Key Insights from Our #2 Innovation Roundtable

Investment in innovation is ramping up in the UK, most recently through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Technology Missions Fund. The £7 million fund is available for SMEs who wish to fund AI projects that address specific business challenges in high-growth industries. The funding and accompanying training and expert guidance will help break down barriers and accelerate innovation for all businesses, not just SMEs. 


Elsewhere, Innovate UK’s Launchpad programme has already committed £16 million of funding to support 101 projects and expects a further £44 million in funding to be made available in the coming year across the eight clusters the Launchpad currently exists in nationwide. 


As funding for businesses to explore the latest technologies continues to grow, organisations of all sizes need to understand how best to take advantage of these opportunities. But before they do that, they must first gain an understanding of how the latest technologies can have a meaningful impact on their business.


The amount of innovation funding becoming available shows that technological innovation has never been faster, reminding us of the dizzying days of the early internet. Our recent Innovation Roundtable brought together senior executives to explore the multifaceted nature of innovation today. Here are the crucial takeaways and the vibrant discussions that shaped our session.


The Nature of Innovation


We often do innovation a disservice by thinking that innovation is simply using the latest products or adopting the newest technologies. But true innovation is so much more than that. Real innovation is creating purposeful change by implementing new ideas and creating a fundamental change in a service, product, or organisation. 


As we sat down for our second roundtable, the nature of what innovation is, or isn’t, was naturally top of the agenda. As we ventured further into the topic, it brought up an even more interesting debate – is innovation an unstoppable force that passively affects us or is it the result of us taking active steps to change something? Change usually comes from action, underscoring the necessity for us to engage actively and take risks to foster meaningful change.


It is this ethos that is currently driving businesses to adopt OKR frameworks to structure and drive their innovation efforts, focusing on R&D objectives to foster meaningful advancements.


Ethical Considerations


Ethical and legal issues are nothing new in the AI debate, but there is no denying that both are growing as the use of AI becomes more prevalent in our lives, both in and out of the workplace. 


A surprising insight discussed by attendees was the growing issue of deep fake technology often struggling to determine whether its outputs are genuine or fabricated. Once AI is so sophisticated that other machine learning models struggle to detect what is user-generated and what is AI-generated, we have a problem on our hands. This isn’t a hypothetical issue or something we need to be wary of in the future, it is an ethical and legal concern we are facing today. Last year, OpenAI already shut down its AI classifier – a tool created to detect AI-written text due to its low accuracy rate. 


The ethical and legal ramifications become even more concerning with deep fake technologies that can create AI-generated audio and video of a person. Often, the output is indistinguishable from genuine recordings and has already grabbed plenty of headlines for its role in fraud, manipulation, and disinformation campaigns by bad actors. 


For businesses, the risk becomes even greater, as the number of headlines about disgruntled employees maliciously using deepfakes continues to rise. 


This revelation underscores the importance of ventures like Fuzzy Labs, which is pioneering ‘Model Assurance’ to detect tampering in digital models—a critical step towards ethical AI.


As technology continues to blur the lines between reality and AI-generated content, ethical considerations are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Discussing this topic around the table, questions were raised about the potential need for individuals to trademark their own faces and voices to protect against unauthorised use, highlighting new legal territories that innovation may soon push us to explore.


The Hard Truths of Innovation


Innovation isn’t easy—it’s a challenging journey where early phases can be particularly daunting. Our discussions underscored that projects often take three times longer and cost five times more than expected at their inception. Coupled with the current economic climate, company budgets are stretched paper-thin long before R&D and innovation come into consideration. 


Once you get past the hurdles posed by budget, you still have to tackle the reality of competitive pressure. Innovation is often born out of the need to stay competitive in a fast-paced market but often takes time and resources to implement. It becomes a race against the clock where you not only need to innovate, but you also have to do it faster and more successfully than your competitors.


This reality shapes how leaders should approach innovation, emphasising patience, persistence, and a robust culture of innovation that starts from the top. Otherwise, they will risk their efforts falling short as change requires a clear vision and hands-on guidance that engages employees. Forbes reports that according to several studies, employees that have a strong sense of purpose tied to the work they do are far more motivated to innovate, especially when they feel the specific product or service they’re working on will have a positive impact on their organisation, or the wider community.


The Role of Leaders and the Community


Sitting around a table filled with business leaders and key decision-makers, it would be impossible for our conversation not to touch on the subject of leadership. Passionate leadership is indispensable; it fuels the drive to persist through the inevitable challenges of bringing new ideas to fruition. It provides the guiding hand organisations require to create meaningful, long-term change when they innovate. 


The wider business community also plays a crucial role, especially in fostering an environment where innovation can thrive. Initiatives like Peak’s internal ethical AI think tank and open forums for discussing new ideas are practices that other organisations should look to foster. Especially enterprise-level businesses that can give back to the community and help SMEs overcome two of the most common challenges to innovation: cost and knowledge.


It is our responsibility as leaders to steer our communities to work together in good faith. The revelation about B Lab’s involvement with businesses that have questionable ethical or environmental practices was particularly eye-opening. It sparked an essential dialogue on “innovation for good” and the critical role of ethics in business innovation and how leaders must not let progress come at the expense of their legal, ethical, or environmental obligations.


Future Trends and Ethical Stands


The roundtable touched on the rapid evolution of technology with hype cycles becoming increasingly shorter as the rate of innovation snowballs, not just in AI but in the wider tech industry. However, this rapid pace of progression often does not leave time for proper vetting and safeguarding measures as legislation fights to keep pace with innovation. Live shopping via platforms like TikTok represents the next wave of digital consumer interaction, raising important ethical questions about consumer protection and data privacy.


The discussion also touched upon emerging trends such as live shopping and social commerce within the travel sector, pointing to areas where innovation is notably vibrant and reminiscent of the Teletext travel boom.


Sustainability and Funding Challenges


Sustainability remains a critical consideration, intersecting significantly with innovation efforts. Technology is notoriously energy-intensive, AI even more so. In the rapidly evolving world of technological advancements, we must all do our part to ensure that we mitigate the environmental impact of progress. Otherwise, innovation will begin to suffer as organisations continue to tie leadership remuneration to ESG goals.   


However, sustainability isn’t the only challenge we face as we strive to innovate. Concerns were voiced about the stifling effect of the current funding landscape in the UK, which many feel is regressive compared to other innovation hubs globally. Thankfully this does now seem to be improving as we are seeing significant investment from government initiatives and regional trade bodies continue to lobby for further support as they strive to make the UK a global technology hub.


Takeaways from the Roundtable



The diversity of perspectives and organisations represented at the roundtable enriched the discussions, underscoring the importance of building a robust culture of innovation regardless of what industry your business operates in. We also concluded that champions of innovation within organisations are vital – they spearhead change and take the necessary risks to drive progress in their businesses as well as the wider community. 


As we continue fostering the community of innovators Manchester is quickly becoming known for, these dialogues are invaluable. Not only do they refine our approach to innovation but they also ensure we remain at the cutting edge, ready to adapt and thrive in an ever-accelerating world.


It was also great to see so many Oldham fans bringing additional enthusiasm to the table! But, in all sincerity, the mix of insights and community spirit made this roundtable not only informative but also incredibly engaging and rewarding for all involved.


We look forward to welcoming you all to our next roundtable soon, keep an eye out for more details on our socials!




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