Simply Do Ideas is an SME based in south Wales. Its purpose is to enable large organisations to crowdsource ideas to solve strategic organisational challenges. A key tool is its award-winning digital platform, an end-to-end innovation workflow which makes the process of managing innovation quicker, easier and more effective. It does this by enabling organisations to shape and share live, media-rich briefs in a secure portal designed to capture focused solutions from employees or external suppliers. This is known as challenge-led innovation.
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The company recognized that the time, cost and risk typically associated with innovation are the three key barriers for most public sector organisations when developing creative and innovative solutions to their problems. Confident that their model could help, the company put forward a proposal to test their approach in the context of the social and economic challenges facing public bodies and communities in the South Wales Valleys.
A Challenge Fund grant was awarded to build upon their earlier work in policing, advanced manufacturing and financial services to connect foundational economy challenges with crowd-sourced entrepreneurial solutions from two key stakeholder groups; the first, local colleges and universities and the second, local SMEs.
The project was delivered in two distinct phases:
Phase one aimed to address a shared problem between industry, education providers and their students. Time poor, risk averse employers need new ideas to survive and thrive, whilst students need access to ‘real-world’ experiences to be ready for the world of work. In the middle, further and higher education providers are tasked with heavy employability targets and stretching curriculum outcomes.
During this phase, students from 8 colleges and universities in and around the south Wales Valleys were presented with live briefs and supported to generate innovative solutions to key marketplace challenges. The briefs came from organisations across foundational economy sectors, including those in hospitality, transport, housing and construction.
More than 400 students engaged in these challenges, enabling the client organisations to capture early-stage ideas that could then be tested in the marketplace. At the same time, the students gained essential experience of working on a real-time business brief, something not otherwise easily accessible to them.
As Simply Do Ideas moved into phase two of the pilot, the company turned its focus to supplier-led innovation, which encourages organisations to work with the expertise in their supplier network in order to bring new and existing products and services to market faster. In Wales the supplier network is predominantly SMEs and the company was confident that its expertise could be harnessed to help bridge the gap to the public sector.
Choosing to focus on the healthcare sector, the company partnered with Life Sciences Hub Wales, which aims to help make Wales the place of choice for health, care and wellbeing innovation.
Whilst working together, the need for PPE rocketed due to the coronavirus pandemic and demand on manufacturers reaching an all-time high. A rigorous procurement process put extra pressure on the Life Sciences Hub team, who were manually sifting and sorting through an unprecedented number of product and service offers from industry in order to procure the necessary supplies.
This was the perfect opportunity for Simply Do to deploy its digital product, allowing it to co-create a customised workflow that, through automation, significantly increased the speed by which diverse providers and products could be sourced, qualified and purchased whilst maintaining a robust procurement process.
Not only did this solve a huge time barrier for Life Sciences Hub in sourcing appropriate products but it saved time for potential suppliers who could communicate their offer more quickly and easily via the purpose-built innovation portal. Moreover, innovative new suppliers, products and services were surfaced through this streamlined, challenge-led process that may otherwise not have been.
The output was impressive, with more than £6million of PPE products procured by the NHS from suppliers engaged on Simply Do, resulting in an approximate GVA to the Welsh economy of £34 million. NHS Shared Services also became a net-contributor of PPE to the broader, UK-Wide effort to secure PPE during the pandemic.
In total, the Challenge Fund has enabled Simply Do Ideas to engage with more than 1,600 SMEs generating almost 1,800 ideas in response to 13 externally-sourced challenges relevant to suppliers and commissioners in the foundational economy. The organisation’s Senior Business Manager, Joseph Murphy, believes that this demonstrates that challenge-led innovation has a real contribution to make in terms of progressing the way that procurement is done in Wales.
“There’s an opportunity here for Wales to be a global leader. Turning our size to our advantage, we can use our close proximity to one-another, our resources and public policy to ensure that we are at the cutting-edge when it comes to solving some of the biggest challenges of our time,”
Having concluded its Challenge Fund project with resounding evidence that this model works within the public – as well as private – sector space, Simply Do Ideas is looking ahead towards a new investment stage. Its aim is to continue working creatively, between and across sectors, to further cascade the benefits of challenge-led innovation.