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Birgitte Andersen's speech at the launch of our Catapult report

Posted By Birgitte Andersen

28 January 2013

On the 28th of January, we launched a report which established what a good technology and innovation centre (called 'Catapult' centres in the UK) would look like, based on examples of best practice from abroad. The launch took place at the House of Lords infront of directors of the newly formed UK Catapult centres, policy makers, members of various UK industries, MPs and peers. Speakers included:

  • Lord Broers;
  • Iain Gray - Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board, responsible for implementing the Catapult centres;
  • Dick Elsy - Chief Executive of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult;
  • Neil Crockett - Chief Executive of the Connected Digital Economy Catapult;
  • and myself.

Just in case you were not able to attend the event, this is the speech I gave at the launch:

"My lords, ladies and gentlemen,

Be ambitious, be bold and be enterprising. This is the message from the Big Innovation Centre to the Government and centre directors of the seven new Catapults.

The Government now has a major opportunity to catalyse a wave of new innovation crucial to creating the UK's future industries.

Thank you to Lord Broers for inviting us all here today so we can work together to make our ambitions a reality.

In the major report we are launching today we provide an independent and extensive analysis of technology and innovation centres in seven European countries, including highlights from their directors regarding ‘what good looks like’.

Learning from the best abroad is important. Just as we are open to foreign direct investment, open to trade and open to ideas, we must also build our strengths on being willing to learn from international best practice. Only then can the UK build the most globally sophisticated national network of technology and innovation centres.

But we must not forget to implement the Catapult centres in a way that fits with the UK's industries.

It is beyond question that success depends on scale and scope:

European centres operate with a critical size of activity, resources to back their mission, and competencies as a third of their workforce holds a PhD; and so must the UK Catapults.

  • To reach international levels, this means scaling up government funding to the Technology Strategy Board regarding the UK Catapults by between 50% and 100%.

UK Catapult centres must do business in both national and international markets and work with business of all sizes. Several benchmarks have been derived from European norms or aspirations:

  • They must be global players, and total international operations (commercial and public) should aim to account for at least twenty percent of the total revenue.
  • Small and medium sized firms located in the UK should account for at least half of each centres' commercial activity.
  • Commercial income from businesses should account for at least half of the centres’ total income, falling over time.

But it is important that their performance is not assessed merely through traditional measures such as turnover and size, but through the real difference they make as catalysts for building new markets, innovative sectors, and places by understanding their role in the innovation ecosystem.

European centres deliver their national growth policies, and most of them are involved in their design and development.

  • UK Catapults must be a core element of the UK's future growth policy and contribute to rebalancing the economy.
  • Catapults should be integrated in the Government’s ambitious infrastructure investment plans and provide an essential element in the UK knowledge infrastructure for manufacturing, transport, energy, cities, communication, and more.

European centres de-risk innovation and help businesses go beyond their existing capabilities or enhance the use of their resources in a variety of ways:

  • Firstly, UK Catapults must be horizon scanners identifying new technological opportunities. They must step in where international competition is strong, R&D costs are high or where technologies are disruptive to existing markets and business models.
  • Just like their European counterparts, the UK Catapults must insist that businesses work with universities, science parks and skilling institutions. All must form part of the solution to complex practical challenges facing our innovative businesses.
  • UK Catapults must be multifunctional in their provision of services all the way from idea to market or from concept to the commercialisation in the innovation process. This includes new competencies or specialised skills, applied R&D, testing facilities, as well as provide access to investment networks, other consultancy and perhaps even sales. This also means finding ways to speed up the flow of knowledge, ideas, resources, IP and skills within their target sectors, by finding appropriate platforms to best connect external partners.

One of the early challenges for UK Catapult centres will be to identify which businesses and markets they are involved with, what the challenges are, and where they can add value.

Ambitious, bold and enterprising Catapult centres will also need to test out new business models – some of which will not succeed. We must aim for excellence.

This is certainly an ambitious agenda for the UK Catapult programme.

However, as we can see from today’s report, UK Catapult centres do not start with a blank sheet; there are successful models in Europe from which to learn.

Having had the imagination to start them, the government must continue to be bold, ambitious and enterprising in following through and supporting the centres."

For more information, please find the report I co-authored on Catapult centres here, and our press release here.

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