From Concept to Commercialisation of research

The original version of this post appeared on the British Ecological Society’s Ecology and Policy Blog.

The Biochemical Society, together with the British Ecological Society, hosted another successful Policy Lunchbox at Charles Darwin House yesterday. The guest speaker was Dr David Bott, Director of Innovation Programmes at the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), who delivered an engaging talk on the process of turning innovative ideas into real products and services. David identified a number of barriers to this progression and outlined how the TSB is working to address them. His presentation (MS Powerpoint) can be downloaded from the Policy Lunchbox listings page.

One of the biggest issues is the significant risk involved in pursuing innovative ideas, as well as a lack of long-term support for innovative projects due to a demand for immediate returns on investments. David highlighted that people need to be educated better about risk to help change these attitudes, and we also heard that there is also a lack of long-term political planning. The UK Government does not harness its considerable market influence, which has the potential to drive innovation in its suppliers through forward-thinking procurement and regulation, alongside tax breaks to encourage investment in certain technologies, he said. Since its creation, the TSB has developed a ‘toolbox’ of solutions to these barriers including providing coherent, long-term support to those involved in innovation and encouraging knowledge exchange, for example by hosting ‘Missions’ to introduce innovators to potential competitors, funders and collaborators. They have also created _connect, an online social network for innovators which aims to ‘match’ people with similar interests.

David set out how the TSB’s budget is worked out, highlighting sustainability as  a specific, dedicated programme which underpins all of the board’s work, despite a proportionally small allocation. The TSB works across a huge range of different areas – see slide 5 of David’s presentation, which shows the proportion of the budget spent in each – with the recently monikered Catapults being allocated around 20% of this. These include the new Cell Therapy Catapult, as the TSB looks to take advantage of an industry which they expect to be worth £3.1billion by 2014. Of around 160 employees at the TSB, the core are made up of individuals who trained as scientists but also have business and industrial experience. This experience is essential as each industry advances at different speeds, which needs to be understood.

Whilst healthcare and the biosciences are strategically important areas for the TSB, one area that represents a key theme throughout their work is the environment. The need to double food production by 2050 will require significant innovation in agriculture, whilst increasing energy production without worsening damage to the environment will require novel design and planning. In response to this energy challenge, one of the Catapults will focus on Offshore Renewable Energy, and the TSB is already contributing to innovative environmental projects elsewhere. A Demonstrator Project (designed to encourage further innovation in the sector) tested consumer responses to newly introduced electric cars; measuring their habits, attitudes and opinions of the vehicles when using them for a year. Another scheme – Retrofit for the Future – used innovative technologies to adapt 118 social houses to reduce their carbon emissions by 80% and found significant energy and money savings for the residents.

With the Business Secretary Vince Cable MP announcing a further Catapult Centre yesterday and a range of funding opportunities and events planned for the new year, the TSB’s valuable work in driving innovation is set to continue. Importantly though, David acknowleged that without investment in the research base, there wouldn’t be anything to commercialise.

David Bott’s presentation at the Policy Lunchbox was well received by all the attendees and led to some very interesting discussion afterwards. We would like to thank David Bott for his participation, and everyone who attended. The TSB report ‘Concept to Commercialisation’, which discusses the work of the TSB further is available online.

The next Policy Lunchbox event on 6th March will see Beck Smith, Assistant Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, discuss ‘How can the Government incentivise private sector investment in research and development?’ This event is fully booked, but to join the waiting list you can contact me at the Biochemical Society.

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