Innovation in Manchester: how Manchester can benefit from the Industrial Strategy

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As the birthplace of graphene, Manchester knows a thing or two about innovation. We look at the city's "swagger" and aptitude for innovation.

As the birthplace of graphene, Manchester knows a thing or two about innovation. Back in October, I attended a thought-leadership discussion led by key individuals from Siemens, the MOSI and academia in Manchester. A clear message coming through the discussion was Manchester’s “swagger” - its aptitude for innovation and bringing together the science community.

Manchester seems to be heading in the right direction as a key message coming out of the industrial strategy Green Paper, is collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. Manchester’s government, businesses and academic institutions will need to play to their strengths by continuing to work together to further science, research and innovation. According to the Green Paper, local authorities should be acting like businesses but using their buying power to help SMEs, UK companies should be banding together to bid for overseas contracts, universities should be better at commercialising spin-outs and business lead collaborations should be investing in “game changing technologies”.

The northern “N8” universities are well placed to fly the flag as anchor institutions encouraging growth. In connection with the Northern Powerhouse Strategy, these universities have already created a network to develop and, importantly, commercialise research in conjunction with other stakeholders. In addition, Manchester has already seen successful spinouts (eg, based around graphene) and should continue this trend to bolster its economy. Universities could also help to close the skills gap in joining up with industry and encouraging technical education.

New funding could help Manchester keep up with the fast-paced new digital revolution. The Green Paper’s proposed Industrial Challenge Strategy Fund will be a welcome support for collaborations between industry and academia working on certain “game changing technologies” such as energy source, robotics and AI. Manchester will need to work as a city to solve the conundrums arising from disruptive technology (eg, how to innovate but maintain security).

One thing not dealt with by the Green Paper is managing the public perception or mapping the development of disruptive technologies against public demand. The public are bound to have reservations in relation to disruptive technologies, for example, physical, cyber and job security issues. A key obstacle to innovation is fear and it would seem sensible to have a plan to ensure the public mindset evolves along with the technology. It’s all well and good having the technology, but what if the demand isn’t there?

Given its close-knit science and business community, Manchester seems well-equipped to benefit from the proposed industrial strategy once the details have been ironed out in the meantime.
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