Support networks and facilities for innovation and R&D
Enterprise organisations and groups that can help your business with innovation, research and development
Business success is often driven by innovation. In the UK a wide range of initiatives are available to help small businesses make the most of their research and development programmes.
Schemes and networks supported by the government offer businesses access to expert advice from specialist organisations as well as other businesses. These include Chambers of Commerce and the Enterprise Europe Network as well as a number of online networks.
As location can also be a vital factor in the success of your business, science parks and assisted areas have been established to help companies grow and to promote science and technology.
This guide explains what support is available to businesses. It covers schemes and networks that provide practical advice or that can put you in touch with others that can help. It also explains how science parks and similar environments work and how they could benefit your business.
Watch the animation below to see how Invest Northern Ireland can help you be more innovative through research and development.
Knowledge transfer support
Where to find support with knowledge transfer projects, including working with universities, colleges and other businesses
Invest Northern Ireland (Invest NI) offer several services to help business benefit from the knowledge and expertise of other businesses and academic institutions.
Collaborative working support
Invest NI can link your business with other businesses, colleges, universities or organisations to help you work collaboratively and explore ways to access new markets or research opportunities. Read about their support for collaborative working.
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs)
A KTP project involves a three-way partnership between a business, an academic institution such as university or college, and a qualified graduate. By providing access to expert knowledge, technology and skills, KTPs can help improve your business' competitiveness, productivity and performance. Find out more about knowledge transfer partnerships, or see an overview of Innovate UK KTP scheme.
These vouchers enable small businesses in Northern Ireland to access support and expertise from an academic institution in order to: develop ideas for new or improved products, processes and services test or validate new products and services access information and expertise on new materials access research and scientific expertise Find out more about Invest NI Innovation Vouchers.
In the video below, Ian Hawthorne - owner of Hawthorne Crafts - explains how his business benefited from an Innovation Voucher.
The Enterprise Europe Network
The Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) provides support and advice to businesses across Europe and helps them make the most of the opportunities in the European Union (EU) and globally.
- provides information on EU legislation
- offers help in finding a business partner
- provides access to innovation networks or information on funding opportunities
- brings together sellers and buyers of innovative ideas and products
- aims to help businesses promote new technologies or find new ways to meet a technology need
EEN partner organisations in the UK operate across the country. The partner organisations consist of Regional Development Agencies, Chambers of Commerce, universities and other qualified bodies.
EEN partners work by:
- visiting companies to discuss and assess their needs
- identifying technologies that could help businesses develop
- matching companies with suitable European partners or technologies and arranging visits to them
- helping companies promote their innovative technologies throughout Europe
- helping companies and research departments make innovative technologies available to each other - technology transfer
- advising on all stages of technology transfer, including valuing technologies, negotiating contracts, intellectual property and financing
- developing the research and innovation capacities of small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) by encouraging co-operation with other research bodies, fostering technological co-operation and holding brokerage events
Watch the video below to find out how the EEN can help your business.
Business innovation centres
Business innovation centres (BICs) give support to innovative businesses and entrepreneurs. They aim to help young companies survive and grow during the start-up period when they are most vulnerable. This is known as incubation.
- information about sharing premises with similar companies, such as in science parks
- advice about management, strategy and planning
- technological help
- help with finding manufacturers and markets for innovative products and services
- expert partnership and mentoring
- access to training
- access to other sources of help
The European Community runs a scheme to certify BICs, of which more than 150 are gathered under the umbrella of the European Business Network (EBN).
A science park brings together a group of knowledge-based businesses, along with support and advice to help the businesses grow.
The support each science park offers varies, but typical services include:
- help with premises
- technology expertise
- business services ranging from advice on intellectual property to security and cleaning facilities
How science parks differ
Supported through a variety of local, regional, national and European Union programmes, the structure of science parks can vary and there is no common formula for ownership. Universities, local authorities, private companies and property developers can all be involved in different ways and to different levels.
The UK now has over 100 science parks. 'Science park' is the umbrella term used for research parks, technology parks, incubators, innovation centres and technoparks. Different types of science park have different aims, for instance:
an incubator supports new businesses during their early years
some science parks specialise in a particular industry, such as biotechnology or information technology
a research park may only allow research and development businesses on it
Science parks have formal and operational links with centres of knowledge creation, such as universities, in areas such as:
- technology transfer
- sourcing venture capital
- student placements
- marketing assistance
For example, businesses in the science park can tap into a university's resources and may be able to commercially exploit research being carried out there.
Find out more about science parks.
Chambers of Commerce
The British Chambers of Commerce form a network of 100 quality-accredited chambers throughout the UK.
Becoming a member of a chamber gives a business access to services such as:
- savings on essential overheads
Some services are available online. Larger chambers may offer schemes to encourage innovation and foster best practice. Many areas also have more informal networks, some supporting particular industries.
One of the ways in which the government's development agencies help particular areas to develop is by creating assisted areas.
Assisted areas are those locations where regional aid may be granted under European Union legislation. Businesses based in regions classified as assisted areas may benefit from a grant if they stimulate regional development, urban regeneration or an improvement in employment prospects.
The success of an industry in a particular geographical area might not just be related to the cost of production. For example, businesses can benefit from the presence of local expertise, a pool of skilled labour, or research and development facilities. The cluster concept aims to build on this idea.
Clusters are geographically close, interconnected companies and specialised suppliers within certain fields that work and co-operate with each other, as well as being competitors.
Support for these clusters includes helping companies access a skilled workforce, quality universities, good sites and investment capital. Growth in these clusters also attracts suitable suppliers and even customers to the area.
Clusters as drivers of innovation
How clusters can benefit businesses and the institutions they partner with
Collaboration in 'clusters' between businesses and associated institutions with common interests - such as universities, trade associations and public authorities - can result in a more competitive, productive and innovative environment.
Benefits of clusters
The grouped businesses start to build a strong knowledge base. Educational institutions begin to specialise in the cluster's activity, which brings in and produces more skilled workers. This level of expertise encourages innovation and new start-up businesses, and also draws venture capital into the cluster - encouraging further growth.
Clusters can contribute to the foundation of knowledge and help stimulate technological innovation, as is seen in the technology clusters in California's Silicon Valley and Bangalore in India. They may also spur creative innovation, as in the fashion designing clusters in Paris and Mumbai.
Clusters can facilitate commercialisation and new business formation through spin-offs and start-ups. One cluster often seeds or enhances other clusters as it disperses activities in the value chain to reduce risk, access cheaper inputs or better serve particular regional markets. A good example of this 'domino' effect is the optics cluster in Arizona, which gave rise to further clusters in plastics, aerospace, environment technologies, information technologies and biosciences.
Helping clusters to maximise their potential
To help clusters maximise their potential, there are a number of cluster initiatives that aim to tackle barriers to growth. Support for clusters includes helping companies access a skilled workforce, quality universities, good sites and investment capital. Growth in these clusters also attracts suitable suppliers and customers to the area. Find out how to collaborate with other businesses and institutions on the Invest NI website.