Post #2: Innovation at the coal face

Where do future trends begin? Perhaps an obvious question, but one with an obvious answer, in our view: with innovation. This topic is timely in two respects: first, since it is subject to much discussion at the World Economic Forum, currently underway in Davos; and second, since we spent a morning earlier this week with academics from several leading British universities. In summary, innovation is alive and kicking.

This message was particularly reinforced by the conference we attended in London at which academics from universities including Cambridge and Edinburgh presented some of the projects in which they were currently involved. We were impressed with the plethora of new ideas emerging, ranging from stem cell science to agtech via the internet of things and blood-testing. Nearly every speaker noted that falling costs (of gene sequencing, data storage etc) had led to an acceleration in their research efforts in recent years. However, another comment of note was that many of the academics felt that it remained a challenge to commercialise fully their innovation, with the debate still open whether to partner with corporates directly or alternatively with venture capitalists. US universities, it was felt, were generally more advanced in this respect.

These comments were of interest in the context not only of some of the keynote speeches in Davos, but also given the simultaneous publication by Bloomberg of its Annual Innovation index. This evaluates countries based on patent activity, tertiary education, technology company density, productivity and R&D expenditure, among other criteria. The US ranks 8th compared to the UK at 18th. Interestingly, South Korea comes top of the list, followed by Germany, Finland, Switzerland and Israel completing the top-five. While these country rankings may be unexpected to some, it is worthwhile to consider that people and their intellectual capital can/do cross borders. Being global matters; being innovative matters more.    

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