UK's Business Secretary Vince Cable asks entrepreneur to evaluate technology centers

By Nicel Jane Avellana

Mar 13, 2014 06:45 AM EDT

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary of the UK, has asked Acorn Computer Co-Founder Hermann Hauser to look into how government-backed technology centers could be developed even more, the Financial Times reported. These centers were created in 2011 to address the challenge Britain has faced in taking scientific discoveries to market.

The government's plan was to make nine of these "catapult" centers in five years using the investment of £1.4 billion from the public and private sectors. The network of seven hubs now in operation in the UK is still in its infancy, where 1,400 scientists and engineers work in. Two are set to open next year. Cable, however, has loftier ambitions for these tech hubs. For example, he wants to see it rival the Fraunhofer Society in Germany which was established in 1949 and now has a workforce of over 22,000 people in its 66 research hubs, the report said.

Cable told FT in an interview, "We need to get away from the stereotype of Britain that we're full of clever boffins that aren't very good at business."

Nascent though these UK tech hubs may be, it has already experienced success. Rolls-Royce will be opening a plant in Rotherham this year that will manufacture crystal turbine blades which the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult came up with. The planned factory will be one of the most sophisticated globally and is set to make 100,000 castings each year for various airplanes like the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787. It will also generate 150 jobs, the report said.

The HVM center is also collaborating with Applied Graphene Materials for the commercialization of graphene, the popularly-touted "wonder material." The HVM has posted the most success among all the other tech hubs, having worked with 1,087 firms on 857 projects. It also has an order book of £218 million. Moreover, of the 1,400 employees working in these hubs, HVM workers comprise 1,100, the report said.

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