The UK prides itself on being innovative, but what is the result of that innovation?

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The UK prides itself on being innovative, but what is the result of that innovation? This special issue of New Electronics looks at innovation in the UK and our ability to commercialise the fruits of that innovation. To be frank, while we don’t have a great record when it comes to delivering commercial success, things are changing. Whether they are changing quickly enough is another question.

Read the pages following this and you’ll see a picture of innovation from Northern Ireland to the south of England. This is a cause for optimism because not only is exciting research work being carried out, but jobs and businesses are also being created as a result.

The UK’s university system has been described by Professor Richard Jones, Pro Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovation at Sheffield University, as ‘the one bit of the innovation network in the UK that has stayed world class’.

Work being undertaken by universities such as Queen’s University in Northern Ireland, Imperial in London and Cambridge University brings together mentors, entrepreneurs, engineers and researchers to create a growing community of innovators.

But are our universities doing all that they could to bridge the gap that all too often exists between research and commercialisation – the so called ‘Valley of Death’? Do we need to be more like the US where innovation and research translation form an integral part of their overall agenda?

Moving from a research environment to running a commercial business is a challenge, but one that can be overcome with the right guidance and advice – should universities, for example, be looking to run degree courses that combine technology with how to run a business?

Many universities claim to have departments in place to aid commercialisation, but some of these programmes appear to be notional offering little more than ‘box ticking’ exercises – underfunded, with only a couple of people available to manage the process.

So how do we make the UK a better place to both innovate and commercialise research?

Stability is crucial and ‘a long-term partnership approach’ that embraces business, the financial system, universities and the government is crucial to the UK building a culture of innovation, so Theresa May’s, the UK’s new Prime Minister, talk of an industrial strategy has to be welcomed.

But as one door opens another, the one marked Europe, slams shut. The UK government needs to ensure that the one world class bit of the innovation ecosystem remains just that, world-class.