Put simply, innovation is the process of turning ideas into money. Sounds easy enough, but innovators face a number of problems:
- Investment is often too little or too late;
- Innovation is inherently disruptive, and change has to be effectively managed;
- Long term trends aren't always apparent;
- Infrastructural support is often complex or inefficient;
- For better or worse, the government is a huge player and needs to help rather than hinder.
The TSB, then, was founded four years ago to help overcome these challenges by:
- fostering a better environment for innovators;
- reducing the financial risk;
- signposting market trends;
- facilitating collaboration and networking;
- feeding back to government.
Since its foundation it has developed into a body with around 130 staff, who between them have some 1700 years of business experience. So they're commercially focused, and understand the needs of business. The TSB has around £300m to distribute annually, and rather than identifying surefire winners it identifies areas of potential growth and capacity.
How? Well, predominantly by talking to government and analysing the needs of the market. Based on this, the TSB's priorities are:
- Low carbon vehicles;
- Assisted living;
- Low impact buildings;
- Detection and identification of infectious agents;
- sustainable agriculture and the food chain;
- stratified medicine.
In practice, it distributes its funding as follows:
- Through consortia, via a standard (2 stage) or fast track (1 stage) funding scheme. Neither of these should be as time consuming as those for the Research Councils, and David suggested a 2-3 month turnaround was the norm. They also fund feasibility studies, workshops and sandpit events;
- Through individuals, via Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and grants for research and development.
- Knowledge Transfer Networks;
- Missions, to spread the word about innovation in the UK;