaps one that traditionally recruits from sons and friends of workers. We would ask them to look at where and how they recruit, at more competency based recruitment panels. This might be tied it to a fair employment charter; more opportunities for more diverse firms; it might be reputational it might be a willing ear in senior leadership."

At the moment, the foundations are being laid for something which can become embedded within the City Region with results in the long term. Having worked in the field and in the community for many years, Emy understands the appetite for change, but also the need to deliver tangible results.  Emy concluded:- "It is exciting and frightening at the same time. All things being well, it is going to be a game changer and will have a real effect on the City Region. It is innovative and the opportunity to help shape its development is really exciting. The frightening bit is the anticipation from the community. Everyone has seen it all before and there is a lot of scrutiny. People are sceptical, which is healthy, but they are willing to suspend this scepticism if things begin to move in the right direction. The pressure is about managing expectations. People want it yesterday. We need to take our time and there needs to be a bit of pace. It would be great to be able to announce it during Black History Month in October. But we need to get it right, get away from the knee jerk response. We are going away from the model of intervention where you throw money around. We want to do something strategic, long term and think about its development. Race equality is not going to be addressed in the short term."


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