Post pandemic tech innovation: The role of accelerators and 5G testbeds
By Linda Smith, founder and CEO of commercial technology accelerator BetaDen
Innovation is the lifeblood of any business and is what gives a company its future competitive edge. The UK is extremely good at delivering innovation. According to Tech Nation, in the space of a single year, the UK has shattered all records, with technology investment soaring by 44 per cent to over £10 billion – more than France and Germany combined.
Diversity and collaboration together breed innovation
This is due to having diverse pockets of innovation around the country, where small agile tech start-ups partner with established British firms to deliver nimble technology solutions to the world’s problems.
Incubators, accelerators, innovation hubs and testbeds all provide invaluable opportunities for the kind of collaboration that is crucial in shaping the evolution of new technologies, and ultimately their practical application and adoption.
By creating this kind of environment and the opportunity for collaboration, technologies developed in these settings are able to reflect real-world applications and challenges, as well as benefiting from smart ideas and applications that may not be apparent in more siloed R&D departments.
5G Testbeds As A Service
One of the UK tech hubs at the heart of collaborative 5G innovation is in the county of Worcestershire, better known for its chocolate-box villages and therapeutic qualities than being at the forefront of 5G technology innovation.
Based at Malvern Hills Science Park, the heart of Malvern’s “Cyber Valley”, BetaDen is a commercial technology accelerator that not only offers scale-up technology businesses support to commercialise their ideas but also has access to a 5G Testbed as a Service through nexGworx – a project created in July this year following the success of the Worcestershire 5G DCMS 5G Testbeds and Trials programme.
Many game-changing technologies have already been shaped at the accelerator this year as the COVID pandemic drove adoption of digital technologies across all industries.
Cybersecurity and defence
The move towards remote-working frameworks across academia and industry, for example, has driven the need for additional assurance and securities.
With a strong heritage in defence technologies since the Second World War when the government decided to hide their military telecommunications and radar research programme there, Malvern – just seven miles south west of Worcester – is home to an abundance of tech talent.
Today, the Malvern Hills Science Park – which is adjacent to QinetiQ (Malvern) – hosts a number of early-stage security businesses. One such business is Wembley Partners, a current BetaDen cohort member which, on 1 September, launched a one-stop-shop cyber response SaaS management platform called ORNA that looks set to disrupt the entire current cyber incident management sector. Meanwhile, Voice Biometrics – another BetaDen alumni – put its voice biometric technology to good use during the pandemic, helping universities in the US to identify students sitting their exams remotely.
Flying medical supplies
Other exciting pandemic innovations include the delivery of medical supplies by drone. DronePrep was part of cohort 3 at BetaDen and recently appointed as the accelerator’s first Entrepreneur in Residence. Primarily working to map air corridors for drone use around the world, it became part of a consortia trialing the delivery of Covid tests and other medical supplies to remote regions by drone for the NHS during the pandemic. It has since been involved with a number of UK firsts, including partnering with Skyports, What 3 Words and Royal Mail to complete the UK’s first postal delivery via drone on the Isle of Mull.
Other recent inventions launched from BetaDen include JET Engineering’s 5G At Sea initiative, the world’s first self-powered, floating 5G buoy to monitor sea-state safety and provide real-time data on sea condition; PLINX’s sensor-driven safety technology for construction sites now mandated for use on HS2; Veritherm’s technology to monitor the ‘real life’ thermal performance of buildings; and Conigital’s driverless vehicle and ride-hailing solutions.
Innovation in the ‘new normal’
As businesses adapt to a ‘new normal’ of remote and hybrid working, it’s likely that innovation labs and how they are used will also evolve.
BetaDen continued to operate throughout the pandemic, remotely at first and then in hybrid form, ensuring cohort members continued to benefit from opportunities to attend events, meet with mentors and discuss ideas with fellow cohort members in real life or online. This shift has also allowed the accelerator to grow its community, attracting attendees from as far afield as Australia to its popular TechTuesday talks as well as attracting applications from international businesses.
And while larger enterprise companies can, to some extent, initiate their own innovation hubs and accelerator models, we are also seeing a growing trend towards industry partners working directly with innovation organisations, due to the benefits of being part of a wider ecosystem and access innovation talent that brings.
State of the market
The acceleration of mass digital adoption is undoubtedly creating new commercial needs, with accelerator programmes, intrapreneurship programmes, boot camps and tech sprints all populating this space.
The UK is number one in Europe for emerging technologies and, with both the innovation and investment communities positioning funding at earlier stages than ever before, keeping pace with changing markets will be key to future success.
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