Professor David Gann, Director of the Innovation Studies Centre and Vice President (Innovation), Imperial College London
When we began this project, back in 2003, none of the seven original team members could have imagined how significant the Built Environment Innovation Centre (BEIC) would become – not just for Imperial College London, but for the raft of multinational firms, entrepreneurial small enterprises, government departments and public agencies we have influenced in the past ten years. Of course we had expected to foster such links and promised to deliver them in our original proposal, but the ways in which this IMRC grant allowed us to evolve and take opportunities to embed our knowledge at the heart of practical innovation processes, whilst attracting serious attention as an academic unit, is to the credit of the excellent team of researchers, support staff and Advisory Board members that have been part of this amazing story.
As BEIC grew and developed our focus expanded, allowing us to apply our findings to environments beyond the construction industry. When our grant was renewed in 2008 as the Innovation Studies Centre (ISC) we had already established important and continuing links with our industry partners – Laing O’Rourke, IBM, Arup, Atkins, QinetiQ, BP and many others – whom I would like to thank for their ongoing support of our projects, which in many cases have led to longstanding, mutually beneficial relationships addressing important practical questions.
The first key impact of this EPSRC grant has therefore been in changing industrial practice, initially in the built environment with Laing O’Rourke on the mega-project management of Heathrow Terminal 5, then on the Olympic Park and, now, on Crossrail, through research led by Andy Davies. Ammon Salter and his team showed design engineering firms Arup and Atkins how to manage their internal knowledge and supplied best practice methods to evaluate their R&D portfolio and project selection mechanisms. As our scope expanded, I worked with IBM to improve its client-centric open innovation practices, creating new roles for 600 IBM staff worldwide. These projects, explored in this report, exemplify the wide-ranging work of the ISC and the major improvements we have made to the operational performance of leading companies.
Our research has also been utilised by a variety of small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures. Some of our earliest projects examined the role of design and development in the innovation process and the ways in which creativity can complement R&D performance. This led to spin-off centre Design London in collaboration with the Royal College of Art and Imperial’s Engineering Faculty, which engaged with hundreds of design businesses through teaching, simulation and incubator facilities. It helped start-ups to develop ideas and find future investment, several of which have since won major innovation awards including International Design Excellence Award, Brit Design of the Year and the Dyson Award.
We are delighted that work seeded by the ISC has created opportunities for business development and brought new innovations to market. As well as creating capacity for others to be entrepreneurial, ISC research is also shaping international measurement and policy in this area. Erkko Autio’s Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI) rates and ranks national levels of entrepreneurship, allowing nations to create policy tailored to their specific strengths and weaknesses. Subsequent iterations of GEDI are allowing our researchers to understand more about the effects of regionalisation, gender and age on the attitudes to entrepreneurial ventures.
Using our evidence to develop strong links with policy-makers has been a key success of the programme, stretching from the UK to Europe, Australia and India. One of our most prestigious achievements was a secondment for Keith Smith to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills as Head of the Innovation Analysis team where he was responsible for writing government policy, contributing to the Innovation and Research budget allocation, and working closely with the international policy community, including the OECD. Research evidence supported by this grant has had a considerable effect on how our Government now approaches science and innovation in the UK.
Even with such visible external impact, it was always our mission to create one of the most vibrant and respected academic research centres for innovation in Europe. During the last ten years around fifty researchers have worked on the BEIC/ISC grant and at least seventy have benefitted from the capacity building training offered throughout their time with us. From paper development and theory discussion workshops to seminar series and our Peer Assist sessions to guide new projects, these have helped members of the team to attain senior positions at universities and firms worldwide. ISC research has been regularly published in our field’s leading journals, receiving many thousands of citations each year, and our team now boasts two editors of very prestigious publications – Gerry George and Mike Wright. We leveraged our original EPSRC knowledge to win many additional grants establishing individual projects and major inter-disciplinary centres funded by Research Councils, industry and government, now worth more than four times the value of the original IMRC grant.
It has been an amazing ten years and I am immensely proud of our achievements across so many sectors, countries and disciplines. It has been a team effort and a real pleasure to work with, and learn from, so many talented colleagues.
We began ten years ago with seven people in a small room at Imperial with one grant; we turned that into a thriving group, the cornerstone of research at Imperial College Business School, with seventy members of staff and a plethora of projects. The ISC is the foundation of all of this, and the establishment of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Group is its legacy, which, as we hoped, is respected for its internationally excellent research and evidence-based engagement with policy and practice.