Currently seven Catapults have been or are being established, with the expectation they will all be operating by the end of 2013.1
CAPTURING VALUE FROM SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
Britain’s leaders have been struggling to translate research from the nation’s excellent science base into technologies with industrial and commercial impact for a century, but with a few exceptions such as pharmaceuticals, the challenge has proven intractable. Perhaps the biggest obstacle has been embedded attitudes in the science and business community that inhibit close collaboration and a reluctance by successive governments to become too deeply involved in “industrial policy.” Additional challenges are presented by the erosion of the manufacturing base, a shrinking industrial research infrastructure, and a work force that often lacks the skills needed by technology-intensive companies. Globalization and the rise of new low-cost industrial powers like China, Korea, and Brazil have given this longstanding British dilemma a new urgency. “Bridging the gap between academia and industry to create cutting-edge technologies in manufacturing is important if the United Kingdom is to remain competitive in the global economy.”2
Numerous studies of British international competitiveness have concluded that while the United Kingdom has a basic science capability second to only that of the United States, “it falls short on translating scientific leads into leading positions in new industries.”3 In 1919, the economist Alfred Marshall observed that “the small band of British scientific men have made revolutionary discoveries in science, but yet the chief fruits of their work have been reaped by
1The main inspiration for the Catapult initiative is the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Germany’s successful network of parapublic applied research institutes, and some elements of the Fraunhofer model have been replicated in the current British effort. Like the Fraunhofer, each Catapult will receive “core” funding from the government over a comparatively long time frame (five years) which it is expected to augment with revenue from contract research for industry and public bodies. The designation “Catapult” represents an effort to establish a brand with a reputation for excellence, as the Fraunhofer has succeeded in doing on a global basis. Like the Fraunhofer, the Catapults are not mere conduits for research results from universities to companies but will operate their own well-equipped facilities that perform on-site research to develop, test, and prove innovative products and processes for industrial consumers. The expectation is that the Catapult initiative will translate into new manufacturing jobs in Britain.
2Professional Engineering. 2012. “Fast Growth at Technology Centre Bodes Well for Manufacturing.” June 14.
3Hauser. Hermann. 2010. The Current and Future Role of Technology and Innovation Centres in the UK. pp. 1. A 2009 Cambridge University study observed that “The perceived failure of the UK to exploit effectively its science and technology base has been the subject of hand-wringing by politicians and policy specialists for nearly a century and government efforts to remedy this have been redoubled over the past 15 years.” Mina, Andrea, David Connell and Alan Hughes. 2009. Models of Technology Development in Intermediate Research Organizations. University of Cambridge: Center for Business Research. Working Paper No. 396. December. p. 3.