The Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) was heavily involved in this week’s Innovate UK 2014 event, as inventors, innovative small companies, universities and major corporations came together to showcase and discuss the importance of innovation to UK industry.
The need to collaborate – often, and aptly, in increasingly innovative ways – was one of the main talking points raised repeatedly in the event’s various panel discussions, with emphasis also being placed upon the importance of adaptability in the face of continued difficult times for the wider global economy.
The annual Innovate UK gathering provides an opportunity for inventors and product developers from primarily small and middle-sized enterprises (SME’s) to show off their latest offerings, but it is also a forum for discussing challenges and suggesting solutions to all those operating in the business of innovation.
Taking part in one of the first day’s opening sessions on “Building an effective leadership structure in a start-up”, TSC Chief Business Development Officer Dr Chris Moody used some sobering statistics to illustrate the need for new businesses to remain fleet of foot, particularly in their early years.
“Something like 80 to 90 per cent of start-ups fail in their first couple of years,” Dr Moody pointed out, “but, even more interestingly and curiously, more than 70 per cent of those that do survive their first five years come out of that period with a completely different business from the one they conceived in their start-up business plan.
“There is always going to be change – whether it’s a change in market opportunities, or because the technology doesn’t work, or that the marked need is no longer there – so success really relies on a company’s people and on their ability to change, remain nimble and adapt to those changing circumstances.”
Changing circumstances were also repeatedly referenced in a subsequent panel discussion looking specifically at investment in the transport sector, for which TSC Chief Strategy Officer Andrew Everett was joined by a varied group of speakers from the road, maritime and aviation industries.
Explaining how one of the main purposes of the Transport Systems Catapult was to end the traditional “silo thinking” that had prevented collaboration between different forms of transport, Mr Everett told the audience that customers would not really see the benefits of Intelligent Mobility “unless [the transport sector] focuses on the whole, integrated system”.
Fortunately, that message seemed to have already reached the other panellists, who all spoke out strongly in favour of a multi-modal approach to meeting the future challenges of transportation.
Pointing to a number of “common threads”, Tata Motors European Technical Centre Director Nick Fell listed “the move away from fossil fuels, the adoption of autonomous systems, how we integrate more effectively with other modes of transport, and what new business models emerge from putting all that together” as challenges that could be “strongly addressed” by collaboration across different sectors.
“That dreaded word ‘intermodality’ is very important,” agreed John Murray, Chief Executive of the Society of Maritime Industries. “When it comes to maritime and road, for example, we have 80 per cent of the goods that are imported into the UK still arriving by sea, but then when the goods are moved onto land, the roads around the ports just can’t cope with the traffic, so we really need to work together on tackling problems like that.”
The panellists agreed that collaboration between different organisations was often more talked about than practised, with fears over Intellectual Property protection and a lack of established relationships between the various sectors named as just two of the main obstacles.
“There is a bit of fear around sharing knowledge with others,” Mr Everett acknowledged. “But we are here to help people through that, and show that collaboration does work, for example by using case studies to show that everyone really can benefit.”
The need for UK businesses and industries to collaborate was emphasised even more strongly on Innovate UK’s second day, as attention shifted to the wider global picture.
Taking part in following day’s session on “Collaborating for Global Success”, TSC Chairman Will Whitehorn said the size and complexity of modern international business made joint projects inevitable.
“It’s obviously true that we have to collaborate because of the scale of the challenges that businesses face at the global level,” Mr Whitehorn said. “At the same time, businesses are competitive by their nature so you do need to find a balance between co-operation and competition, ‘co-opetition’ perhaps!
“There are no fixed models anymore for how you collaborate. In the past we’ve seen profit-sharing arrangements, equity agreements or R&D agreements, but the world is constantly changing and it could be that you need to find a new model to suit the particular project you’re collaborating on.”
As well as providing speakers for the panel discussions, the Transport Systems Catapult used its presence on a cross-Catapult stand in the Innovate UK main hall to engage directly with delegates during the course of the two days. As part of the event’s “Meet the Experts” strand, TSC programme directors Neil Fulton (Automated Transport Systems) and Kuldeep Gharatya (Modelling & Visualisation) were also on hand for one-to-one meetings with companies interested in potential collaboration with the Catapult.
A further highlight came with the keynote speech from leading technology entrepreneur Dr Hermann Hauser. Having been instrumental in the creation of the Catapults programme, based largely on a report he compiled in 2010, Dr Hauser used his appearance at Innovate UK to deliver his latest report into the progress that has been made in the meantime.
“I have been genuinely surprised at the degree of progress made and impressed by the quality of the people and facilities in the emerging network,” Dr Hauser told the audience. “The UK is playing catch up with the best innovation systems in the world in translational infrastructure, so I was very encouraged to see how rapidly we are closing the gap.”
Hauser said that he had made nine key recommendations in his latest report, including a call for the long-term expansion of the Catapult network. Currently comprising seven centres, each focused on a specific area of technology, Hauser suggested that a further one or two Catapults should be added each year – bringing the total up to 20 by 2020 and 30 by 2030.
“Events like Innovate UK are immensely important to new Catapults like ours, both in terms of raising our profile in general and also in allowing us to engage directly with the innovative individuals and companies who we have been set up to help,” summed up Transport Systems Catapult CEO Steve Yianni as the conference came to a close.
“After meeting with Hermann Hauser earlier this year and showing him all that we’ve achieved since our own start up just over a year ago, it was an added bonus to also hear him say that we are on the right track as we continue our work to boost UK growth in the emerging market of Intelligent Mobility.”
To read more about Innovate UK 2014, please visit the official event site here.