NAAME 2018: East Anglia's innovators urged to be ambitious with new technologies
PUBLISHED: 15:37 15 February 2018 | UPDATED: 17:08 15 February 2018
Innovative East of England companies should not be afraid to "think big" when considering how far they could take their business, according to a global research and development leader.
Henk Koopmans, chief executive of Huawei Technologies Research and Development (UK), helped to develop a new Internet of Things-based mobile technology which uses radio and cellular networks to connect devices and services. The NarrowBand-IoT was bought and heavily invested in by telecommunications giant Huawei, and is now an industry standard used by more than 30 mobile networks in 20 countries.
Mr Koopmans said: “Huawei had been a technology follower for 30 years, but they wanted to become a technology leader and that is what we could offer them.”
Mr Koopmans was speaking at Evolution: Journey into Industry 4.0, a conference organised the New Anglia Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering group (NAAME) and hosted at West Suffolk College.
His message to East Anglian businesses? Think big, and think of your market first.
“Don’t worry about if you have finished the technology – get out there, because it creates confidence in investors,” he said. “If you can demonstrate that you have access to the market, investors love that.”
Mr Koopmans also said such bold development would attract people to the region – using the example of his own research base in Cambridge, which has 15 nationalities among 50 employees.
“Our design centre in Ipswich is working on chips for fibre-optics and you would not believe how advanced it is. We have 100 people there. If you sell the vision and make it exciting enough, they will come.”
He also stressed the importance of investment. Last year Huawei announced a £3bn funding round for Mr Koopmans’ UK teams – he said the “vast majority” will be spent on procurement, and encouraged businesses to get involved.
“What we have achieved as a little entity is resulting in investment coming back to the UK and hopefully a lot of that will come back to the East of England. Here we have great companies and inspirational young people. Be part of that,” he said.
Innovation in the manufacturing industry in the East of England is already booming, according to Lampros Litos, knowledge transfer manager for manufacturing at Innovate UK.
He said: “In 2016 the East of England had the second best productivity rating in the UK, and around 8% of its manufacturing experts.
“It also accounts for 41% of all business research and development in the UK. This is a great area to be in if you want to innovate, and it is reflected in the growth of the area.”
Theory put into practice
Henk Koopmans said it was possible “for a UK company to make it big”, using Hethel Engineering Centre-based MSF Technologies an example.
Chief executive David Morgan told delegates that forward thinking was crucial to the company’s superlative growth.
“If you have a high-growth business you are looking at what you will need in the future,” he said.
“We have a patented technology around energy storage which is marketed globally. We are growing because we are applying this technology to tomorrow’s problems.
“We are always planning five years ahead. What we achieve in five years will not be anything like what we thought we would achieve, but it is having that flexibility and making sure you have a forward-looking plan.”
Mr Morgan said making technology “work for you” was also important to sustain high growth.
“We position people around the UK and globally, and we used technology to allow that to happen,” he said.