Supporting Government’s drive for innovation excellence across the UK

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Nafeesa Dajda, Head of Knowledge Exchange at the Satellite Applications Catapult, explains how the Catapult’s regional engagement activities are closely aligned with plans announced in the new Industrial Strategy.

The Industrial Strategy White Paper, published by the UK Government on 27 November 2017, set out a range of measures to “boost the economy, build on the country’s strengths and embrace the opportunities of technological change.”

One of the key tenets of achieving this is “building innovation excellence across the country” through “prosperous communities across the UK”, underpinned by initiatives including Local Industrial Strategies and a Transforming Cities fund.

These fit with the Satellite Application Catapult’s own strategy of engagement across the UK and building strong hubs around which business, academia, research organisations and local government can collaborate to deliver economic impact locally.

Supporting growth

The Government plans to “invest in skills to support growth and opportunity across the country” using a new competitive £115m Strength in Places Fund, which builds upon the Science and Innovation Audits. The fund will support collaborative programmes based on research and innovation excellence in locations across the UK which can demonstrate a strong impact on local productivity and enhance collaboration between universities, research organisations, businesses, local government and Local Enterprise Partnerships in England, and relevant agencies in the devolved nations. It will also identify and support areas of emerging R&D strength that are driving business clusters, “building upon the regional economic impact of existing institutions including universities, research institutes, Innovation and Knowledge Centres and Catapults and will link to Local Industrial Strategies.”

The Satellite Application Catapult is contributing to this regional growth through several mechanisms, the most significant of which is our network of five regional Centres of Excellence, designed to stimulate growth in satellite applications across the UK. Through this programme, we partner with local organisations to better understand the market growth opportunities in the region, develop new collaborations and broker links between local organisations. Additionally, each Centre performs an ambassadorial role for the Catapult in their local regions, coordinating activities and investment, and extending our reach across the UK.

Cultivating knowledge exchange

Another Catapult initiative is the Knowledge Exchange Fellowships programme supported through bilateral partnerships with host universities or Research Councils, whereby Fellows help build strong partnerships with individual universities, identifying research strengths and unmet commercial needs. Since 2013, the Catapult has built relationships with 118 departments at 66 universities.

This again is an area of focus for the Government, since university technology transfer often fails due to a lack of resources and skills to fully develop commercialisation opportunities, according to the McMillan Review, published in September 2016. But as the Industrial Strategy states, “there is potential for our excellent universities to develop and scale up local innovation clusters which will deliver local growth.”

This is set to gain impetus through the Knowledge Exchange Framework, which will benchmark how successfully universities are fostering knowledge sharing and research commercialisation. Furthermore, there will be increased funding to support universities and businesses working together to innovate and commercialise research.