Qi3 – Quality, Insight, Integrity & Innovation - UNITING TECHNOLOGY & MARKETING

Tag: knowledge exchange

Making snowballs on a summer’s day

One of my pleasures is catching up with old colleagues and friends, and seeing where life and opportunity has taken them.  Since I started Qi3 in June 1999, I’ve been involved in over 30 business start-ups and nearly 350 collaborative partnerships, so it’s hard to track them all.  I’ve sometimes described my role in brokering Knowledge Exchange as equivalent to making snowballs on a summer’s day.  Most of my efforts melt away, but others gradually gain momentum and turn into business success.  Business in general and technology business in particular has plenty of risk, so seeing the fruits of one’s efforts is a particular pleasure.

It takes time and patience though.  A British Business Angels Association survey of Business Angel investments showed that the companies sampled take an average of three years to fail, or six years to provide financial return.

Capturing the vital six per cent

A recent NESTA report focuses on the 6% of companies in the UK that exhibit high growth rates of over 20% in a year.  These 11,000 businesses are responsible for over 50% of new job creation, vital in these days of austerity and high unemployment.

Interesting findings are:

  • High growth doesn’t just result from technological invention.  High growth businesses are spread across many sectors
  • High growth mainly comes from businesses over 5 years old

Of course, the skills, ambitions and characteristics of  owners and managers is the key.  Entrepreneurial attitudes towards innovation in technological and business processes correlate with growth performance.

The report’s conclusions are sadly somewhat more public sector focused and predictable.  It argues that government should:

  • Remove regulatory obstacles to growth
  • Support ‘access to finance’ through measures such as co-investment funds
  • Develop a skilled workforce
  • Support flows of knowledge and collaboration
  • Improve demand for innovation by harnessing the government’s own £200bn annual spending on products and services

That’s all very well, and it’s hard to argue with much of this.  But (and you should have felt a ‘but’ coming) I have some concerns about this approach:

  • Government is extremely bad at removing regulation – look at the discussion over the past weeks about the impact of April 2011’s new regulations on microbusinesses.
  • I’m a huge fan of using government’s expenditure to favour innovative solutions, but with the laudable exception of small amounts of SBRI funding, the drive in government procurement is leading towards favouring large businesses through a series of insidious barriers to entry.
  • Tax isn’t mentioned.  Whilst the new government is encouraging entrepreneurship and risk investment, entrepreneurs face considerable penalties for earning above average salaries.
  • Most importantly, the NESTA report focuses its recommendations on the supply side (government intervention).  I feel that it should be rather more focused on what makes people want to put themselves out on a limb, move out of their comfort zones and grow their businesses.

Anyway, I’m off to try to find another one of those 6% of businesses to invest in.

Bursting the dam? Glasgow pioneers free Intellectual Property for industry

The University of Glasgow is to offer Intellectual Property – including ground-breaking medical and scientific research – to business and entrepreneurs free of charge.  Speeding up and simplifying IP transfer, the move will revolutionise the relationship between academic research and commercial enterprise and make Glasgow the most libertarian University in the UK for IP access.  Through a dedicated University of Glasgow website – ‘Easy Access IP’ – cutting edge innovation and patents will be immediately and directly available to those companies and individuals who can make best use of the research“.

I’m delighted to see this move from Glasgow.  Whilst it’s fair enough to be cynical, given its tie-up with IP Group and the detailed mix of Easy Access versus Commercial IP Deals, it’s at least a breach in the dam.  Whatever one’s view about individual deals, there’s a strong perception in industry that University Technology Transfer Offices have often made life several shades too difficult and expensive for entrepreneurs and businesses seeking to access University-originated IP.

This has been done before.  Famously, CERN management decided in the early 1990’s to make Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the World Wide Web.

CERN relinquishes all intellectual property rights to this code, both source and binary form and permission is granted for anyone to use, duplicate, modify and redistribute it“.

This noteworthy decision transformed the physical computer network into a practical and scalable means of sharing data.  Berners-Lee’s hyperlink enabled simple and instantaneous sharing of data between remote servers.

Will Glasgow’s move be as momentous as CERN’s?  Who knows?  But I hope that businesses will welcome, and, more importantly, take advantage of the offer, and that other Universities will follow suit.  Perhaps the days of the Smaug-like TTO are numbered?

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