Time flies – it seems only a few months ago that I announced the annual ‘Innovator of the Year’ competition for 2012. You might recall that the winner last year was Prof. Alex Yakovlev and his team. The competition attracted much interest, and thus we propose to continue with this for 2013 and beyond. You can find the details for this years’ competition here. The prize of £5000 will be transferred into a nominated university account, to be used to support the research programme of the successful applicant, at their discretion.
On the issue of innovation, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has just produced a report, Bridging valley of death: improving the commercialisation of research. You can read all 281 pages at your leisure, but for now here’s a summary of the findings detailed in the report.
The ‘valley of death’ to which the title refers is the apparent block in the progress of science from the laboratory bench to a commercially successful business or product. The success of the UK economy could (and should) be transformed by translating world-class science into new businesses, jobs and wealth. While the UK science base is demonstrably world-leading in many areas, many technology companies in the UK are apparently acquired by foreign owners, resulting in new jobs and wealth creation outside the UK. The Committee argue that there are several reasons for this. Foremost amongst these is the fact that such businesses take time to develop and become profitable in an environment where financing is focussing more on quick returns and less risky investments. They also expressed concern about how universities interact with the commercialisation of research. For example, they would like to see how changes in the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) improve commercialisation activity, and whether more money should be made available for proof-of-concept studies. They also question whether institutions should be more accommodating to non-traditional backgrounds amongst academic staff, and whether driving the innovation agenda too aggresively through universities may risk damaging academic resarch that is working well.
Ultimately, they argue, it is crucial that Government has a coherent plan regarding the engagement of the research base (people, facilities and intellectual property) with the innovation agenda, such that there is a commercial demand for university engagement to which we are already primed to respond. Finally, there is a need for a clear vision from the Government to provide business confidence to make R&D investments, by making definite commitments about which sectors it intends to fund.
So, how can the Government best engage us with the innovation agenda – thoughts anyone? We have been thinking about this ourselves in the context of the Science Central development – details will appear here soon.