Dr Ceri Williams, Senior Manager, Science and Innovation at Yorkshire Forward and Dr Danielle Hankin, Bioscience Cluster Manager have been involved in the setting up of a number of projects such as the Centres of Industrial Collaboration and Knowledge Rich
Dr Hankin, can you tell us about the specialist business advisory service?
The Specialist Bioscience Advisory Service ? jointly funded by Yorkshire Forward and the European Union ? is an example of targeted support for Start- Ups and other small companies to help them in their future growth and survival. It offers bioscience-specific business advice across a range of areas, including regulatory issues, intellectual property, access to finance and legal matters.
Can you give us an example of a success story?
Paraytec is one of our success stories. Paraytec is a spin out from the Department of Chemistry at the University of York, based on patented analytical detection technology. Their initial products will be miniaturised UV absorbance detectors, employing capillaries as sample vessels. Key features include ultra high sensitivity over a very wide dynamic range and extremely small sample volume requirements. Application areas in bioscience include UV absorption measurements of nanolitre volumes e.g. DNA, RNA or proteins and capillary separations e.g. in proteomics. Paraytec had not yet incorporated, but the company had prototypes developed and was looking for investors and commercial partners.
Paraytec had been working closely with Science City York and Connect Yorkshire who had helped with business support and putting together their investor presentation. But they needed more detail on the size of the market and the particular sector for their technology. Through SBAS they were able to access market analysis services within Deloitte. SBAS came up with the key information to establish the size of the market for their technology, which made a big difference to their business proposition. Since making their investor pitches they have now incorporated the business and further investment looks promising.
Dr Williams, Yorkshire Forward has recently launched the first English Regional Industrial Research and Development Award for large companies. How is this progressing and what are the specific aims of the project?
The agenda in this region is that we have relatively low business investment in research and development (R&D) so we wanted to have a method to stimulate business expenditure on R&D and to adopt innovative processes into their business operations. We received state aid exemption to the sum of £18.5million for a large company R&D scheme ? the Industrial Research and Development Awards. This is primarily for companies based within the region of Yorkshire. We?ve just been through the first call for applications and are currently going through a process of announcing the successful applicants.
We are now just going through the necessary due diligence associated with the sorts of projects that the companies would run. There is a fairly detailed set of assessment criteria and rules of applying for the funding that help a company understand what metrics we will be looking at. Obviously, as a Regional Development Agency, we are keen to maximise the economic benefits for the region and to keep the outcomes of that R&D within the region if possible or, if not, to enable them to be exploited for the benefit of the region.
Dr Hankin, what makes the Yorkshire & Humber region one of the fastest-growing economic areas in the UK, particularly in the area of bioscience?
Bioscience in Yorkshire and the Humber is still an embryonic cluster, but it is growing steadily. One of the region?s great strengths lies with the Yorkshire universities, and particularly the White Rose Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York. These universities, along with Bradford, Hull, Huddersfield and Sheffield Hallam, offer some of the world?s leading research departments housed in state of the art facilities, which they open up for use by wider industry.
The commitment to the bioscience sector is also a key to its development. Yorkshire Forward and our partner organisations placed Bioscience high on our agendas from an early stage. This has directed a great deal of investment towards the sector to help support, attract and grow the industry.
What are the key strengths of the Yorkshire Forward bioscience cluster?
Biomaterials and tissue engineering are two of them. We also have core competency in the whole area of wound care, medical devices and orthopaedics though a Centre of Industrial Collaboration, which is a programme that Yorkshire Forward funded. It has expertise within three leading universities ? Leeds, Sheffield and York ? around the area of biomaterials and tissue engineering and the expertise is complementary and highly focused on delivering products and services to businesses.
Pharmaceutical innovation is another key area. We?ve had significant advances in the understanding of drug discovery particularly insilico drug development through the Institute of Pharmaceutical Innovation at Bradford University. Yorkshire Forward has done a lot of work with them by helping them create an Institute of Pharmaceutical Innovation, which has now also been accredited as a Centre of Industrial Collaboration.
The Institute of Pharmaceutical Innovation is another business-friendly, business-committed centre that?s working with companies to help adopt innovation and provide access to the international leading expertise and services available within that university.
Explain the strengths in education and the benefits to the science and technology sector.
We have eight research-active universities and much of our R&D spend, more than 50 per cent, comes from the university sector. These ?white rose? universities collectively contribute more R&D income than either Oxford or Cambridge. In terms of education we?ve just secured the National Science Learning Centre in York. This is a nationally funded initiative that will be providing industrially relevant training for science teachers across the UK. We think it?s very important that we link the skills agenda through to science and innovation. If we are going to try and drive the competitiveness of our companies we need to ensure the long-term supply of high-level skills throughout the region.
Dr Williams, how is Yorkshire Forward utilising innovation to gain competitive advantage within the core industrial sectors of the region?
Our innovation agenda addresses all aspects of accessing support and resources, expertise and facilities for innovation in a science base. This ensures that businesses can identify relevant expertise to work with, can find an easy point of access into that expertise, can identify relevant people they can work with and relevant pieces of equipment, and that those services provided are business friendly and commercially realistic. It also ensures that the pricing policies are commercially realistic to provide mutual benefits to the university partners in their engagement with business, helping them to become commercially realistic and provide R&D that?s relevant to today?s commercial markets. It?s also beneficial to companies in providing them with access to global-leading expertise. We have targeted business support activities to help companies understand why innovation is so important to their future business growth and survival in the global market.
Dr Hankin, how does the regional infrastructure in Yorkshire benefit organisations in start-ups, foreign direct investments, small to mediumsized enterprises and large corporate multinationals?
Our understanding of the region and its capabilities helps enormously in terms of attracting foreign direct investments. We can gear foreign direct investment queries around our world-leading capability based upon the requirements and needs of a company. It comes down to having highly qualified specialists on the ground who understand the needs of industry and have the ability to reach out to business in the academic and other independent research organisations in the region. There are specialised bioscience incubators in York, Bradford and Sheffield that provide a full range of support to start up companies and to foreign investors. These incubators are well connected to the universities and enable easy access to the expertise and facilities within them.
What corporate incentives does the region offer for foreign investments?
Companies of all sizes who are considering locating, starting up or are already based in the Yorkshire & Humber region can access a full package of support tailored to their individual needs. Areas within Yorkshire are eligible for the highest levels of funding in Europe, and this support can include financial incentives for capital expenditure, support for training and employment, property incentives and Research and Development. The Yorkshire & Humber region offers a number of corporate incentives for investors. There are two main Research and Development grants on offer, one for large companies and the other for small and medium-sized enterprises. We are also able to help provide specialised business advice, which allows companies access to specific business advice across a range of competencies, such as regulatory affairs and legal issues as well as general advice in setting up a business in the UK.
Dr Hankin, what is Yorkshire Forward?s long-term strategy with regards to the biotechnology and medical industries?
In this region bioscience is an emerging cluster ? it doesn?t have the critical mass that the Cambridge corridor has. So we are continuing to grow our existing company base with the focus on enabling their survival and competitiveness in the global market, but also promoting and engendering a culture of entrepreneurialship throughout the academic sector to encourage spinouts, which is where much of the intellectual capital is held. These are the key targets and ensure the progression of the Knowledge Transfer Agenda through licensing collaborative R&D projects from our science base into companies.
How does Yorkshire Forward utilise universities and educational institutions to assist the private sector?
Knowledge Rich provides easy access to relevant expertise and facilities ? whether it?s analytical facilities or a piece of testing equipment ? and these can be accessed through this website. We are working with universities to provide a single point of contact. Rather than a company having to trawl through every individual website we?ve actually got it collated into a bespoke database and we have a person on the end of a phone line, too. We also ensure the universities respond to any queries in a timely manner so within 48 hours a company will have access to a key point of contact which would provide services to them.
What is Yorkshire Forward?s global strategy with respect to competition from other economic development agencies?
One of our key targets is to make Yorkshire & Humber the premier region for science and innovation in the UK. Much of what we adopt is seen to be leading the way both nationally and internationally.
Is innovation a key part of Yorkshire Forward?s continuing success?
Fundamentally, yes. It?s embedded in everything we do.