Digital Catapult: the opening of a new national centre in Kings Cross

Speech by Ed Vaizey at the opening of the national Digital Catapult Centre in Kings Cross, London.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Ed Vaizey

It is my great pleasure to be here this evening to officially open the Digital Catapult Centre. There is no doubt that this centre can play a key role in putting digital innovation at the heart of economic growth in the UK.

Value of technology to the economy

The government is committed to making the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a tech business. Technology is key to the UK’s economic growth, productivity and global competitiveness. In 2012, the ICT sector contributed around 8% (£106 billion) to UK’s GVA.

New technologies and fast access to information are transforming the business landscape, as well as becoming vital to managing our personal lives. As 1 of the network of 7 catapults, the Digital Catapult will help to rapidly advance the UK’s best digital ideas through to commercialisation.

In 2010 the Prime Minister announced that we would build a network of network of catapults to bridge the gap between business, academia, research and government, helping to turn ideas into reality. Today’s opening is the next step in this journey.

The Digital Catapult Centre will be a space for technologists, creatives from business and academia to collaborate and develop their new ideas and showcase their products to the UK and the rest of the world. The facilities here will become the cornerstone for the Digital Catapult and for the many collaborations it convenes between business, universities and other digital stakeholders, as well as the other catapults like the Future Cities Catapult.

The Digital Catapult enables UK digital businesses to innovate at speed, and with less risk, so new products and services can be accelerated to market. But for me, the most important function of the Catapult is that it brings together a wide range of partners interested in the success of the digital economy: large businesses, start-ups and SMEs, the research and academic community, Innovate UK and its experts.

The 2 week intensive ‘pit-stop’ sessions that the centre will run are a great illustration of this. These pit-stop sessions will be challenge-led and bring together relevant multi-disciplinary expertise to help businesses from universities and innovation clusters accelerate the development of their products and services.

Neil will provide more information on the specific programmes of the Catapult shortly. I know the Digital Catapult is working on a number of projects that will allow the UK to lead in unlocking value from shared proprietary data in a faster, better and more trusted way.

There is vast potential in new applications of data, for developing services that better meet demand, and create new demand. The Internet of Things will extend that much further, so that physical processes in manufacturing, transport, healthcare and many other areas fit needs better while using fewer resources.

However, the potential of these technologies can only be realised if the benefits are shared with the people whose data is involved, and if those people - citizens and consumers - trust the ways their data is protected and used.

Festival of events

It is clear to me that the digital catapult team has grasped the importance of collaboration in accelerating digital innovation. This will mean that more and more businesses, both large and small, will benefit from access to the digital catapult network. After today’s launch, the Catapult will engage even more. There will be over 40 events running during November and December, which will bring together inspirational innovators from the digital, creative and technology sectors.

Local Digital Centres

The UK’s digital strengths are not limited to the area around silicon roundabout. In a recent report there were estimated to be over 30 digital innovation clusters in the UK. So it is with great pleasure that I can announce this evening that the Digital Catapult is establishing the first wave of local digital catapult centres. These will be led by 3 Local Enterprise Partnership consortia and will ensure that we are reaching out to the very best digital innovators across the country.

The local centres are all sponsored by Local Enterprise Partnerships, in some cases multiple LEPs, and they are planned for Brighton, Bradford and Sunderland. The Brighton centre is to focus on the importance and value of data for the evolution of the Internet of Things; the Bradford centre supporting SMEs who are driving digital health innovation and developing new healthcare products and services; and, Sunderland on the secure sharing of closed organisational data to improve public services and business success. These will encourage growth within the data and content innovation communities and strengthen the catapult’s national reach.

TechNorth and Tech Nation

Whilst I have the stage, I just want to briefly mention a couple of other initiatives which are important and complementary in this space. Last month, the Deputy Prime Minister announced the creation of TechNorth. As part of Tech City UK, TechNorth will co-ordinate the existing digital technology expertise of Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and the North East tech cluster building on the work of Tech City UK, Baroness Shields and the Tech City UK Cluster Alliance. By pooling ideas and resources across local boundaries, TechNorth will help to attract inward investors in the tech industry to the North and support existing tech businesses to grow.

In the coming weeks, we are expecting publication of the Tech Nation interactive map and report delivered by Tech City UK, which will attempt to map the location and activites of digital clusters and companies in the UK for the first time. The map will enable users to interrogate data, via an interactive website, providing a great tool for investors, digital companies and government to learn more about the growth of the digital sector.

Working with government

Nearly finished, but I wanted to recognise that the Digital Catapult has recently been working with officials in my department to develop government policy to support the Internet of Things in the UK. This is an initiative that I fully support and believe that this is essential to the UKs success in the global digital innovation race and whilst the Catapult is an independent body, I do hope that we can continue to work in partnership, pulling together expert views and avoiding duplication.

Next Steps

Finally, I would just like to say a few words about the future of the catapult network. Hermann Hauser has today published his review of the network and he has made recommendations for the future expansion of the network. It is great to see Hermann here this evening.

We very much welcome his report and we shall carefully consider its findings as we develop the Science and Innovation Strategy, which we will publish alongside the Autumn statement.

Published 6 November 2014