Catapulting innovation

In a world of fierce competition and constant change, driving innovation and efficiency has never been more important to the economy– and digital transformation is critical to achieving that goal

Applying digital technology across the UK economy could yield an extra £55 billion by 2020, according to research by Accenture and Oxford Economics.

The UK’s creative industries such as film, TV, gaming and music are global leaders in digitalisation, but many areas like manufacturing, lag behind their international counterparts.

Helping early adopters go faster and bridging the gap with the remainder is a unique organisation, Digital Catapult, one of a network of Catapult centres backed by Innovate UK, the government’s innovation agency.

Digital Catapult promotes the use of digital technology, applying leading-edge thinking from business and academia from the smallest startups to some of the country’s largest corporations.

Digital Catapult works by providing commercial and technology expertise, helping companies test new technology applications and new business models.

Headquartered in London, there are also centres in Brighton, Yorkshire, the North East and Tees Valley, and Northern Ireland, working with local enterprise partnerships, universities and private companies across the UK. On average, they work closely with more than 400 companies a year. Focus is currently on the creative sector and manufacturing, but the organisation is also eyeing the potential for working in digital health and professional services.

Chief executive Jeremy Silver says: “The UK is a brilliant source of new technology ideas and inventiveness. Our mission is to help develop new markets and accelerate opportunities for whole sectors of industry to apply those ideas.

“We’re helping technology companies develop more rapidly and scale globally. As a country, we need more than ever to be thinking of global markets.”

Digital Catapult’s work spans four areas of technology: data, including blockchain and cyber security; connectivity and infrastructure, including low-powered wide-area networks, the internet of things and 5G mobile; artificial intelligence and machine-learning; and immersive technology such as virtual and augmented reality.

Dr Silver believes that immersive content and applications is one area where UK companies are at the cutting edge, hence the opening of an immersive laboratory at Digital Catapult’s London office, where products are showcased and tested. There are plans to open three more around the UK.

Our mission is to help develop new markets and accelerate opportunities for whole sectors of industry

One of the companies currently showcasing its product is Smartify, which last year developed a solution that supports the creative industries. Harnessing augmented reality technologies, Smartify enables museum and gallery visitors to identify and learn about artworks, helping venues to reach new audiences and develop new business models at a time when funding is under pressure.

Museum visitors can use the free app at venues such as London’s National Portrait Gallery and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum to unlock the stories behind art and create a personal art collection.

Smartify began working with Digital Catapult in February, building up to the official product launch in March, benefiting from mentoring, networking and help with funding applications.

Anna Lowe, Smartify’s co-founder, says: “Their support and access to world-class equipment, research and networks has been invaluable. We’ve also been able to plug into existing knowledge and expertise about the challenges many startups face, so we haven’t had to keep reinventing the wheel.”

Dr Silver concludes: “The UK is making huge progress in digital technology and there are areas where we are leaders, but there is still a long way to go. We don’t just want to play catch-up with our international competitors, we want to leapfrog them.

“Cross-pollination of thinking, taking insight from one sector and applying it to another, is something we are getting better at doing. But now what the country really needs is to increase the pace of innovation, dramatically.”

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