The first area is collaborative research and development, where the Technology Strategy Board invests in projects involving business and researchers working together to deliver successful new technology-based products and services.
“Over 700 CR&D projects have received investment since 2004,” says Reed. “This amounts to over £1bn of investment with about half coming from ourselves and half from the businesses involved.”
The next priority area is the Knowledge Transfer Networks (KTNs). These are a collection of national networks in a specific field of technology or business application, which bring together people from businesses, universities, research, finance and technology organisations in order to stimulate innovation through knowledge transfer and sharing of ideas.
“These networks offer companies a huge opportunity to make contacts and seek out opportunities,” says Reed. “We’re incredibly pleased with how these work as they open up a huge range of opportunities for businesses large and small.”
Next on the list are the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs). “A KTP is the placement of a high calibre, recently-qualified individual into a business to work on innovation projects,” says Reed adding these increase business interaction with the university ‘knowledge base,' and provide company-based training for graduates at the same time as delivering real benefits for the business.
The fourth priority for Reed is the Micro and Nanotechnology Centres, formed to address key gaps in the existing capabilities available to the UK micro and nanotechnology community, by providing open access to a range of key capabilities and services at market rates.
Last, but no means least are the Technology Strategy Board's international programmes. Reed and her fellow directors have a UK coordination role within EUREKA, a pan-European initiative for promoting collaborative business-led R&D. It is also responsible for the FP7 UK National Contact Point service, which provides advice to help UK businesses participate in the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. This is the EU's main instrument for funding research in Europe and runs until 2013.
“We’re challenge led. If we are able to identify a need from business for something then we’ll try and fill that gap. And when successful companies require the funding we can provide significant investment in as little as six weeks.”
Over the past two years, since the Technology Strategy Board was formed, there have been many exciting investments. The areas of low-carbon and energy efficiency are one of the major areas of investment, but Reed points out that any great innovation, however small, can gain investment if it fills a gap in the market.
“We made a recent investment in a firm that created a new material to be used in ballet shoes,” she says. “The material replaced the papier mâché in the point of the shoe and helps dancers absorb impact more effectively and, therefore, protect their feet.
“This may sound a small deal to some, but it was a truly innovative product and there’s a genuine need for it. At the other end of the scale, we’re investing in a company that’s come up with a new portable device, a sensor that detects the existence of disease and bugs in the atmosphere. Hampshire-based company Stratophase has developed SpectroSens, a unique, patented biochemical detector technology which provides effective and practical detection of biological targets and measurement of chemicals.
“Clearly,” says Reed, “There’s a need for such wonderfully innovative equipment in all kinds of environments, especially with the prevalence of illnesses such as swine flu.”
As for the future, Reed is currently looking forward to the Technology Strategy Board’s annual conference on 13 October. The Innovate ’09: for Growth conference will showcase the nation’s innovative talent as well as encouraging other businesses to jump on board.
But Reed is also upbeat for the medium term, despite the current tough economic times we live in.
She says: “The UK is an excellent place to grow businesses and encourage innovation. And now is a really good time for an innovative business to grow. We’ve got top quality people, four of our universities are among the top ten in the world and we have a great heritage of being inventive. Some of the world’s top companies are founded in tough times and we’re sure we’re investing in some of those right now.”