Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Rechristened TSB Turns a Keener Eye to Market Result

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Rechristened TSB Turns a Keener Eye to Market Result

Article excerpt

Innovate UK is shifting its focus to boosting academia-industry engagement. Holly Else writes

Is it a bank or is it the UK's innovation agency? This is one question that executives from the Technology Strategy Board - or the TSB as it came to be known - will no longer have to field. The TSB has rebranded itself as Innovate UK.

The name change may not come as a surprise to those familiar with the agency, which has used Innovate UK in its Twitter address and on its website for years, but for those less conversant with its work, the change is designed to dispel any uncertainty.

"There was some confusion from the customer," explained chief executive Iain Gray, adding that some people thought the organisation worked only with technology and that the board element of the name conjured up images of a management or governing board. The new name "does what it says on the tin", he said.

But Michael Hopkins, director of research at the Science Policy Research Unit of the University of Sussex, said the name change was a "missed opportunity". "It helps to avoid confusion with the [TSB] bank," he said, but "it will not be very clear immediately to stakeholders what kind of agency this is." When coming up with the new name, Dr Hopkins said, the agency could have considered "less fashionable" terms such as applied or translational research that more accurately reflect its role.

Squabbles about branding are perhaps less important than the work the agency does, and Mr Gray told Times Higher Education that the name change is symbolic of a bigger journey the agency is on in terms of focusing on the universities and businesses it aims to help.

Some of these changes are outlined in the agency's Delivery Plan for 2014-15, published earlier this year, which includes details of several new initiatives designed to boost the links between universities and businesses.

A pilot scheme on the commercialisation of academic research in collaboration with the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the SETsquared Partnership - an enterprise collaboration between five universities - is one of these. The scheme will look at how to simplify the process of spinning off companies from university research.

Although it was too early to comment on the specific details of the project, Mr Gray said that the trio are developing a model that can help ideas mature before spinning them off from within the walls of academia. In other countries there are funding schemes in place that support ideas to "nurture in the university", he explained. "Finding the right point in time to move them out into the business world is a really important concept."

In the UK, he said, people are "passing the baton over too early" because of the distinct funding systems for spin-offs inside and outside the university. This means that good ideas are not necessarily flowing out of institutions sufficiently developed to ensure that they can succeed in the business world.

More funding, mentoring and support is needed so that there is a better integrated support network between the research councils, universities and Hefce, he argued.

But Dr Hopkins warned that keeping the spin-offs inside the university system for longer would work only if universities are prepared to change. "Science and technology are fundamentally different things...We cannot just expect universities to do technology," he added. …

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