State of the innovation. – By Obi Egbunike, Innovation Advisor Newable

Innovate 2016 brought 2,500 innovators together in Manchester. The agenda was the current direction of travel for innovation in the UK.


Pivotal moments in economic history have been characterised by the successful exploitation of the new ideas and inventions developed by innovators. These inventions, many of which have underpinned the wealth creation of nations, led to the disruption of old markets and value networks, the simplification of production processes and the development of new social norms and activities. In the early 1980’s after years of active science and technology policy research, Christopher Freeman concluded his research findings declaring, “…not to innovate is to die”.

Following Freeman’s pioneering science, technology and economic research, innovation and its related activities have become firmly established as important factors for developing and sustaining the competitive advantage of firms as well as nations.

Growing a culture.

Innovate UK and the Department for International Trade jointly hosted an event in Manchester tagged, “Innovate2016”. The mission was to encourage and engender a culture of innovation in the UK as well as put in place the support mechanisms to increase innovation across both private and public sector organisations. The event, attracted over 2,500 delegates, included innovators, business leaders and investors who converged to network, debate and showcase the opportunities available for investments and collaborative partnerships. According to Dr Ruth McKernan, Innovate UK CEO, the goal of the event was to raise the UK’s ambitions as well as help businesses to look up, out, and into the future where the physical, biological and digital worlds meet. She argued that businesses who can deliver all these ideals will shape the world and be the creators of strong economic growth.

Collaborative innovation

With multidisciplinary innovation ecosystems heralded as drivers of value creation as well as global competitiveness, this year’s event was mostly centred around four major themes: Manufacturing of the Future, Cities of the Future, Health in the Future and Technologies of the Future. To further delineate the challenges and opportunities surrounding the adoption of these themes as future focal points for investment opportunities and R&D funding, panels were convened to discuss challenges to, and strategies for maintaining a competitive edge in these areas.

Dr McKernan stated that Innovate UK will continue to support collaborative innovation through the provision of grants and loans, especially for small High Value companies that want to scale and export their goods and services.

Additional support mechanisms included the announcement of Innovate UK’s Investment Showcase Programme (ISP) where Innovate UK would act as neutral brokers. Nigel Walker, Innovate UK’s Head of New Financial Products, described the ISP during another session, saying that the importance of neutral brokers linking innovative ventures to potential investors was necessary to achieve quick successes.

Companies and investors who presented during this session agreed that quality introductions that were not fee-related would increase the chance of proposals being considered by investors. A further strategic initiative discussed was the Lead Customer Program, to link large companies in need of innovation with the SMEs producing the needed innovation.

The availability of this instruments are highly encouraging particularly to early stage businesses. They served to create a really positive outlook for the innovation community. However, there was, of course, a cloud over the landscape called Brexit. The implications of Brexit for the innovation community will be the subject of the next article.