Innovate UK, which help businesses overcome obstacles to developing ideas, and technologies, sees potential for Greater Manchester to be even more active in innovation, writes Rick Holland.
Since 2007, Innovate UK has been driving UK productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses of all sizes to realise the potential of new technologies, develop ideas and make them a commercial success. We are government funded, but business focused, and business led.
We have helped businesses overcome some of the most significant barriers to innovation, from lack of finance to access to markets. Our grant funding helps to de-risk innovation projects sufficiently to bring in private sector investors. It also enables closer collaborations within supply chains, between sectors and, critically, between businesses and the research base. Without the incentives and support of the government many of these collaborations would never get off the ground.
Since 2007, we’ve invested around £2.2bn in businesses right across the country, matched by £1.6bn from those businesses. We’ve helped more than 8,000 organisations nationwide, including over 220 businesses in Greater Manchester. Our investments into GM businesses total almost £5m each year. This is significant, as this investment has helped to grow some great businesses who add high-value jobs to the city region.
We also believe Greater Manchester is capable of more; for although GM has 3% of all the UK businesses it has received only 2% of our innovation investments. So we want more GM businesses to submit funding applications to us, and we want the submitted applications to be of better quality.
GM businesses have a lot to gain from being more innovative. Businesses that innovate grow faster and export more than those that do not innovate. We also know that innovation accounts for between 25-50% of productivity gains, and firms that innovate are more productive than their competitors. Innovation is really important for improving the economy of GM and the wider region.
The impact of our work is backed up by independent research. A recent study by the Enterprise Research Council – ‘Assessing the business performance effects of engagement with publicly-funded science’ – showed that, across all our grant recipients, employment grew by 6% in the short-term and 23% in the longer-term (after six years), turnover grew by 6% in the short term, and 28% in the longer term, productivity grew by 6% in the longer term and an estimated 150,000 new jobs were created, many in highly-skilled sectors such as biotechnology, medical equipment, engineering, life sciences and high-tech manufacturing.
Innovate UK currently runs funding competitions across four broad sectors: health and life sciences; manufacturing and materials; emerging and enabling technologies; and infrastructure systems; as well as a fifth open category for projects regardless of their technology or sector.
In addition to the funding from these competitions, we also help companies by connecting them to the partners they need to innovate, whether they are researchers, suppliers, customers, or collaborators. This is primarily through our two business facing networks, who are both active within GM – the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) (www.ktn-uk.co.uk) and the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) (www.enterprise-europe.co.uk) which has a team at the heart of Manchester in the Growth Company. The KTN and the EEN can help businesses find the right expertise, facilities, financiers and influencers that can help bring their ideas to market.
We have also established the world-class Catapult network (www.catapult.org.uk), which ensures UK businesses have access to state-of-the-art facilities wherever they are in the UK. They provide a perfect environment for university and business collaboration.
Within the region this Catapult network can be accessed via:
We are also developing new ways to finance innovation, including innovation loans (with a £50m pilot programme from April 2018) and engaging with the Venture Capitalist community to provide the match funding for small businesses undertaking early stage feasibility projects. (www.gov.uk/government/news/accelerating-innovation-with-public-and-private-investment-apply)
Looking forward, innovation has an increasingly vital role to play as the government continues to develop its Industrial Strategy. To support this ambition, the government has committed an extra £4.7 bn over the next four years.
We are transforming existing industries and helping to create completely new ones through the new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), delivered by Innovate UK and our colleagues in the UK’s Research Councils. The ISCF aims to tackle the biggest societal challenges and technology opportunities facing the UK such as efficient medicines manufacturing, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) and better batteries for electric vehicles.
It is critical for the UK to develop industries that are fit for the future, driving progress in technologies where we can become a world-leader in their research and commercialisation.
This significant commitment and confidence from the government enables Innovate UK to identify opportunities across our economy so that we can support businesses to grow, create more highly-skilled jobs and spread the benefits of our economic success right across the country.
We’re here to help innovative businesses in Greater Manchester to take the next step.