Giving innovation wings

From Concorde to cloud computing, the UK produces great innovations, but how robust is today’s technology sector?

New businesses need "graduates who are already trained in technology marketing, or selling, or finance. This creates a pool of skills that foster rapid innovation across the customer experience," says Stuart McGill, Micro Focus's CTO.

"The largest (and unmet) demand of the education system is to deliver business literate IT skills, where graduates are produced who are trained in IT function, but who are capable of understanding how IT can benefit the business, and how this should be best put into practise," he said.

He added: "The academic community in the UK tends to focus on IT as computer science, producing graduates who have viewed the industry as the prospect for research. There is certainly demand for some skills in this area, and the brightest of the bright are always in demand within commercial software companies because they can become great programmers."

But that does not, in itself, create innovation.

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"We don't have the links between academic and business that they have in the States," pointed out Rob Lovell, co-founder and chief executive of ThinkGrid, a cloud computing-focused IT vendor. "There is a boundary between the two. If you want to build a technology industry in the UK, we need to encourage academia to take their innovations and patents to business, so we can make them happen."

A lack of direction

Technology innovators also report difficulties persuading businesses to take a chance by investing in innovative new products, in obtaining good-quality business advice, and in raising funding.

Even the promise of Government funds and support is not all it seems.

Take the 150 million venture capital funding: this was widely (and inaccurately) reported as being worth 1 billion. In fact, the initiative is to create a "fund of funds" with investment from the public and private sector coming to 1 billion over 10 years. The Government's stake is 100 million from the Strategic Investment Fund, announced in this year's Budget, and 50 million from the departments of Health and Energy and Climate Change. The move is intended to head off a cash shortage that would otherwise harm venture-backed companies.

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