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Marine-i 2030 New Horizons conference shows the way forward for RDI in the region

 On 12th July 2018, nearly 100 delegates convened at China Fleet Country Club for this unique one-day event organised by the Marine-i project team. The overall aim of this conference was to explore the future landscape for Research, Development and Innovation in the South West. Marine-i wanted to share learnings from a number of contrasting individuals and organisations that could inspire new ways in which to foster a more effective innovation culture for high-tech businesses.

Matt Hodson,  Marine Hub Cornwall Operations Director, gave an introduction to the scope of the day and this was followed by the Opening Brief, which was presented by Professor Lars Johanning from the University of Exeter, Marine-i Lead Partner. He described the work of the Marine-i programme and how it is boosting innovation in marine technology in Cornwall, with 35 businesses supported so far and £3.85 million of Marine Challenge Fund grants currently in progress.

The Keynote Address was delivered by Richard Noble OBE, who spoke about “the exciting ability of a small team to achieve outstanding results.” He stressed that it is important that everyone in the team is given full authority and responsibility, and that they are “as resilient as hell and won’t take no for an answer.” Richard is using the exciting story of the Bloodhound SSC and its related programme of activities to inspire a whole new generation of scientists and engineers.

Kim Conchie, CEO of Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, highlighted the fact that only 9% of Cornish SMEs are currently involved in export. It is vital that they continue to receive support into the future and new opportunities for collaboration. Kim described the various future funding steams that are available, including the Shared Prosperity Fund, InnovateUK, and the Local Industrial Strategy. He also called for closer and more productive collaboration between business, academia and the public  sector.

This latter point was picked up by Johan Wasberg, Development Director at Technology Centre Oy Merinova Ab in Finland. Johan detailed some of the work being carried out in Finland to create fast and flexible innovation models. He described the ‘Triple Helix’ model which aims to achieve a more coordinated approach to innovation, with academia, public sector and business all working towards shared goals.

Adrian Dawson, Director of Research & Innovation at the University of Plymouth, gave an overview of EU funding and pointed out that, although this has been a superb benefit for the region, it is important to realise that there are limitations and drawbacks. Aspects such as geographical boundaries and strict output requirements may sometimes interfere with what is best for businesses. Post-Brexit there would be an opportunity to take a completely fresh look at how funding will operate in the region in the future.

Simon Cheeseman from the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult (another Marine-i partner) spoke about the work they are doing to develop, test and commercialise new technology solutions in the offshore renewables industry. On the topic of financial support, Simon flagged up the fact that there is a range of US-based funds which UK businesses can potentially tap into.

Trevor Howard, Business Development Director at Triskel Marine, told the story of his company and how they have innovated across a range of marine applications, including hybrid propulsion systems for smaller marine vessels. Trevor raised his concern that grant funding may, in some circumstances, stifle innovation as it can represent a short-term fix rather than a long-term commercial solution. Triskel Marine themselves have managed to attract substantial commercial investment from a corporate partner based in the USA.

Sean Fielding, Director of Innovation and Business at the University of Exeter, explained the concept of a ‘Vortex University’, a model which originated out of the University of California at Berkeley. The aim is to create a create a positive vortex by building the R&D base in the local area, being committed to developing the local talent pool, and creating a culture that stimulates entrepreneurship and business acceleration.

Robert Salvoni is a Non-Executive Director of Bluefruit, a company which specialises in embedded software. He cited the compelling example of Estonia, a small country which has taken a novel approach to developing a strong tech culture. A core driver of their success has been the ethos of “shedding legacy thinking.” Robert strongly advocated the development of fresh thinking in the South West and the letting go of old, outmoded models. He quoted the writer William Faulkner who said: “You can’t swim for new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

There were then 90 minutes of panel sessions chaired by Nick Lambert on the theme of: What should RDI look like in the future? This gave delegates the chance to voice their views and suggestions, as well as ask questions of the two expert panels.

The day concluded with the presentation of the New Horizons Awards, which have been designed to spotlight exceptional business talent and technological innovation in Cornwall. The three winners were as follows:

Triskel Marine won the Cornwall First Award. In the judges’ opinion they have made an outstanding RDI contribution to putting Cornwall on the map in their field of business;

ARC Marine received the Technology Innovation Award, for their outstanding contribution to technology innovation;

KML were winners of the Business Growth Award, having made an outstanding contribution to the growth of their business sector in Cornwall.  Find out more about the winners here.