Firstly, could you offer an insight into the background of the forum and its overall aims and objectives?
The Forum grew out of the Innovations team at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), based at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. The team was looking for an effective way to reach out to the members of the business community willing to help it commercialise the new technologies being developed by scientists. Their bold solution was to build a community of interest around innovation, and reach out
to other research institutions to increase cooperation in order to build a more meaningful community for all.
Can you outline the services that the forum provides to users and members?
The UK Innovation Forum exists to bring together business people who want to turn technological innovations into commercial success with British universities, research institutions, research councils and government-funded science laboratories that produce world-class novel technologies. The forum’s institutional members use us to promote their innovative technologies, especially when they seek management expertise to help them commercialise their products.
Institutions are not always aware of the best use for a new technology, so they will also open discussions about their new technologies with individual members from the business community and, in turn, will then be able to guide and fashion their commercial application. Individual members can use the forum in the same way: to promote their businesses; when seeking individuals to work with them; or to seek collaborations or new technologies needed for their commercial activities. We actively direct these various notices to the most relevant partners, and use regional meetings and other channels, such as our newsletter, to present the requirements to a wider audience.
Could you spell out the importance of facilitating greater dialogue between research institutes, agencies and end users in today’s climate?
We believe that the creation and commercialisation of innovative technologies is the optimum route to a better world. With the world’s population at an all time high, increasingly ageing populations in the developed world, and elevated energy requirements worldwide – alongside the demand for cleaner energy – innovative technologies are more important than ever.
We also believe that innovation nearly always depends on differing groups and individuals coming together in a crucible of collaboration, with each bringing their own skills and perspectives to bear on a common topic – even when the breakthrough moment in the technology itself was the work of an individual. Consequently, all parties are in need of a mechanism which allows them to cooperate more effectively.
More specifically, fiscal tightening by government bodies and the tough economic climate has required research institutions to be more effective in creating value from the innovations generated by their researchers, which means finding ways to explore greater possibilities more rapidly and at a lower cost. This is where the UK Innovation Forum comes in.
What is your long-term vision regarding the forum, and in what ways might it alter its focus or services to match the demands of its users in the future?
Our vision is to see and encourage the exploitation of novel technologies, for the financial benefit of the businesses that commercialise them, the academic institutions that have developed them, and society in general, by bringing together the people needed to make this possible. We do not imagine that this guiding principle will change. That said, we shall follow the demands of our members, and early indications suggest that we shall, over time, aim to involve more corporate members and more international businesses interested in the research outputs of UK institutions.
Could you outline the industries with which you collaborate? Who can join the forum, and are there certain levels of membership?
We collaborate with industries that are relevant to the outputs of our academic institutional members. In the UK, there is a strong life sciences output, but our research institutions are also strong in physics and engineering, oil-related technologies, medical devices, aerospace, software and – ever more significant – clean, green technologies.
Currently, in order to reach out to industry, we are building links to and relationships with, relevant professional bodies, as well as using the KTN structure created and supported by the Technology Strategy Board. Occasional corporate relationships are developing, such as the Shell Springboard, and this is an area which will become more significant for us going forward. However, as with everything we do, we shall closely monitor what is important to our membership and focus our attentions wherever that leads us.
How is the Forum working to ensure that the services they provide are affordable for its members?
First and foremost, unlike other, smaller scale, networks created in this space, we do not charge fees for successes. Our members pay a simple annual subscription and the more value they can extract from it, the better for us all. Our approach assumes that larger numbers, rather than smaller, is the best route forward. By generating many ideas and collaborations in different and imaginative ways, we are able to spread the cost of running the organisation across many purses, and thereby keep subscriptions as low as possible while remaining viable.
Further, since we make use of partner organisations, such as professional bodies, to help us recruit our members, we pass on the savings in our marketing costs to these organisations in the form of discounts for their members, which means that those who belong to our own, as well as another body, do not have to pay full fees twice.
To sum up, do you have any final comments?
The forum produces a free newsletter with content relating to innovative technologies from around the world. All are welcome to sign up for this. We shall also have regional meetings around the UK, where research institutions come to talk about the new technologies they are developing – details relating to these events will be advertised in the newsletter and should people wish to attend, they would be most welcome.
Original article published in International Innovation