Behind the Scenes: GGCS press briefing with Professor Andy Hopper and Professor Helen Storey

In the run up to the Global Grand Challenges Summit the Royal Academy of Engineering is organising a series of press briefings between some of the GGCS speakers and members of the press, to bring into the limelight what the GGCS wants to achieve. Last week, I was lucky enough to sit in on the first of these meets, which involved GGCS speakers Professor Helen Storey, co-founder of Catalytic Clothing and Professor of Fashion and Science at the University of the Arts London and Professor Andy Hopper, president of the IET and head of the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge.

Although both Helen and Andy’s fields of expertise are very different (Helen a designer who has been collaborating with chemical engineer Professor Tony Ryan for over 15 years, and Andy an established entrepreneur and academic in the field of computer science, who has started several of his own successful businesses) the conversation that unfolded between them at this meeting developed into a discussion between two innovators about how we should be driving innovation, and who (or what) should be doing it.

Several points were raised in this discussion on innovation, but for me one question, put forward by Andy, really stood out in particular – are we trying to pick winners from university research too early in the game? And is this ultimately hindering innovation?

University technology transfer offices want to extract the most value from the IP of potential spin outs, but is there a better way to nurture innovation?  Andy believes that universities should be opting for a volume strategy, allowing as many researchers to spin out ideas into businesses, in exchange for a very small share of the business when the original owner exits. But if this is the best way, how do we accomplish this?

“The market is in the wrong place. Universities are trying to sell ideas, but ideas are two a penny. The most important thing that comes out of a university walks out on its own two feet.”

– Professor Andy Hopper

I believe that the GGCS will be the platform to address this question and so many more like it. The meeting of just two minds in this briefing proved to me more than ever that we need a global discussion on how we move forward, and about how to do it together.

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Watch for my next posts for comment pieces from Professor Helen Storey and Professor Andy Hopper…

by Eleanor Hood

International Assistant, the Royal Academy of Engineering


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