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Is the UK good enough at commercialising innovation?

Last week’s FT (Financial Times) examined a contentious topic: that the UK is not very good at commercialising the innovations that its universities and startups create. 
 
A comment from Hanadi Jabado, who directs a start-up accelerator at Cambridge university’s Judge Business School, sums up the issue under debate: 
 
“The UK leads the world in terms of research but if you look at the commercialisation of innovation, the UK lags behind. What we seem to be doing is to develop a concept and then sell it to international companies to optimise. We’re preparing the lunch, we’re cooking the lunch, but someone else is eating the lunch.”
 
Some article highlights:
  • The UK is accused of not capitalising on major discoveries by companies that went on to global success elsewhere and UK breakthroughs in chemistry, computer science and the internet that ultimately benefited German and US firms. Its innovators are said to  lack “entrepreneurial DNA;” they’re not trained to commercialise research. 
  • A recent PA Consulting survey estimates that UK companies are wasting £65bn a year on unsuccessful innovation. The UK came seventh on a list of 14 countries ranked by success in innovation, behind Mexico, Sweden, the US, Norway, Germany and Denmark.
  • Graphene - Since its discovery in a Manchester University physics lab in 2004, more than 11,000 graphene-related patents and patent applications have been filed globally. The UK has accounted for fewer than 1 per cent of these. 
  • Disagreement “on the relative merits of the different mechanisms through which the government attempts to support innovation. These include grants from Innovate UK, incentives such as the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme to encourage start-up investment, and the more recent Catapult centres.” But experts do agree that the tightening of immigration restrictions is harmful for entrepreneurs. 
  • Michael Kitson, a lecturer in macroeconomics at Cambridge university counters the argument that the UK is bad at innovation: “You need to have a richer and more varied set of metrics,” he says. “We tend to look at innovation in terms of the creation of new products; we don’t look at new processes and, most crucially, we don’t think about the diffusion of innovation — it is the diffusion effect that has the biggest impact on economic growth. Innovation is often messy and people-based.”
  • The FT also spoke to former Science Minister, David Willetts, now  executive chair of the Resolution Foundation, who says: “A lot of innovation happens in service industries because of the structure of our economy. So a legal firm that provides a new sort of advice for financial services is innovation. But because it’s not R&D-intensive in the conventional manner, it’s quite hard to pick up in the data.”
Are we doing enough? Are traditional methods of evaluating the commercialisation of innovation no longer valid? And what more could be done? If you have access, take a look at the FT article and let us know what you think. 
 
image: Boegh/flickr
Comments

Comments

1 person has had something to say so far

Michael Kitson says above "Innovation is often messy and people-based."

In my experience it's always messy and driven, or not, by people.

A lack of ambition seems to me to be the main problem in the UK. A perhaps a lack of acceptance of the uncertainty that comes with that.
Posted on 21/08/15 10:13.

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