Technology commercialisation is never simple and rarely linear, however it always requires some basic building blocks and a specific set of conditions to bring it to life.
Commercialisation springs from the primordial soup of an innovation ecosystem. Creating structured, mission focused partnerships we can optimise and re-energise the rich UK ecosystem.
The Haldane conundrums
Ten years after Richard Haldane considered how to create the most effective research system for the UK, his nephew John Haldane theorised on a very different question, namely: where did we come from?
Richard Haldane conceived the Haldane Principle, creating a UK research system independent from political interference that has put UK research at the global forefront. In contrast, John Haldane focused his efforts on further developing the primordial soup theory in an article called The origin of life.
The primordial soup theory
Four billion years ago there was no organic material and the atmosphere was very different, containing no oxygen however with a rich supply of hydrogen, ammonia, methane and water. The theory postulates that these elements combined to produce amino acids, creating the primordial soup from which complex organic material formed and subsequently gave rise to life.
This theoretical process (abiogenisis) requires a further critical ingredient: energy. Whilst there is debate around its source (lightning, ultraviolet light from the sun, deep-sea hydrothermal vents?), raw energy was a critical component.
Energy catalysed the combination of amino acids to create nucleic acids. Nucleic acids adapted and recombined to create life. Life gave rise to photosynthetic organisms with an interesting by-product: oxygen. With oxygen in the atmosphere life exploded, recycling key components in the process.
An elegant self-propagating system, one can argue not unlike the output of his uncle’s principle.
It’s only a theory, but I believe a transposable theory to our challenges with commercialisation.
The innovation ecosystem needs a ready supply of key building blocks: a strong academic system, commercial skills, markets, money and so on. The energy comes from the people within the ecosystem. The greater the entrepreneurial spirit of the people the greater the energy and the greater the output.
Entrepreneurial behaviour drives research and development (R&D) to success. Success, like oxygen, then drives an exponential expansion of success, recycling the key components in the process.
Not every innovation ecosystem is the same, silicon valley the UK is not, and nor should we strive to be. We have different qualities and quantities in our ecosystem, our success will come from different outcomes in different markets.
In my opinion our key failure is we lack enough entrepreneurial spirit.
Accepting the need for failure in innovation
Critically I am not saying we don’t have enough entrepreneurs (although frankly we don’t) I am saying we: government, banks, venture capital organisations, universities, academics, businesses, society, are simply not framed within an entrepreneurial spirit.
We simply don’t accept that failure is a by-product on route to success.
The lack of early stage investment is a barrier
In my experience for example, we don’t lack money in the UK for large funding rounds of low risk, safe and de-risked opportunities. In fact, anecdotally, I have been told we simply don’t have enough deals to meet the investment market demand.
On the flip-side we do lack money at the early stages of commercialisation, even with its potentially huge returns.
An appetite for risk is needed
Early stage development requires an appetite for risk to achieve a big reward, the best possible multi-disciplinary evaluation matrix and a healthy dose of entrepreneurial spirit from all parties.
Realising the potential in the system
Re-energising the system requires the tipping of behaviours more towards an ecosystem dense with entrepreneurial spirit. We must create space for the risk takers, the dreamers and those who dare to think big. Interventions that enable risk sharing also create opportunities for much greater shared reward.
Interventions such as the Investment Accelerator model adapts behaviours by combing the strengths of innovative businesses, private investors and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), sharing the risk and maximising the success.
Encouraging people to act differently
I believe we should focus on structuring specific programmes that link across multiple stakeholders in the ecosystem.
This enables learning from one another, can generates a greater risk tolerance and would cultivate a sustainable, self-propagating commercialisation system.
Our focus must be on encouraging people to do something different, something bold; by harnessing engaged collective energy and creating a higher concentration of entrepreneurial spirit in the UK ecosystem, commercialisation might just take on a life of its own.
Of course, it’s just a theory.
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