Seven takeaways from the Kent and Medway Business Summit 2024

Emily Collins

Dr Esther Fee Feichner speaking at the summit

On 12 January, over 200 business people and academics came together to connect, collaborate and learn at the 7th annual Kent and Medway Business Summit hosted by Kent Business School. Read on for the top takeaways from the day.

View from the back of the lecture theatre at the Summit

Innovation and enterprise remains high on the agenda in a post-LEP world

From April 2024, the Government’s sponsorship of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership is set to cease, with many of its functions transitioning to Kent County Council. Roger Gough, leader of KCC, sees this as an opportunity to improve on what came before. In the Summit’s opening session, he previewed the Council’s plans to support innovation and enterprise in Kent and Medway with an emphasis on the rejuvenated Kent and Medway Business Fund, the delivery of the Local Skills Improvement Plan and the current consultation on the Local Transport Plan which will support the region’s transition to net zero.

Dr Ramin Raaesi talking to a visitor at the Summit

Economic conditions are set to remain challenging into 2024

In an update from the Bank of England, delegates heard that GDP has weakened more than expected and that the labour market remains tight, meaning that the ratio of vacancies to available workers is still high. On a slightly brighter note for employers struggling to recruit, the market is expected to loosen in the coming months. The Bank of England also reported that both wage and service price inflation fell by more than expected in November, but both remain well above levels consistent with their inflation target.

Some of the speakers at the Summit

Building bridges between business and education will drive us down the road to sustainability

The appetite for sustainability is there, but the understanding of how it works in a business context is sometimes lacking in young people. The good news is that the Sustainability-focussed panel led by Director of Green Business Hub, Martin White, offered lots of advice for businesses who want to turn this around. Josh Pitman, Managing Director of Priory Direct, recommended others follow in his footsteps as a guest lecturer at Kent Business School, and Paul Gannaway, Director at Betteridge & Milsom, encouraged businesses to take advantage of the Government’s apprenticeship scheme. Connecting with local further and higher education institutions can create further opportunities to improve sustainability – as proved by Priory Direct which is now working with Kent academics to improve the sustainability of their services via a Government-funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership.

Visitors at the Summit talking to exhibition stand holders

Experience-based recruitment is out: skills-based recruitment is in

Despite many businesses in Kent and Medway still struggling to recruit, the Skills-focussed panel, led by Professor Patricia Lewis from Kent Business School, concluded that the region isn’t short of a skilled workforce; skilled workers are just underutilised. The panellists proposed a number of solutions to this problem. Dr Joel Montgomery is working with Kent Refugee Action Network to examine how businesses can draw on the highly skilled but marginalised refugee community, whilst John Parkinson, Director of HR GO, has partnered with Kent academics to use machine learning to help businesses understand where skills will transfer within company. In the future, he predicts that more businesses will prioritise skills over experience in the recruitment process, of which the panel agreed leadership and management are some of the most sought after.

Close up of the panellists in another session

It’s time for a Ministry of Joined-Up Thinking!

Even those who have never stepped foot in court were able to relate to the frustrations that Barrister and Head of Leverets Group, Rupert Butler, has to contend with when dealing with the UK court system. After all, many people have’. But that is exactly what businesses need if we’re to increase productivity according to the panel led by Dean of Kent Business School, Professor Catherine Richardson. To exemplify this, the Founder of Canterbury Brewers and Distillers and the Foundry Brewpub, Jon Mills, told his story of developing a means to grow speciality mushrooms using the waste grain, heat and water from the whisky distilling process – both improving the sustainability of his business and developing a new product. Ingenious!

A panel discussion at the Summit

There is a wealth of support available for start-ups and scale ups

Senior Manager at British Business Bank, Susan Elliott, chaired the Summit’s Finance session, where she was joined by finance experts from Kent Business School, Discovery Park Ventures, Kent County Council’s South East Business Boost and a London-based business advisory and accountancy group. Symon Barkway, Principal Director of Williams Giles Xeinadin Group said of the company’s support for the event, ‘The main takeaway from the Summit was to look more into driving sustainability for us and our clients, plus we are also looking to grow ties with the university and collaborate where possible, including support, mentoring and offering placements.’

Dr Esther Fee Feichtner playing the piano

AI is no match for human creativity… yet

Ending the Summit talks on a high note, keynote speaker Dr Esther Fee Feichtner, an expert in AI technology and sound from Munich, posed the question of whether artificial intelligence has become better at generating art than humans. After reflecting on the history of generative AI and its increasing capabilities when it comes to ‘creating’ music, she ended with an exceptional piano improvisation so stirring it was met with a standing ovation from the audience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.