13 March 2013

More support needed for UK start-ups

govt

The UK is not doing enough to help start-ups make the transition from the lab to commercial success, according to a government science committee.

The Science and Technology Committee report claims that there is no coherent policy on supporting innovation in the UK. It warns that without greater support and a definite plan to encourage investment in science and technology start-ups, the country risks losing out on the benefits of its own research.

IChemE CEO David Brown, who advises government ministers to “read it, and read it again”, has warmly welcomed the report.

Committee chair Andrew Miller warns that “British entrepreneurs are being badly let down by a lack of access to financial support,” forcing them to sell out to well-established foreign companies in a bid to get ideas off the ground.  

The committee points to a lack of affordable credit as one of the biggest obstacles to commercialising an innovative product, as banks shy away from the risks and long-term nature of science and technology start-ups. Miller claims that pension funds used to fill this role, “but regulation has changed the way they operate and restricted this sort of finance.”

“The government needs to look at how it can provide the infrastructure to support innovation by ensuring small technology firms have access to finance, facilities and advice,” Miller adds.

As well as criticism, however, the committee’s report also offered up a series of suggestions and recommendations, including the re-introduction of the R&D Scoreboard – a government-backed tally of how much private companies were spending on research and development, which was scrapped in 2010.

Brown continues,  “In the chemical and process sectors they should especially note the importance of large-scale experimental and pilot facilities to help bridge the gap between research and full commercialisation,”

“This is why in 2001, I and colleagues recommended the creation of what is now the Centre for Process Innovation, and it's good to see that Centre commended in its new role as part of the High Value Manufacturing catapult.  We need further investment in such facilities and support for firms in accessing them.

“But equally important is the supply of skills for commercialising research – we need to invest in first-class education and training for the ever-increasing numbers of young people wanting to be chemical and biochemical engineers, and we need to welcome talented engineers and scientists from overseas instead of giving the message through our visa rules that they're not really wanted.

“Unless we do both, the drift of R&D investment away from the UK that the committee highlights will get worse." Brown adds.

Read the full report here

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IChemE is a registered charity in England & Wales (214379), and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 039661).