Government’s technology Catapult Network must expand

A network of technology innovation centres needs to expand from seven to 30 by 2030

A network of technology innovation centres, the Catapult Network, needs to expand from seven to 30 by 2030, an entrepreneur who served as advisor for the project in 2010.

Technology entrepreneur Hermann Hauser called for the long-term expansion of the network across the country, which currently includes seven centres focused on a wide range of technology topics. Two additional centres are planned to open next year.

Speaking at the Innovate UK event in London yesterday, Hauser said he would like to see 20 centres built by 2020 and 30 by 2030.

Following his work on the Catapult Network in 2010, Hauser was commissioned by the government earlier this year to consider the future scope and scale of the programme, which includes centres dedicated to subjects including high-value manufacturing, future cities and transport systems.

Hauser’s new report states that, while the Catapult Network should grow, it should do so at no more than one to two centres per year and should have 30 by 2030, with a total core funding for the network of £400m per annum.

Catapults

Current Catapults spread over the UK: High Value Manufacturing (Launched Oct 2011), Cell Therapy (Oct 2011), Satellite Applications (Dec 2012), Offshore Renewable Energy (Mar 2013), Connected Digital Economy (Jun 2013), Future Cities (Jun 2013) and Transport Systems (Aug 2013).

Catapults confirmed for April 2015: Energy Systems and Precision Medicine

Potential new Catapults: Green Economy (or sustainable economy); Climate Change Adaptation; Robotics and Autonomous Systems; Machine Learning, Translational Genetics; Next Generation Computing; Internet of Things; Compound Semi-Conductors; Photonics; Water; Smart and Resilient Infrastructure; Food Security; Low Carbon Transport; Non-Animal Technology; and Synthetic biology.

He also noted that the Catapults should create a stronger engagement model with universities, as well as developing more sophisticated key performance indicators to ensure the programme works ahead of the market.

“These should reflect the difference in the sectors and the maturity of the relevant centre,” said the report.

“Innovation without commercialisation is like a car without an engine,” said business secretary Vince Cable. 

“While the Catapult Network has been a success story for British innovation, taking our world-leading capabilities in areas like high value manufacturing and satellite applications to new and promising levels, I want to make sure we are getting enough bang for our buck."

Meanwhile, the minister of state for culture and the digital economy, Ed Vaizey. launched the latest Digital Catapult innovation centre in London’s Kings Cross last night, which plans to focus on big data.

The 2010 report

When researching his recommendations to government in 2010, Hermann looking at other countries for inspiration, and found that all developing countries had a network of kinds, except the UK.

Hauser also noted that the UK’s research and development spending was lower than Germany, France and the US, but the quality of science coming out of the UK is excellent.

“We don’t seem to be able to translate our science prowess into successful businesses,” he told delegates at the Innovate event, explaining that the spending on building up science businesses was disproportionate to the quality of our science.

When choosing the Catapult themes, Hauser said it was necessary to be talking about big markets measured in billions of pounds. 

“If it can’t move the needle for UK PLC, why do it?” he said.

He also said that Catapults greatly support small to medium-sized enterprises. “Often Catapults can afford to invest in expensive equipment [SMEs] couldn’t afford themselves,” he said. “High value manufacturing was particularly important, because some big machines can cost over £10m.”

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