28 June 2016

What drives innovation in UK business?

Britain is the world’s second most innovative country according to the latest Global Innovation Index. What role do businesses play in this achievement?

From R&D investments to start-up funding, the UK is home to various initiatives designed to fuel business innovation across a range of sectors

Mike Biddle is Deputy Director of Innovation Programmes at Innovate UK. The group was instrumental in securing Britain's second place ranking in the latest Global Innovation Index; a leap from seventh place just ten years ago.

Biddle explains that Innovate UK has been funding, supporting and connecting businesses since 2007, with a view to accelerating the British economy to extend the reach of companies on the global stage.

Innovate UK's process of identifying which ventures to support reveals several key considerations for start-ups looking to expand their operation.

Nurturing innovative growth

Businesses may feel they have an innovative or potentially sector-changing product in development, but Innovate UK's criteria reviews how likely a British firm can win in a foreign marketplace, given the competition at hand.

Competitiveness is followed by how disruptive a project is likely to be within a particular market, and if the impact appears minimal there may be a viable case for shifting focus to a new or overlooked sector.

Biddle stresses that above all new technology must be useful, and deployed within a risk managed environment. By crossing multiple sectors, start-ups can capture new audiences and partnerships, but such multi-strand strategies must be planned efficiently.

Planning your global move

Innovate UK typically asks ventures many questions during the planning phase, such as potential areas for technical and physical disruption, the technological expertise required to conduct projects and more.

Biddle reveals that the group will then devise a map to help the business identify potential partners within multiple geographies, while fostering a network of global support to drive potential growth.

Once the pieces are in place firms can turn focus to their roadmap, which runs from the project's initial concept, through further research, manufacture and eventual launch. These stages are considered vital when planning a move into new foreign markets.

Britain's innovation hubs

The UK is home to 10 Catapult Centres which focus on specific areas of innovation, with a view to raising the nation's success both at home and abroad. They bring together companies with great expertise in R&D, funding challenges, legislation and other pressing topics firms must understand.

Innovate UK constantly evaluates Britain's investment landscape by taking a broad view on funding models from 2007 to present day. This approach enables the group to suggest funding routes for start-ups based on their circumstance and the foreign market in mind.

Funding is another vital element to ensuring cross-border success, and companies must be aware of the disparate investment and regulatory landscapes from one country to the next.

Investing in the future

From cell therapy to alternative energy systems, the UK is driving innovative growth domestically and in overseas markets.

Biddle highlights that Britain currently spends 1.8 per cent of its GDP on R&D, placing the country behind France at 2 per cent, the US at 2.8 per cent and 4 per cent in South Korea.

However, he underlines the fact that while we as a nation must do more to support innovation, we cannot overlook the great successes that have originated in the UK.

Through Innovate UK's support and the guidance of similar bodies across the country, start-ups and SMEs driving innovation can receive the insight and expertise needed to take their projects to new heights and cement Britain as a leader in its field.

The UK currently spends 1.8% of its GDP on research and development and, while that places us well behind the 2% spent by France, 2.8% by the US and 4% in South Korea.

Mike Biddle, Deputy Director of Innovation Programmes, Innovate UK

Key takeaways

  1. How disruptive will your project be in foreign markets? Innovate UK works with firms to gauge the receptiveness of new innovations and recommend alternative approaches or sectors if competition appears high.
  2. Funding and legislation are just two hurdles to getting disruptive projects from concept through research and finally to launch. Alternative funding models and regulatory guidance are available through groups like Innovate UK.
  3. How useful is your technology? Assessing the application of a project in one sector could prove restrictive, so firms may look to other sectors previously overlooked to cast a wider net at launch.

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