The last two weeks have shown that UK industry is up for a challenge.
Two weeks, 9 workshops, 8 cities, 618 very high quality attendees from the UK's innovation ecosystem. They all contributed to a great communal effort, expertly organised at short notice by the Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Network, to define a set of challenges that will help to start to shape the future of UK industry and the UK economy.
So why this communal outpouring of interest in science and innovation?
Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The name says it all. A fund that will invest in science and innovation challenges, to meet the demands and opportunities of UK industry.
Research and Innovation at the heart of the Industrial Strategy
We have been excited about this since late November last year, when the Prime Minister confirmed the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund would be a major element of the industrial strategy.
That was on Monday (21st November 2016) at the CBI. On the Wednesday, the Chancellor committed to an additional £4.7 billion investment in science and innovation over the life of this parliament - the greatest single increase for nearly 40 years.
Last week, the Industrial Strategy consultation document included ‘investing in science, research and innovation’ as the first of 10 ‘pillars’ - a major endorsement of the value that we know science and innovation can bring to this country and the economy.
Crucially, the Industrial Strategy document also included a focus on supporting businesses to start and grow, and driving growth across the whole country. All things that Innovate UK are working hard to deliver.
So where are the opportunities?
Working closely with colleagues in the Research Councils, we have focussed on 8 areas where we know there is great market potential, excellent UK research and industrial capability, where we think the timing is right for a major drive, and where public money can work alongside private sector investment to make the UK a world leader:
- Bioscience and biotechnology
- Leading edge healthcare and medicine
- Manufacturing processes and materials of the future
- Smart, flexible and clean energy technologies
- Quantum technologies
- Robotics and artificial intelligence
- Satellites and space technologies
- Transformative digital technologies
In addition we have been looking at two more areas: Integrated & Sustainable Cities, and Technologies for the Creative Industries, where we believe there are significant global opportunities building on UK strengths.
What do we mean when we say ‘challenge’?
You can think of the grand challenge prize activities such as the anti-microbial Longitude Prize, or the DARPA challenges focused on problems or opportunities for the US military. There are other examples, but in all cases this is about what we’re trying to achieve, rather than focussing on technological solutions. That will come later.
During December and early January, teams of experts from Innovate UK and across the Research Councils began the process of drafting more detailed challenges in each area. Examples include:
- What is the best way of achieving lower cost access to space?
- Reducing energy bills by accelerating game-changing grid technologies
- Resource-efficient manufacturing and materials
- A sustainable food system resilient to global shocks, and which enables health and well being
The workshops were critical in developing these ideas further. The participants wasted no time in rewriting the challenges, combining them, splitting them up, and indeed identifying whole new challenges, before helping us to prioritise. We also talked to stakeholders around UK, to get a sense of where our national view resonated with local issues and could build on local research assets and industrial capability.
These workshops were the beginning of the engagement on Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, not the end.
We will work with the Government and Research Council partners to develop the first set of investments to enable us to kick off our FY17/18 programme in April, but we will continue to talk to businesses and researchers about developing ideas for FY18 and beyond.
And remember, the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is just one aspect of the industrial strategy. Through the Government consultation you can feed in your ideas on science, research and innovation – or any of the other pillars – until April 17th. Please take that chance, as we and the Government would love to hear your thoughts.
Between now and then we’ll be gathering together and thinking through all of the excellent ideas from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund workshops, and prioritising those that will make the biggest impact for the future of the UK.
Now there’s a challenge…
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