The gap between R&D and production
Over the years, I've had a shed load of fantastic money making ideas. Most recently it struck me that it was virtually impossible for couples to play Twister, as the game needs a third person to operate the colour spinner. Why not, I thought, develop an app for your tablet that would automatically spin for you after set time intervals? Genius. Then there was my handbag space saving app, that enabled you to leave your mirror at home by making use of an app on your phone that would turn the screen into a shiny silver finish.
But my ideas aren't just tech based; I also drew up plans for a touring display team that would see highly synchronised an choreographed wheel barrow antics. The Red Barrows would offer all of the excitement and thrills of their aviation equivalent, but at a much lower cost point.
The common thread to all of these and many other innovations of mine is that, unfortunately, someone beat me to it. But I take heart from knowing that someone else agreed they were great ideas. And a question I always asked myself was how I would have funded them to bring those ideas to market. I read this week about two new products for musicians that deserve to come to market, and will do as soon as their Kickstarter funding goals have been met.
Here, you put an idea and/or a prototype into the public domain and wait for enough cash to come in for you to be able to take the idea into production. I quite like the idea of crowd funding; it democratises development and gives you a good idea of market acceptance right from the off. But it surely slows things down while you wait for the money to trickle in, and these days time to market can be the difference between success and failure.
The Institute of Mechanical Engineers recently described the hurdle between R&D and bringing a product to market as a 'valley of death', and I could personally show you many engineers and smaller engineering companies who have struggled with funding to develop some really exciting products. So it's welcome news that the Institution is launching a new fund aiming at helping companies to bridge that gap. The fund, initially worth a total of £2 million, is in line with the original statement of purpose set out by Institution founder George Stephenson in 1847 to "give an impulse to invention likely to be useful to the world." It is the first investment fund of this kind by the Institution, and indeed by any UK professional engineering institution.
The Stephenson LP Fund is independently managed by specialist venture capital company Midven and aims to invest in innovative companies engaged in mechanical engineering over the next few years. The Fund's first five investments are into blade compressor company Lontra, fuel cell catalyst developer Amalyst, sensor company Oxsensis, fusion energy company Tokamak Energy, and space technology business Oxford Space Systems.
Mark Simms, Editor
Industrial Technology - NEWS