Innovation is one of those words that can mean different things to different people and is also one of those words of the moment.
For me, the best definition of innovation is the process to turn science and technology into added-value business reality; to create new products, services, and solutions to contribute to our economy and society.
I lead Innovate UK, which is the UK’s innovation agency, and we have a very keen sense of the heartbeat and direction for UK business innovation. Innovation is all about creating the future and we all want to see our work lead to a future of prosperity, good health, respect for our planet and environment – and a future of fairness, diversity, and equality.
I was pleased to take part in an excellent and lively debate on the Government’s Innovation Strategy, hosted by Foundation for Science & Technology and held at the Royal Academy of Engineering last week.
The debate was kicked off by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), who explained the intentions of the Government’s innovation strategy and outlined Innovate UK’s important role in its delivery.
I followed this, with a preview of the plan for action which Innovate UK will be launching in response to the Government’s strategy, and which will outline the work that we will do over the next four years.
The title which will be given to the Innovate UK plan for action for business innovation will be “Building the Future Economy”.
As we work to help build the future economy, I often use three words to describe the work of Innovate UK. These are inspire, involve and invest.
We will work to inspire innovative businesses to create value though innovation. We work to involve talented organisations and people to create a vibrant and successful innovation ecosystem. We work to invest in innovation to make a clearly tangible positive impact on the UK’s economy and society.
At the heart of this work, will be a focus on partnerships; building a strong skills and talent pipeline; and developing diversity, equality, and inclusion. These are vital elements for the further development of successful business innovation in the UK and were strongly represented during the Foundation for Science and Technology debate.
In addition to Innovate UK, our Innovate UK Edge and Knowledge Transfer Networks and the Catapults, there are many research and technology organisations, trade bodies, learned societies, government bodies etc. in the UK’s innovation ecosystem. It’s essential to ensure that good partnerships are developed, and a community is created to get the best out of all these organisations. Innovate UK will work to build and nurture a vibrant innovation community for the good of UK business.
It’s essential to have a strong skills and talent pipeline. Many in the FST debate commented on the need to develop the innovators of the future and need to be mindful of the importance of inspiring young people to want to become innovators, engineers, entrepreneurs. As we do this, it’s also crucial to ensure that innovators have commercial skills to make them able to compete in global markets - things like sales, marketing, supply chain management etc.
In order to get the strongest skills and talent pipeline for innovation, it will be important to ensure that diversity, equality and inclusion become truly embedded in everybody’s work. By doing so, we have a chance to get the brightest and the best and to properly realise the full potential of the UK. Making diversity, equality and inclusion real doesn’t just make human sense, it also definitely makes business sense.
The Innovate UK Plan for Action will soon be published and will then be followed by detailed delivery plans as we work to help build our future economy by inspiring, involving and investing in UK business innovation.
Indro Mukerjee is Chief Executive of Innovate UK.