Today was most definitely a landmark day for the Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation (BCIMO), as they held an exclusive ‘Demonstration Day’ event to showcase a range of SME innovations from the first cohort of the Clean Futures Accelerator programme.

The two-year programme, launched in July 2023, is led by Connected Places Catapult and delivered by BCIMO in partnership with Coventry University. It is designed to address key industry challenges through innovation, by accelerating the route to market for SMEs via a package of funding, technical expertise and commercial insight. In essence, it prepares the regional SMEs on the programme to demonstrate their innovations to industry partners and potential investors, the culmination of the project being the live on-site demonstration.

At BCIMO, which focuses specifically on innovations within the rail sector, the end of the first year of the Clean Futures Accelerator concluded on Tuesday 30th April with an exclusive ‘Demonstration Day’ held at the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre in Dudley, with more than 130 visitors in attendance. Cohort 1 SMEs had the opportunity to showcase their innovations both in the upper Meetings & Events Spaces, and across the Rail Development & Test Site facilities, within a broader programme of activities.

Tram 16's last ever journey on Friday, 14th August 2015.<br />
Photo courtesy of Daniel Cartwright, Enpro Group
Tram 16 next to a replacement Urbos 3 tram at Wolverhampton St George’s.<br />
Photo courtesy of Daniel Cartwright, Enpro Group

To introduce the event, the day began with a welcome from BCIMO’s CEO, Neil Fulton, followed by a talk from Sarah Windrum, Future Mobility Lead at HORIBA MIRA and Innovation Board Member at the West Midlands Combined Authority. Sarah reflected on the development journey of her company – noting its similarity to BCIMO – and its impact to date on both the industry and Midlands region. Outlining their mission to make journeys ‘safer, cleaner and smarter’, she further emphasised the need for an ‘ecosystem of innovation’ for regional SMEs and how support from WMCA was fundamental to this. Capturing the spirit of the Clean Futures Programme, she finally summarised on the importance of bringing together innovation, infrastructure and investment.

Tram 16's last ever journey on Friday, 14th August 2015.<br />
Photo courtesy of Daniel Cartwright, Enpro Group
Tram 16 next to a replacement Urbos 3 tram at Wolverhampton St George’s.<br />
Photo courtesy of Daniel Cartwright, Enpro Group

It was then the all-important turn of the Cohort 1 SMEs to deliver their ‘pitches’; and it was particularly heartwarming for the team to see how far so many of them have come in both developing their innovations and their confidence in sharing their ideas and aspirations over the course of the programme. Each talked about their innovation – all exciting options to contribute to rail and the broader regional transport sectors making real strides forward in their net zero agenda – but also their individual visions for the future, both of their businesses and the impact their innovations can have far beyond the region in addressing global environmental challenges.

In developing the conversation further, Martin Little, Strategic Business Partnerships Manager at BCIMO, then led a panel session with experts from across both the rail sector and innovation landscape, posing a number of key questions. These encompassed the specific criteria for ‘good innovation’, the role that programmes such as Clean Futures can play in driving it forward, and the challenges the industry faces in harnessing innovation. Of note was the question: “what advice would you give to SMEs”, with responses as ‘tenacity, exposure, connection, hard work’ and, above all, to be “brave and bold”.  A final personal word was from Simon Higgens of Story Contracting, who said “all twelve of you rightly deserve to be in the sector… don’t give up!”

Over lunch, visitors had an opportunity to meet with individual SMEs, and to really explore their innovations. This included within the Exhibition Hall, where each SME had a stand – all of which remained extremely busy throughout the afternoon – alongside numerous animated conversations between those present. But the real highlight was the opportunity for guided tours of the Engineering Hall, where visitors had a chance to see the hard-earned results of the work innovators have undertaken on the programme. Here, the pride in their individual and team achievements really shone through, and again the engagement and audible feedback from those visiting each innovation was self-evident of the quality of that work.

Returning to the Auditorium, Head of SME Development at BCIMO, Naomi Arblaster, and Clean Futures Accelerator Programme Manager at Connected Places Catapult, Hannah Fortune, presented each of the Cohort 1 SMEs with a plaque, amidst a celebratory photocall and continuous rounds of applause. Hannah then formally launched the second year of the programme, outlining the challenges for Cohort 2 applicants to consider; and Naomi closed the event – and the first year – with a reflection on the success of the programme and exciting plans for its future.

Neil Fulton, CEO at BCIMO – reflecting on the significant amount of positive feedback received from visitors on the day and since via social media – said:

“A wonderful event and a great example of exactly what BCIMO is here to do – working with companies, large and small, academia, regional and national government to facilitate rail innovation.”

Sarah Windrum, Future Mobility Lead at HORIBA MIRA and Innovation Board Member at West Midlands Combined Authority – posting on LinkedIn – finally added:

“An amazing day! Left absolutely buzzing and with connections to make for many of the cohort businesses. A real exemplar programme for our Innovation Accelerator embedded in the region’s innovation assets and industry strengths. Thank you, Helena Davies and team, for such a fantastic event!”

Helena Davies, Events Manager at BCIMO, said:

“The Clean Futures Cohort 1 Demonstration Day was a fantastic conclusion of the first intake of the Accelerator programme. As the Events Manager at BCIMO I see lots of different types of events come through the doors, however planning and delivering from start to finish, alongside my colleagues, is not something we do that often. It’s been a complete team effort and a delight to see the event come together. I feel the event showcased the facilities across BCIMO and showed the true potential of what can be delivered on site.”

Matt Wood, Programme Manager at BCIMO, said:

“Planning this day has been hard work but worth every minute to see it come to a successful end. SMEs and BCIMO staff are all happy with the event, both promoting the SMEs’ innovations and the crucial work done by Clean Futures and CPC. A great result all round.”

For more information on the Accelerator, to meet our first year innovators and find out more about the second year opportunity – please visit the Clean Futures Accelerator page on the BCIMO website.

SMEs interested in applying are advised to register for the following:

For more information on the wider Clean Futures Programme and how it can support SMEs on their innovation journey – please visit the Clean Futures Catalyst and Clean Futures Commercial Investment Hub pages on the BCIMO website.

We will also be publishing an article in June, as our Cohort 1 SMEs reflect on their experience of the Clean Futures programme and memories of Demonstration Day – look out for this on the BCIMO News webpage and links on the BCIMO LinkedIn page.

For more information on BCIMO in general please visit the BCIMO website or Contact Us to make an enquiry.

BCIMO is a not-for-profit Research and Technology Organisation (RTO) and operator of the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC), a unique, world-class centre for rail innovation based in Dudley in the West Midlands.

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