26 Feb 2015
The reorganized innovation network is now focusing more on tapping the industry’s commercial potential.Knowledge Transfer Network, head of photonics Dr Anke Lohmann is positive that the revised structure is helping her group’s member companies better address market opportunities.
“The KTN is about bringing together together business, entrepreneurs, academics and funders to develop new products, processes and services for this growing market place,” she told optics.org, in between visits to the UK contingent at Photonics West 2015, earlier this month.
With an academic background in electronics, before working in UK government agencies promoting photonics, Lohmann has previosuly worked in optics and photonics R&D on lasers for telecommunication, instrumentation and automation. She acknowledges that there can still be a problem understanding what photonics means for some people outside of the industry, but that with the continued efforts of clusters and technical agencies, such as the KTN’s parent group Innovate UK, that picture is changing.
”If you consider the important and relevant technical areas of software and digital technologies sometimes people in those sectors still have no clue about photonics,” she said. ”But a positive development since the KTN reorganization is that cross-specialism scientists and entrepreneurs are now seeking each other out more to find out about each other.
“Before the amalgamation, the individual KTNs were quite separate companies. Then Innovate UK [formerly the Technology Strategy Board] wanted to encourage cross-collaboration. In the past year we have definitely seen more constructive exchanges.”
The UK’s new KTN headquarters is now in London and there are four regional offices across the country. Including all of the technology disciplines, from photonics to materials to electronics and more. There are altogether 36 departments (and 36 heads) which represents significant expansion over the previous relatively-independent 15 specialized KTNs.
So what, if any, are the benefits for the photonics community of the unified model? “We had heard that the photonics community didn’t want so much to communicate within itself - as much as to network with other players – especially in relationship to market opportunities,” Lohmann explained. “So we believe that with the new structure it’s easier to develop products and for us help the developers and companies to reach their markets. This is the main traffic aim we have today.”
Previously, many in the industry had considered that the KTNs were all about meeting people you already knew and, for some at least, trying to secure funding streams. Lohmann says the picture is definitely changing: “Having the bigger KTN and being able to talk about new sites, we find we can understand and relate more about markets. And Innovate UK is driving through innovation aims related to real needs.”
”In my part of the new KTN, we are working more with companies and trying to understand their needs more. It’s good for me to attend events such as Photonics West and the other major expos because I can meet so many in the photonics business community together and develop a broader perspective on their commercial activities and needs.
”We are also aiming to provide the photonics R&D and associated commercial communities with information on funding opportunities; this is certainly still one of the main needs that the photonics community has, what development funding could do to help them.”
About the Author
Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to <.i>optics.org.