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Innovate UK

Introducing our sectors - emerging & enabling technologies

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Our Emerging and Enabling Technologies sector group is the new home for our support for early stage (emerging), cross-cutting (enabling) and broad scope (open) innovation across whole economy.

Although this sector group contains the word technologies in its title, our actions are guided by the principle that:

no-one buys technology; they buy what technology does for them.                                                            

Emerging technologies – do exactly what it says on the tin

emerging tech blog image 2

The focus here is very early stage technologies, those still emerging, or only recently emerged, from the research base.

By ‘emerging’, we mean those technologies, methods and approaches developed in the UK’s scientific research base – primarily in universities - that allow you to do things that simply couldn’t be done before (or could only be done in theory).

What these emerging technologies have in common is the potential to create totally new value propositions (and so to disrupt markets). Examples include graphene and quantum technologies.

Whilst sectors like Manufacturing and Materials or Health and Life Sciences turnover several hundreds of billions of pounds globally per year, by contrast, many of these early-stage, emerging technology sectors have very low, or even zero turnovers, typically below £10 million pa when we pick them up.

Their key characteristic is enormous economic potential but considerable technical and commercial uncertainty.

The UK’s research base really is world-leading

Despite making up just 0.9% of the global population, and only 3.2% of all global R&D spend, the UK is responsible for 15.9% of the most highly cited research papers.

We focus on harnessing the new knowledge that this rich pool of research excellence generates.

If research is the process of turning money into knowledge, we see innovation as the process of turning knowledge back into money!

In the emerging technologies area, we help companies to work out how these high potential early stage technologies could be used in their market areas – at this point no-one anywhere really knows - and to create the new products, processes and/or services that will underpin the future growth of their companies.

Even with our excellent research base, around 85% of the most highly cited research globally is not carried out in the UK.

Our approach is to augment unique UK science with unique UK speed (to market).

We aim to help UK companies identify, evaluate and commercialise emerging technologies faster than their international competitors.

Enabling technologies – the best is yet to come

Mobile phone

What distinguishes enabling technologies is their cross-sector nature and their ability to deliver benefit across the whole of the economy.

In this area, we invest in technologies that have much more potential for economic impact than has so far been realised. For example, if you think that digital technologies and the world wide web have changed our lives considerably (which they undoubtedly have) my view is that ‘you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”.

The disruption that we have seen to products, services and business models in the creative industries (music, film, radio, advertising etc.) will continue to roll out across the wider economy.

We want to see the UK carry on as leaders in this area, and for the value generated by our adopters of digital technologies continue to accrue here.

Other high impact technologies include:

  • space and satellites
  • electronics, photonics and sensors
  • robotics and autonomous systems

It has now been admirably demonstrated that:

  • satellite technologies can be used in the fight against illegal fishing
  • advanced sensors can help in the earlier diagnosis of disease
  • compound semi-conductors can manage electrical power more effectively
  • robots can perform tasks in environments too dangerous for people to work in

There’s more, much more, still to come.

Better by design

Shaping the future, business design


Good design is one of the things that makes technology successful. It takes people into account when technologies are being developed.

In the vocabulary of markets:

technology can create supply – but it is people that create demand.

By encouraging the earlier use of excellent design across our programmes, we are helping innovators to think hard about the precise nature of the demand for their future products and services, and to develop their technologies accordingly.

Open programmes

If in Emerging Technologies we listen for the signals from the research base of future high impact technologies, in Open Programmes we look for high growth potential companies, from any part of the economy, and help them to accelerate their growth.


  • enable the transfer and embedding of know-how between organisations by people through KTP
  • support technology development work through funding for research (former Smart awards)
  • support international collaborations through our support for schemes such as EUREKA

The Open Programme will continue to support outstanding UK companies grow their businesses, and will play an important role in helping to identify important sectors of the future. Read more about the Open Programme in Clive Hayter’s recent blog.

Our future plans

With the recent reorganisation of a number of our previous sectors under our new Emerging and Enabling Technologies umbrella, we’re taking some time to very carefully analyse where the biggest opportunities lie.

We are evaluating market potential, technology readiness and wider UK capabilities, to inform our Emerging and Enabling technologies strategy, due to be published at our Innovate 2016 event, in November.

However, already, we’ve made clear that we will be offering both ‘fund’ and ‘connect’ support to companies and consortia in the following areas:

  • Open Programmes competitions: we will run two calls supporting the growth of ambitious companies from any sector of the economy
  • Emerging and Enabling competitions: we will run two calls in the emerging and enabling technology areas
  • Design: we encourage technology innovators to integrate excellent design into their product, process and service developments earlier in the R&D process, and will help with the cost of this
  • We will run focussed investment competitions in selected high potential areas during the year, including in robotics and autonomous systems and quantum technologies.
  • We will establish a new Catapult centre in compound semiconductor applications

Emerging and Enabling Technologies is all about the transformative effects of exciting new technologies and capabilities. These will drive many of the changes we’ll see in our world in the future.

What will the future look like?

The famous quote “the best way to predict the future is to create it” is attributed to both Peter Drucker and Abraham Lincoln; and author William Gibson famously said “the future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed”.

In Emerging and Enabling Technologies we’re really excited about helping spread the best that technology has to offer across the entire economy, and where the future isn’t already here, playing our part in helping to create it.

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