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The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund: Looking for the overarching challenges in UK manufacturing

Posted on 06/03/2018

£4.7+ billion increase in research and development over 4 years

Innovate UK and its partners are looking, on behalf of government, for appropriately defined manufacturing challenges.

A new and different Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) call was announced last week. Innovate UK and its partners are looking, on behalf of government, for appropriately defined challenges faced by industry and society, as part of a £4.7+ billion increase in research and development over 4 years that was announced early last year. This represents the biggest increase in total government R&D investment since records began in 1979. Those of us in the manufacturing sector know that manufacturing has its challenges – on a company level, a sector level, a regional level, etc. So what does this new call mean for the manufacturing sector, and for manufacturing innovation? How does it fit with what has gone before and the other support that’s out there?

What constitutes a challenge?

First of all let’s try and define what constitutes a challenge in the context of the ISCF. We are talking here about big challenges with multiple industrial partners. The best exemplar is probably the one that has emerged around batteries, which has ultimately come to be named the “Faraday Challenge”. This challenge has been described (in colloquial terms) as follows: “If we don’t develop a supply chain for batteries in the UK, then there perhaps won’t be much automotive industry left in, say, 20 years.”

A little bit of history…

There have been various events around the ISCF since KTN ran the first scoping events with Innovate UK in January 2017, at which we brought industry, academia and other stakeholders together to define a set of challenges. £1bn was allocated to a first “wave” of challenges – including leading edge healthcare, robotics and artificial intelligence, and batteries. Further work was then required to explore how these challenges should be tackled. The mechanisms identified included competitions for funding (for which we ran briefing events starting in summer 2017), and the establishment of institutions (eg. the “Faraday Institution”).

KTN then worked last summer – with Innovate UK, the Research Councils and others – to scope a second “wave” of challenges, this time with £725 million allocated, again consulting extensively with appropriate stakeholders. We have recently started promoting the briefing events associated with certain competitions that aim to tackle these challenges. This second wave of activity included exploration of a potential challenge around digital and additive manufacturing, although this did not emerge in the end as one of the challenges selected for funding this time round.

The new call

The new call announced last week represents a third wave. Innovate UK and its partners are taking an open approach and are reaching out to communities to input their considered challenges. Submissions should be collaborative – including industry, academia and other appropriate stakeholders. They should define an industry-led strategic challenge and provide appropriate evidence, in particular in relation to industry support, and of potential for significant impact on the UK economy and productivity.

It will of course help if businesses can declare their intention to co-invest with government, but challenges cannot be “owned” by a single company. They should be at an appropriate scale and level of ambition, and need to fit with (at least) one of the “grand challenges” outlined in in government’s Industrial Strategy:

Be aware that certain aspects of manufacturing and supply chains in particular sectors have already been covered in previous challenges, and these include:

Too much overlap with what has gone before would not be appropriate.

What help is available?

Innovate UK and KTN are on hand to help. KTN’s role in particular includes:

– helping establish overlap with what has gone before (see above),

– encouraging the joining together of consortia (where there is mutual benefit and helps scale)

– helping to gain more industry commitment via making connections across our network.

We cannot be part of a submission and you can be assured of impartiality.

For more details about the call, visit Find out more at the online briefing event on 14th March 2018. Details of this briefing will be published amongst the main competition documentation here.

If this is not appropriate for what I’m looking to do, where should I go?

If this ISCF call is not appropriate, these may well be worth looking at:

More fundamentally, please get in touch with KTN’s manufacturing team for help and advice on finding the right expertise, funding and partners for your project, and challenges and opportunities specific to your business.