Creative businesses to deliver innovation

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts is set to launch a creative innovation voucher scheme aimed purely at businesses, one which bypasses higher education institutions.

Up until now, innovation voucher schemes in the UK have been delivered by regional development agencies through higher education institutions, and, as such, have been a source of contention for commercial product design consultancies, which report that some institutions have been encroaching on their business turf by extending research services to commercial design consultancy (DW 2 April).

Such schemes were set up to help small- to medium-sized enterprises gain access to research, design and technological expertise to stimulate innovation and enhance business, in accordance with the Government’s long-term economic plan for the country. As part of the business-only focused innovation voucher scheme, Nesta will provide 150 vouchers at £4000 each, in a pilot for about 15 boroughs around Manchester, partnering the North West RDA.

Nesta head of innovation John Kingsbury explains that the motivation behind the scheme has come from the need to compare the delivery of innovation through a business-only route with that of higher education institutions.

‘The Nesta programme has been quite a while in gestation. As we’ve prepared for the launch of the programme, there have been questions raised about the knowledge transfer, but it’s purely coincidental. The goal is to identify whether they were more innovative, either by changing processes or coming up with new products or services,’ says Kingsbury.

If the pilot is successful, the plan is to roll out the scheme nationally. The Design Council is devising a name and branding for the programme, which looks likely to launch in either June or September. It is important that it will not be confused with the voucher schemes offered by higher education institutions, says Kingsbury. The level of innovation created by businesses through the scheme will be compared with businesses that are not using the vouchers.

Research around the pilot will examine whether engagement between creative businesses and SMEs opens up new markets, brings repeat business and creates more cost-efficient processes, products and services. Research partners include the Economic and Social Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Nesta is also working with the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills and RDAs to compare the two types of voucher programmes.

‘The results [if positive] will be used to encourage and strengthen supply chain services and could go a long way to creating business opportunities,’ says Kingsbury.

How the voucher scheme will work

• The scheme is aimed at a wide range of creative businesses, from arts organisations to digital, advertising and design groups

• It will be offered to businesses across Manchester to help them use creative services to stimulate innovation

• With the creative innovation voucher, the recipient selects the creative business it wants to work with

• Nesta will provide a list of creative businesses through online resources, though it will not act as a broker

• The nature of the work is agreed between the creative business and the SME client

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