The best birthdays of all...

This month we celebrated the second birthday of the Technology Strategy Board.

In a world currently marking a number of 40-year anniversaries - the first man on the moon, the first flight of Concorde, the first test tube fertilization of human eggs, the development of the computer mouse… the Woodstock Festival… a second birthday seems hardly significant at all. And yet as we look back over the last 12 months, and prepare content for our Annual Review, it is clear that we have achieved a great deal.

We have seen the launch of our ‘Connect and Catalyse’ strategy, which has proved to be a robust framework for our activities. We have run successful Collaborative R&D competitions in Photonics, Sustainable Materials, Fuel Cells and High Value Manufacturing. We have seen the first funding for Creative Industries feasibility study projects, leading to the launch last week of the first UK Creative Industries Technology Strategy. We have seen the increasing success of the Innovation Platform concept, including the launch of the Low Impact Buildings and Infectious Agents Innovation Platforms and the successful competitions run under the Low Carbon Vehicle Innovation Platform. We have run successful SBRI pilots in partnership with the MOD and Department of Health, and in January we took on responsibility for business-focused space technology.

For me personally, I have continued to value the opportunity to get out and see some of the technology-based businesses we work with – as well as some that we don’t. There are too many to mention them all; for our Innovate ‘09 conference and showcase on October 13th in London, I am tempted to compile a ‘roll call’ of all the businesses we have had contact with. I think people would be surprised at both the length and the breadth of the list.

In the meantime, particular examples of lesser-known companies that left a deep impression on me over the last six months were Imagination Technologies in Kings Langley, Zytek, Horizon Discovery, The Automation Partnership, Plastic Logic, Zarlink Semiconductor, and Wireless Fibre Systems at Livingstone.

As the list suggests, we work with companies across the UK, in areas covered by every RDA and devolved administration. Close partnership with these regional bodies has been an important feature of this last year, as we have worked together to look closely at alignment of our programmes. Each RDA has prepared its own regional prospectus, allowing an assessment to be made of its alignment with national priorities. In headline terms we have identified nearly half a billion pounds of R&D and innovation programmes funded by the RDAs and aligned with the Technology Strategy Board.

It is good to reflect on these positive achievements of the last 12 months but as an organisation we know we can still do so much more. There are things we can do better; one of the most important is to improve the quality of feedback to companies that apply for funding through our various competitions. It is enevitable in competition that there will be unsuccessful applicants but, particularly for small businesses, there is more I feel we could do to improve the quality of feedback and to make suggestions to  help the business progress.

There are also new types of support for innovation that business has asked us to look into – for example the coordination of existing proof-of-concept type funding schemes, support for a limited number of National Centres across the UK with international standing, development of an international strategy to support our UK economic benefit objectives, and the development of impact metrics.

We have identified some areas of heightened priority for the next 12 months. These include low carbon technologies, especially around low carbon vehicles, low impact buildings and carbon abatement; the industrialisation of stem cell research and regenerative medicine; and the opportunities arising out of the digital economy. We have a number of competitions around these priorities and linked to New Industry New Jobs planned over the coming months. I am confident that we are making good progress working with Government Departments on the SBRI concept and I believe that our relaunched Knowledge Transfer Networks will work in a more integrated way, bringing cross market benefits to our important market sectors. I can already see the early signs of success in the new short KTP scheme.

There will continue to be many challenges and changes over the next 12 months but I am confident that we are on an upward trajectory, increasing our contribution to UK business innovation and its positive impact towards UK economic recovery.

It was good to celebrate our second birthday - but, as Robert Orben said, “the best birthdays of all are those that haven’t arrived yet.”


Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:17

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