Hethel Engineering Centre, near Norwich
Hethel Engineering Centre, near Norwich

Driving success in advanced manufacturing and engineering

20 May 2021

Hethel Innovation, based at the Hethel Engineering Centre in South Norfolk, helps SMEs across our region become more innovative, productive and competitive. Executive Chair David Taitt highlights how its approach differs to that of many traditional business centres and consultancies.

The Hethel Engineering Centre (HEC) is an award-winning innovation hub that services the high-performance engineering and manufacturing sector in the East of England. However, its role goes far beyond providing tenants with workshops, offices, meeting rooms and hot-desking facilities. Its remit has always been to focus on helping SMEs develop new products and services and improve productivity.

Since it opened in 2006, HEC has been home to more than 320 groundbreaking businesses; additionally, Hethel Innovation has incubated more than 200 innovative start-ups, and has helped create more than 1500 high-skilled jobs. At the same time, the Hethel Innovation team, which runs HEC and the Scottow Enterprise Park in North Norfolk, has provided business support to thousands of other businesses throughout the region. These value-added services range from bespoke interventions and training courses to master-classes and conferences.

Breaking down barriers to innovation

Hethel Innovation’s approach centres on building innovation platforms to catalyse the development of new ideas. This stems from the belief that innovation doesn’t just happen but needs to be proactively driven. The team starts by identifying specific industry challenges or needs and then seeks out companies in the regional business community with the technological capabilities to create marketable solutions.

This approach involves nurturing clusters of like-minded people and leveraging knowledge and expertise to support business growth. The team actively cultivates a collaborative ecosystem of companies with a positive attitude towards working together, sharing ideas and co-creating new products and services. It is important for people joining this agile, fast moving community to feel that the culture is a good fit for their business, adds value and will help them embrace new technologies.

HEC typically has around 60 tenants, but Hethel Innovation engages with at least 2,000 other businesses through the New Anglia Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering (NAAME) network in partnership with the New Anglia LEP, local industry and District and County Councils. NAAME has a particular focus on clean tech (particularly renewable energy and battery technologies), automotive design and build (particularly EVs), agritech, and digital control and safety systems. NAAME also has strong links with other centres of intellectual capital in the region, including OrbisEnergy in Lowestoft, Norwich Research Park and Adastral Park in Suffolk, as well as networks like EEEGR, TechEast, Agri-TechE and MAKE UK.

A measure of Hethel Innovation’s success is the continual flow of businesses through HEC. We want to see start-ups accelerating, becoming scale-ups and moving out to larger industrial sites in the area, particularly along the Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor. Recent examples include electric drive-train manufacturer Equipmake, now based at Snetterton, and Magnus Marine, now based in Wymondham. Ours is not a static community but rather a living, growing cluster that feeds talent and enterprise across the whole region.

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