Manufacturers turning to start-ups for help with innovation

2 min read

A new survey has revealed that manufacturing leaders are keen to make start-up collaboration part of their business strategies, with 82% believing it will help to accelerate digital transformation.

The survey, conducted by the Digital Catapult, found that manufacturers are increasingly looking to partner with start-ups to stimulate innovation, with nearly three quarters (73%) saying that collaborating with start-ups is part of their long-term business strategy.

The survey was carried out amongst 100 UK manufacturers and found that start-ups not only help to accelerate digital transformation objectives but give them access to creativity and skills they do not currently possess in-house.

However, only a quarter said collaborating with start-up businesses to experiment with technologies is a priority in the next 12 months, despite 92% of those who have already worked with a start-up saying they would do so again. Top barriers to manufacturing leaders working with start-ups included a fear of failure, and a lack of time.

When it comes to digital transformation more generally, a third listed risk of business disruption as a barrier and the survey suggests that risk-averse manufacturers could be missing out on key opportunities to innovate and absorb learnings from the more agile start-ups as a consequence.

These survey results were announced as the Digital Catapult’s 12-month Made Smarter Technology Accelerator concluded, having resulted in four start-up-led minimum viable products (MVPs) being developed in record time for BAE Systems, Babcock International Group, Northumbrian Water Group and Safran Landing Systems.

Commenting Jeremy Silver, Digital Catapult CEO said: “As the impact of the pandemic continues to disrupt supply chains around the world, heading into 2022, manufacturing leaders are looking to find new ways to weather the storm and, at the same time, keep pace with the speed of digital technology development, which is increasing competition globally.

“Many manufacturing heavyweights are not making collaboration with innovative early-stage companies a priority in the next year, despite recognising the potential benefits. Our survey suggests that there is a danger that UK companies will miss out on the opportunity to be early adopters of new technologies, and learn from start-ups’ creativity, innovation and agility.

“The Made Smarter Technology Accelerator provides hard evidence of what can be achieved by open innovation programmes; successful, real-world solutions delivered against the clock to drive real change for manufacturing giants.”

Part of the Made Smarter programme, the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator sees manufacturers pair up with pioneering start-ups - to develop real-world innovations tackling major challenges. This year’s programme has supported 14 start-ups in total, who were given a share of nearly £700,000.

In the research, a third of manufacturers said Brexit has been a barrier to them taking part in open innovation - underscoring the importance of government-backed open innovation programmes like this.

According to Silver the programme plays a role in revolutionising the industrial operations of manufacturing businesses, boosting productivity and resilience while allowing the UK to retain its leading position on the world stage.