Industry-led, academic-fed: The Manchester innovation model
Thought leadership 19th December 2023
Over the last five years, there’s been a lot of government interest in our Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre model.
I think it’s because, while we are 100% owned by The University of Manchester, we are different to a catapult.
Firstly, we’re almost 100% industry funded, which gives us a commercial awareness and industry-first perspective that I think is critical to driving the progress and prosperity we need to ensure UK remains a technological superpower. It makes us hungry to develop solutions that address our partners’ needs, and it makes us focused: our success depends on the success of the products, technologies and process we help develop. It makes us agile, innovative and fast paced whilst still delivering value to the University, our partners and the community we work in.
Secondly, most projects we work on has an academic lead who works in collaboration with the project team. This means the project is infused with the latest research, with access to the experts and equipment at the forefront, and this knowledge share is delivered as a collaboration. There are no ivory towers in our model: just a team of academic and engineering experts working as one to give our industry partners the commercial edge to succeed.
Thirdly we bridge the gap. We do this in two ways. We accelerate lab to market development, enabling companies to fast-track Technology Readiness Levels – and the dreaded Valley of Death – because we provide them with the world-class facilities, resources, experts and commercial know how to translate research into product. In parallel, we ensure the best-practice of University governance is maintained as we cross from research to innovation. We don’t cut corners, as we accelerate and scale. Instead, we ensure the same attention to detail remains as you’d expect in a Russell Group lab, the same focus on strategy and quality outputs. We design, develop, scale and ‘de-risk’ – and we do it by the book.
Fourthly, we have created the right ecosystem because at The University of Manchester, social responsibility it at our core. Greater Manchester – with its outstanding university research base, an evidence-based local industrial strategy, translational research centres like the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), and a strong start-up/spin-out ecosystem – is ideally placed to lead on this kind of innovation-driven levelling-up, fulfilling its potential as a driver for the economy of the whole of the north. We are committed to supporting a northern research and development (R&D) revolution that helps levelling up and maintains the UK’s status as a technological superpower. This means at the GEIC, we put the bigger picture first. For example, in the last 12 months, a tenth of our staff have gone to work with the start-ups we’ve supported. Now while it’s not ideal to lose skilled staff to the supply chain, it does mean we give someone a chance, and help the wider Manchester ecosystem as well as support new people into the team. Similarly, we invest in outreach and PR to help share our knowledge and experience; again, this comes off our bottom line, but it is ultimately for the sector’s greater good.
Our model isn’t perfect. We’re not quite there financially, in terms of steady profit but as product gets to market we will see values and revenues increase. We’re not far off from where we want to be after four years of operations – and we have built a translational research centre that puts the needs of industry and our economy first.