Time for ingenuity and boldness in UK innovation

21 June 2022


Time for ingenuity and boldness in UK innovation

Reported by Ryan Francis, PhD Student at UCL, Affiliate Student at Downing College, Cambridge and Jessica Foster, CSaP Communications Coordinator

The chief of the UK’s innovation agency called for greater support for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), at the second annual Cleevely Lecture, hosted by CSaP. On 7 June 2022, Indro Mukerjee, CEO of Innovate UK, delivered the talk at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge where he emphasised it is time to seek ingenuity and boldness within UK innovation. Chaired by Dr David Cleevely, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub, the lecture addressed the key themes behind Innovate UK’s Plan for Action, the importance of SMEs and Mukerjee’s vision for how innovation can sustain a positive future for society and the economy.
You can watch the lecture back here:

Mukerjee began by expressing his affinity towards Cambridge as a city, cluster and ecosystem that combines world class research and innovation. He explained that it is his responsibility to oversee this and replicate Cambridge’s incredible achievements and success in other areas of the country.

Cambridge is for me a very vibrant, stimulating place with lots of energy, entrepreneurial spirit and innovation passion.

The lecture progressed with Mukerjee providing his interpretation of the word “innovation”. He began by explaining that it “can be used for almost any single meaning at all.” In his view however, innovation is about “turning science and technology into added value business reality”, “turning knowledge into economic reality” or “turning knowledge into money”. He explained that Innovate UK is focused on business related innovation, using public money to help businesses innovate by transforming prosperous ideas into growth and revenue. He said innovation and research are “very connected” and part of the same eco-system, yet they are still two “different things”. He stressed the importance of their “fusion” and called for “stronger fluidity” between the two communities.

It's not just a good time, it's a very necessary time to be focused on new innovation.

Mukerjee then highlighted the many challenges businesses face when they innovate. He listed a myriad of hurdles which form part of the “entrepreneurial innovative journey”: how to market the product, how much to charge, identifying competitors, regulatory barriers, international exportation difficulties, among many others. He explained that Innovate UK provides a service to businesses by guiding them along the journey through raising capital, advisory and consultancy, and human capital skills assistance. Mukerjee argued that the entrepreneurial innovative journey is of particular importance to SMEs. He said Innovate UK places a strong emphasis upon how it connects and interacts with these enterprises and stressed that transformation will only happen when we reach more of them. According to Mukerjee, Innovate UK is ensuring more SMEs can access the support they need to innovate, economically prosper, and thrive.

We need far more companies innovating in the UK…. We need teed to touch, inspire, help support more SMEs.

But why innovate in the first place? The business leader provided a three-part answer that explored productivity, resilience, and people.

Productivity. After the 2008 financial crisis, UK productivity fell and it now lags behind many other OECD countries. What is evident is that there is a strong correlation between the shortfall in productivity and the lack of R&D investment. According to Mukerjee, the government has noticed this, hence the quest to increase spending on R&D from 1.7% to 2.4% of GDP.

Resilience. Supply chains, health, net zero, environment and security ambitions all fall under the umbrella of resilience. It was raised that we must keep our people healthier, living longer, and our nation safe and well-educated – and to achieve all these goals, one has to be innovative.

People (place). Along with the shortfall in productivity, the distribution of productivity in the UK is uneven. This results in vast inequalities and gaps, whereby economic prosperity is strong in some parts of the country, yet weak in others. Mukerjee argued that these inequalities do not equate to lack of talent or potential. He said we can transform ourselves as a nation and society if we can get the best out of our current skills and talent pipeline.

Progress is all about a very strong link between the public and the private sector.

Mukerjee concluded the lecture by presenting what he believes to be an extremely salient point: the best innovation and the best entrepreneurial systems are produced because of public and private partnerships. This viewpoint is shared and was presented by the UK Science Minister George Freeman in Cambridge during his CSaP lecture on What do we mean by a Science Superpower? Both figures agree that the UK is best placed to achieve its economic and societal ambitions through investing in innovation, and strengthening ties between private and public enterprise.

Ryan Francis

Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge