A few days ago, I spoke at the FT’s Brexit and Beyond event, to talk about the opportunities for economic growth in the UK.
The UK has an absolutely fantastic reputation for excellent science
We may only be 0.9% of the world’s population, but the UK enjoys 3.2% of the world’s R&D expenditure in universities and in businesses. Our research base is responsible for:
- Around 140,000 papers a year
- 16% of the world’s most influential academic papers
- And 10.9% of citations in patents worldwide.
Except for America, we have more Nobel Prizes than any other country. The UK is also ranked 2nd globally for the quality of its scientific institutions, with four universities within the global top ten.
The UK has a vibrant innovation ecosystem
As the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK helps innovative businesses bring new ideas and new products out of the lab and into the marketplace.
Many of these businesses collaborate closely with scientific researchers. Our mechanisms like Collaborative Research & Development funding and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships help to connect businesses looking for new knowledge and skills that could give a step-change in their way of working.
Catapults help to secure business investment in the UK
The ultimate recognition of Britain’s research and innovation ecosystem comes when businesses choose to invest in UK research and development, giving them access to expert facilities, access to researchers and access to skilled employees.
While only started in the last five years and still maturing, our Catapult network is having an increasing impact.
Just recently McLaren announced it will open a composites technology centre alongside the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield, creating 200 jobs and supporting future innovations in manufacturing and materials. The recent annnouncement by Boeing that it had also chosen Sheffield for its first ever manufacturing facility in Europe is a big win for the UK as a whole, and particularly for Sheffield.
And Thermo Fisher Scientific have announced a collaboration with the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult to expand Fisher’s CryoHub and co-locate it with the Catapult’s new cell and gene therapy manufacturing centre in Stevenage, further strengthening the cluster there.
Supporting innovative businesses across the UK
We fund the very best projects through Innovate UK competitions, regardless of location. This video shows how our money is spent across the regions and nations of the UK.
Innovate UK has worked with 8,000 organisations on 11,000 projects. And last year we awarded 55% of our funding to small and medium enterprises – I see a real appetite for innovation out there in smaller companies.
How is the UK doing with starting and scaling companies?
Only a fortnight ago, analysis showed that London stepped up to be 3rd in the rankings of global hubs for start-ups, behind Silicon Valley and New York City. That is a fantastic achievement.
The challenge now is to get more of the start-up businesses to grow and scale – and this is a big focus of Innovate UK‘s work. Sherry Coutu’s Scale-up Institute has identified 11,575 scale-up businesses in the UK. It is difficult to produce unicorn businesses, but the ambition has to be to get many more companies to grow significantly.
The future belongs to the integrators
The future truly does belong to the integrators - integrators of skills, technologies and interdisciplinary methods.
Companies like ARM are developing technologies to enable artificial intelligence and machine learning. We are seeing the early use of virtual reality in healthcare. And next generation energy-saving technologies are becoming fact at the SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre in Port Talbot, which is developing buildings that are power stations.
The UK’s creative and digital clusters have a strong crosscutting role to play in innovation in our country. These are the O-positive technology areas, the ubiquitous and pervasive technologies that enable step-changes in other businesses, such as manufacturers, that are more anchored in regional locations.
We need to bring digital skills to these regions and industries, transforming traditional sectors. Jobs of the future will undoubtedly be driven by digital and creative expertise.
Horizon 2020 is a large source of funding for SMEs
Many UK SMEs look to Europe for research and development funding, and for connections to future customers. The UK is very successful in securing Horizon 2020 funding – across both collaborative projects and the SME Instrument. We sit 2nd, closely behind Germany, in terms of the total funding secured.
UK academic institutions have won a quarter of all the funding awarded to such institutions through Horizon 2020. SMEs have been awarded 389 million Euros from Horizon 2020 in the past 2 years – the most when compared to all other Horizon 2020 countries. And pretty much the same as the amount Innovate UK provides to SMEs each year.
UK businesses have welcomed the government’s commitment to underwrite funding secured for projects applied for before we leave the EU.
Supporting UK businesses in looking up and out
The UK is a limited market for many businesses. UK companies must look up and out, exploring international opportunities to ensure they scale. Innovate UK may be a UK innovation agency but we have an ever-growing focus on the many, many business opportunities available internationally for UK businesses.
Our Catapults are also working hard to build relevant international partnerships. The Satellite Applications Catapult has a strong programme integrating earth observation technology into other industries, such as
The UK is open for business – and partnering in innovation globally
Our recent global partners competition has funded over 100 UK small and medium sized companies to explore opportunities in just over 50 countries of interest - for building new partnerships, creating supply chains and developing new customer bases.
There is a real appetite from UK businesses to seek out global opportunities.
After all, innovation knows no boundaries – whether they are geographic, disciplinary, organisational or societal.
Follow me on Twitter at @RuthMcKernan
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