By Chris Warkup, Chief Executive, Knowledge Transfer Network

How to ‘see the wood from the trees’ and help your company remain productive while fuelling strategic innovation.

Build your network to fuel innovation

There is a very urgent economic imperative for sharing knowledge because the life-span of what we understand to be cutting-edge technology is shortening all the time. We need to connect business with research at a faster rate than ever before, or we run the risk of knowledge becoming obsolete before we have been able to roll it out across all sectors – or perhaps even all departments in a company. Yet the interdisciplinary nature of innovation means that these connections might need to be made in places that aren’t immediately apparent and between sectors who would not usually talk to one another.

The UK’s science base is feted all over the world, but historically we haven’t always maximised the potential of those discoveries. As many entrepreneurs will know the relationship between strategic innovation and ‘ideas-chasing’ involves a careful balancing act and varies depending on the size of business (whether you’re a start-up or well-established).

Avoiding a ‘scatter-gun’ approach

For start-ups this balancing act requires a single-minded strategic focus while keeping an eye on new markets and opportunities. A company only driven by its curiosity could be drawn to new application areas, yet may find itself wasting a lot of resource on what is really no more than a ‘scatter-gun’ approach. If this becomes the predominant strategy it will find that products will not be delivered to market fast enough. Yet it’s also true that the first market application of a new technology, and its first cash flow, is sometimes from a market application that wasn’t envisaged in the initial thinking.

Share your problems

We encourage those from different research fields and industrial sectors to share knowledge, generate commercial ideas and apply expertise in new ways.

Set out what you want to achieve

A well-established business requires a more strategic approach to cross-sector innovation. Actively planning the role of novel technology in business development is a patently better approach than simply being reactive. The KTN raises awareness of road-mapping approaches as part of industrial strategies and also works to raise awareness of competing or potentially disruptive technologies. This does not mean, however, that there is never a value in responding to opportunities and bright ideas that don’t fit the strategy. We must remember that a good business will gather the right information and will exercise appropriate judgment.

Connecting the people who accelerate innovation

We want knowledge to be the force behind productive science and creative innovation in the UK and increasing the UK’s capacity for innovation we can help both SMEs and large blue chip companies innovate concurrently, without helping one at the expense of the other.