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Government must invest more in people when using science to promote economic growth, argues Stephen Allott. Technology transfer is a side show. We need a ‘People Centric Approach’.

Forget the idea that turning science into economic growth is all about complicated science, argues Stephen Allott in this year’s controversial City Lecture at Hughes Hall, Cambridge University, on Monday 6 March. In ‘Science to Growth’ Allott argues that it is people who generate growth: entrepreneurs, their customers (who know what they’d like to buy) and industry scientists (whose job is to use their knowledge and research skills to meet that demand). The secret of success lies in bringing the parties together.

Outside pharmaceuticals, the technology transfer system between universities and industry that government promotes to the tune of £100m a year is largely ineffective, says Allott. More effective and much cheaper ways of promoting high-tech growth are available:

• using public relations, marketing and scholarships to attract entrepreneurial students to science and technology courses at university, and selecting a few students primarily on the basis of entrepreneurial aptitude

• setting up industrial ‘Supporters Clubs’ to help smaller technology companies recruit graduate talent. These need to be department-based, recruitment-centred and will be more than self funding

• celebrating business success among departmental graduates with “Halls of Fame” of graduate-founded companies. The 132 companies founded by graduates of the Cambridge University Computer Laboratory, the largest of which employs over a thousand people, dwarf the economic impact of the department’s direct spin-outs.

For the European Union, set to increase spending on scientific research to 3 per cent of GDP on the assumption that more science will mean more economic growth, Allott’s lecture is a clarion call. Unless Europe uses a People Centric Approach, he warns, growth on the scale required will not be forthcoming.

Allott’s recipe for success has already struck a chord, both in business and universities. Businessman Dr David Cleevely, founder of Analysys and an expert on the digital economy, said:

“The businesses I have been involved in have directly created more than 300 jobs, and the most exciting and promising of those have arisen from bringing together people from academic and business life. It is the people who make this work: the exchange of ideas, the freedom to innovate and the willingness of others to take risks produces unexpected results. Any national R&D programme has to be founded on such networks. Stephen Allott has got it exactly right. "

Dr Elizabeth Garnsey, Reader in Innovation Studies at Cambridge University, said: “Stephen Allott’s work, like all the best research, brings to light what experience shows – that people are the main mechanism for moving ideas from academia to where they are of economic value. His business experience enables him to bring a different perspective to an important issue. He has used academic evidence in a creative way, which, combined with field-based research, has led to recommendations that deserve close attention by policymakers in Britain and Europe.

“His recommendations that we build on university research by celebrating entrepreneurial success, select a limited number of students on the basis of their entrepreneurial aptitude, and run recruitment-centred industrial supporters’ clubs at departmental level to build mutually beneficial links between business and academia could produce more net benefits than the current technology-transfer approach supported by the government and the EU at great cost.”

Notes to editors

Stephen Allott is a business and social entrepreneur. He is executive chairman and co-founder of Trinamo Ltd, a management consultancy for technology companies, and non-executive chairman of the software company Tideway Systems. From 2001 to 2004 he was a full-time Visitor at the Cambridge University Computer Laboratory, where he founded the Cambridge Computer Lab Ring. He is now a City Fellow of Hughes Hall.

A graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, Stephen was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn. He has worked in legal roles for Babcock International, Rank Xerox (NYSE: XRX) and Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: SUNW), and as a strategy consultant at McKinsey. From 1995 to 2001, he worked at Micromuse (NASDAQ: MUSE), a London-origin software company, where he was President, CFO, and a main board director.

Hughes Hall is Cambridge’s oldest graduate college, founded originally in 1885 to promote women’s education. It became part of the University in 1949. Today the college is no longer limited to women or to education, and embraces law, management, medicine and many other professional skills.

Media enquiries

Copies of the lecture are available on request.

To attend, please contact Lucy Saunders in the first instance.

Lucy Saunders 0777 55 66 074
Mahseer Ltd

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