25 May 2011
Europe’s largest engineering body is calling on the Government to ensure its procurement policies are used to maximum effect to drive innovation through the use of the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).
The call to action from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) follows its hosting of a high level meeting (on Tuesday 24 May) which brought together officials from across Government to discuss the role of engineering companies in SBRI.
Dr Tony Whitehead, Director of Policy at the IET said: “Although SBRI has already been successful, more Government departments need to make use of the scheme if it is to expand and reach its full potential.
“The UK’s engineering sector includes many high tech, innovative SMEs who can help Government departments by creating technological solutions to some of the challenges faced in delivering better, cost effective public services.
“SBRI provides a way for the Government to support high tech start-ups and SMEs which are key, both for stimulating economic growth and rebalancing the economy. The challenge now is to increase the extent to which Government departments make use of SBRI.”
Mark Prisk MP, Business and Enterprise Minister attended the meeting to discuss the merits and potential of SBRI. At the meeting, he announced that seven organisations have been awarded contracts, to enable them to explore life-changing assistive technologies resulting from two competitions sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Technology Strategy Board and managed by JISC Techdis. These contracts will help innovative companies bring developments to the assisted learning market.
Mark Prisk MP, Business and Enterprise Minister said: “It is fantastic to see funding given to innovative small businesses that can now develop life-changing technologies. These organisations are absolutely vital to driving growth in our economy, and I warmly congratulate all the successful bids.”
SBRI is based on a similar long running scheme in the United States, which has provided numerous new innovative solutions for public services as well as providing very many companies with a financial basis on which they can then build. Companies involved in schemes run by the US government’s National Science Foundation have gone on to generate cumulative total sales of $2.2 billion directly and $6.9 billion indirectly attributable to their involvement in the scheme.
SBRI is a programme that brings innovative solutions to specific public sector needs, by engaging a broad range of companies in competitions for ideas that result in short-term development contracts. It uses the power of government procurement to accelerate technology development, supporting projects through the stages of feasibility and prototyping which are typically hard to fund.
Developed and championed by the TSB, SBRI competitions are funded by government departments and other public sector bodies. For further details please visit www.innovateuk.org.
In the UK, there have already been some extremely successful SBRI schemes. Attendees at the IET’s meeting heard about an SBRI competition run by the Department of Health, through which, a company called Creo Medical has developed a revolutionary hand hygiene technique in the form of a machine which scans and cleans your hands without the need for scrubbing with soap or gels. This technology will help hospitals fight the spread of superbugs like MRSA.
Steve Morris from Creo Medical and an IET member, said: “SBRI has been a significant enabler for innovation, providing us with almost £900,000 across three contracts as well as a number of significant other benefits. The award of a contract direct from the sponsoring department adds great credibility and prestige, opening doors with potential investors and key opinion leaders. As a direct result of SBRI we have been able to raise investment of £1.1m, and are in negotiations now for further investment. We have been able to double the size of our R&D team in the past year, and have plans to be a major UK manufacturer of Medical Devices."
The TSB is a business-led government body which works to create economic growth by ensuring that the UK is a global leader in innovation. Sponsored by BIS, the TSB brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy. For more information please visit the Technology Strategy Board website.
JISC Techdis (www.jisctechdis.ac.uk), a JISC Advance Service, is a leading UK advisory service on technology and inclusion. The Service supports the education sector in achieving greater accessibility by stimulating innovation and providing expert advice and guidance on disability and technology.
Based at the Higher Education Academy in York, JISC Techdis promotes a culture of inclusive practice within educational institutions through engagement with senior managers and specialist staff. Through working with associates and in collaboration with a range of partners, the Service also supports other organisations and advisory services, encouraging the integration of accessibility strategies into policies and procedures.