What is the HVM Catapult and why was it set-up?
The HVM Catapult was set up to fix a major market failure that exists within the UK. While we are excellent at technological research and sit at number 2 in terms of academic output, we are hopeless at converting that research into manufacturing value.
That’s where we come in. The manufacturing industry has been waiting for an instrument to plug this gap for years and now we’ve got one over the past six years the industry demand for it has been exceptional.
What does your role involve?
I founded HMVC by bringing 7 independent centres together. I don’t have command and control of those separate centres; some of them are, in fact, university departments or offshoots of the university. Instead, I manage a portfolio of seven independents and my job is to make them work considerably more than the sum of their parts.
I also manage the collaboration between the centres, but most importantly, I am the principal interface with our government sponsor so I secure the government core funding through means of a developed business plan and strategy.
I make sure that the money then works for the best national benefit while the centres job is to do the work, discharge the responsibilities and report back, so we can demonstrate to the government that money has been effectively spent with the right levels of economic impact.
What are the biggest challenges in UK HVM today?
The enduring challenge, topical now as it ever was, is that the UK is fairly risk-averse compared to our competitors. Companies in the UK would rather not make any new investments that might be more technically challenging to manage. The investment community is also risk-averse, not predisposed to lend to people who buy riskier and more advanced bits of kit and equipment.
The challenge is getting UK manufacturers to embrace technology and the risks that go with it. That is quite an enduring, not to say uniquely British problem, we suffer from compared to other nations who are more inclined to a more entrepreneurial risk taking spirit.
That’s one of the reasons why we are there to help mitigate that challenge, using some government money to share in the risk of introducing more challenging technologies to market. Subset of that is all sorts of fantastic technologies we are working on, any one of which is risky, the biggest barriers of all are the psychological ones.