Dr Robin Daniels, Chief Executive of the Norwich Research Park looks at the challenges - and opportunities - faced by entrepreneurs in the current economic climate
Interviewed at the Davos Economic Forum earlier this year, Sir Richard Branson told the BBC?s Robert Peston that the recession will provide ?massive? opportunities for entrepreneurs ? that there was money to be made amid the gloom.
Dr Robin Daniels
Of course, Sir Richard is right. The ?Grand Challenges? articulated by the UK Treasury as Energy, Living with Environmental Change, Global Threats to Security and an Ageing Population, are all rich sources of commercial opportunity. Innovation in a downturn is, of course, difficult and policy makers have a key role putting the conditions in place to support commercial development. It can be argued that there are four critical tasks for the Government, which combined will provide these conditions. These tasks are certainly challenging and require concerted effort over a long period of time.
UNDERSTANDING THE MARKET
The need to understand the subtleties of innovation and translate these into simple, robust support mechanisms is challenge number one. It should be remembered that the first step in the innovation process is often the destruction or replacement of what currently exists; the direct challenge of received wisdom. For policy makers, this means simplifying and focusing business support, as the current Business Support Simplification Programme (BSSP) seeks to do, but not at the risk of reducing effectiveness at the point of delivery.
ENGAGE THE PLAYERS
Challenge number two is to simultaneously engage players from the supply and demand sides of the innovation marketplace. While much has already been achieved in this area, the greater challenges lie ahead. The Research Councils must somehow balance the requirement on them to demonstrate economic impact with their raison d?être: funding early stage research.
On the demand side, companies with the capability to commercialise and productise new technologies must weigh their short-term duty to shareholders to deliver a financial return against the long-term potential of very significant future earnings. Finally, the Technology Strategy Board must act to reconcile these dilemmas and provide intelligent and precise intervention when the market fails.
FOCUS FISCAL STIMULUS
The fiscal lever is a powerful one and, as such, it must be very carefully aligned with the overall strategy for the innovation market. More than anything else however, and identified by many others, is the potential to stimulate innovation through Government procurement. The utility of this approach has been demonstrated by the US over a number of years. The time to implement this in the UK is now. The need has never been more acute.
PROVIDE THE CAPABILITY TO DELIVER
The creation of thousands of new high-value jobs is perhaps the most significant challenge of all. Without the right skills in place at the right time, these employment opportunities will migrate elsewhere. Only through deep and simultaneous engagement with the research base and industry can the further and higher-education sectors be informed in a meaningful way and act to provide the human capability required.
Building on progress made and focusing on these key enablers will surely deliver, what might be called in future years, the Branson Bounce.
The views expressed here by Robin Daniels are his own.
For more information, contact:
Dr Robin CE Daniels, Chief Executive,
Norwich Research Park
NR4 7UH, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1603 450992
Added the 31 August 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-1