In praise of the Digital Catapult

I admit to being a long-standing critic of past UK government research initiatives. Having sponsored and managed several partly-funded research projects I’ve been disappointed with the decreasing incentives to convert blue-sky research into actual products. (The funding reduces to zero as you progress ideas towards commercial ventures.)

Clearly I’m not alone in this view as increased funding now seems to be aimed at encouraging start-up initiatives. I fully support this change and I’ve been pleased and impressed to be associated with the new London Digital Catapult Centre. This is a venture that reflects the latest thinking on how government funding can encourage innovation. It’s not an incubator, it’s not a research centre, but it has great facilitation potential.

Strip away the gimmicks of the automated yellow minion and the machine that blows bubbles in response to tweets and you’ll discover an interesting mix of researchers, entrepreneurs, investors and subject matter experts coming together to discuss emerging trends and business opportunities.

As I’ve often said, innovation in security will not come from industry (who are focused almost exclusively on compliance), or academia (who respond increasingly to industry demands), or vendors (who simply wish to promote new features). Real invention demands a serendipitous blend of users, vendors and investors, ideally enhanced by a left-field subject matter experts and the odd futurologist.

And that’s what you’ll find at a Digital Catapult workshop. New thinking needs a blend of contrasting experiences and perspectives. The Digital Catapult centres are equipped to deliver this. In a short two-day “pit stop” on identity and trust I discovered a surprising number of innovative product concepts, and was delighted to encounter kindred spirits open to my own inventions and ideas.

To be honest I’ve lost faith in traditional universities, vendor and research centres. Few new products are truly innovative and many lack the left-field and subject matter expertise needed to conceive killer products. If anything new and successful emerges in the security space in the next decade I’m sure it will have been identified and discussed at a Digital Catapult centre.