Serial entrepreneur, Angel investor and champion of tech start-ups, Sherry Coutu is leading the ‘Silicon Valley comes to the UK’ initiative to create stronger links between business and academia.

Sherry Coutu sits on a number of boards, including the Investment Committee of NESTA and the Advisory Boards of Linkedin.com and Zoopla.com. Eminently qualified to identify excellence in enterprise innovation, shortlist judge Sherry talks to the National Business Awards about why innovation is helping the UK to compete globally.

NBA: Why should the private sector work more closely with universities?

SC: The UK is blessed with 3 of the top 5 research universities on the face of the earth: employing people with the biggest brains and competing to attract the brightest students from around the world. These are two vital sources of innovation for companies: the first, because of the innovations that are being spun out from the universities, and the second because of the students who will want to work for them. Some of the best hires I have made have been students straight out of their PhD programmes at university - they can make or break your company’s ability to innovate. Some of the most amazing innovations I have seen have resulted from collaboration between faculty at our universities and businesses; and this was evident in the Orange Innovation category.

NBA: Why is it important to have an award dedicated to innovation?

SC: Innovation drives growth in the economy and makes the world a better brighter place. It is as simple as that. A NESTA study showed that 54% of jobs in the UK in the last 7 years were created by fast growing innovative firms (that is 1.3 million out of the total 2 million jobs created). For every one job lost, 2.6 jobs are created by innovative firms and 25% of the growth in GDP has come from these firms in the past 5 years according to Mckinsey - despite the fact they only account for 7.2% of our GDP. The first firm I founded used a clever technology that allowed it to create the same outcome for 1/80th of the cost our competitors did. Our entire economy and place in the world economic order depends on the extent to which we can encourage and leverage innovation; so I am delighted to support the Orange Innovation Award.

NBA: Is the government doing enough to support UK innovation?

SC: The support 'Silicon Valley comes to the UK' has received from government has been outstanding. I am also excited by their 'innovation launch pad' which showcased nine small innovative firms, who had not previously sold anything to Government, that showed that their proposals could save it just under £2bn per annum because they were using innovative technology.

While the former gets the innovation out of the universities into business the latter gets the innovations and cost savings enjoyed by the private sector into the public sector. Both are key for innovation.

Having said that, I would like to see them make it easier for fast growth innovative companies to hire senior staff from other countries. It pains me to see innovative companies resorting to setting up operations outside the UK because they cannot easily get Visas for clever, essential people to work for them in the UK.

Sherry Coutu joins an esteemed panel of judges for the Orange Innovation Award that includes Chris Turner, MD of Springwise; Martin Stiven, VP Business to Business, Everything Everywhere; and Eric Van der Kliej, Chief Advisor to UK Government's Directorate for Investment, UK Trade & Investment. The winner will be announced at the National Business Awards Gala Dinner on 8th November. If you would like see who wins, and mix with the most influential people in UK plc, book your places now. Call 0207 234 8755, email Anthony.akoto@ubm.com or visit www.nationalbusinessawards.co.uk for details.

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