Not just an island...

One of the main differentiators of the Technology Strategy Board is our business currency. So a key aim for us is to ensure that both our human and intellectual business capital remain topical, and our objectives focused towards the needs of business.

This particularly came home to me in various meetings last week, and in discussion with some of our European counterparts who are eager to understand more about our organisation and our contribution to the innovation landscape.

I have previously had interesting conversations with SenterNovum, the technology and innovation agency of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, and been struck by their similar approach and their links to business. When we spoke they were interested in understanding more about what we call the challenge-led business approach, and how they could apply our model to their products and services. They were also keen to learn from our experience of the relaunch of SBRI.

Another country we have worked closely with, particularly in the field of electronics, is Belgium. Our own UKTI  has been keen to promote the capabilities of UK business in this area. While a relatively small country, Belgium does have a very interesting approach to technology development. A good investment model for us to understand is the Belgian IMEC institute  - Europe’s largest independent research centre in nano-electronics. Although it is only 20% funded by government there are some analogies between the private investment element and the way our regions make their investments.

The IMEC Institute is keen to work closely with the UK in relation to standards particularly; we have a world-leading approach in the BSI Group, whose contribution to the UK innovation agenda is often overlooked.

A lot is spoken about the Fraunhofer Institutes in Germany; some 56 institutes across 40 locations with funding of 1.3bn euros. There is much to envy in their joint business/university/region relationships, but I can’t help feeling that if we choose a suitable UK Regional Centre label (such as our evolving Manufacturing Research Centres or Science Parks) we already have the equivalent here in the UK. We just need the confidence to promote them. I met with the German Innovation Minister , Prof Meyer-Krahmer, last week to discuss our approach and again I discovered a strong interest in our challenge-led approach and the relationships the Technology Strategy Board has in linking business, universities and the regions.

Last autumn, our management team visited Brussels to raise awareness of the Technology Strategy Board and to understand how UK business can establish a better interface with the European Commission to foster innovation.

At the time I met Isi Saragossi, Director of Directorate C (European Research Area: Knowledge-based economy) who explained to us the European Technology Platforms concept (ETPs). These provide a framework for stakeholders, led by industry, to define research and development priorities, timeframes and action plans on a number of strategically important issues; areas where Europe's future growth, competitiveness and sustainability are dependent upon major research and technological advances in the medium to long term.

I was also impressed by meeting Jean-Noel Durvy, Director of Directorate D - Innovation Policy. The Directorate is keen to see more competition between innovation agencies in Europe to generate new ideas and schemes. I believe that in both cases the Technology Strategy Board, and its technology-inspired and challenge-led approach, can provide a good model for the Commission to use.

When you look at the budgets for European programmes it is important that we do help to position UK businesses to influence and participate. The total budget for FP7, including the non-nuclear research of the Joint Research Centre, is 51 billion euros over 7 years; surely something worth being a part of.

Last week I met with Diogo Vasconceles, a Distinguished Fellow at Cisco Systems, who is now chairing a business panel for the Directorate General (DG) of Enterprise to provide a business perspective on future EU Innovation Policy priorities.  I took him through the role of the Technology Strategy Board; he was very supportive of the model and further reinforced my view of the part that the UK, both at business and government level, can play in helping to establish this future innovation agenda.

My week ended giving a panel presentation at the Economist’s Innovation Island conference – an event which asked the question “How can the UK achieve competitive advantage?” Other presenters included Jonathan Kestenbaum, David Evans, Alan Aubrey, Jackie Hunter and Teri Willey.  I spoke about our strategy to ‘connect and catalyse’ and gave examples of our work in the thematic areas of technology-inspired innovation, challenge-led innovation and the innovation climate. Afterwards the Economic and Commercial Attache from the Belgian Embassy came over, to find out more about our approach. In fact the over-riding message I was left with from this event was that the UK does have the opportunity to influence and shape the innovation agenda, both in European and global contexts - and yet in some ways I feel in this country we have developed a risk-averse culture that prevents us from realising our full potential.

During this recession everyone is saying that the world will look like a different market place when we come out of it. I believe there is a great opportunity for us be more self-confident and to influence the innovation agenda, here and further afield. It is one of my objectives to ensure that the Technology Strategy Board is helping to shape this agenda and is at the forefront of innovation initiatives during the recession, both here and in Europe. And our closeness to business provides the unique model which will enable us to realise that ambition.


Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:36

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