Creating new innovation communities to discuss ‘the art of the possible’


HEFCE set to provide pump-priming funds to the best industry and academic collaborative proposals arising from the first meeting of the N8 Industry Innovation Forum.

The N8 Industry Innovation Forum was launched by the Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts on Tuesday 31 January 2012 at a high profile dinner held at the University of Leeds. The Minister emphasised the need for greater cooperation to deliver increased world class research, and how partnerships like the N8 can enable this. He cited the Government’s commitment to a more collaborative model through establishing a framework for multi-institutional funding bids, as outlined in the BIS Innovation and Research strategy.

The first meeting of the Forum took place the following day (Wednesday 1 February 2012) and was attended by over 120 leading industry and academic partners with interests in advanced materials technologies across a range of sectors including aerospace and consumer goods. Keith Burnett, Chairman of the N8 Research Partnership opened the meeting and highlighted that this was a collaborative experiment, in order to look at developing a new way to maximise innovation and growth in the UK. Iain Gray, Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board, outlined the commitment of his organisation to supporting this programme. Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England announced funding of £1.2m to support the programme moving forward.

The Forum meeting focused on eight topics that received the greatest industry interest across a range of sectors, which also had academic expertise within the N8 universities. The meeting was split into facilitated groups to discuss each topic in detail and brought together competitors as well as new collaborators including Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, Smith and Nephew and BAE Systems with world-leading advanced materials specialists from the N8 universities.

Some of the ideas raised at the meeting included the industry demand for modelling capabilities and handling large data sets across a range of sectors including nuclear, chemicals and consumer goods. The group also expressed the desire to build a more efficient R&D capability in the UK, including the need for high throughput and accelerated innovation in advanced materials.

The Forum groups developed a range of ideas to be taken forward, with one senior industry representative concluding “the experiment worked”.

Keith Burnett urged the new partners to develop “big and bold proposals to move forward.”

He went on to state: “Industry needs research to be world class and the best, and there is a fantastic opportunity for them to collaborate with world-leading talent on their doorstep.  We want to encourage industry to benefit from the proximity of the N8 universities to produce really powerful research clusters and create new communities to discuss ‘the art of the possible’.”

N8IIF launch


Pictured from left to right: Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive Officer, HEFCE; Professor Trevor McMillan, Chair of the N8 Executive Management Group and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, Lancaster University; Professor Keith Burnett, Chair of the N8 Board of Directors and Vice-Chancellor, Sheffield University; Rt. Hon David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Skills; Professor Chris Brink, Vice-Chancellor, Newcastle University; Sarah Jackson, N8 Director; Iain Gray, Chief Executive Officer, Technology Strategy Board.

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