Innovation UK > News > Innovation UK Vol5-1 > Innovation: at the heart of economic recovery

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Innovation: at the heart of economic recovery

It is now more vital than ever to focus on investment in innovation, explains Allyson Reed, Director of Strategy and Communications, the Technology Strategy Board

In the face of recession, it can be tempting for businesses and governments to put investment in technology and innovation on hold. But this would be a costly long-term mistake ? costly for UK business and costly for society.

The businesses that hold their nerve now and continue to invest in and encourage innovation will be the ones best placed to compete, succeed and grow in global markets when we emerge from recession. There?s no such thing as a quick innovation fix and to start innovating as the first signs of recovery appear would be far too late.

The current economic challenge is matched by other challenges clamouring to be addressed, such as climate change, energy supply and overburdened transport systems.

These challenges aren?t going to go away; they require innovative solutions. Such challenges offer business opportunities that can be exploited by fostering innovation ? creating business ready to take advantage of new markets as they emerge. Meeting these challenges is the cornerstone of the Technology Strategy Board?s work. We invest so that businesses have a chance to exploit great ideas. We connect people with different skills to build networks and spark innovation. We connect government, as a driver of innovation, with research teams and business, to form coherent groups able to take new ideas to market. And we act as a catalyst, stimulating new areas of innovation for business and providing a longer-term, post-recession, view of the UK?s future technology and innovation needs.


Buildings in the UK account for 40% of carbon emissions. The UK government has set a goal of reducing overall UK carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. The Low Impact Buildings Innovation Platform aims to increase innovation in the buildings industry to meet this challenge. It is running competitions to stimulate innovative low-carbon developments. So far competitions for low-carbon components and materials, and for the retrofit of existing social housing, have been launched.

For information on the upcoming retrofit competition: E-mail:


The current business opportunity lies in speeding up commercialisation of technology research for the markets of tomorrow. We recognise how tough this is, especially in such hard times, how risky and yet how vital. Over the next 12 months, we will be taking a lead by prioritising our work in essential areas:

  • In early markets where strong government demand and purchasing power can position businesses to take advantage of those growing opportunities.
  • On those high-technology ?businesses of the future? that may be at risk during the downturn, but where we assess there may be significant upside in the recovery.

To support this, we are focusing our investment in specific sectors:

  • We will invest to speed up building the supply chain for low-carbon vehicles in the UK (with the Department for Transport, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the Energy Technologies Institute and regional development agencies). This will include stimulating the development of systems and components, demonstrator programmes to showcase test cars, and infrastructure so that using low-carbon vehicles can become a real option in the UK.
  • We will further support UK businesses working in ?intelligent transport systems? so that they can establish the systems and services that give people the information they need to make low-carbon travel choices (with the Department for Transport, the Economic and Social Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council).
  • We will extend the scope of our Low-Impact Buildings Innovation Platform ? set up to find new ways to reduce carbon emissions from buildings ? to include existing buildings (with the Department of Communities and local government). Through the SBRI programme (see article on pages 77-78) we will fund development of highly effective, energy-saving technologies to retrofit to existing buildings.
  • We will place UK business in a strong position in technologies that reduce carbon emissions, to feed into our partners? demonstrators (working with the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Energy Technologies Institute).
  • We will analyse the rapidly growing potential of the digital economy, develop a programme to invest in the infrastructure, hardware and software and the evolving content supply chains that will enable the UK to remain globally competitive in the knowledgebased sectors and underpin the government?s action plan to put the UK at the forefront of the industry.
  • To build on the UK?s research strengths ? as the industrial landscape starts to change radically ? we will help to build the regenerative medicine supply chain (with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Medical Research Council).



It?s obvious that none of these activities takes place in isolation. A basic tenet of our work is developing extensive relationships and partnership working with all the players in the innovation landscape. These include government departments, regional development agencies and the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the research councils, industry associations and networks, and of course individual businesses themselves.

But we recognise that the number and breadth of companies and organisations working in the area of innovation can seem confusing and inaccessible. It?s more important than ever that businesses can tap into investment, expertise and partnerships at the right time for them. The UK government is working to reduce the level of confusion businesses encounter in working with government departments. The way that the Technology Strategy Board works already reflects this aim, in partnership working with key players, whether they come from the public sector or commercial world, and by taking a co-ordinating approach. By spreading the word about the successes our work enables, we can show businesses that they can be confident that success is still very possible.

The Technology Strategy Board takes a lead in many areas of the innovation arena, such as running the highly successful Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and the Knowledge Transfer Networks which connect individuals, business and researchers across the UK and internationally. We believe that by connecting and working with our partners, we can achieve more together than we could separately, to leverage what can be accomplished through innovation.

Innovation in tough times is not a luxury but a necessity. Indeed, looking at the global companies that formed during past downturns, it seems clear that tough times breed tough companies. To ensure businesses survive and then thrive, we need to harness all the partners who can help, stimulating demand, and providing investment with a business-like pace of delivery. This is the role of the Technology Strategy Board.

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Added the 23 August 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-1

Related elements :

Innovation UK Vol5-2
Challenge-led innovation
A key element of the Technology Strategy Board's approach focuses on 'challenge-led' innovation. Heidi Lovelock, Head of Innovation Platforms|, explains this idea, the organisation's work in this area and what it means for business

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