I usually steer well clear of political themes on this blog however I feel the need to write about, what I regard as the narrow minded economic policies that exist – from both left and right – towards big business, especially with regards to innovation. Too often economic policies approach big business by either seek to pander to them, ignore them or restrict their power. All of these approaches are ineffective and too atomistic in my view.
Attempts to encourage innovation by policy makers are traditional often limited to seeking to spot and invest in good ideas – arising from business, from academia, from people – and then invest in the inventor or organisation that conceived them, without sufficient consideration to the wider network of people and organisations that are vital to their successful commercialisation. I firmly believe that most of these policies are about as effective as backing ideas at random i.e. there are always some successful case studies but i doubt more than average.
Larger companies are often considered to be big enough and ugly enough to look after themselves – which in many senses they are, however that's not my point. Like it or not, large companies often are – though clearly not always – the route to market for many new innovative new products, services or processes. Therefore if economic policies don't work closely with them, and better understand their needs, then they are simply cutting off their nose to spite their face (to mix metaphors).
This is not a defence of big business rather a plea for realism that big businesses are an enevitable consequence of mixed and mature economies and ougth to be more sensibly integrated into the innovation ecosystem of country.
As a quick example of the sort of thing which does work, last night we hosted an event called 'The Union'. It was a mixed gathering of innovation professionals from multinational corporations and also from small companies. The format was a series of 20 high intensity Pecha Kucha presentations, of no more than 5 minutes each. We were delighted to see a huge number of converstations flourishing afterwards and I am sure some of them will lead to productive collaborations.
These kinds of events in themselves arn't that unusual however it's these kinds of networks that bring together buyers and sellers of innovations are too often ignored by policy makers whom I believe do have a crucial role to play in supporting innovation networks – especially those that span traditional sector boundaries.
And yet the best and most sustainable deal that any of the small companies can get is a client relationship with a big company, not a government research grant. Our mantra is 'clients not cash' – and a much more sensible policy in my view would be to try to integrate large businesses into their innovation policies of the UK so that everybody benefits as a result.