Nanofactory: Open innovation in action
Cost reductions and a focus on sales have greatly affected the amount many companies invest in research and development (R&D). While these problems have had an impact on large, multinational companies, it is small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) that struggle the most. Although some SMEs do work closely with one or more university partners, many have not had any dealings with any university, especially in the area of innovative R&D.
To help overcome these issues six universities in the UK’s Yorkshire and Humber region formed Nanofactory. The region supports a large SME base, but historically, a low number of these (some 7%) have undertaken R&D with a university, and investment in R&D by these companies has been below the national average. Nanofactory’s university partners of Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds, Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam and York have secured funding from the European Regional Development Fund to help influence innovation by regional SMEs and to grow the region’s economy.
SMEs often face a number of barriers that prevent them from investing in, or undertaking, R&D into areas of emerging technologies. These include a lack of knowledge of how these advances can be exploited; a lack of knowledge of the market opportunity that new technology offers; and a fear of innovating in isolation. Nanofactory’s three main goals are to bring together a network of the established regional expertise in nanotechnology and other emerging technologies; increase regional R&D spend through supporting SMEs; and deliver new technologies through to the market as new products and processes.
To non-Yorkshire based companies, Nanofactory offers easy and facilitated access to expertise and equipment located in the region. It also acts as a conduit for people seeking partners in the region, whether from academia or the SME community.
For Yorkshire based SMEs, Nanofactory offers companies the opportunity of "Taking a Tech Check.” This free service is aimed at SMEs that want to address the challenges of introducing new technology into their products. Nanofactory helps companies overcome the technical problems they may face in new product development as well as to secure funding to aid commercial R&D.
To date Nanofactory has worked with approximately 70 companies and has initiated 57 new R&D projects. These include a nanotechnology and engineering collaboration between the University of Bradford and dental products company DRFP to produce new root canal filling technology.
Its research in the area of drug delivery includes the development of targeted delivery, controlled release products, delivery solutions for poorly soluble drugs and polymer systems for drug and gene delivery.
Nanofactory also represents the largest grouping of academic polymer expertise in Europe. Bradford is a centre of excellence in polymer engineering. Sheffield is home to the Polymer Centre where 45 academic research groups span a broad range of polymer science and technology. Leeds' polymer experts specialise in the applied mathematics and physics of plastics processing.
From the wider medical community, Nanofactory welcomes new connections from parties who want to learn more about what the Nanofactory partnership and the Yorkshire and Humber region can offer them.
Information supplied by Nanofactory’s Business Development Manager, Dr Sean Kelly.