How do you judge successful innovation?

Posted on 25 Sep 2015 by The Manufacturer

With the final bids for support and funding from the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (NATEP) now in, Ricardo’s Mark Barge offers a perspective from the expert review panel.

More than 90 outline proposals were received nationally from Call 5, and it is now up to the regional expert panels to recommend projects for approval to the NATEP National Steering Board.

Mark Barge, managing director of performance products, Ricardo.
Mark Barge, managing director of performance products, Ricardo.

Each panel comprises 20 highly experienced industry experts and leaders, who will review each bid and invite each project team to present their ideas in a “Dragons’ Den”-style interview.

What has impressed me most, has been the breadth of innovation that I’ve seen.

As an industry we claim to know that innovation exists at all levels of the supply chain and we often speak about the flood of innovation coming from the grass roots of manufacturing or the entrepreneurial spirit of SME’s. Now I know it’s true.

In our review panel meetings I’ve been really struck by the ingenuity and creativity of the people behind these projects and the diversity of processes, systems and materials that are being developed.

Ricardo is an innovation company, and I joined the panel to share my experience of collaborative research and production.

As I operate in a diverse number of sectors – including aerospace, I feel I bring a wider perspective to the group and my skills balance well with the aerospace experts around me.

It’s this balance and diversity that is needed to assess bids authentically, but it also makes the panel interviews and feedback an incredibly valuable resource for bidding companies.

What’s really interesting to me is that this review panel is not simply a judging panel, looking to reject bids that fail to meet criteria.

BAE Systems Typhoon in the air – aerospace is the UK defence industry’s largest exporter.
NATEP is a structured process to encourage exploit/position product/manufacturing technologies emanating ‘bottom up’ from UK aerospace supply chain.

Every single person is looking to support a great idea, and we work together to identify and challenge and persuade each other of the merit of each idea. It’s a fascinating process which actually involves the companies.

Not only do they get to be involved in our discussions at the panel meeting when they deliver their presentation, but they also get some really useful and constructive feedback.

For many small and medium-sized firms, NATEP is the first funding they have applied for, and for other, it has even been their first investment in R&D.

Yet by the time the companies face us, the NATEP technology managers have already been working closely with them to get from the idea to the table, moulded into a sound and solid development project that has clear goals and a strong path to execution.

It’s then up to us to interrogate the ideas, bring our knowledge of the industry and world trends to assess the importance and viability of the project idea.

Rolls-Royce Trent 700 Engine
NATEP is a £40 million programme to mature 100 aerospace technologies and create jobs in the supply chain.

The most common mistake I’ve spotted is for companies to treat the panel interview as a sales pitch.

While I understand and admire their passion, it’s important to answer the question being asked, as specifically as possible.

We’re here to judge the project on the facts, the figures, its feasibility and its scope. We need to be confident that the vision is achievable.

There’s been no shortage of them. So far, I have read a great many serious, well thought out and highly executable projects.

And it’s not just in the Midlands – in Call 4, the regional panels have recommended for approval no less than 44 proposals to the National Steering Board.

With a national target of just 100 novel technologies across the country, NATEP is on track to exceed its goals. And it’s clear to me that the UK’s aerospace supply chain has a great deal more it can offer.