Big hitters bang the drum for innovation

Businesses and the government have been urged to give their full support to companies offering new and innovative ideas, as high-tech optimism begins to return

Two of the most important players in the UK technology scene were united on Monday in calling for a greater spirit of innovation in British business.

Speaking at the UK Technology Partnering and Investment Forum 2004 in London, E-commerce minister Stephen Timms and BT chief executive Ben Verwaayen both said it was vital for the government, large corporations and small firms to work together to nurture and promote the latest technological advances.

According to Verwaayen, companies who are at the forefront of embracing and developing new technologies and services will be better at attracting and retaining customers. Ultimately, he said, the UK economy would see a significant benefit.

"It's not about how to share the cake, it's about how to grow the cake through the development and application of new technology. For an economy, this is probably the most important question it has to address," said Verwaayen.

Verwaayen cited broadband as a technology to which BT gave its full backing some 18 months ago, because of the opportunities it offered as a platform for business growth.

Some members of the audience -- which was largely made up of representatives from small companies, and venture capitalists looking for potential investment targets -- suggested that BT's sheer size made it difficult for small firms to work with. Verwaayen insisted that BT was committed to working with small businesses in order to get a competitive advantage in various cutting-edge sectors.

Over the last few years, Britain's start-up companies have found it difficult to raise funding, due to the prolonged slump suffered by the financial markets and the technology sector in general. The mood at the Forum was largely upbeat, suggesting that better times could be at hand. A show of hands at the start of the event showed that most attendees have a heightened optimism about market conditions today.

Timms reminded the audience that last November the government launched a National Technology Strategy to back innovative new technologies produced and developed in the UK for export abroad.

However, he admitted that more work must be done to develop Britain's business sector into a true innovation powerhouse. "We need to do more to turn brilliant science into commercial successes, and to make the UK the best place in the world for research and development," Timms said.

Timms also said that Britain's academics could learn lessons from their American counterparts.

"We want to develop a culture in the UK that is closer to that of the US than has traditionally been the case, and we're already making progress in that area," Timms said.

The UK Technology Partnering and Investment Forum 2004 was organised by the European Technology Forum and Intellect. The European Technology Forum is owned by CNET Networks, ZDNet UK's parent company.