Moves are eventually under way to boost the commercialisation of the UK’s scientific research, in part through a new string of innovation centres. They will be supported by new enterprise funding.
The budget wasn’t all bad for innovation. In spite of earlier cuts to the universities’ monies, it announced a £35 million University Enterprise Capital Fund to provide early-stage funding for the commercialisation of promising university innovations.
Naturally the private sector has a role with the government contributing £25 million and expecting another £10 million coming from the private sector.
In reality, the new fund takes over from the University Challenge Funds, which provided capital for very early stage development. These challenge funds were launched in 1999 and have been credited with fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in universities.
The new University Enterprise Capital Fund is being touted as aiming to put more money into a network of technology and innovation centres. This trend is being put at the doorstep of Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, who visited Germany in February and was said to be impressed with the Fraunhofer institutes, of which there are 59.
The move is also thought to be based on a report submitted by Hermann Hauser, the Cambridge-based technology entrepreneur and scientist, to the government who argues that technology centres are critical in supporting innovation.
The Technology Strategy Board will implement the policy, working with research bodies and industry but the strategy will not be developed until after the next pre-budget report.
Hauser’s report identified Asia and Scandinavia as having good examples of initiatives that help commercialising research and also high-lighted France which in 2006 set up a network of Carnot Institutes.
“While the UK has invested in equivalent structures . . . the current UK approach is by comparison sub-critical, follows no national strategy, and pays insufficient attention to business requirements and the location of relevant expertise,” Hauser said.
He also called on the UK to focus on technologies for global markets and specialisms with the capacity to carry out not only research but also manufacturing, something that has long been criticised as holding back commercialisation of British inventions.
The first centres are likely to be the Bioscience Campus in Stevenage, the Manufacturing Technology Centre near Coventry and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield.