Innovate UK on innovation in industry

How important is it for the government to back or create initiatives like Innovate UK?

It’s so important. Innovation is vital for economic growth. The government can send a clear message to industry, in the UK and abroad, that it is serious about innovation through the establishment of a standalone innovation agency. 

What are the benefits of this initiative?

The benefits of this initiative are that we will be supporting early stage companies to innovate through both a grant and ancillary business support, while at the same time accelerating the development of a regional cluster. Helping to commercialise Research and Development enables SMEs to grow faster and create more jobs.

How has the UK advanced over the last 20 years in this sector?

The UK's capability as a manufacturer has undoubtedly suffered over the last 20 years. However, in recent years a number of activities have begun to address this decline, with Innovate UK and its Launchpad competitions at the forefront of this. Examples of our initiatives include:

A commitment by government to manufacturing and a rebalancing of the economy; investment in national programmes such as AMSCI and RGF; skill support such as apprenticeships by BIS; support of the HVM Catapult by Innovate UK and continued investment of £25M per year in grants to business-led projects. 

How can startups and small businesses replicate the success that ICI had?

It’s unlikely that any startup or business in the North East will reach the scale of ICI. However, we do have companies such as Ineos, Croda and Akzo Nobel which are roughly modern day equivalents. Indeed, many companies that have a heritage from ICI still exist such as Huntsman.  New smaller companies are likely to generate value through new processes, such as those based on industrial biotechnology. For example, Chemoxy, Plaxica, Lucite and Coressence are all companies based in the North East utilising biology to enhance or replace traditional chemical processes. 

How important is it that the UK retains a strong industrial sector?

It is vitally important. The latest thinking suggests that we need to generate a quarter to a third of our GDP via exports to be a competitive economy (where we would not have to depress our currency). Manufacturing is key to achieving this. In fact, for each manufacturing job created, two other jobs are created to support it. 

How important do you think it is, especially in traditional sectors like biochemistry and manufacturing, that businesses are recognised with awards?

Awards are a useful tool for promoting sectors that we feel are important. The Longitude Prize, for example, is something we recently undertook to run on behalf of the Government. Awards are generally great but they need to be granted through a competitive process, with a good entry level and a robust assessment, or they miss the point. They are particularly useful for new businesses as they can help attract investment or sales.

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