Smart awards for business innovation revived

More money for research by small companies and prizes for solving technological challenges have been announced as the last pieces of the government’s policy to promote growth through science fall into place.

The Innovation and Research Strategy, launched by business secretary Vince Cable and science minister David Willetts, is largely a restatement of initiatives already announced – including ringfencing of the government’s £4.6bn research programme, an extra £495m for capital projects and special support for life sciences, and electronic infrastructure investment – but there are a few new components.

Most significant is an additional £75m over three years, which will enable the Technology Strategy Board to revive the Smart awards for small business innovation. These ran from 1988 to 2005 when they were subsumed in a wider R&D grants scheme.

“We are bringing back a much loved and still remembered scheme,” said Mr Willetts. “It will be more generous than the old Smart scheme,” added Mr Cable.

The government will also do more to stimulate innovation through prizes and competitions. “A range of examples of innovation inducement prizes, like the Ansari X Prize competition, shows that these can be a useful mechanism for solving specific challenges,” the strategy says.

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts will set up a prize centre to design and run a scheme of awards “in areas not well covered by existing activity”, with a government contribution of £250,000 a year to a new prize fund. “£100,000 to £250,000 is the range [of prize values] that we’re working on with Nesta,” said Mr Willetts.

The strategy also gives a name to the government’s £200m network of technology and innovation centres, designed to close the gap between concept and commercialisation – they will be called Catapult centres. The first one, in high value manufacturing, is just getting going and the next two, in cell therapy and offshore renewable energy, will start next year.

“This document comes at the end of a good year for science in the UK,” said Mr Willetts. “A new innovation landscape, combined with continued investment and collaboration in business, will ensure the UK is a world leader in innovation.”

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