Innovation: the business of
shaping our world
by David Golding, Head of Strategy
Business and government alike acknowledge that innovation is essential for the future of our economy, to maintain and build our position in the face of global competition. It is a hot topic, as evidenced by this publication. But there is much more at stake; not only is innovation key to prosperity, it is vital in addressing many of the major issues that face us as a society.
So how do we use technology and innovation to meet challenges head-on, and make the most of the huge business opportunities involved? Of course, the UK does have core strengths and a wealth of expertise and creativity both in the knowledge base and in business. Harnessing and building on these strengths is vital to our future success, so that we maintain our lead in the fields and industries where we excel.
These questions ? meeting challenges, maintaining leading technologies and fostering innovation ? are the main concerns of the Technology Strategy Board. Established by the UK government in July 2007 and given a leadership role for innovation in the UK, we support technology-enabled innovation, helping companies to take advantage of new opportunities and ultimately improving business benefit, economic growth and quality of life.
What does this mean in practice? We invest in research and development, yes, but much more than that, we connect and we catalyse. We connect partners and create an environment for collaboration and knowledge exchange, bringing together people and sectors in unexpected combinations. And, whether by investing funds, reducing risk or sparking a debate, we catalyse action ? making things happen that might not otherwise. We are clearly focused on results.
When a company tells us that they would have taken three times as long to bring an innovative medical product to market without our help, or that through a Knowledge Transfer Network they found exactly the right thinking to take their products or services to a new stage, we know we are making a difference. Three themes will guide the Technology Strategy Board?s work over the coming years: challenge-led innovation, technology-inspired innovation and the innovation climate.
Challenge-led innovation means that instead of starting with science and wondering how to apply it, we begin with the challenges that society faces, and look for the science, the technology and the creativity that might address them. In the coming years, we plan for 50% of our resources to be directed at supporting challenge-led innovation. To give an example, we are providing intensive and targeted support through a concept we call Innovation Platforms. These bring together businesses, government bodies and research communities to address specific challenges and aim to make something happen that would not otherwise occur. Their approach is multi-disciplinary; they link public and private funding for mutual benefit. We have five Innovation Platforms and plan to double the number over the next three years.
Procurement plays an important part in our focus on addressing challenges and we will be working closely with government departments to ensure their procurement helps drive innovation in the UK. One specific initiative we are taking forward in this area is the Small Business Research Initiative, which will give businesses the opportunity to develop new technology in response to identified needs of government.
We are developing innovation strategies in a range of key challenge areas ? medicines and healthcare, energy, transport, environmental sustainability, the built environment, creative industries and highvalue services. Our second key theme is technology-inspired innovation. It is vital that the UK maintains core expertise in leading - edge technologies to underpin business growth ? and to ensure a pipeline of new advances to keep UK businesses at the leading edge. So the Technology Strategy Board will continue to devote resources to this aspect of innovation, focusing on key technology areas across the economy, ranging from advanced materials to information and communication technology.
The third theme of our focus is fostering an innovation climate. By this we mean helping to create an atmosphere of confidence in innovation in the UK and an aspiration to make it work. We want to move innovation from the laboratory or the workshop to the top of the business agenda ? to the point where innovation is seen as a natural part of business culture. To make this happen faster in the UK, we need a culture that enables, celebrates and ultimately rewards talent and innovation. This is why the Knowledge Transfer Networks that we fund and manage are such an important part of the landscape. With a combined membership of over 35,000 people, they provide a forum, focused on a specific sector, for those conversations and connections which can create sparks and make innovation happen.
This is also why we run the highly successful Knowledge Transfer Partnerships scheme. This enables newly qualified people from a college or university to join a company to work on innovative projects ? usually benefiting the company greatly and at the same time helping the person gain additional experience of working and learning in a business environment. A scheme where everybody wins; the business benefits are tangible.
Collaboration is vital to make innovation succeed. The jigsaw of people and organisations involved in supporting innovation, research and development can seem confusing. But everyone has their part to play, and as part of our leadership role we coordinate with other bodies so that we work in a complementary way. We work closely with the UK research councils, regional development agencies, devolved administrations, government departments, research and technology organisations and other bodies in this space. We co-ordinate with bodies such as UKTI, NESTA, the Energy Technologies Institute, the Design Council, the UK Intellectual Property Office and BSI, to name a few. And we talk to businesses, to discover what they need to make innovation happen.
It is also true that to help drive innovation, we need an international outlook. We are looking at new ways of internationalising UK innovation, of collaborating with other countries. We promote involvement of UK business in international initiatives such as the EU Framework Programme. And we encourage the linking of networks with their international counterparts.
So what of the future? The UK has a long tradition of innovative ideas and a deep fount of creativity and entrepreneurialism. With a clear focus and effective support, we can build on these strengths to create a driving force for innovation which not only cements the prosperity of the UK, but also helps to address the major challenges society faces both locally and globally in the years ahead.