Creating an environment that encourages and supports innovation leads to endless possibilities for success and the ability to tackle the world’s biggest challenges, Dr Mike Lynch OBE FREng, Founder and CEO of Invoke Capital and Founder of Autonomy, told visitors from the G8 Innovation Conference to the Royal Academy of Engineering last Friday.

Dr Lynch believes that we are in “a period of opportunity and change” and pointed to smartphones, genomics, big data and new materials as key areas enabling dramatic innovations. He said that as the world faces grand challenges including poverty and climate change, the need for innovation is greater than ever before. He added: “The possibilities are endless and it has to be innovators that will make change happen.”

While he said that it is hard to produce a formula for innovation, Dr Lynch said that it is possible to create a climate to encourage and support innovation and talked about the Academy’s recently-launched Enterprise Hub.

“We realised that we have a phenomenal bank of expertise in the Fellowship who have over the years understood how to start successful businesses and solve problems. The Hub brings this expertise to people who are just starting out with ideas and helps them in practical ways – such as the Enterprise Fellowships and mentoring. It’s important to foster the right environment for innovation instead of second guessing, and the Hub is an interesting model,” he said.

Dr Lynch urged innovators to take advantage of current opportunities and keep a little naivety to enable them to dream big. “If you don’t start something, you’ll never finish it,” he said.

A trio of entrepreneurs from technology businesses at different stages of the innovation cycle gave short presentations at the conference.

Dr Margaret Anne Craig, CEO of Clyde Biosciences, spoke about her university spinout company and her journey from researcher to businesswoman. Her cutting-edge system to improve the drug discovery process won the ERA Foundation Award last year and she said that it enabled her to gain access to important networking events where she met her business mentor.

Elspeth Finch, Director at Atkins, talked about her personal journey from setting up her pedestrian-focused planning business with “absolutely no business experience” and learning on the job, to its successful sale to Atkins. She spoke about the challenge of doing something new in a traditional sector and noted that despite the culture differences between running an innovative start-up and acting as an ‘intrapreneur’ in an 18,000-person multinational company, the key demands of both roles were the same: adaptivity, flexibility, confidence, and an expansive view of what innovation is and how it can be achieved.

Rob Buckingham FREng, Co-founder and Director of OC Robotics, talked about the need for entrepreneurs to remain doggedly optimistic. He said that generating ideas is relatively easy but warned that too few people work on them to turn them into an innovation and business. He said, “Innovation involves exposing an idea to the market. You have to be brave to take on a challenge like that.” He also highlighted the role of large companies in encouraging big innovation.

“For every ‘pushing’ entrepreneur there needs to be a champion ‘puller’, working within the large end user company to drag the idea into commercial reality,” he said, adding that it was vital to build connections between creative innovators and business people, who can connect the ideas to a market need.

Sir Robin Saxby FREng, founding CEO of ARM Holdings, summed up the messages arising from the day. “There is neither one single big problem nor one single big solution to bringing good ideas from the lab into the market. Continuous learning, risk-taking and mentorship are critical; as are relationships, competent teams, and good processes,” he said.

The guests, who included some of the UK’s top engineering leaders, as well as senior executives from global companies such as Wipro, Shell and Philips, joined the speakers in interactive breakout sessions to talk about key challenges facing innovators and potential solutions.

Notes for editors

  1. The G8 Innovation Conference and the visit to the Academy was part of a series of events designed by the G8 Presidency to help boost confidence and support in what the Government is doing to achieve strong, sustainable economic growth. The Innovation Conference’s aim was to bring together today’s leading innovators and thought leaders across disciplines, from the G8 and beyond to highlight the areas where the UK is a global innovation leader in entrepreneurship, creativity, science and technology and to demonstrate the UK’s ability to provide the conditions for the cross fertilisation of ideas and inter-disciplinary collaboration. For more information, please visit:
  2. The event also forms part of the Academy’s Engineering for growth campaign. For more information, please visit:
  3. The Enterprise Hub is a new national resource taking 'the best of the best' early stage companies and providing them with a long-term package of mentoring, training and bespoke support. Read the news release for more information.
  4. The ERA Foundation aims to contribute to the economic vitality of the UK by supporting activities that will help to bridge the gap between research and exploitation in the broad field of electrotechnology. The Royal Academy of Engineering ERA Foundation Entrepreneurship Award and £40,000 prize is made possible by the support of the Foundation and was established to identify entrepreneurial researchers working in UK universities, in the field of electro-technology, who are at an early stage in their career. The award is presented to an individual or team annually, who demonstrate considerable entrepreneurial promise and the potential to benefit the UK's future prosperity.
  5. Founded in 1976, the Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Catherine Lawrence at The Royal Academy of Engineering Tel. 020 7766 0655; email: Catherine Lawrence