The world is changing, and changing fast. Our population is growing, people are living longer, our climate is changing, and our energy supplies and food resource are running low.
The Government’s modern Industrial Strategy is helping to bring us together in a coordinated and concerted effort to tackle these global challenges. Individuals, communities and companies all have a role to play in tackling these issues, but we will not solve them by working in silos and doing things the way we always have. As the pace of scientific discovery and innovation increases rapidly across the world, the UK’s world-leading research and innovation community is beginning to recognise the necessity of working across scientific disciplines, and across all sectors of our industry so there is a seamless progression from lab bench to the marketplace to meet these challenges. Turning ideas into investment, innovation and, ultimately, income.
Why does collaboration matter in innovation?
The UK government has set a target to raise R&D investment from 1.7% to 2.4% by 2027 in order to outpace the global competition. To do this, it’s essential that the UK increase both its public and its private investment in R&D – and the best way of doing this is to build and maintain fruitful collaborative relationships with others.
Collaboration is at the heart of great innovation, and partnerships between businesses and academia are now more important than ever. At Innovate UK we commercialise the brilliant ideas that come from our research base and ensure entrepreneurs and innovators can find the latest knowledge and research to help them solve the intractable problems of today. The benefits are clear: studies show that firms that persistently invest in R&D have higher productivity – 13% higher than those with no R&D spending and 9% more than firms who occasionally invest in R&D, with better value added per employee and more exports.
Innovate UK: Tackling national challenges
Innovate UK wants the UK to be the best place in the world for businesses to innovate and grow, maximising the economic and societal benefits of innovation over the long term. We’re already leading the charge in areas like AI and data, an energy revolution, mobility and healthy ageing. But there’s room for growth, and that’s where innovative new ideas and collaborations with great thinkers, innovators and pioneers are essential.
An innovative mindset is essential in tackling the largest challenges we face across the world, and our Industrial Strategy aims to rise to the challenges with new innovations. We are already seeing the benefit of bringing researchers and innovators together through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Whether it’s creating the next generation of batteries to power electric vehicles or delivering new technologies that could revolutionise how we construct our homes, offices and factories of the future. These are very different challenges, but they share the goal of radically altering how our industries operate.
None of this could have happened without the input of partner organisations and a functioning ideassharing network. It’s vital that we build strong relationships in order to safely and openly discuss new innovations.
Building a culture of collaborative innovation
Recognising the importance of bringing together ideas and application, we fund programmes to foster highly productive working partnerships between business and academics. Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) bridge the gap between academic experts and businesses. At this year’s KTP Best of the Best awards ceremony, we celebrated the success of Bemrose-Booth Paragon and a research post-graduate from the University of Hull, who worked together to reformulate the magnetic strip on the back of train tickets. As a result of their partnership, a billion people worldwide have access to this new and more reliable technology and they are now using this unique technology to safeguard bank notes in Brazil.
Similarly, Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) is a 12-week programme that addresses the problem of siloed academic research. Taking experts out of the laboratory and into the marketplace, ICURe schemes can take place across any department and are open to all UK universities. Recently, a research post-graduate from the University of Hertfordshire developed a model for a 3D human lung, enabling laboratory testing to measure the damage of certain substances and chemicals. Through the scheme, her research has been showcased in eight different countries, collaborating on a global scale.
Interdisciplinary collaboration is one of the most important factors in driving business growth. Our schemes are open to academics and experts from all areas, not just technology and the sciences. After all, we need to think differently about how we collaborate – why, how and with whom. Some of the most impactful innovations have come from conversations between people from different backgrounds and with conflicting points of view.
Call to action
Innovate UK is committed to ensuring we have strong foundations to encourage a culture of constant innovation.
We believe that good ideas can come from anyone and we know that diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth. As business leaders, we need to be surrounded by, and encourage, a diverse workforce to drive innovation and give us a competitive advantage.
Agencies and public bodies can invest in up-andcoming innovators, with the help of successful innovators who have been there and done it before. Through the Industrial Strategy, we could boost the economy by £80 billion over the next decade.
We may need to look at the competition to find inspiration to set ourselves apart. As a nation we need to drive collaboration – through government, through industry, through universities and local communities – so that we can become the world’s most innovative economy. The outcome focus should be to build distinct partnerships that lead to sustainable relationships to dive economic growth locally to “deliver a punch both nationally and internationally”.
This article first appeared in the 2019 State of the Relationship report published 19 June 2019.