BPE Solicitors : Bringing brilliant ideas to life
PUBLISHED: 09:00 17 February 2016
The British are known for being brilliant at ideas, less so at commercialising them. But that’s changing, says Rob Bryan, partner at BPE Solicitors
2015 was a difficult year for UK manufacturing. The decline in global demand, particularly from China, a strong pound making it more expensive for overseas customers to buy from us, and a severe drop in oil prices. Lower oil costs are good news for consumers of course, less good news for the UK industry that supports it.
While UK GDP was marginally up, by 0.4% as we go to print, it is concerning to see a 0.2% drop in production, which fell away after briefly rising the previous quarter. With global headwinds increasing, our challenge in the UK is to build the right conditions for growth, for businesses not to be hampered by costs and for great ideas to be given the opportunity to come to life.
This country is often accused of being great at ideas, less good at turning them into profitable, commercial businesses. The infamous Sinclair C5, an electrically assisted pedal cycle launched in1985 was a commercial failure and Sir Clive Sinclair was ridiculed for it. How quickly the media forgot that Clive Sinclair had been knighted after decades of launching successful technology such as the first slim-line pocket calculator (1972) and the UK’s first mass market home computer which sold for less than £100. Nobody gets it right all the time.
There’s never been a shortage of innovation in the UK and recent UK governments have understood and maintained their investment in research and development as a result, but it is in the commercialising of that R&D that support should also be maintained.
For entrepreneurial businesses and inventors, especially those who haven’t come through academic channels but need to invest in R&D to develop an idea perhaps drawn up on the back on an envelope, it can be difficult to access funding and investment. Funding has traditionally gone through academic research routes, but we know well here at BPE that there can be a gulf between the language of academia and business. As the only law firm in the UK with a practice dedicated to science, technology and engineering, where all of our solicitors have direct experience of innovation, we are asked to help bridge this gap too often.
Things are changing. In this issue of Cotswold Life Business & Professional you’ll read an interview with Stuart Martin, CEO of the Satellite Applications Catapult. He highlights the ‘open door’ policy of Catapults, anyone can visit and discuss ideas with others in the same sector. It’s very exciting. It’s the same within all the other UK Catapults, physical centres with state of the art facilities and expertise where collaborative research and development can bring ideas to life.
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships are another way in which projects are supported. These are three-way collaborations between a business, university and funder (often InnovateUK, of which more later), where the university receives funding to develop a business project.
Knowledge Transfer Networks bring together businesses, entrepreneurs, academics and funders to develop new products, processes and services. These operate on a network basis, so one sector can engage with another because greater value can be created by people not working silo-fashion. Knowledge Transfer Networks get players at different levels of the supply chain and in different supply chains working together.
All government funding for innovation is done through InnovateUK (previously called the Technology Strategy Board), an exceptional organisation delivering £7 gross value added to the country for every £1 spent. Its five-point plan building on UK innovation excellence, investing locally in areas of strength, should give confidence to innovation driven organisations.
These are just some of the funding streams available. It’s a complicated funding landscape and needs to be simplified.
Last year, Professor Dame Ann Dowling’s Review of Business-University Research Collaborations, commissioned by government, was published. She came to some key conclusions: public support for the UK’s innovation system is too complex, people are central to successful collaborations, continued state support is needed and the Government strategy on innovation needs to be better co-ordinated.
In a highly competitive global market, as the number of manufacturing and engineering businesses with whom we work at BPE increases, exceptional innovation is always their key to growth.