The Flood Innovation Centre’s over-arching aims are to prevent and mitigate the impact of flood risk while encouraging economic growth amongst small and medium enterprises (SMEs). We principally do this through funded support packages for businesses to enable them to innovate new products and services that tackle the flood problem and help society become more flood resilient. By doing so we hope to help society cope better with our increasing flood risk due to climate change.
We are based at the University of Hull and are able to mobilise a wide range of academics specialising in diverse areas from flood risk management to logistics, marketing to machine learning, as part of our tailored support packages. We provide access to state-of-the-art prototyping and testing facilities as well as technical expertise, in order to bring these new business ideas to life. We also create workshop programmes to raise awareness of opportunities within the flood resilience sector, which we target at various business sectors including construction, manufacturing, farming and community interest companies.
The Flood Innovation Centre receives funding from the ERDF as well as backing from the University of Hull, allowing us to offer both our workshops and our tailored support packages at no cost to eligible businesses.
We’re currently working with FloodJack on their hydraulic technology for raising new build properties out of reach of flood waters, Humberside Fire & Rescue Solutions on testing of flood water by rescue service staff and community flood wardens and a number of other small and medium enterprises on individual flood innovations.
We also work closely with Councils, NGOs and the insurance industry on innovative approaches to improving society’s flood resilience. One such project is ‘Mapping Flood Recovery Gaps’, funded by the Aviva Foundation, which seeks to identify gaps in post-flood support in order to develop a practical framework to improve post-flood recovery. Initially focussing on the Humber Region, the protocols and toolkit created by the project are intended to be transferable to other regions.
The Flood Innovation Centre is led by the Energy and Environment Institute (EEI) within the University of Hull. The Institute brings together leading academics to tackle climate change issues. Drawing on expertise within the Institute and our understanding of local flood risk, the opportunity to support SMEs to develop flood resilience solution was identified. Before the project, the University held a Regional Flood Forum in 2018, convening partners including Hull City Council and the Environment Agency to explore how to build community resilience to flooding. To determine demand for innovation support to develop flood resilience solutions amongst local SMEs, we surveyed the contacts of other University-led support programmes.
At the start, we experienced delays recruiting staff. The project had only been running for a few months before the first COVID lockdown in March 2020. This dramatically altered planned SME engagement and delivery. We had started using MS Teams for internal communications for the project during January 2020, so the team transitioned relatively smoothly to online working. We also mobilised quickly to digital delivery – our first engagement webinar was within three weeks of being locked down. Whilst we could not engage at live networking events, online workshops afforded us the opportunity to make connections with some key national stakeholders including the Environment Agency, National Flood Forum, FloodRe, Aviva, Defra Pathfinder projects and many more.
One of the greatest surprises we have encountered has been how difficult we have found it to engage businesses to receive our support. Despite flood resilience offering a real growth opportunity, we continue to experience issues with reaching target numbers of SMEs. We recognise that the pandemic is having a profound and lasting effect on SME activity and priorities.
Despite these difficulties, the project team continues to show incredible levels of resilience and tenacity. We have built great relationships within the University and beyond, and constantly seek out new and innovative ways to achieve our project goals. A critical success factor is the flexibility to constantly assess and rethink the project – different factors will always come along to change the status quo and impact all of the assumptions that were made whilst the project was being designed. Sticking rigidly to a fixed idea won’t help you or your intended beneficiaries.
In terms of what we would do differently, our funding restricts us to a limited geographic location – to grow such a niche but necessary market, it would be preferable to be able to deliver to businesses anywhere in the UK.
Number of new to firm products.
Number of new to market products.
Social value and impact of project delivery.