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Big boost for small businesses

The new SBRI programme brings innovative technology solutions from business to meet government needs, by Mark Glover, Head of the SBRI programme, Technology Strategy Board

We know that it can be difficult and confusing to access UK government departments and obtain contracts with them. Equally, those government departments have no easy access to the innovative companies that might provide new solutions, services and products to help them run more smoothly.

The UK public sector spends around £160bn a year on goods and services. The SBRI programme aims to tap into some of this to drive innovation and bring new companies into contractual relationships with the sector to solve some of their unmet needs. Championed by the Technology Strategy Board, the SBRI process brings together innovative companies and government departments (or other public sector organisations) looking to address difficult, and sometimes chronic, problems.

The new SBRI is all about finding fast-track solutions for government departments ? reaching the cuttingedge businesses that it otherwise couldn?t reach ? while providing innovative companies with the opportunity to work with government, and so develop products and relationships to boost their businesses.


It starts with a government department or other public body identifying a specific challenge. This is then turned into an open competition for innovation from the broader business community. These ideas are all received and assessed and a number of them given contracts to develop the product ideas through feasibility and evaluation and hopefully into procurement.

Taking one recent pilot project as an example, the Department of Health is aiming to find new ways to tackle the serious problem of hospital-contracted infections. Current statistics for England and Wales show that 5,109 patient deaths involved MRSA (Meticillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and 13,189 involved Clostridium difficile during 2001-2006.

They identified two key areas to focus on:

  • Topic 1: Hand hygiene ? to cut down on the number of infections contracted in hospitals and doctors? surgeries.
  • Topic 2: Detecting the pathogens that cause those infections in hospitals and surgeries.

The Department of Health and the Technology Strategy Board launched an open competition calling for new and innovative approaches to tackling these issues in October 2008. We were looking for participation from industries and sectors perhaps unrelated to healthcare, where specialist knowledge could be applied in the healthcare context.

The competition attracted over 50 new ideas and applications. The project proposals cover a diverse range of sectors, from healthcare and bioscience as you?d expect, to a sportswear manufacturer proposing bacteria measurement on surfaces and the use of canine detection of infection. It also pulled in companies from the physics community, which examined visual means of detection rather than conventional chemical detection methods.

Following an assessment process, over 10 businesses are going to be awarded contracts for further development. These phase one projects are feasibility studies that typically last six months and can be funded up to a value of £100k. At the end of phase one, they will be evaluated by the Technology Strategy Board and the Department of Health, which will then take promising projects to a second stage of development. Phase two aims to result in a commercial product or service within two years.


There was a successful pilot phase of the SBRI programme with the Ministry of Defence (Centre for Defence Enterprise) and the Department of Health at the end of 2008. The Technology Strategy Board has been given the role of expanding the programme to a wide range of government departments through 2009. Details of all of the competitions will be listed on the website,, under ?SBRI?.

The Ministry of Defence is running a number of open competitions in 2009 through the Centre for Defence Enterprise. The first three topic areas that it is looking for ideas on are:

  • Surveillance and identification of potential threats.
  • Protecting the armed forces from the increasingly diverse range of aerial attacks.
  • Power requirements for the foot soldier.

More detail on these topic areas and information on how to apply with ideas and potentially useful technologies can be found on the Centre for Defence Enterprise website at are three new health topics that we are looking for innovative ideas on: long-term care, patient safety and helping people to stay healthy. This competition is being run by the East of England Strategic Health Authority and will be launched shortly. Another current competition is with the Department of Transport. As road-traffic volume in the UK continues to rise, we are facing a pressing challenge to manage the road network more effectively, to keep drivers moving on the motorway network. As with other SBRI competitions, it?s not restricted to companies working in the sector ? we?re also looking for innovative companies that could model the motorway network using synthetic modelling techniques, possibly from the computer games industries. For further information on this and other competitions as they are developed, please visit under ?SBRI?.

The UK government has highlighted SBRI as a key way in which we can make a difference in the current economic climate, particularly to small and medium-sized businesses and to public-sector organisations. It provides real business opportunities to small and medium-sized companies, so that they can generate a lead customer in the development of their product and gain credibility for future investment.

For further information about SBRI and the
work of the Technology Strategy Board, visit:

Added the 27 August 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-1

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