Innovation hubs show how private- and public-sector collaboration can help enable entrepreneurs compete in an increasingly competitive global economy.
As any innovator with a great idea will tell you, getting that idea into the marketplace can be a tortuous task. Without serious support (financial or otherwise) many great inventions are doomed to progress no further than the drawing board.
In order to compete on a global scale, the UK needs to attract investment to underpin its growth ambitions. As a part of this, the industry must be able to not only invent, but commercialize such inventions quickly.
The UK research base ranks second in the world, but other countries have been extremely successful at translating research ideas into business by reducing the risks associated with validating an idea, and prototyping and demonstrating a product via intermediate centers for collaboration. In Germany, this is done via the Fraunhofer Centers; in Finland by VTT; in the Netherlands, TNO; in France the pôles de compétitivité; in Singapore we have A*Star; in Japan there are the technology institutes; and in the U.S. various centers, such as the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).
These centers are publicly and privately funded and work to reduce the risks for the private sector in innovation, and thus make it more attractive for investment into new products and processes.
The UK government is investing heavily to ensure companies are in a position to refocus their innovative efforts and increase their growth. Our organization, The Centre for Process Innovation, is part of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult network, and helps bridge the gap between early innovation — the validation of the scientific concept using analytical testing and laboratory studies, where the UK has traditionally been strong — and industrial-scale manufacturing, where the real wealth is created.
Innovation centers can provide assets and technical expertise so that companies can demonstrate their processes and prove feasibility before investing substantial amounts of money in equipment and training. Companies can also take their products and processes to market faster; as all of the process development is completed offsite, there is no downtime in production, while technology transfer teams help to transfer the product or process into full-scale production.
CPI isn’t attached to a single university — which enables us to work with any university to help translate their research projects into proven businesses that then go onto establish their products in the marketplace. Neutrality can help create a safe, non-competitive environment enabling collaboration between small and medium-size companies (SMEs), governments, universities and large corporations. The fact that these SMEs can test and develop their manufacturing processes without having to invest in the facilities and staff means that their money can go further and investors can gain confidence through funding rounds before being fully commercialized.
Medical device manufacturer PolyPhotonix has used CPI’s support to grow rapidly by utilizing not only the facility, but back office services and temporary management support in order to develop and commercialize their product. PolyPhotonix is now on the verge of revolutionizing treatment for degenerative sight-threatening conditions caused by age and diabetes and is tipped to save the British National Health Service £1bn per year in treatment costs.
When it comes to nurturing the development of innovation into industry in today’s global economy, it takes more than a collection of machines or facilities. As we have found at CPI, it requires private-public sector collaboration, multidisciplinary expertise, foresight for new technology and connections to supply and research networks.
Nigel Perry is CEO of The Centre for Process Innovation. A Chartered Engineer with 30 years of experience in the global process industry, he set up CPI in 2003 and has taken the company from start-up, to today where it employs over 260 high-calibre scientists and engineers and is recognized internationally as a world-class resource supporting the Process Manufacturing Industry.