Policy Lunchbox: Decoding the Technology Strategy Board

TSBFor many, the acronym TSB is synonymous with the Trustee Savings Bank. However, for those in the science and business communities it also has an alternative meaning; the Technology Strategy Board.

Although the TSB is widely known about, knowledge of its workings and funding mechanisms is far less broadly appreciated. Often referred to as the ‘research council for businesses’, the terminology the Board uses can be viewed as a little cryptic. If, like me, you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between a catalyst and a catapult or been unsure what a KTN refers to, read on…

Our latest Policy Lunchbox event was titled ‘Decoding the TSB’ and featured Dr Mike Sullivan, Lead Technologist – Regenerative Medicine at the TSB. To a room full of attendees keen to banish their TSB confusion, Mike gave an overview of the Board and answered a number of questions. Thus, in an attempt to pass on my newly-acquired knowledge of the TSB, here is a round up of Mike’s Policy Lunchbox presentation and the ensuing discussion:

The TSB was set up in 2004 and was spun out of government as a non-departmental public body (NDPB) in 2007. Sponsored by the Department for Innovation, Business and Skills (BIS) its budget has increased from £250 million per year in 2007 to £440 million a year in 2013. The overarching goal of the Board is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation.

Funding is centred round themes. In 2014/15 these will include; space applications, energy, built environment, food, transport, healthcare, resource efficiency, high value manufacturing, digital economy, advanced materials, emerging technologies and industries, electronics, sensors and photonics, enabling technologies and the biosciences. (Phew, so a pretty narrow remit then!) As well as being a key funder of collaborative R&D, the TSB also acts as a means to connect people with different technical backgrounds.

Where confusion often creeps in is with regards to how the TSB manage their funding and linking programmes. The Board’s ‘toolset’ can seem a little bamboozling to those unfamiliar with their particular terminology.

One of the most talked-about of the TSB’s initiatives are the Catapult centres for technology and innovation. Aiming to bridge the gap between businesses, academia, research and government, 7 have been established in the UK so far. Each Catapult seeks to provide access to world-leading technology and expertise as well as to enable collaborative R&D projects. Often located in areas where there are particular research clusters, the Catapults seek to facilitate interaction between universities, research centres and RTOs with industry (both large and SMEs) and CROs. For example, the Cell Therapy Catapult was launched in London in 2012 in the midst of an existing clinical research cluster. It aims to make the UK a global leader in the development, delivery and commercialisation of cell therapy and involves collaborations with GSK, Loughborough University and the UK stem cell foundation amongst others. The TSB will be launching two new Catapults in 2015 including one devoted to diagnostics and stratified medicine.

Another of the TSB’s most recognised initiatives are the Catalyst funding schemes. Of these, the Biomedical Catalyst is probably the most well known to those in the bioscience community. A joint initiative between the TSB and the MRC, it aims to deliver growth to the UK life sciences sector by supporting and driving the development of innovative life sciences products and services. As part of this, it seeks to foster partnerships between clinicians, academics and industry to enable innovative life sciences products and services to reach the market at speed and with maximum healthcare impact. To do this, the TSB and the MRC have invested £180 million over the past 3 years.

A number of other components of the TSB’s toolset are widely referenced, including the Knowledge Transfer Networks (KTNs) and the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs). The KTNs present overarching national networks in a specific field of technology with the aim to connect the UK’s innovation communities and to provide information about new opportunities in key research areas. KTPs, on the other hand, serve to meet a core strategic need and to identify innovative solutions to help businesses grow. They often deliver significantly increased profitability for business partners as a direct result of the partnership through improved quality and operations, increased sales and access to new markets. However the KTPs are often under-subscribed.

A number of other initiatives are also of interest to the scientific community. _Connect is a means by which people interested in being involved with the TSB can sign up and learn more about opportunities to enable useful interactions. As well as heavily themed funding programmes, the TSB also have SMART funding available whereby companies can approach the Board directly with a proposal. Finally, the TSB run Entrepreneur Missions whereby they enable scientists or people in business to travel to key business/innovations HUBS both in the UK and abroad.

So that’s a brief run-through of the main activities of the TSB which are relevant to the bioscience community. Hopefully you are now slightly less confused by the terminology and know your Catapults from your Catalysts… many thanks to Dr Mike Sullivan for facilitating this clarity!

Our next Policy Lunchbox will continue the ‘decoding’ theme and will feature Naomi Saint, Special Projects Manager, Parliament’s Outreach Service, Houses of Parliament to talk about understanding the legislative process.

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