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Site Review: U.K. Innovation

The U.K. Government has become rather excited about science recently. Science we are told is the "bedrock of the economy," and innovation in science will lead to both wealth and job creation in the brave new world. Hot on the heels of the Department of Trade and Industry's white paper, "Our Competitive Future: Building the Knowledge Driven Economy," comes this recently launched and glossy-looking Web site focusing on "Innovation--the successful exploitation of new ideas."

Although this site is targeted at a wide range of business leaders, managers, academics, and teachers, there is plenty of information that scientists will find of interest. Next Wave readers may also want to look at this site in conjunction with the feature on entrepreneurship that we published last year.

The first section of the site gives details of the U.K.'s annual innovation lecture which will take place later this month. Headline speaker will be George Poste, the chief science officer of the pharmaceutical company SmithKline Beecham. The lecture will be beamed to over 50 locations around the U.K.--the Web site will let you know the nearest venue to you--and the audience will be able to ask questions through a TV link with the main studio. If you can't make it to the lecture, you can always order a transcript of past lectures or even watch a RealVideo playback of Richard Branson's 1998 lecture.

The "Financing Innovation" section deals with the all-important issue of money. There is a host of government-published documents outlining how to put together a business plan, the main costs such as capital and R&D investment, and sources of money. Here you'll also find the government's R&D scoreboard which lists the amount of money that U.K. companies invest in new technology development. Unsurprisingly, the pharmaceutical sector, and in particular large companies such as Glaxo, SmithKline, and Zeneca, top this table.

Two separate sections concern linkups with business and educational institutes. The first, "Education and Business," is building a database of companies willing to interact with high schools so that school children can pick up some of the central ideas of innovation at an early age. "Innovation with the Knowledge Base" contains a report on the links between higher education and business that highlights success stories and best practice.

"The Best of British Innovation" section contains information on the best ways for companies to exploit innovation. In addition to picking out individual products and strategies, this section highlights the importance of motivating employees at all levels of a company to take advantage of new opportunities. A report which looks at the best personnel management approaches gives advice on how this can be done. This is again available as a RealVideo clip--I'm wondering how all the ancient lab Macs that I remember most scientists using are going to cope with all this technological innovation!

Planned for the site in the future are online discussion forums and chat rooms that will be used for virtual seminars and an e-mail database that will send you details of the latest information. The only disappointment in this site is that it lacks links to any other online resources or information sources.

It's increasingly looking as though scientists must not only excel at the bench but should be skilled communicators of science and have a head for business opportunities as well. This site gives those who think that a business angel involves divine intervention a chance to catch up with the innovation express.

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