What a connected, digital future means for businesses in the East of England.

Over 150 scientists, technologists, innovators and entrepreneurs gathered at BT’s global research base, Adastral Park today (Friday 20 April) to learn more about the vast array of support mechanisms available to drive business innovation. The same event had to be postponed in February because of snow, but there was no chance of any interruption as the sun shone down in Martlesham.

With support from BT, the event was organised by Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network, who together fund and support innovation in order to grow the UK economy. The event had four sector themes: ICT, Agri-tech, Manufacturing and Health.

Howard Partridge, Regional Manager for Innovate UK in the East of England introduced the event. He said: “Today is all about how Innovate UK can help fuel business innovation, not just through grants, but how we can help connect people to the solutions they need to solve their innovation problems. We also want to help people understand what’s on the horizon Рa world where you can farm food without stepping into a field or getting in a tractor, to diagnosing and treating a patient in a different country. Innovation is a contact sport. When people get together and say ‘I’ve got a problem’ and someone else says ‘I’ve got a solution’ then great things can happen.”

Delegates then heard from Professor Tim Whitley, BT’s Managing Director for Research and Innovation. He talked about BT’s ‘purposeful innovation’ approach, combining science and engineering with a specific problem solving purpose. He also highlighted some of BT’s achievements; including ranking 3rd in the UK for spend on research and development and how their patent portfolio has reached nearly 5,000. He said BT was outward looking with over 50,000 non-BT visitors coming through the gates each year and thousands of school children being given the chance visit, many of whom are inspired to take up STEM careers.

Nigel Walker, Head of Innovation Lending at Innovate UK unveiled all new Innovation Loans, which provide low-interest loans between £100,000 Р£1m to companies to fund their ‘game changing’ later-stage R&D projects, which can evidence a clear path to commercialisation and business growth. As the interest rate (3.7%) is low compared to lenders on the open market, the Government still deems this to be state aid. The Government has committed £50m as a pilot scheme to test the uptake, impact and success of Innovation Loans.

One of the delegates was Abiola Okubanjo, the CEO and founder of Action on Blood, a firm which collects blood samples from voluntary donors in Africa for use by UK medicines manufacturers and researchers. She said: “I am really excited to learn about the different opportunities for life sciences companies and to understand how we can integrate digital technology into our business. I think any company, whichever sector you’re in, needs to have a digital element, particularly if you’re trying to reach out and build communities.”

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Lucy Finlayson, from Two10degrees Ltd, explains her thoughts on the event.

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