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A natural centre for innovation

London is both an innovation hub and a global business city, as a creative and culture capital, excelling in fashion, music, art and design

With 43 higher education and 55 further education institutes, London is home to a worldclass knowledge base that incorporates a diverse range of specialisms. Some businesses are taking advantage of this wealth of knowledge by collaborating with university and college partners to identify innovative opportunities.

The LDA has been actively supporting London innovation, including knowledge base collaboration through focused activities. Read on to see how some of London?s SMEs have already benefited from previous projects and how your business can get involved in current programmes.


In July 2006 Quiet Revolution Ltd (QR) received a prestigious R&D Grant award from the LDA to assist in the development of their elegant Helical Vertical Axis wind turbine. QR?s innovative wind turbine design is specifically designed for the urban environment and heralds a step change in urban wind technology; benefits over traditional propeller types include:

  • Quieter operation (up to 70% quieter);
  • Lower vibration;
  • Increased performance in gusty and varying wind conditions;
  • Sculptural, elegant design leading to 50% higher success rate in planning applications.

QR?s own investment, coupled with £120k grant funding received from the LDA under this scheme, filled the crucial early stage ?funding gap? experienced by many companies with innovative products and ideas, who are not in a financial position to get to prototype/proof of concept stage.

The funding enabled QR to concentrate on developing their prototype, thereby decreasing time to market. The results of the project also allowed the company to gain seed investment and grow from three employees to today?s workforce of 39 people. Other benefits to the company and ?UK PLC? include intellectual property protection in the form of three UK patents, and an ever-growing pipeline of UK and international sales.

Installation roll-out commenced this year, and to date QR have 30 turbines installed, 70 units sold and a strong sales pipeline of 300+ units for the UK alone. Andrew Cox, QR?s Production Direction said: ?There are expansion plans afoot to increase production capacity to seven rotors per week over the next six months and 20 rotors per week within the next year. The company is also planning to open up sales channels and production facilities in the EU and US as part of its future expansion strategy.?

Today, thanks partly to a grant from the LDA three years ago, QR?s iconic product is rapidly becoming one of the UK?s innovative technology success stories.

Image related to: A natural centre for innovationKnowledge Connect

Collaboration with specialists remains one of the most effective means by which businesses can overcome barriers caused by a lack of skills, experience or resources. When faced with business opportunities or challenges businesses often overlook their local university or colleges as places they can go for help. However, there is a range of data to show that companies which use these sources of expertise tend to be more successful than those that do not.

London has the highest concentration of higher education institutions in Europe with over 20,000 world-class researchers, attracting high levels of research funding. The City?s academic institutions range from large universities to highly specialist single site colleges, all of which provide worldclass education and research.

KNOWLEDGE CONNECT is a new, pan-London, LDA-funded innovation support programme to assist small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to undertake collaborative projects with the wider knowledge base.

The three year programme will work with 1,600 businesses and provide a combination of 1-2-1 mentoring, specialist identification and search, together with grant support, if appropriate, to enable SMEs to address business growth opportunities.

The assistance is available to businesses anywhere in the Greater London area and is focused primarily on trading businesses of between four and 50 employees who have not previously worked with universities, FE colleges, RTOs or private sector specialists.

There are two levels of grant support available ? £3k Mini collaboration vouchers targeted at initial testing, product or service development or proof of concept, and £10k Maxi vouchers (which require 50% match funding) focused on the delivery of more substantial, collaborative projects.

Businesses can apply for support via the KNOWLEDGE CONNECT website,, which also offers a family of self-assessment tools to help with opportunity and project identification.

Crown Bio-Technology is a London SME who has recently benefited from a similar initiative:

Founder Ed Bell credits the SME Innovation Support Programme with helping to bring his innovative Safe Soil Tester? to market. Two years ago, Ed Bell?s business venture had stalled. The founder of Crown Bio Technology had spent years researching a low cost solution for testing contaminated soil. He had developed a prototype product based on innovative technology. His Safe Soil Tester device screens soil for toxicity on-site and automatically maps its location so that you can identify contaminated areas easily and treat them. The usual alternative is to drill a series of bore holes and take soil samples back to the laboratory for analysis ? very slow and expensive by comparison.

Bell first came across the use of bioluminescence technology in clean-up operations following oil spills when he worked in the oil industry in Saudi Arabia. He started to think about other commercial applications and set up a research project funded in part by Eureka, an EU R&D programme, and partly by remortgaging his own home. By 2006, Bell was struggling to get the prototype into manufacturing mode. He had tried to license the technology around the world for a couple of years without success.

Through the Innovation Support Programme Ed began to develop his basic prototype into a more commercially viable form, from both a manufacturing and aesthetic point of view. A strong working relationship with the University of East London was developed as the project progressed.

The project included a redevelopment of the prototype product to improve its usability, toughness and appearance. ?The whole presentation had looked a bit amateurish,? says Bell, who concedes ?I wouldn?t have bought it myself.?


Among Crown Bio Technology?s first customers is EDF Energy, who, after trialling machines on a rental basis, now want to buy them. The company has also partnered with the Environment Agency. They plan to use Crown Bio?s technology at the sharp end of their soil verification services, which they are beginning to develop on a commercial basis.


London is the heart of the UK?s thriving and world-class design industry yet this is not fully exploited by local businesses. Statistics from the Design Council show that design can boost the bottom line of your businesses if it is managed as a long-term investment and not just a one-off cost.

?Every £100 design-led businesses invest in design repays £225 in increased sales.?
Design Council (2007)

Design can be a powerful business tool which can turn ideas and technologies into profitable products, services, brands and new markets. But managing designers can be challenging if you?re not familiar with the creative process. Designing Demand is a programme developed by the Design Council which will help businesses across the capital benefit from an intelligent investment in design. Advice is provided across the product or service strategy, viewed from both the company?s and the customer?s perspective. The £3.5 million programme officially launched in London in June 2008. It is funded by the London Development Agency (LDA) and is being delivered by a consortium of Grant Thornton UK LLP and Design London ? a major partnership between the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London.

Richelle Harun, LDA Senior Design Manager, said: ?Designing Demand will provide hundreds of small businesses across the capital with practical support to manage design more effectively to give them an edge over their rivals. Good design will bring new opportunities for business in London.? If you?re London based and have got the appetite to grow, take the first step in transforming your business by registering to take part at: www.lda.

For more statistics on design and business go to


A brand new centre for low-carbon technology in buildings will open in June 2009 at London South Bank University (LSBU), and help put London at the forefront of the fight to tackle climate change.

Funded by the London Development Agency and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, in partnership with LSBU and City and Kingston Universities, the Centre for Efficient and Renewable Energy in Buildings will provide a unique teaching, research and demonstration resource for the capital. The Centre will provide teaching in sustainable energy technology and building design for university students, academics and industry. It will be available to the commercial and construction sectors as a research facility, as well as showcasing the latest in low-carbon technology and design, including photovoltaics, solar thermal, ground source heat pumps and wind power.

The building itself will be cooled and heated using geothermal energy technology, which will form part of the demonstration facility on the roof top of the building. Data about the technologies will also be available to a wider audience via a webbased virtual learning facility.

The Centre will be built on top of LSBU?s new Keyworth II building. Its design includes features to reduce carbon emissions, including thermal massing, solar shading, ground source heating and cooling, and solar thermal.

Contact: Professor Tony Day,
London South Bank University,


The London Innovation Map is the first interactive guide to innovation in London. Developed jointly by the WestFocus and KnowledgeEast university groups, it offers straightforward access to information about innovation support in the capital.

Users can search by postcode, location or keyword, and can see what?s available in their area through an easy-to use Google Maps interface. The map features information on business innovation support schemes, government funding for innovation, centres for small business, and university research facilities. Launched in 2007, the map has also been extended to cover the whole of the greater south-east (GSE), covering innovation support in the LDA, SEEDA and EEDA regions.

Innovation data from over 120 different locations is contained in the database. Users can find contact information, URL links and even download documents from each of these innovation sites.

Added the 15 September 2008 in category Innovation UK Vol4-1

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