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'Catapult' network needs to grow if UK is to avoid falling behind on innovation

Sam Shead | Nov. 7, 2014
Hermann Hauser, founder of Acorn Computers, warns against complacency.

Government should double the amount of money it allocates to innovation and set up a network of new technology centres if it wants to capitalise on its world-leading science base, a report has warned.

Hermann Hauser, technology entrepreneur and co-founder of Acorn Computers, told the coalition government in 2010 that it needed to set up a string of "Catapult" centres across the UK to help commercialise scientist's inventions.

There are currently seven Catapult centres across the country with a further two due to open in 2015.

In a follow up review on Wednesday commissioned by business secretary Vince Cable, Hauser said that he was "genuinely surprised" at the level of progress government has made with the Catapult centres but claimed the nation is still playing "catch up" with countries like Germany and South Korea where support for government-backed technology centres is more established and better funded.

Each of the UK's Catapult centres, funded in equal part by state, industry and by competitive grants are focused on a specific area of technology and expertise, from high value manufacturing to stem cell therapy and digital. They are designed to bring together the best people in their fields with cutting-edge equipment and ultimately to help business develop new products and services.

Hauser said that the coalition and the next government now needs to rapidly expand the footprint of the technology centres, opening two or three centres a year before hitting 20 by 2020 and 30 by 2030.

He added that the budget for Innovate UK, previously known as the Technology Strategy Board, should be doubled from £500 million to £1 billion by 2020.

Hauser compared the initial funding of £200 million for the Catapult network to the German Fraunhofer Institutes, which have a combined revenue base of 2 billion.

Other recommendations made by Hauser include better engagement with universities, new key performance indicators to measure a Catapult's success and a new role for the centres in identifying and addressing barriers to innovation generally.

Iain Gray, director of Innovate UK, said: "His (Hauser's) recommendations to government present a very clear vision of the long-term future for catapults, and he sets out key challenges for sustained progress, such as more effective SME and university engagement, and how we develop a pipeline of future Catapults."

Techworld took a tour of the Digital Catapult ahead of its opening this week.

 

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