Continuing to support and stimulate business growth through innovation, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) recently set out its delivery plan for the year ahead. We have had a look at their plans and this blog has been written to provide a snapshot of their priorities and an overview of some of the key resources and opportunities that will be available to you.
With a total budget of £440m for the 2013-2014 financial year, TSB will be committing £300m worth of opportunities, through 75 competitions.
Recognising the enormous potential that SMEs, in particular, play in the commercialisation of innovation, TSB will continue to provide a number of opportunities, including the following resources:
These will help businesses to look outside their existing networks to find the knowledge they need to increase their chances of commercialising innovation.
These will help single businesses to assess the commercial viability of their projects.
These 100% grants will help businesses to engage with the public sector consumer and customer.
KTPs will enable businesses to access the knowledge of specialists through partnerships with universities.
Key Themes and Priorities
Thematic strands for the 2013-2014 year will include:
Energy… obtaining up to £35m for business-led projects and missions, and £10m for the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, focusing on sustainability, security and affordability of supply.
Resource Efficiency … receiving up to £8m for competitions, special interest groups and missions. Emphasis will be on substituting at-risk and high-environmental-impact materials; resource life-cycles; and reducing material use and energy intensity.
Built Environment… opportunities offering up to £16m to business -led projects, and £10m for the Future Cities Catapult, prioritising systems integration, systems users and designed performance.
Food…seeing up to £14m committed to business-led projects, with engineering solutions, integrated farming systems and measurement technologies being priorities.
Transport… seeing business-led projects, studies and workshops receive up to £35m between them, and £10m going to the new Transport Systems Catapult. Funds will be distributed enable to exploration of integrated transport systems, low-carbon vehicles, rail systems, marine vessel efficiency and aerospace.
Health…remaining a key priority with a £68m budget dedicated to activities, the Cell Therapy Catapult and the Biomedical Catalyst. Priorities will include disease detection, prevention and management; tailored treatments for disease; and progress towards potential cures for diseases.
High Value Manufacturing (HVM)… receiving up to £63m for the HVM Catapult, collaboration competitions, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, special interest groups and building links with China. Priorities will include resource efficiency, manufacturing systems and processes, new business models and the integration of new materials.
Digital Economy… having £37m dedicated to competitions, and £10m going to the Connected Digital Economy Catapult. Priorities lie in exploiting data, new value models, resilient and interoperable digital systems and linking services to customers.
Enabling Technologies… focusing on challenge-based, cross-sector collaborations in areas such as robotics and autonomous systems, advanced materials, biosciences, electronics, sensors, photonics and ICT. Up to £30m will be dedicated to activities in these areas.
Space Application… receiving up to £10m for the Satellite Applications Catapult, and a further £11m for TechDemoSat (industry and academia mission) and UKube (miniature technology pioneer), Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, special interest groups and competitions. The emphasis will be on satellite data, space-based satellite systems, national and European space programmes and demonstration.
Emerging Technologies… developing, with a £7m budget for special interest groups and an innovation and knowledge centre in synthetic biology. Priority areas will include disruptive technologies, particularly synthetic biology, energy efficient computing and energy harvesting.
There will be many opportunities in the year ahead. To make sure that you are one of the first to hear about competitions, events and discussions, why not sign up to the TSB’s _connect network? Simply join up and then browse the topical networks and special interest groups that interest you most. A tip for you is to join groups that relate directly to your business or area of specialisation, and also explore groups with specialisms that may interest you as potential areas of business. There is a lot of cross- sector and cross-industry working going on, so you may find new and unexpected opportunities.
All the best
Employers, Young People (11-16) and STEM Education. Finding the Missing Link!
1 A city in crisis?
The city of Birmingham is faced with a youth crisis. In 2011 almost 8% of 16-18 year olds in Birmingham were not in education, employment or enrolled on any training course (DfES, 2011). Currently, 20% of Birmingham’s young population (18-24 year olds) are claiming Job Seekers Allowance (BCC, 2013).Many studies such as the Heseltine (2012 access here ) report have highlighted that experience of work is necessary within the education system to prepare young people for the world of work. In addition to this, a recent report by the Social Market Foundation (Broughton, 2013 )claim that there is a fundamental shortage of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates in the UK which is set to increase in the future.
In January 2013 the Birmingham Employment Skills Board whose priorities are related to youth unemployment and improving the relationship between schools and employers (BESB Remit, 2012 ) commissioned a research project. It was in aid of exploring the relationship between secondary schools and employers when implementing work related learning. It also aimed to identify methods which would improve the relationship between the two parties. As of September 2012 the government eliminated the statutory duty to embed work related learning into the curriculum (Department for Education, 2013 ). Therefore, this project provided an early insight into the implication of this action.
The report identified that 90% of Birmingham schools had some form of engagement with employers in the city. However the main relationship was concerned with employers providing pupils with work experience. Outside of this there were very limited activities between schools and employers. Figure one below presents the different methods with which employers can contribute to work related learning within a secondary school.
2 Employers and STEM in Schools
Whilst my report did not specifically explore the relationship of STEM employers and schools it did instead look at the broader picture which will be focus of this discussion. Some of the points raised from the report can certainly be applied to the teaching of STEM subjects at secondary school level. One of the key findings of the report was both employers and school and pupils benefit from increase employer engagement within the education process.
A report led by Intel (2011 access here ), highlighted that there is a level of disengagement within the education system for STEM related subject. This is partly due to the lack of applicability of STEM education to real life employment prospects. This in part, is related to the lack of engagement from STEM related industries within the education system.
Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, subjects which area wrongly perceived in the UK just to be about learning facts (Intel, 2011) when I’m sure most of us acknowledge it most certainly is not. A recent news headline addressed a concern that the new science curriculum will stifle creative, reduce practical leaning and encourage memory based learning (The Independent, 2013 ). There is a need now more so than ever for employers to engage within the education process to display to students the opportunities and realities that studying STEM based subjects will provide.
I had many opportunities to interview various employers who possessed and interest in engaging with school yet did not do so on the basis that they prioritised other work activities. Likewise, where teachers are bombarded with high workloads they also prioritise other activities that are compulsory. Subsequently, employers have virtually no relationships with schools and any relationships they may have are typically on the basis of personal contacts (i.e they have a son or daughter at the school). This was by far the biggest barrier! So the question becomes what benefits to schools and employer gain from working with each other that would enable them to prioritise working with each other. Well to start, let me present a title page (Figure two) produced by a year seven pupil for my report demonstrating just how innovative young people can be.
3 Benefits for Employers
- STEM engagement within schools can formulate as part of an organisation’s Social and Corporate Responsibility.
- Employers can advertise and market their organisation and make young people aware of their existence.
- Employers can develop engage with schools as an early recruitment method to develop interest in their organisation as a workplace.
- STEM employers need to work with schools in order to increase STEM uptake within the education system or else the skills shortage will simply widen.
- Employers can set projects for young people to complete in an area of study which they are interested in.
- Employers can use engagement with schools as a tool to develop the skills of their own workforce
There are many different means with which employers can interact with schools. Schools need to open up their doors to allow employers in and dedicate a strategy specifically related to employer engagement. Should employers and educators increase their dealings, then we are one step forward to addressing the STEM crisis in the UK.
The key message I would like to outline with this blog is this employers have just as much to gain from interacting with schools. Employers can teach young people how to apply knowledge rather than just learn it. A most invaluable skill in any profession or subject!
By Yasmin Manzoor
Undergraduate at the University of Birmingham
BSc Geography with Urban and Regional Planning
Recently the EU published two major documents on Innovation within the EU. Firstly the 2013 Innovation Union Scoreboard (IUS) (download here) which looks at EU and national performance on Innovation
and secondly the 2012 Regional Innovation Scoreboard (download here) which attempts albeit with fewer datasets to look at innovation performance within regions across the EU. So what does this show for the, EU, the UK and more specifically for the West Midlands.
Firstly it is probably worthwhile describing briefly what both documents attempt to do. They in effect piece together different sources of information to produce an overall index of innovation. There will be those amongst you who might wish to discuss the merits of the variables included and also the method of combining them into a single index. That discussion is however for elsewhere; this blog post takes these as read and looks at what these indices are telling us.
The IUS takes three broad ranges of statistics
- ENABLERS – in effect inputs into the innovation ecosystem such as the number of doctoral graduates, higher level education numbers, indicators related to publications and R and D expenditure by the public sector
- FIRM ACTIVITIES – what firms are doing in terms of investment, collaborations and patents
- OUTPUTS – what is coming out of the system including firms with new products/processes and no of high growth innovative firms plus its economic effects such as share of exports of medium and high tech products, patent revenues etc
It uses this data to place countries and regions into a series of broad descriptors which portray the level of innovativeness of the Country/Region. It classifies countries and regions into four broad categories which are subdivided into three …making twelve categories in total.
Innovation Leader high/medium/low
Innovation Follower high/medium/low
Moderate Innovator high/medium/low
Modest Innovators high/medium/low
What the figures in these two documents show are that
For the EU and UK
- The EU is closing the innovation gap on many other countries e.g. the US and Japan even in the current economic crisis.
- Within the EU however after many years of convergence in Innovation performance there is a reverse in this trend with the leading countries pulling away from the less innovative countries.
- The UK, as the chart below indicates, is in the second tier of countries; we are deemed to be an Innovation follower medium,
- However the UK as the graph below shows has fallen back slightly in relative and absolute terms; most other leading countries have performed better since 2010 and many are pulling away from the UK.
- It is perhaps coincidental but the slip in UK performance coincides with the closing of England’s Regional Development Agencies. The RDA’s used to be well resourced to lead on promoting innovation at regional level in England.
What do the figures say for the West Midlands and UK Regions?
The West Midlands’ performance has slipped back. In 2007 the West Midlands was an Innovation follower medium but now is an Innovation follower low. Given the range of statistics available it is hard to pick out exactly why the region has been downgraded. Two key factors may explain it; the share of employment in medium/high tech manufacturing and the knowledge sector relative to other regions has fallen significantly in the West Midlands and secondly and similarly the sales of new products.
It is interesting to compare the West Midlands absolute position compared to a geographically close comparator region. In comparing the West Midlands with the North West – a more highly rated region (which is an innovation follower high) the clear difference lies in two key factors.
The West Midlands has significantly less public and private R and D expenditure and whilst the West Midlands marginally leads on a number of factors it is this lack of investment that is pulling the region down.
What is also interesting is the two tier nature of the UK with the South East and the East of England being deemed to be Innovation Leaders significantly in front of other regions. The chart below looks at the positions over time and it is clear that the recession hit most regions but what is equally clear is that whereas with many other regions there has been a bounce back; that is yet to happen in the West Midlands.
The West Midlands and the North East are now the two lowest English regions.
Implications for the UK and the West Midlands
There are a number of implications from these figures.
It is clear that the UK could be an Innovation Leader if it could increase performance outside the hot spots of the East of England and the South East. The Technology Strategy Board’s Business Innovation Strategy (download here), whilst being highly valued has no geography at all in it. Therefore one lesson from these statistics is that Innovation should not solely be run nationally; it needs to add on a regional and local level and therefore it is welcome that the UK Government is planning for the new EU funds in England to be largely steered at LEP level. A significant portion of these funds either directly or indirectly will focus on Innovation.
The West Midlands obviously has an issue with innovation and doesn’t perform as well as it could. It will be important to ensure that these EU (and single pot) resources are spent wisely; that LEP strategies on Innovation and sector/cluster development are not drawn up in isolation. The good work of Birmingham Science City and West Midlands European Service in seeking to develop such coherence is to be welcome. There is also a real need to more fully understand our strengths and weaknesses and to draw up co-ordinated actions to target barriers. So for instance why is it that the North West gets more public and private R and D expenditure – we need to delve deeper!
Greater thought also needs to be focussed on what other countries and regions do well. So transnational projects like Making Knowledge Work, Science Park Without Walls , Cross Innovation and the fairly recently announced Complex Challenges, Innovative Cities project amongst a large number of such projects are important; but we need to collectively draw out, discuss and importantly publicise the lessons from these. There needs to be a forum and a drive for such open and honest discussions.
There is also a need to build on and exploit our strengths such as the network of Science Parks and our many Universities. David Hardman (CEO of Birmingham Science Park) in a blog post last year indicated there was a need for greater joining up in the innovation infrastructure in Birmingham and the West Midlands. Given the lack of performance as evidenced by these reports this seems a valid viewpoint. There is a real need for a step change in the approach to innovation in the West Midlands. To deliver this therefore the LEPs clearly need to work closely together and Birmingham Science City should play a leading role in this.
Patrick Willcocks Director of EUPA Consulting Ltd www.eupaconsulting.wordpress.com email@example.com
Last month, I was invited by our colleagues, at Birmingham City University, to be part of their international Interreg Policy Clinic for Cross-Innovation, in Stockholm. The theme of the clinic was ‘Using Space to Promote Innovation‘, with particular reference to the creative digital industry.
I was more than happy to take up BCU’s offer, especially as there is lots of new and exciting work being done in our region to transform physical spaces for the enhancement of science, technology and business interplay. Philip Singleton and his team at Millennium Point- as per our last blog- are bringing several science and technology innovation fields under one roof through their ‘Play, Move, Work, Live’ theme; thus creating dynamic synergies between the diverse fields of digital media, health, low-carbon, infrastructure and the arts. David Hardman and his team, at Birmingham Science Park Aston, are creating a ‘Science Park Without Walls’ which links the use of physical and virtual space to create a science park with a truly global reach.
Millennium Point, Birmingham
Visions of the Future- Digital Plaza, at Birmingham Science Park Aston
By visiting Sweden, I saw the opportunity to both showcase our good-practice and learn about what other delegates and, in particular, our Swedish hosts, wished to share about their own space-based innovations and observations.
I took away a few good tips:
To achieve success, don’t carbon-copy success from elsewhere…
Although business manuals sell millions of copies by telling us how to do this or that to get amazing results, there is no off-the-shelf solution for success.
Whilst it is fine to aspire to be as successful as Silicon Valley (albeit on a different scale), we should avoid trying to be Silicon Valley. Emulating its business models and structures too closely is unlikely to work well. Agreed. Space is a tangible and quantifiable thing, but the relationships that inhabit it are much less so. Each space has an existing or incoming community with a unique ecosystem of needs, capabilities, limitations and working dynamics. Enforcing alien templates is likely to stifle creativity and that vital sense of community and ownership which is crucial to the cohesion and success of the space’s function.
[Image by Georgia Institute of Technology]
Particularly important in achieving success is being able to understand what motivates current and potential residents. Success and wealth creation may be key to the commercial viability of the space, but these should not dominate the host’s relationship with and selection of tenants. Sara Loenroth of Stockholm’s Transit Kultur creative business incubator keeps things creative. She explained: ‘an artist is an entrepreneur by definition… by helping them to find structure and helping them them to understand entrepreneurialism through how they understand their art… you can produce great results’. Help companies to understand business in a way that means something to them. Soft touch and gradual business guidance are better than pushing homogenous working cultures.
Understanding an innovation space means understanding what and who is in the space, as above; but it also means understanding what and who is around the space. Spaces should play a role as centres of connectivity- as open catalysts rather than fortresses. It is healthy for relevant interest-based communities around as well as in them to determine their nature and function. Allowing this fluidity and dialogue is often key to their success and longevity.
An interesting example of this connected longeivity is Stockholm’s Royal Sea Port Media Cluster. This is not wholly a science and technology innovation space, but its life-story to date can be taken as a case study of a thriving space and place-based centre that is self-growing and replenishing- a kind of biosphere, I suppose. Interestingly, it has received no government intervention whatsoever- funding or otherwise- to grow and prosper. Businesses like to congregate and develop of their own accord. RSP’s canned history reads thus:
A move of the docks to another area of the city left acres of brownfield land vacant. Television companies initially seeking low-price real-estate and lots of it (to build their studios) settled. Then came designers and technologists to service the film and television offering. Now, it is truly an ecosystem: with companies collaborating; staff moving freely between them to enhance their skills and knowledge, and then returning to more senior positions years later; new start-ups developing upon finding their niche, etc.
Of course, RSP is in a capital city that has considerable industry pull. But, size aside, what makes it work is, arguably scalable. The questioning is about harnessing interest, getting known as a space for dialogue and collaboration, and letting these developments go on to reap their own rewards and benefits. Reputation travels, and if it is the right reputation, opportunities are likely to gravitate towards you.
Royal Seaport Stockholm [Image by http://www.urbanvista.net
Combine wisdom and a sizable helping of chance…
My conversations, in Stockholm, reminded me of a recent talk by David Hardman which featured the Three Princes of Serendip and their discoveries resulting from a mixture of wisdom and accident.
The Three Prices of Serendip [Image by Nina Spencer]
No matter how well thought-out your plans, don’t be too swift to handpick your network based on what you think you want to achieve. You may have certain industry strengths in your area, so- as above- make efforts to welcome the relevant communities. But don’t prevent those who are not of your target industries from developing active roles in your space.
Fredrik Helgostam, runs the highly successful co-working space Kolonien. It is located in what is best described as the ‘innovation campus’ of Telefonplan- the former site of Ericsson’s telephone factory. Kolonien is a well known for its technology-based achievements. However, the majority of companies are not technology companies, but design, form, media and creative enterprises . Helgostam is not too concerned. He’s quite the opposite, in fact. He boils high levels of occupancy and innovation down to ‘a climate of co-operation’. Diverse individuals and diverse disciplines meet and synergies form. By giving companies windows into different worlds, on a daily basis, they become flexible and open-minded. They find new ways to solve challenges in ways that their training and professional mindset would not automatically proffer.
Images of Telefonplan (Images by http://www.jm.se
Between Order and Chaos
So, successful innovation spaces should promote something in between order and chaos- something like planned openness and serendipity if there can be such a thing.
When we talk about spaces, it is easy to focus on their physical characteristics. But whilst the right levels of comfort and aesthetics are undoubtedly conducive to creativity and productivity, innovation spaces are largely about the people that fill them and even more about how they interact. Innovation spaces should, perhaps, be called ‘canvasses’- areas designated for creativity, imagination, skills and expertise to bloom. Those like David and Philip are on the right lines- successful spaces should be without walls and have plenty of room for enjoyment, interaction, diligence and a sense of belonging that come with playing, moving, working and living.
And finally… I would like to extend a big ‘thank you’ to Steve Harding, Tom Cahill-Jones and Alexa Torlo-Hartwell, of BCU, for their invitation and support in inviting me to represent Birmingham Science City. Also, very many thanks to our wonderful hosts in Stockholm, especially Monica Slama.
All the best
Millennium Point was created as a place to celebrate Science, Technology and Learning. We are keen to add two new, very important concepts to this: Innovation and Design.
These five words describe our footprint as a charity.
Learning is something that is embedded in our society, whether informal, formal, random or planned. I want Millennium Point to be increasingly seen as the place of formal learning via one of our key partners, BCU, or more informally via Thinktank, but to experience the unexpected, the surprising, the engaging and enthralling. We will import the latest technology and expressions of science into our spaces. Our spaces actually are cavernous – an atrium that could host huge scale objects, the Giant Screen which can show, with brilliance and scale, anything you care to dream of and outdoor spaces unparalleled in the city centre.
I want Millennium Point to be the place in Birmingham which showcases the city’s successes and achievements; through incredible creative minds – designing our futures and creating solutions to how we Play, Move, Work and Live.
Innovation is what drives change, responds to economies and their vagaries, excites us and defines the human spirit in seeking out what can be better. It is about delivering to the world new ideas and solutions.
We can fly the flag for Birmingham in exemplifying what is done best here and, as a natural counterpoint, we can import ideas from the globe into Birmingham. The best design and innovation is the exchange of ideas – it is an ebb and flow of things.
So, how will we do all of this? We want to be an active host, exploiting the scale of what we are, to do things demonstrably large. The Giant Screen, as a high quality wholly digital venue for 373 people to view the screen that is the biggest between London and Bradford. Our atrium will show sculptures, and vivid installations.
As Spring approaches, I will be very happy when I see people out in the new Eastside Park to the south of our building, surfing away on the free wifi we have connected.
As Birmingham is a Science City – with great minds already at work here and new minds developing, we want to be the place where you can talk, view, debate, absorb, exchange and take away personal delight from what you see here.
This is our ambition. I am absolutely clear that we will only do it by engaging and working very closely with a number of partners – people and organisations which have amazing ideas and can fulfil their ambitions by joining with us to make the most of what we have.
Telephone: 0121 202 2201
Mobile is 07976 426 385
At the heart of Eastside, Birmingham
The Giant Screen Cinema, stunning digital 2D and 3D projection
Eastside Forum is managed from Millennium Point: Representing organisations
that have a stake now and in the future at Eastside
A thriving knowledge economy needs a workforce that is engaged with science and technology and prepared for the workplace, thus inspiring and guiding young people is critical. The Career Academy programme aims to raise the aspirations of 16-19 year olds and aims to bridge the gap between education and employment by giving them access to real experience of the world of work. At Bournville College of Further Education there are currently six up and running academies, including Science & Engineering and Media, and further academies in planning include ICT.
Each Academy provide a structured, career relevant programme, providing students with the opportunity to attend work place visits, workshops and Guru Lectures, and to be paired with a Partner in Business (mentor) and undertake a six-week paid (ideally) internship. The idea is to give students the experience and skills they need to be able to perform more effectively in the wider world. This is a highly successful programme, running for a number of years, and over that time over 85% of Career Academy students have progressed to university or directly into employment or work based learning such as apprenticeships or school leaver programmes. The programme is is designed to compliment and enrich each student’s studies as summarised below.
Obviously this level of support needs the input from individuals and businesses that can support and inspire students. We are seeking to grow our academies at Bournville College by creating new partnerships with employers, in particular our new themes ICT and Art & Design, and we are also looking at ways to evolve our science & engineering academies and further develop our media academy. We are looking for volunteers who might be interested in working with our students whether its providing mentors, as follows:
One-to-one mentoring: Business professionals meet with students and support with classroom learning, understanding of business culture and work place etiquette. They can also support the development of employability skills, CV writing, interview techniques, time management and problem solving.
Internships: Career Academies Internships are offered by employers over the six weeks summer break between the two years of the course. They are real value-adding roles within the working environment and they aim to use the skills gained from the range of inputs on the programme.
Visits & Seminars: These are employer-led and specific to course content and careers. They are wide ranging and include business tours and question and answer sessions with industry professionals.
Guru lectures: These are lectures given by volunteer professionals from industry. They may be subject specific or relevant to real working life.
It is not just the students who benefit from this engagment with the Career Academy programme – employers have reported that engaging with Career Academy students enhances staff development and demonstrates their corporate values. So perhaps you or your organisation can volunteer and gain some direct advantage at the same time as helping to bridge the education-employment gap for the next generation.
If you are interested or you require any further information please feel free to contact me on Kelly.firstname.lastname@example.org or 0121 477 1667.
Kelly Rogers, Career Academy Manager, Bournville College
The UK Government recognises that Innovation is a key driver for economic growth and has a number of ways of helping businesses through various national government departments and agencies. This blog is intended to provide an overview and links to further information – based on an event arranged by BIS in Birmingham on 16th January as part of a national series of events to raise awareness of these opportunities for business, particularly SMEs.
HM Revenue and Customs has two principle means of stimulating R&D and Innovation:
R&D Tax Relief (since 2002) is a Corporation Tax (CT) relief that may reduce a company or organisation’s tax bill. Full details are available on the HMRC website and a webinar is also available to explain these tax credits. Key points include:
- Claimed via normal Corporation Tax returns
- Rate is fairly complex is currently increasing as government is pushing R&D investment
- R&D basically defined as advances in S&T that solves uncertainties (overall knowledge, not just company knowledge)
- Includes improvements in process or product
- Can include expenditure that directly contributes to R&D (as defined), including staff, consumables, subcontracts and externally provided workers
- If R&D is subsidised by, eg TSB, rules change
- Some recent changes including removal of some lower limits, so might be worth looking again
- Evidence should be held and produced if asked, but a narative about R&D helps
- Most claims upheld and some help can be given by HMRC to submit first claims.
The Patent Box is a new form of HMRC support from 1 April 2013 to build on the benefits of R&D Tax Credits by encouraging commercialisation of R&D and make innovative high-tech companies more competitive. Part of wider reforms to R&D tax regime. The Patent Box provides incentive to companies to retain and commercialise patents and develop products in the UK, thus investing and creating jobs. Basically the Patent Box allows a 10% (or slightly less if pay Small company rate) Corporation Tax rate on profits attributed to approved types of patents (not US) – profits can be made anywhere. This could include profits on a whole product, even if patent only applies to a small part.
Customer Relations Managers of large companies have been trained in this new scheme, but those new to it can obtain help directly from HMRC. A webinar designed for SMEs is available which provides a basic overview and introduction to R&D tax credits and the Patent Box, and explains who is eligible to claim, how to make a claim and where to get further help and advice.
The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) is the national innovation agency of BIS. Its key words are business-led and innovation. Its goal is to stimulate growth, and it currently supports 6000+ businesses.
TSB has a range of schemes, seeking to offer ‘something for everybody with a good, innovative idea’. When seeking any type of support, however, the five key areas in TSB’s strategy should be considered carefully – all questions on application forms will relate to this strategy. About £350m/ year is invested. A new Delivery Plan is expected in April, which will indicate intended investments for year ahead. Broadly, areas of focus are summarised in this diagramme.
TSB has been criticised for being too focused on large companies, but SME support has rapidly increased since TSB was established. In 2009 50% of support was to large companies – in 2011 60% was to SMEs (with 20-25% universities throughout).
Of the support schemes available, those most relevant to SMEs are:
- SMART – no partner is required. TSB works in ‘response mode’ here, the scheme is always open, so a company only needs an innovative idea. Applications receive a fast turnaroud – around 30 days possible. They receive about 120 applications/ month, so it is competitive. The types of things typically suported are Proof of market, Proof of Concept (60% intervention rate), Development of prototype (45% intervention rate for SMEs). Unsuccessful bids do receive improved feedback now compared to the past, and one resubmission is allowed.
- Biomedical Catalyst Fund – this thematic, joint academic-business is a current competition in a key strategic area. Note in this case the definition includes Medical Technology. The fund looks to support Feasibility, Early Stage and Late Stage development.
- SBRI – aims to enhance possibility of a UK company winning public contract by 100% funding development of innovative solutions to tenders by the public sector – and the company keeps the Intellectual Property and can commercialise it. SBRI runs through targeted competitions – about 30 per year.
- Collaborative R&D – bigger grants for joint university-business R&D, in the range £25k-£1m. A recent change is that TSB now funds each partner at their eligible rate, not at an overall 50% limit.
- Innovation Vouchers – £5k to qualifying businesses (SMEs) to ‘have a conversation’ about innovative idea with a university or similar. The aim is to encourage SMEs and start-ups, to start a NEW relationship. Calls are launced against a series of rolling themes. Any bid in the scope of the theme is put into a lottery – with about 100 winners per theme.
- KTPs – have 3 elements – Business to do Innovation, University generator of knowledge and Associate as the channel from one to other, by working at the business, but with 0.5 day/ week of academic input.
As well as the above funding routes, TSB has a remit to develop the Innovation Ecosystem nationally. Busineses are encouraged to engage with the following:
- KTNs: themetic networks that inform members of funding, gather views to influence strategy and policy, plus encourage partnership. There are already about 50K members of KTNs across 16 themes. Individual businesses are often members of several, which helps to make connections between sectors.
- Catapult Centres – link up communities in few key strategic areas. Funding provides core competency (people and equipment) with bidding to build on the platform. 7 centres at various stages of development. SME engagement will be key, eg for supply chain working.
The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) knows it has a job to do, because a recent survey showed that 96% of UK businesses don’t understand the value of their Intellectual Property (IP), only 11% knew that disclosure of invention before filing invalidates it for patenting and only 4% of UK businesses have an IP policy. Ways to protect IP include patents, trade marks, registerd designs, copyright (including marketing leaflets), confidentiality agreements and more. The IPO can help with all of these and costs about half the cost of using a patent attorney (though latter may be more thorough in complex cases). For details of available help, see the IPO website.
The Design Council supports businesses to Innovate through design rather than R&D. This can include support for developing brands, packaging, product, process etc. The design Council can help businesses to explore their needs and consider different solutions, thinking of the route cause of a need for a design rethink, not just looking at the symptoms. Further details can be found the Design Council website.
Pam Waddell, Director of Birmingham Science City