STEM Foundation

Interview with Amanda Brooks, Director Innovation, Department of BIS

An unprecedented €79 billion of funding is up for grabs through Horizon 2020, the European Union’s biggest ever research and innovation programme. Amanda Brooks, Director of Innovation at BIS, will be exploring how British companies can make the most of this opportunity in her keynote speech at the Innovisions Conference on December 4. Here she tells us why collaboration –on both a national and international scale – is essentia

How has your role evolved?

I’ve been Director of Innovation at BIS since September 2013. My team are trying to ensure that the UK is the best place to start and grow an innovative business.  We work with the key national innovation bodies such as Innovate UK (formerly known as the Technology Strategy Board), the UK Intellectual Property Office, the National Physical Laboratory and the Design Council. Previously I led the Department’s work on industrial strategy and growth policy. I’ve also spent four years in Singapore as Deputy High Commissioner and Director of Trade and Investment.

How does Horizon 2020 differ from previous programmes?

Horizon 2020 is more focused on innovation and engaging the business community than previous programmes, though excellent science remains key.  It aligns really well with UK priorities and our industrial strategy, whether looking at this from a sector or technology perspective. So I want to see a step change in businesses accessing that money. After all, there is €79 billion available over the next seven years.

Does the UK have a good record of securing research funding?

Yes – our universities have a fantastic track record in accessing European funding programmes and I want to build on this with the business community. Universities have expertise and understand how to navigate the process, which can ease the way for businesses, particularly small ones. I know businesses are often concerned about the level of bureaucracy involved and the Commission have sought to simplify this for Horizon 2020.  But learning from others who have done it successfully, is a real help. 

How can businesses make the process easier?

Build collaborations with partners who have been successful in the past.  Use networks that exist to help you build these collaborations, such as the National Contact Points run by Innovate UK (see https://www.h2020uk.org/home for more information).  But above all, make sure that it is a project that is core to your business. All collaborations are a big investment in time, money and emotion – so they have to be a must do, not a nice to do. 

Are companies nervous about sharing their work and research across international borders?

Of course you need to put the appropriate protections in place, and to ensure that your collaboration agreements are properly managed. But actually the UK has a great record of collaborating internationally, in Europe and beyond.

Where is great collaboration happening?

It’s happening all over the world. One example is the Newton Fund that the Government launched this year. This five-year programme focuses on building collaboration between the UK and a range of high-growth developing countries, such as Brazil, China and India. It’s a great opportunity, because it will enable us to do something very new and different. We're working through the Royal Academy through all the multipliers for you would expect, including the UK Research Councils and Innovate UK.

Do you have any other examples?

So many! In Singapore, the Science and Innovation Team implemented a fabulous programme – the UK Singapore Partners in Science - that is now 10 years old. The next phase of that programme has been just been launched, focusing on innovation. This team in Singapore is just part of the Government’s global science and innovation network which has 90 people working in 28 countries.  It’s great for building international science and innovation collaboration.

What does innovation mean to you personally?

I define innovation very broadly in terms of exploiting ideas that will enable us to create new products and services that deliver high-quality jobs for the people of Britain. It’s a job I feel very privileged to have – ensuring that the UK is a great place to start and grow an innovative business.

Amanda will be joining an international line up of influencers and leaders from business, education and government at the NEF’s flagship annual conference, Innovisions, at the Institute of Directors, Pall Mall, London on 4 December 2014. For details on how to attend, please email events@thenef.org.uk or call us on 0208 786 3677

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