The view from Manchester – CIKTN/UKTI focus group

As part of my work with CIKTN and UKTI I produced and chaired a focus group in Manchester at the end of May, with participants comprising expert representatives from local businesses, development agencies and business networks.

The discussion sought to capture the key issues relating to the development of innovative digital businesses, and eco-system, and a sense of tangible strategic policy required to support the Government goal of the UK as “global innovation hub”.

Three key issues emerged from the conversation:

1. An inadequate intelligence base – Government policy and strategy as it relates to digital technology is still framed within outmoded sector definitions and manufacturing models. There is a fundamental lack of intelligence on the basic structure of a rapidly emerging and evolving industry, and the supply chains and economic drivers of the sector – and as a result accurate and effective support is impossible.

2. Financial support models are not fit for purpose – One comment defined this as a UK tendency towards “speculative investment rather than entrepreneurial investment”, in practice a desire to seek proven value and lower risk opportunity. US investment tends to be more entrepreneurial, looking for future potential and strategic IP value. As a result the type of US investment which generates major, game-changing disruptive businesses is less in evidence in the UK and risk capital is very hard to access.

3. Talent development – This issue was defined less in terms of skills and more relating to competencies. Critical within digital business innovation is an ability to successfully collaborate. The core attributes to effective development are project management, problem solving, team building and delivery, and the assumption of responsibility and initiative – competencies which current educational systems find hard to incorporate into academic models.

Essentially the view was that Government should avoid quick headline grabbing (c.f. Silicon Roundabout) and take a longer term strategic view. It should adapt the vision for the development of the UK digital industries to an appropriate and advantageous position within the global supply chain by recognising the strengths of the UK digital economy and seeking collaborative inward investment to generate the right innovation ecology (all underpinned by NGA investment).

A further focus group was held in Newcastle and I’ll post the view from there in the next few days.

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