Finding the jewels that transfer from ideas into real technology that delivers business benefit.

In 2012 Sir Tim Wilson recommended the creation of a new centre based on University & Industry collaboration, a place to share best practice across industrial sectors as well as encouraging companies who traditionally do not enter this model, usually smaller to medium size, to see the real value of such collaborations.

Overall aims included the gathering and maintaining of a comprehensive repository of good practice, the undertaking of commissioned studies and a place to provide reliable information sources for future substantive reviews on the topic.

In 2013 this recommendation was delivered with the opening of the National Centre for Universities & Business (NCUB) – run under the auspices of the Council for Industry & Higher Education (CIHE).

Why is this important to us?

For EADS, upstream (TRL 1 – 4) investment is vital to the success of the group and has enabled us to design and build truly historic products, from the engines on-board the LZ-1 Zeppelin as it flew in 1900, the world’s first commercial radio broadcast in 1920 through to Concorde in 1969 and today with the Airbus A380.

Worldwide, we ranked in 2012 as the 30th largest spending company worldwide in R&D at €3.9Bn. When the Department for Business Innovation & Skills produced its UK R&D scorecard report, listing the 1,000 top UK & World companies based upon R&D investment, EADS was ranked #1 (including its subsidiaries Airbus, Cassidian, Eurocopter & Astrium) based on foreign owned (as defined by BIS) R&D investment in the UK.

So what is the problem then?

Finding the jewels that transfer from ideas into real technology that delivers business benefit is a non-exact science, which requires all parties to understand the value of failure as well as that of success.

For every project that delivers there are perhaps 5, 10 or even 100 that do not. Critical breakthroughs happen in our labs but crucially they also happen in Universities, SMEs and other companies – we need to be able to locate, nurture and integrate these breakthrough technologies in a manner that benefits all stakeholders.

We need to engender trust relationships so that long terms partnerships can flourish and people are open to sharing their technology.

How do we do this?

In Wales we have pioneered the EADS Foundation for Wales, a not-for profit, limited by Guarantee Company which has the triangle of stakeholders – Industry, Academia and Government.

This foundation encourages anyone with an idea to pitch their technology within a number of Grand Challenges; these are defined as areas of importance to Industry and also to Wales. Each stakeholder contributes, either cash or in-kind resource, and external SMEs, Academics and others can apply for funding through a wave process that allows very quick decision making and incremental awards based on results.

The key to the success of the Foundation is adopting a trust relationship – all background IP is respected and any new IP created is placed under the ownership of the Foundation. Once a project is ready for exploitation, the IP can then be purchased at an independently valued market rate.

What is next?

The next stage for Wales is to roll out this Foundation model across other sectors, not just Aerospace & Defence – encouraging other large companies to invest into this model and increase the Welsh SME eco-system, feeding into the supply chains of the major companies and providing a means for smaller companies to work with Academia and perform real R&D without using up precious funding.