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      Supporting Ideas Generators

      One of the key attractions of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc is its ability to inspire and create idea generators, be they academics spinning out their research from universities or entrepreneurs eager to contribute to the Arc’s economy.

      17 Feb 2022 Tony Jones, CEO, One Nucleus

      These individual efforts are most effective when combined with the powers and expertise of others. Not-for-profit steering organisations such as One Nucleus serve to provide connectivity for all manner of enterprises in the Arc: be that within the region, across the UK, or even opening the door to international collaboration and investment. The start-ups and spinouts that the Arc excels in producing often have great ideas and would undoubtedly succeed under their own steam, but to quickly supercharge their growth and maximise the benefits for the regional and UK economy they need the expertise and wide net of contacts that organisations like One Nucleus provide.

      Biomedical and healthcare research and development has been highly impactful in driving wealth and economic growth, but most importantly in changing clinical outcomes and improving human health. This research cuts across sectors and disciplines, no more so than in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. In Cambridgeshire the collaboration between start-ups and spinouts, large healthcare multinationals like AstraZeneca, the medical teaching of the University of Cambridge, and NHS services like Addenbrooke’s demonstrate everyday the value of creating a collaborative ecosystem, not least in the delivery of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine during the Covid-19 pandemic. Attracting, enabling and connecting these organisations and individuals engage with one another is the main contribution of organisations like One Nucleus, increasing points of contact between stakeholders, researcher, innovators and entrepreneurs.

      Absolutely vital for this collaboration is the cooperation of the public sector with other actors. From the perspective of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, this active public-private sector collaboration and willingness to share research in the aspiration to meet a common objective has shaped the landscape of innovation. Initial public sector support also creates an environment in which knowledge capital can ‘pool’, and a dialogue between public sector enablers and private enterprise which challenges traditional methods and introduces different technical approaches.

      We talk a lot about how the government supports industry and innovation through access to capital and the levers of regulation.

      UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and its internal Innovate UK funding body were mandated a budget of over £8.5bn for 2020/21, supporting over 3,800 organisations the large majority of which were small-to-medium sized enterprises.

      While it’s a positive step that government funding for innovation and fresh ideas to meet 21st century issues has increased 13% since April 2020, many of these companies in their nascent phases of growth would benefit from a government that is present and committed to building the facilitating infrastructure required to optimise, ‘level up’, and hasten the rate of new discoveries. The accumulation of knowledge capital is not ‘zero-sum’; it grows within a wider constellation of innovators working collectively towards the same goal when it is shared.

      Government endorsement and active encouragement of the Arc’s organic clusters must not merely be the provision of finance at arm’s length. Openness, transparency, and collaboration are cultural pillars of the region as the UK’s innovation capital, which extends to policy actively promoting free and unfettered access to research and literature and long-term planning for government funded infrastructure.

      These are necessary features of a ‘supercharged’ Arc that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the greatest innovation districts world-wide.

      As the government’s organisation responsible for the development of nuclear fusion power, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is one of our nation’s most promising assets.

      The research undertaken at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) and the UKAEA’s Materials Research Facility attracts valuable scientific expertise, interest, and acts as a tractor beam for investment globally, most recently Jeff Bezos who has backed a link-up between the UKAEA and General Fusion to build and operate a £400m Fusion Demonstration Plant. It’s a beacon for international collaboration in the pursuit of technological breakthroughs important to humankind, and a host to one-of-a-kind facilities like the Joint European Torus (JET), the most powerful fusion energy device in existence exploring nuclear fusion grid energy.

      The very essence of the UKAEA’s purpose is partnership. The CCFE is the site of the JET, as well as the Mega Ampere Spherical Tokamak (MAST), upgraded in 2020, which essentially replicates the processes that power the Sun. Like the UKAEA’s Materials Research Facility which tests radioactive materials in both nuclear fusion and fission, and RACE, the Culham-based test facilities for robotics and autonomous systems, CCFE’s large-scale infrastructure is open to users from academic and commercial organisations. Privately funded start-up companies can actively contribute to the quest for the holy grail of energy generation from nuclear fusion, without worrying about access to enabling infrastructure. BNFL, AEA Technology, and Tokamak Energy, are all examples of companies with roots in the Arc which have themselves spun out from the UKAEA’s research laboratories. 

      Communities formed and refined by public-private sector collaboration extends to the Harwell Space Cluster, which includes over 105 space-related organisations from a range of contexts.

      The Cluster is supported by the Science & Technology Facilities Council managing over £2bn of infrastructure for public and private R&D in addition to government financed initiatives. The co-location of the UK Space Agency, the UKRI-sponsored Satellite Applications Catapult, and private enterprise like RAL Space, Open Cosmos, and Deimos Space UK within the Arc, generates the synapses necessary to consistently push the frontier of innovation. 

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