Highways UK 2019 Starts in



6/7 November 2019, NEC, Birmingham




Talking Heads - Innovation

Helping demystify the innovation support landscape

If you are a technology innovator and seeking support, it's not always obvious who you should be talking to. Simon Yarwood, KTN's Knowledge Transfer Manager for ICT and Energy Harvesting, offers a basic guide to navigating through the landscape.

Simon Yarwood

Simon Yarwood

KTN's Knowledge Transfer Manager for ICT and Energy Harvesting

Thursday 6 June 2019

The UK's innovation support landscape is varied and complex, which proved to be the underlying observation of a Government commissioned report by Professor Dame Ann Dowling on Business and University Research Collaborations, published in 2015. 

Professor Dowling's review included recommendations to Government in two main areas. Firstly, reducing the complexity of the relationships between UK businesses and the UK's university researchers; and secondly fostering and supporting relationships between researchers and business, particularly for smaller firms looking to innovate.

The need to reduce complexity was neatly summed up in this largely incomprehensible infographic

included within the report. It shows the complex and diverse nature at the national level of the research and innovation ecosystem. Although it's now a little out of date - with some of the organisations changing name or amalgamating - the underlying picture remains much the same.

One of the Government's responses to the Dowling Review was the creation of UK Research and Innovation compromising the Research Councils, Innovate UK and a number of funded support mechanisms such as the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) and Catapult centres.

This organisation plays a key part in supporting innovative UK business with funding and networking. It is, however, relatively early days and for innovators there can still appear to be a bewildering array of organisations. At the most basic level it is hard to know whose door you should be knocking on.

Sitting within the KTN, our role as the networking partner to Innovate UK (the funding body) means I interact with companies of all sizes and at every stage of their innovation journey. My first piece of advice is invariably to think about the technology readiness level or TRL of your innovation or product. 

TRLs were originally developed by NASA as a method of measuring the maturity of space exploration technology. Many different industries have now adopted them as an approach to assessing technologies and their readiness for on-site deployment.

NASA today describes the system as a useful, commonly understood method for explaining to collaborators and stakeholders the maturity of a particular technology. You'll find NASA's guide to demystifying TRLs here

My point is the TRL of your innovation has a big impact on who you should be speaking to within the UK Research and Innovation family.

This certainly isn't official KTN or Government thinking, but in an attempt to simplify and demystify the UK's innovation support landscape I've developed the following quick guide. Think of it as a lens into some specific parts that can help business to innovate. The landscape support table shows the technology readiness levels at which the different UK Research and Innovation organisations operate and outlines some of their key support activities.

In the first instance I'd suggest deciding roughly where you sit on the TRL scale and then, taking into account the type and size of your business/organisation, look at the table to determine where to start. This will help reduce time wasted knocking on wrong doors and hopefully help you reach the right people sooner. Also remember that KTN is here to help people navigate this space, so if you find yourself still wondering where to look, drop us a line and we will do what we can to help. You'll find more information on KTN here

Simon Yarwood is KTN's Knowledge Transfer Manager for ICT and Energy Harvesting

KTN and Innovate UK are the principal supporters of Highways UK's two innovation competitions, both of which are currently open for entries. You'll find more information, including how to enter, here