Mandelson: UK needs entrepreneurs

The gap between research funding and real products can be closed by entrepreneurs, according to business secretary Peter Mandelson

Entrepreneurs need to bridge the gap between research and commercial development, according to business secretary Peter Mandelson.

Lord Mandelson told an audience at the Innovate '09 conference in London on Tuesday that while there is investment in UK scientific research, historically there has not been enough of a transfer of that investment into commercial propositions.

Mandelson said that although universities are now working more closely with businesses to harness innovation, UK technologists needed more entrepreneurial spirit.

"What turns R into D is entrepreneurs," said Mandelson. "It's about having a business instinct and acumen, but it's also about being fantastically tough."

To bring an idea to commercial fruition takes patience in finding funding from banks or other sources, and weathering knockbacks, Mandelson said. This patience and tenacity should be rewarded by government, he added.

"What we have to do is... operate a tax system that rewards enterprise," Mandelson said.

In addition, Mandelson said organisations that take risks in funding start-ups should be backed by public funding.

The disparity between research and commercialisation in the UK has been noted by many researchers, and was one of the subjects of a 2005 study by Cranfield University and The University of Sussex. The study found university researchers engaged more in consultancy and training rather than patenting or spin-off activities.

The Technology Strategy Board (TSB), a publically funded body that encourages knowledge sharing and distributes tech start-up funds to innovative organisations, said that many large private-sector organisations no longer connected with basic research.

"When I started in industry many big companies had corporate labs that stretched back into the university," David Bott, TSB director of innovation programmes, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday. "[The technology industry] hasn't been able to fill that gap of translation. We spend a lot of time putting people in touch in terms of capabilities and wants."

However, Bott warned against stereotyping the links between research and taking those findings to market, saying that there have been some notable successes, including appliances company Dyson.

"I'm not sure we are bad at development," Bott said. "We fall into stereotypes."

Bott said that while we "deify the Dysons", other lesser-known companies also supply vital components such as Zytek, a UK engineering company in the field of Formula One racing.

Mandelson had also announced at the same conference that £39.5m of public funding would be made available to innovative UK companies through competition.


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