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Sir Ian’s busy team starts the new year in positive mood

Sir Ian Wood and some of his team at Opportunity North East. Clockwise from Sir Ian are Deborah O'Neil, Stanley Morrice and Jennifer Craw.
Sir Ian Wood and some of his team at Opportunity North East. Clockwise from Sir Ian are Deborah O'Neil, Stanley Morrice and Jennifer Craw.

So much about our working and daily lives has changed it is hard to recall what “normal” is.

With the economy recovering in many, if not all parts, and agile and enterprising businesses in growth mode, we asked some of the top team at economic development partnership Opportunity North East (One) what’s in store for the region during 2022.

Sir Ian Wood. Photo Kami Thomson / DCT Media.

According to One chairman Sir Ian Wood, a focus on energy transition and economic diversification is already bearing fruit.

Sir Ian, who is also chairman of ETZ, the company driving plans for an Energy Transition Zone in Aberdeen, said the north-east was at a “crucial milestone” in its economic transformation.

‘Unprecedented challenges’

He added: “Following a period of unprecedented challenges owing to the pandemic, there is reason for optimism.

“With 70% of the successful bids within 100 miles of Aberdeen, the ScotWind leasing round represents a major step in our ambition to create a globally recognised, integrated energy capability.”

This capability will be focused on delivering net-zero and developing a “sustainable long-term industry base that delivers significant employment and growth for the region and Scotland”, the oil and gas industry veteran turned renewables champion said.

‘Key milestones’

“Beyond energy, the coming year will also see key milestones reached as we continue to diversify our region’s economy across our key sectors,” he added.

Sir Ian also said he and the rest of One’s management team were “particularly excited” about the opening of BioHub and the continued progress of Seedpod – “transformational projects that will catalyse further growth in our life sciences and food and drink sectors”.

One chief executive Jennifer Craw was equally upbeat about the year ahead.

The bullish mood is based on her team’s experience of working with more than 400 businesses across the region’s key industries.

“There is a real sense of change gathering momentum as we start the year,” Ms Craw told The Press and Journal.

She added: “This is a year of opportunity, with the accelerated transition to a low-carbon economy the key economic driver as we learn to live with Covid-19.

“One is focusing action and investment on developing new tech businesses, leading sustainable food production and premium product development, commercialising life sciences innovation, and rebuilding the visitor economy with a focus on our natural assets and environment.

“The North East Adventure Tourism project and Provenance Festival are two good examples of where we can build visitor numbers and revenue.”

Jennifer Craw.

The largest-ever entrepreneurial business growth support programme delivered by One is also under way.

Meanwhile, construction work is about to start on SeedPod and BioHub is due to open in autumn.

Both Aberdeen developments – together worth more than £60 million – are co-funded by the UK and Scottish governments, via the Aberdeen City Region Deal, and One.

One is leading entrepreneurial programmes to create the right mindset for innovation-led sustainable business growth in the low-carbon economy.”

Jennifer Craw, CEO, Opportunity North East.

Ms Craw said: “Creating an attractive and supportive environment for entrepreneurs and founders, and supporting start-ups through to full-scale maturity are part of these projects, and our broader action and investment.

“One is leading entrepreneurial programmes to create the right mindset for innovation-led sustainable business growth in the low-carbon economy.

“Energising this region’s entrepreneurial spirit will make the most of our sector strengths and people, create new jobs and provide opportunities across the region.”

There has never been a better time to found a tech start-up in the north-east.””

Grant Smith, digital sector board chairman, One.

Digital technology is changing our lives and businesses, while also playing a key role in tackling global climate, energy and health challenges as we live through the fastest pace of change in history.

Grant Smith, One’s digital sector board chairman, said: “The economy is opening up again and the appetite for innovation, new ways of working, is accelerating.

“There is also a move towards purpose-driven working, especially among younger people looking to make a difference in what they do.

“Tech is attractive because of the opportunity to develop solutions that deliver social impact as well as financial return, and take them to market quickly.”

‘Wealth of expertise’

Mr Smith added: “The region has all the ingredients to grow its tech sector.

“There is a concentration of key industries, a wealth of expertise and talent, challenges that need digital solutions and an increasing willingness to do things differently.

“The growing tech ecosystem, universities, better digital education, access to accelerators, expert support, and investors to turn ideas into start-ups and scale creates an attractive mix for innovators and founders. One is a catalyst for this.

“There has never been a better time to found a tech start-up in the north-east.”

‘Fast-changing sector’

The region is synonymous with quality food and drink, a £2.2 billion annual turnover sector employing more than 22,000 people across manufacturing and production.

One’s food, drink and agriculture board chairman is Stanley Morrice, who said: “The sector has adapted and innovated, and come through the pandemic in overall good shape.

“Many businesses have grown and continue to invest in new products, market development and process innovation. There is optimism in the industry for 2022.

“It is a fast-changing sector and sustainability is key to future success.”

Stanley Morrice.

One is working with businesses to help them embed low-carbon best practices in their operations and supply chains, from farm or fishery to fork.

“The region can be a leader in low-carbon premium production,” Mr Morrice said.

One’s £75m Seafood Transformation Project aims to modernise the region’s £700m turnover fish and shellfish production through public and private investment.

It is a five-year programme to deliver new capacity, automation and resource efficiency.

Mr Morrice said: “This project will put our processing sector at the forefront of advanced food manufacturing in the UK – supporting businesses to add value to the premium fish and shellfish we land here, increase profitability and create new higher-value jobs.

“Digitisation and automation are critical for the whole sector and right across supply chains for low-carbon productivity and overcoming labour shortages.”

SeedPod will create a focal point for the industry,” Mr Morrice said, adding: “It is exciting to look ahead to construction starting this year.”

Headwinds for the food and drink sector include inflation and its impact on costs, disruption to logistics and supply chains, and evolving international trade relations.

Life sciences is one of the fastest-growing parts of Britain’s economy, with the UK now ranked third globally for investment into biotechnology and healthcare technology.

Aberdeen has a fast-growing, high-value life sciences cluster, featuring a number of notable late-stage drug development companies, university spin-outs and start-ups.

Deborah O’Neil is chief executive of pioneering, Granite City-based biotechnology firm NovaBiotics.

She is also vice-chairwoman of both One’s life sciences sector board and BioAberdeen, which was formed to deliver BioHub.

Life sciences ‘centre stage’

Ms O’Neil said: “The pandemic put the health, social and economic impacts of life sciences centre stage.

“We have seen the real-time impact on health, wellbeing and the economy of developing vaccines and treatments faster than ever before.

“That’s very powerful and demonstrates the sector’s potential to change lives and generate significant returns on investment. We are building on that momentum.

“BioHub is the significant sector development for Aberdeen. It is an unprecedented investment.

“It will provide facilities, space, specialist support and connections for scaling businesses and the spin-outs and start-ups that One works with to commercialise research and innovation.”

Deborah O’Neil.

She added: “It is an inspiring time to be a life sciences founder.

“Innovators increasingly have access to the talent, support and capital to create businesses.

“And the pipeline continues to grow, with incubators, early-stage investors and growth funds helping spin-outs and start-ups build their products and grow at pace.

“BioHub will draw all these strands together in Aberdeen, build on five years of sector growth investment from One, and catalyse a new era of life sciences development.”

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