Dyson’s plan to make the UK a ‘nation of tech innovators’

The vacuum cleaner entrepreneur wants to make the UK a tech leader once again

Sir James Dyson has published recommendations on how the government should be supporting technology entrepreneurs and how to make the UK Europe’s leading high tech exporter.

The renowned vacuum cleaner entrepreneur said educational reform to produce more scientists and engineers, stronger links between UK companies and universities, a shake-up of start-up funding and more generous research and development (R&D) tax credits would all help to make the UK a science and engineering hub, and boost the economy.

The report was commissioned by Conservative leader David Cameron, who tasked Dyson with coming up with policy recommendations for how a Tory government could support science and technology in the UK, ahead of the general election.

Published today, the Ingenious Britain report warned that failing to nurture the UK’s inventive talent would jeopardise the nation’s global competitiveness and called for a cultural shift, which needs to be led by government.

Dyson said: “Change must start with the government. We in Britain have brilliant minds, a world renowned university system, and a base of ingenious, specialist technology companies.

“We need to build on this success: encouraging more people to become engineers and scientists by developing a cultural attitude and education system that encourages and nurtures new talent. Then we need to harness their ideas and turn them into products the world wants.”

For instance, Dyson said R&D tax credits should be focused on high-tech businesses, small companies and start-ups in order to encourage the creation of new technology, and when the public finances allow, the rate should be increased from 140% to 200%.

“This will have a substantial impact on company investment decisions and send a far reaching signal to both national and international companies about the government’s belief in science and technology,” he said.

The report also called for an overhaul of entrepreneurial funding in the UK. Dyson insisted that his billion-pound company and namesake vacuum cleaners would not exist were it not for his bank manager Mike Page, who personally lobbied an initially reluctant Lloyds Bank to loan him the £600,000 he needed for tooling.

“Our future success as a nation of high tech innovators depends on entrepreneurs getting the financial backing they need to start and grow their companies,” he said.

“R&D takes time and it takes money, with many dead ends before breakthroughs occur. But this is how new technology is created. The cashflow pressures facing many start-ups hinder R&D, suffocating good ideas before they become world-beating inventions.” 

His proposals placed an emphasis on measures to encourage angel investment in the UK. 

“Too often, UK investors are reluctant to take a punt on technology, science or engineering. Private equity is drawn to larger, less risky leveraged buy-outs, and banks shy away from innovation. The credit crunch has amplified the situation. We need an approach that relies on the good judgment and sharp eyes of already successful entrepreneurs and technology developers – angel investors.”

Dyson proposed focusing the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) on benefitting those who back high tech, R&D-intensive businesses. He also called for the EIS relief available for investment in high tech companies to be increased from 20% to 30%.

“This would provide a clear signal to individual investors and the wider finance community about the value the UK attaches to high tech companies,” he said.

© Crimson Business Ltd. 2010


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