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Government to invest £100m in SMEs to tackle global challenges

Image credit: Peshkova | Dreamstime.com

The UK Government is set to invest nearly £100m to back the ‘rising stars’ of small science and tech businesses across the country, with projects that will help tackle global challenges such as climate change, chronic diseases and the barriers to driverless cars.

The UK Government has announced a £98m investment, allowing both UK researchers and small businesses to seize the vast opportunities in science and innovation and industries of the future.

Of this money, £78m will be invested in 78 scientists and researchers through the Government’s 'Future Leaders Fellowships' scheme (which is run by UK Research and Innovation), supporting many of those working at “the cutting edge of the next scientific discoveries”, including solutions to topics as diverse as climate change and birth defects.

“Delivering on our research and innovation ambitions means putting people first, whether they are just starting in their career or are leading major projects in academia or industry,” said science minister Chris Skidmore.

“These inspirational Future Leaders Fellows will generate the ideas of the future, helping to shape science and research for the 21st century,” he added. “To realise the full potential of these discoveries, their ideas need to be taken out of the lab and turned into real products and services, where they can change people’s lives for the better.

“That’s why we are creating 20 new University Enterprise Zones, helping local start-ups to co-locate in universities to build the businesses of the future – all inspired by university research.”

As part of the Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, there are several projects currently underway, ranging from tackling Alzheimer’s disease to helping the emergency services to reach the scenes of an accident more quickly.

For example, Izzy Jayasinghe from the University of Leeds plans to build a new portable, cheap and easy-to-use imaging technology, which will help doctors and scientists to visually examine structures as small as individual proteins and genes. This will give new insights into global issues including effects of environmental change, ageing and long-term disease.

Meanwhile, Adrian Healey from Cardiff University is researching on ways to improve global cities’ ability to cope with water-related shocks in the face of increasing demands for water, including droughts and a lack of clean access to water.

The remaining £20m will be allocated to 20 universities to develop new University Enterprise Zones (UEZs) across the country to provide vital specialist support to small businesses in industries specialising in artificial intelligence (AI), clean growth, smart energy and agri-food.

The scheme will facilitate knowledge sharing between academics and entrepreneurs by opening collaborations with universities and businesses to help them take their ideas from prototype to profit. According to UK Research and Innovation, the UEZs will also provide the facilities and expertise to help local SMEs to forge crucial partnerships, driving local growth and job creation.

“The Future Leaders Fellowships will enable the most promising researchers and innovators to become leaders in their fields, working on subjects as diverse as climate change, dementia and quantum computing,” said Professor Sir Mark Walport, chief executive, UK Research and Innovation.

“UKRI is committed to creating modern research and innovation careers and our Future Leaders Fellowships aim to support and retain the most talented people, including those with flexible career paths.

“These 20 University Enterprise Zones funded by Research England will be important focal points for collaboration in business-friendly environments, driving innovation and delivering benefits.”

The investment comes following the Government reasserting its commitment to invest at least 2.4 per cent of GDP in research and development (R&D) by 2027 and to publish a roadmap this autumn setting out how it will realise this ambition.

Furthermore, the Government has launched a new immigration route which enables international students to work in the UK for two years post-graduation, helping the UK “attract and retain the brightest and best talent”.

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