Paul O’Collins

Head Of Innovation, Business West

Without The Rigour And Application Of The Innovation Process – It’s Just An Idea, A Concept Or Research.

- Paul O’Collins Head Of Innovation, Business West

Innovation means different things to different people. For me it’s not about petri dishes and lab coats, it’s about the process through which great ideas are turned into tangible, measurable value.

It’s an iterative process. It’s not just about having the idea, but about taking the necessary practical steps to turn that idea into reality. Without the rigour and application of the innovation process – it’s just an idea, a concept or research.

I am fortunate to be able to deal with a wide variety of innovators in my role delivering the Innovate UK EDGE service to businesses and the greatest challenge most innovators face is not coming up with good new ideas, but about overcoming the barriers to the creation of value. Whether it be navigating the so called “valley of death” that exists between concept and commercialisation, or struggling to understand if their idea is new or already exists.

Innovators can be an interesting bunch. There is no one size that fits all, and some of them really believe they have discovered the next world changing innovation – and some may well have done! But for those innovators wanting grant support from Government to help realise their dreams, or a financial investor to support them they must realise it’s not just about the idea. Investors and grant funders such as Innovate UK want to back people who have a thorough management led approach to the development of ideas and the creation of value.

People will often come to me talking about the brilliance of their technology and be amazed that people are not flocking to their door to invest in their idea. Unfortunately, ideas rarely speak for themselves to attract investment and interest. That is the job of the innovator to explain clearly the opportunity and the return that the idea offers.

The South West is a hotbed of ideas and innovation especially in Bristol. With its magnificent history of innovation, world class universities and incredibly well-developed innovation ecosystem Bristol is the envy of the nation and is well positioned to help drive innovation in the UK for years to come. Bristol lives and breathes innovation, not just the science and technology bits, but as part of its heart and soul and desire to be a great place to live and work, raise a family, build a business and put down roots. Bristol’s ambitions were well described to me recently as wanting to be “a centre of innovation excellence that can be seen from the moon”

So what are the hot topics for Bristol innovators?

Adversity drives innovation – it always has done and probably always will. Covid is a good example of how adversity has led to the UK’s groundbreaking work on vaccination, personal monitoring and the elements that go to make our new Low/No contact society. We have seen many examples of businesses successfully repurposing their offers or “pivoting“ their business model to address new market demand.

Net zero carbon is obviously going to be one of our big drivers. And the UK’s drive to a carbon free society will be a painful but necessary journey that we will all need to make to help save our planet for future generations.

Innovation in areas involving people’s roles, jobs and the workplace will bring new challenges to our society and our lives. Traditionally secure jobs are already fast disappearing whilst sectors like care are growing rapidly. Even some of our traditional professional services like law, audit and accountancy are fast disappearing as well of course as our manufacturing jobs, lost to the new forces of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Robotics.

This new society will bring challenges to the human condition, not only our material and physical wellbeing, but to our individual mental health and our established societal structures. That in turn will create adversity which of course will drive innovation.

Ironically, the innovation we currently celebrate and enjoy is not only doing great good for us individually and as a society, but is simultaneously creating adversity and challenge – which of course in turn will require further innovation to address.

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