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Innovate UK

Academic innovation can drive economic growth

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I was delighted to see the annual Innovate 2016 conference coming to the North last week.

It showcased national excellence in key industrial sectors – and included great examples of Northern businesses and universities innovating together.

The N8 Research Partnership – which brings together the region’s research intensive universities in Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York – is working to ensure research excellence delivers benefit to the economy.


In his key note address, Greg Clark MP said:

I’m proud to see so many British universities among the most highly-regarded in the world. But we can do better still. We have centres of research excellence throughout this country.

The N8 partnership of Northern universities, shows the way.

We should aspire to a golden octagon – glittering every bit as brightly as what people have called the golden triangle, further South.

So, what are our universities doing to make this a reality?

Developing regenerative medicines and cell therapies
Research and development

N8’s recent ‘The Power of 8’ report shows that the N8 universities:

  • account for 88% of academic research income in the North
  • deliver more than £12 billion of annual revenue for the North
  • provide help to more than 31,000 businesses
  • create over £6.6 billion GVA

The report also describes great examples where N8 universities are contributing to the Northern economy through innovation by:

  1. creating new businesses
  2. growing existing businesses
  3. establishing research hubs that support key industrial sectors
  4. developing the next generation of business entrepreneurs
  5. providing consultancy

Here are a few highlights.

1. Creating businesses

Since 2010, N8 universities have generated more than 1,000 patents and 230 companies and social enterprises, in addition to more than 350 student start-ups.

This pipeline of new companies is vital if we want to grow a Northern economy based on high-skills and high-growth companies.

Durham University has established Kromek, listed on the AIM, that has created over 100 jobs in the UK and at two sites in the US. Applied Graphene Materials has created over 40 high-tech jobs in the North East.

Also, Lancaster University developed a novel process for application of jasmonates to crop seeds rather than leaves. Following licensing to BASF and further development of the technology, it is now used globally. In the US for soybean crops, it has been used on over 2.5 million hectares of fields resulting in an increased yield and value at the farm gate of approximately $60 million p.a.

2. Helping existing businesses grow

N8 universities help existing businesses grow through research partnerships and consultancy with industry – delivering ideas and insights, and co-producing research.

We held over 5000 research contracts with business and non-commercial organisations in 2014. Reflecting the high priority we place on knowledge exchange, N8 universities undertake 32% of all UK HE consultancies with business and non-commercial organisations - over 31000 contracts. More than 17000 of these relationships were with SMEs.

For example, University of Manchester worked with Perceptive Engineering to develop a ‘next generation’ industrial control package, enabling its existing products entry into new industrial sectors. This resulted in sales turnover increasing and employment of three new staff.

Also, in response to BOCM Pauls' need to enhance staff development, University of Liverpool’s Veterinary School devised two highly participative training courses. Through access to cutting-edge research and interaction with consumers of their products in a learning environment, the programme led to an increase in sales of 80%. 

3. Research hubs for innovative collaboration

N8 universities host national and international research hubs, which provide a focal point in priority areas for industrial innovation.

University of Sheffield hosts the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, a world-leading centre for research and innovation into advanced manufacturing technologies. This centre has over 80 industrial partners, and helps over 400 people from the age of 16, including apprentices, with support through to higher-level qualifications.

Also, Biovale, conceived by the University of York, is a bioeconomy innovation cluster that builds on strengths in renewable raw materials and agri-tech. The University's Biorenewables Development Centre, as a key member of Biovale, has developed more than 200 collaborative projects with SMEs in the last 3 years.

4. Entrepreneurs

Innovative businesses need great business leadership. Universities play an important role in skills training, particularly in enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Rise Up, at Newcastle University provides entrepreneurial support. Last year, nearly 2,500 students participated and the University assisted with the creation of more than 30 student or graduate-led ventures.

Spark, at the University of Leeds, supports student enterprise with business advice, grants and funding, modules and mentoring. Spark workshops, modules, and annual enterprise boot camp were attended by around 1,200 students in 2015; 48 companies were launched by students that year alone.

Research/business collaboration improves economic development

The N8 Research Partnership is committed to collaborating with business to improve the region’s economic future - because we believe that the role of universities includes delivering deep, transformational impact on the society around us.

We look forward to working closely with Innovate UK, the Research Councils, LEPs, cities and government, to deliver a confident and collaborative future.

Follow me on Twitter: @PeterSimpsonN8

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