Enriching the UK economy

Posted on 28 Jul 2014 by The Manufacturer

Chris Warkup, Chief Executive of the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), explains how a conversation with the KTN can help companies "see the wood from the trees" and remain productive while fuelling strategic innovation.

Chris Warkup - Knowledge Transfer Network
Chris Warkup – Knowledge Transfer Network

There is a very urgent economic imperative for sharing knowledge because the life-span of what we understand to be cutting-edge technology is shortening all the time. We need to connect business with research at a faster rate than ever before, or we run the risk of knowledge becoming obsolete before we have been able to roll it out across all sectors – or perhaps even all departments in a company.

The interdisciplinary nature of innovation means that these connections might need to be made in places that aren’t immediately apparent and between sectors who would not usually talk to one another.

The UK’s science base is feted all over the world, but historically we haven’t always maximised the potential of those discoveries. Manufacturers agree and as revealed in the Manufacturer report, as many as nine in 10 of us believe German manufacturers receive more support from their government than we do.

As many manufacturers will know the relationship between strategic innovation and ‘ideas-chasing’ involves a careful balancing act and varies, depending on the size of business (whether you’re a start-up or well-established).  For start-ups this balancing act requires a single-minded strategic focus while keeping an eye on new markets and opportunities.

A company driven by only its curiosity could be drawn to new application areas yet may find itself wasting a lot of resource on what is really no more than a ‘scatter-gun’ approach. If this becomes the predominant strategy it will find that products will not be delivered to market fast enough. Yet it’s also true that the first market application of a new technology, and its first cash flow, is sometimes from a market application that wasn’t envisaged in the initial thinking.

Building the UK’s innovation capacity

The KTN helps companies articulate their challenges to those who might have solutions or showcase new technologies to potential markets. We encourage those from different research fields and industrial sectors to share knowledge, generate commercial ideas and apply expertise in new ways.

A well-established business requires a more strategic approach to cross-sector innovation. Actively planning the role of novel technology in business development is a patently better approach than simply being reactive. The KTN helps by raising awareness of road-mapping approaches as part of industrial strategies and also works to raise awareness of competing or potentially disruptive technologies.

This does not mean, however, that there is never a value in responding to opportunities and bright ideas that don’t fit the strategy. We must remember that a good business will gather the right information and exercises appropriate judgment.

The amount of effort and funding we put into creating intellectual value in the UK is not matched by that we put into capturing value from science and creativity. Following the reorganisation of the Knowledge Transfer Networks last year from 14 into one single Technology Strategy Board funded entity we have the best possible chance of facilitating connections to overcome this.

It is creating a single national network covering all technologies and doing away with silos. It helps by facilitating collaborations and will help businesses interact with wider support; such as accessing Technology Strategy Board funding or investment finance for innovative growing business.

Connecting the people who accelerate innovation

We help companies to identify and develop the ideas, expertise and technologies, wherever they reside, which have the potential to be world-beating products, processes and services. We work closely with the Technology Strategy Board and with the Catapults to help manufacturers navigate this process.

We want knowledge to be the force behind productive science and creative innovation in the UK and increasing the UK’s capacity for innovation we can help both SMEs and large blue chip companies innovate concurrently, without helping one at the expense of the other. The KTN is all about connecting the people who can accelerate innovation in order to deliver new products, processes and services that solve problems and grow our UK economy.