From Breakthrough to Breakout: Scientific Discovery that Drives Innovative Business
Almost every day we hear about another transformative achievement of our information age, delivering game-changing devices, such as the now ubiquitous smartphone, or the much-touted ‘Internet of things’, a phenomenon set to kick-start the next industrial revolution, all underpinned by global digital connectivity. So it’s easy to assume that humankind is constantly taking ever bigger strides in our progress towards a better society and a more resilient world economy. But this may not be the real picture. In his influential pamphlet, The Great Stagnation, the renowned American economist Tyler Cowen argues that economic growth has slowed in the US and other advanced economies as a direct result of falling rates of innovation. Cowen argues that the “low-hanging fruit” generated in the wake of the original Industrial Revolution have now been plucked and exploited.
So how do we reach those higher branches?
What we need are significant and consistent breakthroughs in science, engineering, medicine and political thinking; achievements that will provide us with the tools to shape all our futures. One entrepreneur at the forefront of this future is Elon Musk, the mastermind
And then there is Sir James Dyson – whose company spends £7 million a week on research and development. Sir James has announced plans to produce a new breed of electric vehicle. There will be many more commercial pioneers looking for similar quantum leaps across our other research beacon areas. The key to making more rapid real-world progress lies in developing a more positive relationship between the interconnected worlds of academic discovery and commercial application.
Almost every day we hear about another transformative achievement of our information age, delivering game changing devices, such as the now ubiquitous smartphone, or the much touted ‘Internet of things’, a phenomenon set to kick-start the next industrial revolution, all underpinned by global digital connectivity
This is something that the UK and India are increasingly embracing. In November, Ajay Prakash Sawhney, Secretary for India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology attended INNOVATE 2017, a UK Government event in Birmingham where creators, investors and entrepreneurs from all over the world, including The University of Manchester, gathered to share ideas and demonstrate projects. From our point of view that included a tour of our National Graphene Institute for Mr Sawhney, and demonstrations of autonomous robots, but some of the best private businesses were also present - showcasing electric vehicles, virtual reality and printed batteries.
From my own experience, I understand that it can be frustrating for industry to work with universities. The leadership shown by The University of Manchester’s research beacon community - delivering Manchester solutions to global challenges - has changed the game entirely. It’s no accident that national centres of excellence in applied research, such as the Henry Royce Institute, are increasingly being headquartered in Manchester. You can see how this is activity linked is linked across the globe, with the example of a recent visit to India by University of Manchester researchers, who met with colleagues from organisations including the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Indian Statistical Institute, Jadavpur University and Calcutta University and with some of the country’s leading businesses like Tata Medical Centre, Tata Steel and Graphite India.
This directly leads to plans for research projects and funding applications which are now in the pipeline and is it a process being repeated across the globe by universities and businesses working together at unprecedented levels. Academic researchers are no longer hidden away in their ivory towers - they are now very much at the forefront of commercial innovation. These are very exciting times for academia, and Manchester is providing a model that I am confident will make our world a better place. I hope others will want to follow.