A Week in My Life: Deb Hetherington, Head of Innovation, Bruntwood SciTech Leeds
Deb Hetherington leads innovation activities at Bruntwood SciTech in Leeds, from its state-of-the-art base at Platform, situated right next to the city's transport hub.
Platform was purpose-built to bring the city’s leading technology businesses together, and Deb has been at the heart of that ecosystem for a number of years, across a range of roles. She joined Bruntwood SciTech in summer 2020, having previously been business innovation manager at Leeds Beckett University.
Deb works with Leeds’s thriving digital and tech sector from Platform, working closely with businesses across a range of specialisms - enabling brilliance in life sciences and tech - as well as public, private, academic and clinical institutions to create high-value jobs in the sector and drive growth. At the same time, she's a Director at Leeds Digital Festival, on the Digital Board for Leeds City Council, Co-founder of Women in Leeds Digital, and much more.
We found out what her weeks are currently looking like...
So my morning routine is fairly repetitive. My alarm goes off around 6am and I spend 20 minutes scanning the local business and tech headlines. I then get out of bed, take a mind numbing variety of vitamins and supplements, flick to a relevant podcast, grab my basketball and head out for a run to the local basketball court.
I am frequently, and deservedly, teased for my choice of exercise as a 36-year-old, however I've played since secondary school and it’s the only form of exercise I get remotely excited about so I go with it. After 30 minutes of throwing the basketball in the direction of the hoop, I run back to my apartment, grab a coffee, do some yoga and get ready for work.
As Head of Innovation for Bruntwood SciTech in Leeds, no two days are the same. I’m responsible for the design and delivery of business support for the full range of disruptive tech businesses based in Platform. Our mission is to help grow the science and technology sector in the UK through our network of thriving innovation districts. In order to do this we work with the key public, private, clinical and academic stakeholders in each region to ensure our activity is aligned to their strengths and ambition.
Mondays are sacred! For as long as I can remember I've kept Mondays free of meetings, and worked from home where possible. My calendar gets hectic throughout the week, on account of saying 'yes' to pretty much every meeting request I get.
I've always said yes to meeting requests, because some of the most amazing projects I have been part of have come from the most unexpected coffee meets. The only way to be able to do that, and stay on top of everything else, is to keep a day completely free for administration and project work. Mondays are for planning, reporting, customer and partner comms, and catching up on emails.
5pm arrives sooner than expected, and it’s time for our WILD founders' meeting. As well as working at Bruntwood SciTech, I’m a co-founder of WILD, a community-led organisation that focuses on diversity in the digital sector. We work with the Council, and a range of partners across the public, private and third sector, to ensure Leeds’ Digital Sector is as representative as possible. In more normal times, this would be in Friends of Ham, or an equally excellent independent hospitality venue in Leeds, but currently we're making the most of Zoom, which is far less fun.
My morning routine is the same, with one small difference in that I have an early call on the walk back to the apartment, with a colleague in Manchester. Once ready, I struggle with the seven-minute walk/commute along Lower Briggate to Leeds’ "home for tech", Platform, via Laynes Espresso - arguably the best coffee in Leeds - where I pick up my morning latte.
Bestselling author of 'Scaling Up' and creator of the Rockefeller Habits, Verne Harnish, once said that "routine will set you free". My week is, where possible, designed with this in mind.
Tuesdays are set aside for internal meetings and events or programme planning. We start the day with a team meeting via Hangouts, followed by a one-to-one with our fantastic community engagement manager, Wendy. I then grab an espresso from the magic iPads in Platform’s lounge and start planning.
Access to events and business support are a large part of the benefits of being located in a Bruntwood SciTech building or campus. Today I’m working on the design of a couple of new business support programmes we have in the pipeline, including one focussed on legal innovation. I take a call with the City Council, to discuss the recently published Legal Innovation in the Leeds City Region report, and determine where we might work together to build structure around the momentum of the report.
When it comes to events, we like to focus on quality over quantity. It’s a tricky one at the moment in a largely virtual world, where people have their pick of events from across the globe. I'm currently carrying out some research around the best delivery and content that will add the most value for our businesses.
Strolling into the office at 8:30am, coffee in hand, today is a day to engage with customers and partners! My favourite kind of day. I have always worked in customer-facing roles, from marketing to law, through academia and business support, so the majority of my working time is spent talking to people.
I start the day with a customer meeting; a digital transformation company looking to grow. We discuss a variety of themes from talent acquisition to funding, and I take away a range of actions and a diarised catch-up for the following week.
I then have a call with the Leeds Digital Board, of which I’m a recently appointed Director. Leeds Digital Festival is the largest tech event outside of London, and a true testament to the collaborative nature of the city. We are currently in the planning phase for more of an all year round approach to activity, so there’s lots going on.
Another customer meeting, and then it’s time to meet with a regional accounting firm interested in becoming one of our partners to offer additional support. An interesting conversation ensues, covering the wide range of options we can work together on, and a startling fact that over 80% of eligible businesses do not take full advantage of tax credits. Every day is a school day.
Today I start the morning with a walking meeting and tour of some of the exciting developments across Leeds with Eamon Fox from Knight Frank.
I get into the office for 9am, grab a coffee (there’s a clear theme here) and respond to emails. I have a planning session with Leeds Beckett University later on, and have some prep to do for that. Having recently cemented a partnership with the University for innovation and business support activity, we are looking at ways of streamlining the delivery of events, funding, research, and graduate talent to provide additional talent access and collaboration opportunities for businesses at Platform.
Before I know it, it’s 4pm and time for a check in with the other Heads of Innovation across Bruntwood SciTech in Manchester, Birmingham and Alderley Park. We're often looking at ways we can facilitate innovation and provide collaboration between our life science and tech customers, and regular sessions to discuss opportunities to do so between us is proving really worthwhile.
In this new lockdown world, Fridays are a little different than they once were. The last day of the week was always filled with networking breakfasts, business lunches, and after-work socials within the digital ecosystem here in Leeds. The city would come alive with events and physical interactions on a Friday - it was a real opportunity for sharing stories, projects, and discussing collaborations.
As a digital community, we've managed to maintain a certain level of this interaction, with Friday virtual lunches, and online socials. These alternatives have certainly plugged a gap, but the overwhelming feeling is a desire for the return of physical activities, as soon as is responsible and safe to do so.
It’s been a tough few months, not least of all because of the psychological impact of limited social interactions. It’s safe to say the one thing that's shone through when speaking to businesses, stakeholders and partners is that they can’t wait to spend more time back in the cities and spaces they are based in. And I, for one, couldn’t agree more.