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Innovate UK support boosts jobs and R&D spend for AI sector

An Ipsos MORI study finds Innovate UK grant support has created jobs and new opportunities in artificial intelligence (AI) across the UK.

Support by Innovate UK for the burgeoning AI sector has boosted the number of jobs by over 1,100 and has seen grant funding of £323 million matched by £202 million of private investment.

The findings are revealed in a new study carried out by market research company Ipsos MORI on behalf of Innovate UK.

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Key findings are:

  • Innovate UK had increased the research and development (R&D) spending of recipient firms by £313 million to £666 million by the end of 2019
  • around 70% of firms awarded funding secured follow-on funding for subsequent development
  • around 20% of lead applicants secured follow-on equity investment, collectively raising over £750 million after being awarded funding
  • notable deals included funding rounds of over £40 million by Healthy.io, Rigetti, SoftIron, Tessian, and Yoyo
  • support provided by Innovate UK made a significant contribution, increasing equity investment raised by companies by 5.3% to 16.4%
  • Innovate UK committed £323 million in grant funding for the 757 projects within the scope of this evaluation
  • grants matched by approximately £202 million in private funding
  • jobs created totalled 1,132, of which 400 were R&D jobs.

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Sara El-Hanfy, Innovation Lead, Machine Learning and Data of Innovate UK, said: “We are supporting some of the brightest prospects in British business to develop and deploy AI technologies. These technologies are already on the way to revolutionise the economy and society.

“It is vital that the UK maintains its position in this global sector and it is clear from the findings in this study that Innovate UK’s support is making a real difference.”

Source: Cambridge Network

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Software firm secures Innovate UK funding

A Belfast-based compliance software firm has secured funding from Innovate UK which will lead to creation of jobs in the coming months.

Obbi Solutions, which has been awarded £300,000, is a software platform for integrated compliance of people, processes and safety through HR, operations and health and safety teams.

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It enables firms to connect paper or manual processes into an automated workflow to save time, money and mitigate risk.

Founding director Gareth Macklin said: “We are extremely honoured that we have been awarded the funding of £300,000 from Innovate UK.

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“Securing this funding now enables us to accelerate our growth plans quicker than we have ever imagined. Our software development team will now be expanding, along with our sales and customer support teams.

“With concrete plans of growth with our solution, alongside expanding our team, this is an extremely exciting time for the entire Obbi team. We believe Northern Ireland has some of the finest talent out there, which is why we are exceptionally proud to be able to offer additional roles within Obbi.”

By Adam Beech

Source: Insider Media

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UK innovation relies on connections between business and academia

Dr Joe Marshall, chief executive of the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), argues that while the UK government’s new Innovation Strategy is a good start, the key to growth is enabling powerful connections between the worlds of business and academia

The new Innovation Strategy is a welcome sign that the government realises the importance of cementing the UK’s position as a world leader in science, research and innovation.

Although the 113-page document sets out a clear vision focused on innovation missions and seven strategic technologies – including robotics, genomics and AI – a strategy alone is not enough.

It is critical that the strategy is now backed with a drive to simplify and encourage innovation – making it easier for businesses to ‘do’ innovation in the real world.

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The power of collaboration

As the country comes out of the pandemic vigorously seeking new sources for economic growth, it is more important than ever that policymakers, businesses and universities work together to build the foundations for a more prosperous future.

The pandemic has been tough on everyone, but it has shown us what can be achieved through public-private collaboration, particularly with the vaccine development.

To hit the ambitious target of spending 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027, companies are going to need to invest an additional £17.4bn in research, compared to 2017 levels. In order to attract this private investment, we need to find the best researchers and ideas.

This brings me to one of the main barriers to innovation: an inability to make the right connections.

It is not so much understanding the need to innovate, but rather how companies find the most suitable R&D partners, and how researchers find the best companies to turn their expertise into a viable product or service.

It is not simply a question of publishing strategies and setting targets, welcome though those are, but more a case of simplifying how businesses and researchers navigate their way through the innovation ecosystem to find each other.

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Finding the right partners

At the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), we know from speaking to companies of all sizes that they see the research conducted at the UK’s world-leading universities as a major driver for their own innovation efforts.

Many businesses know they need to invest in R&D, and they also know the key could well lie within academic research teams – but the system needs to be simplified so they can get a clearer understanding of how to find out which researchers they should be talking to.

That’s why it was encouraging to see a mention of the NCUB’s collaboration brokerage tool, Konfer, in the Innovation Strategy – specifically in the section aligned with a call for new ideas, talent, and funding.

This was apt because the UK is awash with ideas and talent and funding. What it needs is a way to bring the elements together.

The Konfer network comprises more than 144,000 academics from 153 universities with a searchable database offering access to 1.4m research publications and projects.

The breadth and depth of the data is put to good use through targeted software that links businesses with relevant researchers and facilities, democratising opportunities to connect to those who do not have access to the right networks.

A simpler innovation pathway

Of course, this mainly works for those companies that are already ‘sold’ on the need to innovate and are actively seeking new collaborations.

To truly grow the UK’s R&D expertise and boost innovation, we also need to be taking the conversation to those businesses that are unaware of the opportunities of collaborating with university research teams.

To ensure these newcomers aren’t put off by jargon and complexity, we need to simplify the landscape and use technology to encourage businesses and researchers to collaborate.

Quite simply, we need an infrastructure dedicated to enabling connections.

The Innovation Strategy is an encouraging start, but a strategy is never the final word. We need a route as well as a destination point, and the aim must be to make innovation simpler.

Source: Open Access Government

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Research initiative handed Innovate UK funding

Oxfordshire-based Nexeon, which is developing advanced silicon materials for next generation lithium ion batteries, has secured funding from Innovate UK for a new collaborative research initiative.

The £1.5m Silicon Anode Battery for Rapid Electrification (SABRE) project will develop battery cells with higher energy density in response to the demand for increased electric vehicle driving range.

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The SABRE project has been awarded funding from the Faraday Battery Challenge at UK Research and Innovation.

Nexeon will work with its partners Britishvolt and University College London (UCL) to deliver test cells with a combination of advanced Li-ion cell design and novel silicon anode material.

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“We are very excited to lead this important work, and to collaborate with our partners in designing and producing higher performance battery cells,” said Dr Scott Brown, chief executive of Nexeon.

“This project, and others like it, are important in building a UK-based lithium ion battery capability, and reducing risk in an increasingly competitive supply chain.”

By Storm Rannard

Source: Insider Media

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Research And Development Investment Programme Launches In UK

A UK-wide investment programme has launched to deliver £375m of government funding to research and development (R&D)-intensive firms operating in “breakthrough” technology sectors.

The Future Fund: Breakthrough programme, which opened for investor applications on 20 July 2021, was originally announced by the chancellor of the exchequer during the Budget in March, and will be delivered by British Patient Capital – a commercial subsidiary of the UK government’s economic development bank, British Business Bank.

The fund is designed to target later stage R&D-intensive firms in breakthrough technology sectors, including quantum computing, cleantech, and life sciences, to fuel their continued growth.

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Because of their potential to have a significant economic impact, the growth of these innovative companies is seen as critical by the government to the UK’s future prosperity and economic recovery.

British Patient Capital will aim, over time, to construct a portfolio of growth-stage breakthrough tech companies, and will make equity co-investments alongside private sector investors.

“With many world-class universities and a strong track record in science and research, the UK is fertile ground for creating high-growth companies based on cutting edge technologies,” said Judith Hartley, CEO, British Patient Capital.

“Through the commercialisation of R&D, these transformative companies will help to accelerate the deployment of innovative breakthrough technologies that can transform major industries, develop new medicines, support the transition to a net zero economy and strengthen the UK’s position as a science superpower.

“Future Fund: Breakthrough will enable these R&D intensive companies to raise the patient capital they need to fuel the later stages of their growth, and in doing so, help ensure the UK is a world leader in the industries of the future.”

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Programme eligibility

To be eligible for the scheme, companies must be raising a minimum total investment round size of £30m, with the fund making a maximum contribution of 30% to each round – meaning the minimum amount of private sector funding needed is £21m.

The company must also have raised at least £5m of equity investment from third-party investors in previous funding rounds. It must also be UK-based and have significant operations in the country.

In terms of its activity, the company seeking investment must have been spending an average of at least 10% of its total operational cost base on R&D over the past three years, or at least 15% in one of the past three years.

It must also intend for 20% or more employees to be carrying out research for at least three years from the date of investment, in roles that require a relevant master’s degree or higher. 

However, as an investor-led programme, funding applications can only be made by a qualifying lead investor and not by companies themselves.

“As the potential of technologies like AI, machine learning and quantum computing become fully realised and applied at scale, R&D funding is more important than ever to turn the UK’s new breed of innovators into game-changing market leaders,” said Gerard Grech, chief executive of entrepreneurial network Tech Nation.

“Funds focused specifically on R&D intensive companies aligned to the UK’s strategic sectors, including net zero companies, will help to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing society today. It will open up new job opportunities, drive economic growth, and cement UK tech as world-leading.”

The scheme is separate and different to the now closed Future Fund that provided convertible loans of up to £5m to a wide variety of innovative UK companies, to address the funding challenges caused by Covid-19.

In May 2021, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) published a report calling for an inclusive and innovative economy, which it said could be achieved in part through increasing R&D investment to match the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) levels.

By 2030, the report said, the UK will have a “distinctive advantage” through its focus on innovation, “including in new technologies, where we will become a natural global hub for R&D”.

The CBI has on several previous occasions called on the government to increase its investment in R&D.

Previous investment in ‘impact startups’

In October 2020, research by Tech Nation and market intelligence firm Dealroom showed that investment in UK technology startups addressing one or more of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals has increased nearly 10-fold in six years.

The data further revealed that these firms – also known as “impact startups” – raised €1.4bn up to that point in 2020, with cleantech and climate tech companies raising most of the capital.

Impact startups now account for over 15% of all European venture capital (VC) investment – double the global average and three times higher than a decade ago, with European firms receiving a total of €6bn in 2019 alone.

Most of this investment in the wider European context has gone to climate technology startups, including those developing electric vehicles, which have attracted €9.8bn of VC investment in the past five years.

Separate research by Tech Nation from early September 2020 also revealed that, within Europe, UK net zero startups were leading the way in investment, receiving £336m in 2019, a 28% increase on the previous year. By contrast, French and German net-zero firms secured £216m and £283m, respectively.

By Kevin Colleran

Source: Tech Live

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