Catapulting growth in 2023 and beyond
In the face of many challenges – changing customer desires, cost pressures, supply chain disruption, expected regulatory changes and fierce competition – UK innovation is on the rise.
New evidence from The UK Innovation Report 2023 shows UK companies are investing more in research and development (R&D) than ever before, recognising the boost it can give to growth and resilience. But whilst both industry and government increasingly acknowledge the potential value R&D and innovation can deliver, questions remain around return on investment: how can a business be sure their investment will deliver results? How can it reduce the risks of trying something new that could transform their prospects?
Katherine Bennett CBE, Chair of the Catapult Network and CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult has the answer:
“Catapults form a key part of the UK’s national infrastructure. As the name suggests, Catapults act as catalysts within the innovation ecosystem, helping businesses to transform their performance through technology and collaborating regionally to develop innovation clusters. UK businesses need a North Star to help them navigate the science, innovation and technology ecosystem. That’s where Catapults fit in.
“Over the last 12 months, Catapults have worked together and alongside Innovate UK to address major national challenges, seeking to anticipate the needs of UK industry and capitalise on the technology opportunities of tomorrow. 2023 really demonstrated what can be achieved when Catapults collaborate. We hosted a Skills Conference, kickstarted new collaborative programmes including the Workforce Foresighting Hub, and scaled up existing collaborations like the Innovation Launchpad Network+ and the Hydrogen Innovation Initiative.
“I am proud of what we achieved in 2023. It is brilliant to see Catapults working together to rise to the nation’s challenges and helping great businesses thrive. I eagerly anticipate the exciting developments that 2024 promises to unearth.”
This article showcases how Catapults helped to deliver great results for business and industry in 2023; it summarises our predictions for technology-driven advances in 2024 and the years ahead.
Cleaner, greener technology
Catapults are working hard to support businesses in making the transition to net zero. In 2023, Energy Systems Catapult worked with 68 clean-tech startups and small businesses, helping them demonstrate new products, services, and processes. Small and medium-sized businesses that partner with Energy Systems Catapult raised £104 million in 2023.
Businesses also benefited from new infrastructure, with Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult opening a £3m state-of-the-art testing facility in the North East of England. The facility specialises in digital, autonomous technologies and robotics, providing a place for developers and researchers to test, demonstrate and commercialise innovative products and services for offshore renewables.
Catapults are also equipping businesses with the right tools to decarbonise their processes; the High Value Manufacturing Catapult’s specialist toolkit helps small manufacturing businesses reduce their energy usage – by an average of 21% in a regional pilot – and cut greenhouse gas emissions in the process.
Last year, Satellite Applications Catapult helped cultivate and spin out a revolutionary startup, Space Solar, whose technology can absorb unprecedented amounts of clean energy from the sun to equipment stationed in space and beam that energy down to earth for international consumption.
We foresee that industry will begin to lead the way in turning climate targets from words on a page to visible action, allowing supply chains to seize the opportunities that net zero presents.
We predict enhanced facilities in floating offshore wind to give the UK new capabilities. Specifically, we anticipate the launch of a purpose-built Floating Offshore Wind Innovation Centre (FLOWIC) in Aberdeen in the spring. This will be a first-of-its-kind testing and validation facility, dedicated purely to floating wind.
We predict the introduction of a Future Systems Operator to catalyse a whole systems approach to energy planning, this will drive urgent new energy infrastructure investment and improve outcomes for consumers.
We envisage that manufacturing in space will begin to form a key part of the next industrial revolution, with the continued flourishing of the In-Orbit Servicing and Manufacturing market and the commercialisation of low earth orbit and microgravity applications.
Better treatments and therapies for patients
Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult opened its new Process Analytical Technologies Lab, designed to help therapy developers maintain product quality and process efficiency. This is fundamental to help scale up products and to bring therapies to patients with genetic disorders or cancer.
In October, Medicines Discovery Catapult, alongside industry partners, launched two major national programmes aligned to its vision of reshaping drug discovery for patient benefit. Firstly, the UK’s first-of-its-kind national total-body PET imaging platform (NPIP) is paving the way for scientific breakthroughs to transform patients' lives now and in the future. PACE swiftly followed as a new £30m initiative to address the global threat of antimicrobial resistance. Both programmes will help to make major strides in drug discovery and improve patient outcomes.
We anticipate advances in multi-modal biomarker analysis, which will allow for a deeper understanding of drugs and diseases to advance precision medicines in neurological disorders.
We predict rapid growth in the use of automation within the cell and gene therapy sector, this will help to increase productivity, throughput, and cost-effectiveness.
A digital revolution
Digital twins are a virtual representation of a physical object or system; they use live data to replicate processes and predict possible issues that the real-world product might experience. Connected Places Catapult hosts the Digital Twin Hub on behalf of the Catapult Network and last year, it gained more than 4,500 members from 82 countries. The Catapult also helped to launch the ‘2035 Connected Digital Twins Roadmap’, which aims to create a path to connected digital twins for coordinated goods transportation.
Digital Catapult opened the Advanced Media Production studios, a first-of-its-kind network of virtual production facilities designed to push the boundaries of screen production technologies in the UK’s world-leading creative industries. Celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2024, Digital Catapult has supported almost 3,000 startup businesses in the last decade, generating £4 billion for the UK economy.
We foresee the development of virtual environments to interact with data, exploring new methods and platforms for creative expression. This will also facilitate connected digital twins to unlock the development of an interconnected real-world and enterprise “metaverse”.
We anticipate compound semiconductors becoming increasingly important in the growth of AI and the creation of energy-efficient data centres to power the technology.
Local focus; national impact
2023 saw a steady growth in our national facilities to enhance regional clusters. Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult expanded across the UK, opening three new strategically placed hubs in Bristol, the North East and Scotland. These new centres will help to develop and connect businesses in the growing power electronics, quantum and photonics sectors.
We envisage changes to Government spending in 2024 will unlock meaningful amounts of private and public spending for the benefit of UK business. The implementation of the Public Procurement Act and the Chancellor’s Mansion House reforms will be instrumental to these advances.
Collectively, we expect increased business growth in 2024 leading to a stronger economy, transformed communities, increased prosperity and better lives for all in the years to come.
As neutral and trusted organisations, Catapults offer UK businesses a suite of supporting tools to accelerate their performance. These include professional expertise, technological infrastructure, acceleration and incubation programmes, opportunities to enhance their sectoral network and access private finance, leading to increased collaboration across wider industry, academia, supply chain, investors, and government bodies.
The nine established Catapults, powered by Innovate UK, are deeply embedded into the UK’s leading tech sectors spanning energy, healthcare, digitisation, manufacturing, urbanisation, transportation and space.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.