Connecting Materials: developing networks between innovative companies

Posted on: 19/01/2018

Ben Walsh, Innovation Lead – Advanced Materials, Innovate UK, talks about why the UK Government body doesn’t just give out money.

Secret to successful innovation

Ben Walsh, Innovation Lead – Advanced Materials, Innovate UK, talks about why the UK Government body doesn’t just give out money but how instead materials scientists will be able to make connections at the Materials Research Exchange in March.

“Innovate UK is the UK’s Innovation agency. We’re part of the government’s support structure to encourage the development of new technologies to help British companies succeed in the global marketplace. We use two approaches to encourage innovation: we provide funding to companies so that they can undertake cutting edge, risky projects that could lead to a jump in technology development; and we help connect these companies and the supply chain to drive their products into the marketplace.

“Sometimes people ask ‘Why don’t you just give us the money?’ Good question. We passionately believe that developing connections and networks between innovative companies produce outputs greater than the sum of their parts. Our structure is organised so that we encourage, cajole and force collaboration at all points. Most of the funding we offer comes with a caveat that the innovation projects must be collaborative. Most companies find this initially difficult and alien – sharing resources and working to a common goal is difficult, requiring an entirely different skill set than they are used to. But by the end of the process, virtually all those involved in our funding say that the requirement for collaboration is excellent.

“I believe that communication is the most powerful tool available to innovators. The advanced materials team at Innovate UK recognise that and so with our partner organisations, the Knowledge Transfer Network, EPSRC and Dstl, we are organising the UK’s largest Advanced Materials Innovation Showcase: The Materials Research Exchange. This is a combined exhibition and conference with over 1,200 delegates and 100 exhibition stands over the two day event, at the Business Design Centre in Islington on the 12th and 13th of March, 2018.

“The event is ambitious in scope, but we also recognise the size of the opportunity – advanced materials are the foundation from which all our high value manufacturing sectors are built. Without a strong, vibrant and connected advanced materials supply chain in the UK, our ability to compete globally will be at risk. This showcase event is focused bringing together the best in UK advanced materials innovation from industry and our world-class universities.

“It is unusual in that the event is not about trying to sell products. Other events do this. It is about developing those vital connections to bring new materials and products to market. We have a varied agenda that will look to showcase the best advanced materials innovations from both businesses and world-class academic groups. There will be dedicated seminars on automotive, aerospace and defence materials and an investor event to link materials companies with the City. We will also feature world class talks spearheaded by the Royce Institute (£250m investment in advance materials research). All this is under one roof. The event is also an opportunity to show how with the formation of UK Research and Innovation (an amalgamation of the Research Councils and Innovate UK) will lead to closer working across our organisations. This is to ensure that more research developed through our universities is being exploited in the UK.

“I look forward to seeing you there.”

More details can be found on the website here: uk/


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