How can we innovate our way out of recession?

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Steve Mills
Steve Mills

Steve Mills, Senior Industrial Fellow, will be speaking about innovation and the funding landscape at our Stay Connected round-table event on 25th June. In today’s blog he outlines the opportunity our current situation offers and gives tips on maximising your chances of success.

As our colleague, Rachel Eade, mentioned in her earlier blog, Innovation as part of business recovery, developing new products and processes is the lifeblood of many businesses: adapt and improve to stay ahead of the competition. Innovation includes new ideas, new applications, and creative and better solutions for existing and new market needs.

Three months into Covid-19 lockdown, the common theme is that the UK is heading for the deepest recession in 300 years.  This bleak news can be countered with the opportunity a recession offers, especially to smaller companies who can be agile and who are brave enough to take the plunge into innovation.

Business--money
Business-money
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The UK government is supporting innovation already: in recent weeks it has announced a £1.25bn package to help companies use innovation to deal with the impact of the coronavirus.  This is great news for UK plc as it includes funding schemes and targeted support for companies’ research and development, as well as support for high-growth organisations and those looking to innovate their way out of the recession.

What other funding is out there?

I won’t add all the web links here but you will be able to find a myriad of opportunities, from the traditional Research Councils; the Royal Society, Newton International Fellowships; Leverhulme Trust: Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851: Fellowships; ERC consolidator grants; UKRI; Digi Rail; UKRRIN; Contracts Finder on GOV.UK; European Commission; H2020; Shift2Rail; Innovate UK; Network Rail; RSSB; HS2; IMC Worldwide Ltd; Asian Development Bank; African Development Bank; World Development Bank; BEIS; DfT; Eureka funds; private enterprise; investment angels; crowd funding… and breathe! In short, there’s plenty of funding out there if you know where to look and how to prepare the right application.

How can I maximise my chances of success in accessing funding?

To benefit from these support packages, it is important to understand a little bit about these funders: take time to investigate what is in it for them: where their funding comes from; what their governance arrangements are; why they exist; what they do; what their strategies and objectives are; how they operate; and what their success criteria are. Critically though, it is vital to understand and appreciate how they launch competitions and how to apply for them. Match your funding application around the funder’s motivations and needs, and you’re more likely to win the money you need. Not only are you more likely to secure the finances for your project, having already proven the relevance of your idea to your funder, it’s more likely your innovative idea will meet a market need – and thereby be a business success too.

Bagfuls of success
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You also need to give your funder the confidence that you have the technical knowledge, business security and skills needed to follow through on your proposal. The innovation funder will be looking for future success stories so they will need confidence in your organisation’s ability to innovate. So make sure your proposal builds that confidence. The funders will also carry out due diligence checks to assure their decisions will give that all-important return.

What does this mean in the railway context?

This is about understanding what the railway agenda is and who is leading it. These are principally DfT, ORR, TOCs, FOCs, Network Rail, RoSCos, and the major vehicle manufacturers (again, I won’t add the web links to each of these and please pardon the acronyms and I hope you get my point). Each has their challenges and strategic objectives and if your funding application address one or more of these, it should have a greater chance of success. Alongside individual organisations’ needs sits the Williams Rail Review and its findings – which will need to be addressed by the industry. Again, if your innovation idea helps address this, it is more likely to resonate with the funder’s objectives.

Technology Readiness Levels

Your idea will relate to a TRL classification (Technology Readiness Level) or RIRL (Rail Industry Readiness Level). This will range from grass roots university-style R&D right through to demonstrator and commercialisation. Where the innovation lies within the TRL/RIRL spectrum and what the funders are aiming for should, ideally, align.

Strength in numbers

Stronger together
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To strengthen innovation proposals, it is often a benefit to have partnerships and collaborations with other organisations. Our Stay Connected workshops, business support programmes such as Digi-Rail, student-related projects and the expertise available across BCRRE can help with that all-important networking and taking those first steps into collaboration. Watch out for our new UKRRIN Centre of Excellence in Digital Systems facilities opening later this year where you will be able to access labs and resources for innovative projects, R&D and discuss new ideas.

In Conclusion: innovation is a proven way to help businesses emerge from recession. All you need to do is identify/forecast opportunities, articulate your innovation solutions, and source the appropriate innovation funding source with a winning proposal which resonates with your funder.

Contact the Digi-Rail team for tailored business and innovation support for eligible SMEs in the Greater Birmingham & Solihull, Coventry & Warwickshire, and Black Country regions.
Contact Steve on s.a.mills@bham.ac.uk

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