3.2.3 Connecting the research landscape to accelerate impact

We will use our partnerships with universities, other innovation funders, business and government to embed timely, appropriate support for impact activities across all our investments. Working with IUK and other UKRI partners, we will build on two activities, Impact Acceleration Accounts and Innovation and Knowledge Centres, to contribute to the government’s 2.4% R&D target. We believe they are key to supporting researchers to exploit their research outcomes and developing the beginning of the pipeline through to economic impact in emergent and rapidly developing new science areas.

We will continue to invest £20 million per year in Impact Acceleration Accounts. Growing annual investment to £40 million, however, would build on the momentum of recent funding (investment of £95 million EPSRC during 2012-17, leveraging an additional £85 million from other sources) and success to enable universities, business and other partners to further benefit from discovery research. Even more importantly, these accounts enable immediate-response, agile funding to support translation opportunities. We will look for alignment with similar activities across other UKRI councils to achieve greater impact by enabling partnerships, sharing best practice and developing new ideas.

Our current investment of £56 million in five Innovation and Knowledge Centres (within a total UKRI investment of over £80 million from EPSRC, IUK and BBSRC), has leveraged over £96 million from project partners at the outset of the grants, plus significant contributions from host institutions, regional funds and business during the course of the activities. Investing in new Innovation and Knowledge Centres (each new Centre is funded at around £10 million over five years) would allow us to capture more value from cutting-edge research in emerging technologies and accelerate the creation of emerging technology-based industries in the UK with a focus on the importance of place. This investment and the new skills and technologies it supports could increase local economic growth, enabling places to build on local strengths, reach their full potential and contribute to the UK economy.

Long-term ambitions

We will strengthen our collaborations with universities, users and innovation partners to maximise the benefits of our research outcomes, creating more streamlined support for knowledge exchange, commercialisation and innovation across UKRI. Our long-term aspiration is to ensure that:

  • the Innovation and Knowledge Centres act as a powerful vehicle for accelerating emergent research through to innovation, providing a training and de-risking forum for business partners and an environment for university-business co-working. Success will be reflected in increased industrial investment and business creation around each Centre
  • the capacity and capability for innovation has increased. In particular, increasing researcher mobility across the innovation landscape by, for example, strengthening university-Catapult interactions. Success will be reflected in increased researcher mobility between academic and industrial settings.

Near-term actions

In 2019-20 we will:

  • identify and implement low-cost funding options to help highly successful Innovation and Knowledge Centres coming to the end of their block EPSRC funding to continue to thrive and generate third-party income
  • pilot an expansion of our portfolio of Innovation and Knowledge Centres into emerging areas of research and technology that will help anchor more exploitation of new knowledge in the UK. We plan to establish one or two Innovation and Knowledge Centres, but if additional funding is available this will increase to up to five. Potential topics include AI, new markets for novel materials and novel Energy Vectors
  • draw on our learning from the 2018 Impact Acceleration Account Mid-term Review to develop options on how further funding could increase the impact from our research portfolio, alongside the streamlining of approaches across UKRI
  • partner on the IUK-led Knowledge Transfer Partnerships Programme (£2 million EPSRC contribution) for a further year and support partnerships to exchange knowledge, skills and/or technology arising from our funded research through Impact Acceleration Accounts and programmes such as the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund
  • develop an approach to monitoring and evaluation of the Researchers in Residence pilot, which aims to increase connections between the UK research base and the Catapults by providing support for university academics to spend time embedded in Catapult teams
  • improve Embedding Impact tools for staff and researchers, enabling sharing of knowledge and learning from impact activities across UKRI. Share good practice in the use of Pathways to Impact, Impact Acceleration Accounts and Innovation and Knowledge Centres by researchers and institutions
  • scope methods to train researchers in aspects of business and finance relevant to their research base, within the envelope of the Impact Acceleration Account and Innovation and Knowledge Centre schemes.

Case studies

Impact Acceleration Accounts: three examples of success

University of Bristol spin-out Ultrahaptics has translated knowledge from EPSRC-funded research on ultrasonic wave phenomena. Having received £10.1 million from investors to grow globally, the firm now employs 41 people. Its technology creates the sensation of touch in mid-air without wearing special equipment, and has healthcare, gaming and other applications. Fundamental research at Loughborough University has led to a new fault-tolerant points mechanism for railways. The Repoint system, also supported by the UK Rail Safety and Standards Board, uses concepts derived from the aerospace and nuclear industries to improve safety, cut maintenance costs and enhance network capacity. The technology was ready for its first in-track demonstration in January 2019. A partnership between Microsoft and the University of Strathclyde created a testbed and demonstrator network harnessing unused parts of the radio spectrum to provide affordable internet access for communities in Glasgow and Kenya. The pilot network in Kenya has begun connecting schools, clinics and businesses to the internet, with over 30,000 users currently connected in rural and remote areas.

IKC delivers medical innovations

The University of Leeds Medical Technologies IKC, which we fund with BBSRC and IUK, has underpinned development of a range of medical and health care advances, benefitting patients, health services and UK plc. These include a portable heart scanning device, surgical technologies, a virtual microscope, longer-lasting joint replacements, advances in dentistry and stem cell development, with many innovations targetting the ageing population. The IKC has developed a culture of innovation involving over 250 researchers, with over 40 UK universities and 50 companies collaborating in 236 projects since the IKC was set up. Mature projects are now achieving significant impact, producing 45 patents and six spin-outs and leveraging over £148 million of private sector investment to date. New products include: VitalScan, a portable scanner using the heart’s electromagnetic signals to help clinicians quickly rule out serious heart disease in patients; decellularised scaffold platforms commercialised as dCell® through spin-out Tissue Regenix; and Theagen™, a regenerative therapy for corneal transplantation resulting from collaboration between the University of Nottingham and spin-out Nuvision.