When serial entrepreneur, investor and scientist Hermann Hauser talks, the government sits up and listens. In a 2010 report into technology and innovation in the UK, he called for the UK to establish a network of technology and innovation centres; months later the coalition government had put his plans into place – and asked him to evaluate the success of the Catapult centres created.
This influential figure’s importance to technologically-minded micro firms across the UK led us to include him on our list of 2016 Small Business Decision Makers – and we also spoke to him about his views on the opportunities and challenges for small firms and policy makers when it comes to innovation.
Hauser was positive about the prospects for UK-based innovation in the coming months. “There are some really important technical advances to be excited about at the moment, including those in machine learning and genetics,” he said.
As a member of the advisory board on the Higher Education Innovation Fund, Hauser’s main objective is to help turn these breakthroughs in scientific knowledge into economic success. “If there are breakthroughs in science that are relevant to business, we will take advantage of them. My hope is that the 100,000 genomes project will be an example of an area which will hopefully stimulate business.”
He also pointed to the progress that the UK has made in the last few decades in terms of having the infrastructure to make the most of scientific and technological progress.
“People always complain that we are lagging behind Silicon Valley. But they forget that in the first 20 years of Silicon Valley, nothing important happened. We’ve only just had that first 20 years. We really ought to compare ourselves with where we were a decade years ago – and the progress since then has been pretty impressive.
“When my company Amadeus Capital Partners launched our first fund 17 years ago, hardly any of the deals we did were with serial entrepreneurs – now the vast majority are, and Britain is producing more startups than ever before.”
That isn’t to say that he thinks there aren’t challenges. Based in the “Silicon Fen” cluster around Cambridge University where academics and businesses are constantly collaborating to turn innovative new technology into commercial success, Hauser believes that the risk of a Brexit is one of the most pressing issues facing young technology companies this year.
He explained: “My hope is that the UK will stay in, because otherwise there will be dramatic effects on the science community – a lot of our funding comes from Brussels.”
In the longer term, he believes the funding landscape needs to change for the UK to be able to really make the most of innovative technologies and ideas.
“The biggest problem is finance. We still have far too little venture capital – the UK attracts only 25 of the venture capital per person than the US does, although we’re doing a bit better than mainland Europe.”
Hauser also believes that the sluggish uptake of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects by British students is another factor that could be holding back innovation-led economic growth.
“I’m pleased to see that the proportion of students studying this subjects is getting better, particularly with respect to the number of women taking them up. But the question is whether the situation is improving fast enough.”
“We need to be sending a clear message to students about what the job prospects are for when they’re finished. If they do study a STEM subject, they will have access to much better opportunities. I don’t think young people realise how desperately we need those skills.”
Yet despite these challenges his advice to those who are inspired by the technological and scientific progress and want to create their own innovative small business is wholeheartedly positive: “Just give it a go.”
Following his recent calls on the government to establish an additional 30 Catapult centres by 2030 and double the budget for innovation policies to almost £1bn, those who do follow the advice of this Small Business Decision Maker can be confident they will be hearing his name again soon.
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