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12 days of innovation – reflecting on Innovate UK’s 2016

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12 days of Christmas

There are so many things to highlight in this, my final blog post of 2016, reflecting on a year in the life of Innovate UK. Here are just a few of my ‘best bits’ of the past year.

12 all-staff catch-ups

Meeting across our organisation on a monthly basis is so important for a team that is located right across the UK - in Swindon, in London and across the nations and regions.

These combined physical and video conference all-staff meetings provide a great opportunity to reflect on the previous month’s activities. I update the whole organisation on what has been happening and it gives me the time to say ‘thank you’. Every month I give out our ‘living the values’ award, chosen by our staff consultative committee. I always look forward to their selection.

We have also introduced a live online forum bringing together the Innovate UK family – including our Knowledge Transfer Network, the Enterprise Europe Network and our Catapults network – with a popular Q&A session with our executive management team.

I have said thank you for many things this year and now, first and foremost in my reflections on the year, I would like to very publicly say thank you to ALL the staff at Innovate UK and across our network.

2016 has been a very busy year and a year of change. Innovative companies constantly evolve to stay competitive, and so must we. So thank you to our technologists, now in the new sector-based structure, the tireless efforts of the competitions teams, getting grants to businesses that need them, to the finance team, the IT team, my own management team, to HR and to communications – that was a great Innovate 2016 event!

Thank you too to the development group who worked so hard on the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. To everyone, who has made it a very successful year for us, and more so for the businesses we support.

11 Catapults in a network

Catapult map

Only a week into 2016, the Catapults network grew to 11 technology and innovation centres with the Chancellor’s announcement that the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult would be in South Wales. Each of our Catapults has its own 2016 high points, I’d like to particularly note some that bring together Catapults across the network.

  • The Future Cities and Transport Systems Catapults are collaborating on the LIFE project led by Red Ninja with DYNNIQ to investigate traffic control solutions to reduce the time it takes emergency vehicles to reach patients in critical condition.
  • The Transport Systems and Satellite Applications Catapults are working together with other partners on connected autonomous vehicle systems.

Meet the Catapults in these blogs

10 regional managers across the UK

Innovate UK's regional map

2016 has seen the roll-out of our regional programme, with 10 regional managers based in the UK nations and regions. These managers are working with local stakeholders to strengthen relationships with key players in cities and regions.

They have led the round tables with SMEs and Local Enterprise Partnerships to help us understand what more we can do to help companies all around the UK step up.

We trialled an expansion of our successful Biomedical Catalyst partnership with the Medical Research Council this year by introducing Scottish Enterprise as an affiliate funder.

We look forward to working in partnership with more regional and specialist funders in 2017 to bring high quality competition applications to the attention of these funders, making public funds go further.

Another first for 2016 was taking our large annual showcase event with the Department for International Trade outside London. Innovate 2016 was held in Manchester in the heart of the Northern Powerhouse. Over 2,100 innovators, investors and researchers joined us, and feedback tells us that this was the best Innovate event yet. We are already looking at possible locations for Innovate 2017 in the Midlands Engine, and will have more news on this early next year.

Hear about innovation in the regions in these blogs

9 years on

Innovate UK impact
Innovate UK impact

Innovate UK celebrated its 9th birthday this year, having been originally created as the Technology Strategy Board by the then Department for Trade and Industry.

Since 2007, we have supported over 7,600 organisations with over £1.8 billion invested through grant funding, returning around £13 billion to the UK economy and creating 55,000 new jobs.

Our mission stays as relevant as ever – supporting UK businesses in developing new products and services, and supporting these businesses to grow and to scale.

We now look toward the creation of UK Research and Innovation in 2018, more on that later.

8 partners partnering

Manufacturing of the future

Collaboration is at the heart of business-led innovation. We need business to collaborate across sectors in order to bring about the imaginative solutions that will drive the industries of the future.

Many of our collaborative R&D competitions now require SMEs to be part of consortia.

Our early summer Manufacturing and Materials competition, the first of our new style of broad-themed sector competition, awarded £25 million to 170 partners across 64 projects. The largest consortium funded through this competition was the 8-strong partnership coordinated by Innovative Technology and Science Ltd, working with Cambridge Nanomaterials Technology Ltd, Carrs Welding Technologies Ltd, TISICS Ltd, KW Special Projects Ltd, NquiringMinds Ltd, Cedar Metals Ltd and Brunel University London. The consortium’s £2 million award will investigate power ultrasound in micro- and nanoscale processing of materials.

Only 1 in 7 past applications found to be from women

Infocus "women in innovation" award

Many studies (for example, from McKinsey) show that diverse companies are more likely to deliver better financial returns - 15% more likely for gender diverse companies. Diverse companies are also 70% more likely to enter new markets; new markets that deliver new partners and new customers and an opportunity for businesses to grow.

We analysed our own competitions data and found that only 1 in 7 (14%) of lead applicants were female innovators. We responded with the infocus Women in Innovation campaign, supported by ambassadors from across British industries.

I was amazed with the response to the campaign – 150 registrations on interest in one day, 1,700 registrations by the deadline and 442 full applications.

Infocus 'women in innovation' award winners
Infocus 'women in innovation' award winners

15 very worthy winners were awarded £50,000 and a tailored business support package just last month. Their innovations range from fully autonomous drone software to affordable solar power technology. My experience in business tells me that this package will be invaluable to each of the 15 winning innovators. A great start, but there is still much to do in supporting innovators from under represented groups – further opportunities for the infocus campaign, and we will have more to say on this soon.

See full competition results for infocus 'women in innovation' award

£6 million invested by Novelis through collaborative project

Innovate UK is here to work alongside the private sector, de-risking innovation, helping get ideas off the drawing board, or out of the lab, and providing confidence to the private sector in its investments in the UK’s industries of the future.

The REALCAR project is a great example of this. The project team reviewed their work earlier this year, telling us about successes in increasing the amount of recycled aluminium in use in cars manufactured by consortium coordinator Jaguar Land Rover (JLR).

JLR has invested in new and upgraded scrap segregation systems at three of its press shops. Novelis, a worldwide leader in aluminium products, has invested £6 million in new manufacturing equipment and created 30 new full-time jobs.

5 points in our strategic plan

Innovate UK's 5 point plan
Innovate UK's 5 point plan

Just after I joined Innovate UK in the Spring of 2015, we created our five point plan for success. This remit is standing the test of time; the points are as valid today as they were over a year ago.

We drive our activities with these five points in mind. I won’t dwell on the plan in this blog post, other than to stress its importance to our organisation’s mission.

You’ll see the themes coming through in other sections of this post.

4 sector teams supporting UK businesses

Delivery plan 201617 financial spend

Dame Ann Dowling’s review of business-university collaboration called for the simplification of the support landscape for business. We listened. Innovate UK has evolved to a sector-based approach with four sector teams:

Each sector team has specialists to support businesses, with broad-themed competitions running every 6 months.

In addition, we have the Open Programme, which ensures that brilliant ideas that defy categorisation won’t be missed.

3 companies supported by Innovate UK named in consecutive Scale Up Clubs

Jenny Griffiths, founder and CEO of SnapFashion, with app
Jenny Griffiths, founder and CEO of SnapFashion, with app

The Prime Minister spoke recently to the CBI on her aspiration to turn the UK’s “bright start-ups into successful scale-ups by backing them for the long term”.

Scale-ups are projected to create a million new jobs by the mid-2030s, jobs that are key to an economy that benefits the whole country.

Just a few weeks ago, seven companies (Dressipi, Geo, Hiring Hub, Metail, SEaB Energy, Snap Fashion and Undo) supported by Innovate UK were announced as Scale Up Club members for 2016. Members of this prestigious group have been identified as those most likely to build a £100 million global business within the next three to five years.

Three of the seven companies - Dressipi, Snap Fashion and Undo - have been members of the Scale Up Club for consecutive years (three consecutive years in Undo’s case). This is an impressive demonstration of their high potential for the future.

Many of the seven companies are in the digital sector; we supported them with small amounts of funding early on in their development. Growth of digital businesses has been so good that much of this sector is now independent of Innovate UK’s support with a strong showing from private investors.

2 Prime Ministers highlighting global opportunities

Launch of new India-UK R&D programme at India-UK Tech Summit in Delhi with Ruth, Jo Johnson and Dr Harsh Vardhan
Launch of new India-UK R&D programme at India-UK Tech Summit in Delhi with Ruth, Jo Johnson and Dr Harsh Vardhan

In November, I visited India to attend the India-UK Tech Summit led by Prime Ministers Theresa May and Nahendra Modi. The summit featured announcements by Minister Jo Johnson that open doors for UK companies seeking international opportunities. UK-India Newton Fund programmes worth £80 million were launched; they will address a range of global challenges through technology and science.

Following the summit, 11 companies took part in a connected cities entrepreneurs’ mission, organised in collaboration with the Department for International Trade.  The companies pitched to potential customers, partners and investors, visiting New Delhi, Pune and Kochi. This was our second connected cities mission of the year, we also visited South East Asia in March.

Our third mission of the year visited California, taking space companies to California.

Now more than ever, these trips are incredibly important to encourage growing UK businesses to look up and out in their search for new collaborators and customers.

1 focus on UK research and innovation

2016 has seen the announcement of plans to create UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to bring together Innovate UK with the Research Councils and HEFCE’s research funding. The Government has signalled its intention for an innovation-led industrial strategy, one that boosts productivity and creates economic growth.

Through the Autumn Statement, an Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund has been announced, along with increased funding for Innovate UK. This is a huge vote of confidence in UKRI and our ability to impact the future.

Of course, there is also a responsibility to ensure we do our best to stimulate economic growth across the whole of the UK, and Innovate UK is committed to that endeavour.

We look forward to 2017 with excitement and a renewed sense of vigour.

Follow me on Twitter: @RuthMcKernan

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