25th May 2016
Last Thursday MSP sponsored a fascinating conference called ‘The Business of Science’ at the Museum of Science and Industry which shone a light on the development and commercialisation of great science. Manchester has a long and impressive history of cutting edge science - from splitting the atom and the development of the first programmable computer to the discovery of Graphene. It also has a distinguished record in putting the commercialisation of scientific discoveries at the heart of the city’s economic growth strategy, and MSP is central to this strategy. This event was also held as part of the events coinciding Manchester being the European City of Science this year.
Sessions covered a variety of different topics, all looking at different facets of the Business of Science. They were: the development of great science; the commercialisation of great science; addressing the thorny question of the difference between innovation and invention; the organisational development to deliver financial returns from science; the skills agenda for science; and, how to achieve economic growth from science.
Nigel Pickett, the founder and CEO of Nanoco, gave an excellent talk in a session on the Development and Commercialisation of High Technology products. Nanoco, a Manchester based company which is a world leader in producing heavy metal free quantum dots for commercial use. Now listed on the London Stock Exchange and employing over 100 people, it began as a spinout from the University of Manchester. With a background in chemistry, in 2001 Nigel was working on the question of how to produce quantum dots without using heavy metals (cadmium, mercury and lead) which are highly toxic. Once he succeeded in developing a method to produce non-toxic quantum dots, the route was open to commercialisation, owing to their wide practical applications.
Quantum dots are small semiconductor nanoparticles, which absorb and then re-emit visible light. The wavelength of the light emitted is dependent upon the size of the quantum dot, meaning that adjusting the size of the dot changes the colour of the light emitted. This means that by combining quantum dots of a particular size with something else - for example a resin - it is possible to produce a substance of extremely vivid colour, which can be used in many contexts - from inks and dyes to televisions. There are even applications in biomedicine - quantum dots can be used to help ‘tag’ cancerous cells in the lymphatic system, causing them to show up and then be operated upon with precision accuracy.
Nanoco is a great Manchester science success story and grew out of the symbiosis of business knowhow and cutting edge science which happens on the Corridor - where it is still based. During his talk, Nigel explained clearly the key steps he had to go through in order to turn his great ideas to commercial reality. He emphasised the need to secure intellectual property rights, to adapt your product within the regulatory environment and to secure partnerships with large companies who actually develop products. The key for any highly specialised company producing high-tech products is to find a place within supply chains.
During the session on the development and commercialisation of high technology products, Professor Andy Miah of Salford University who was facilitating the session spoke of the urgent need for scientists and technologists to innovate to solve the problems of our age. To achieve this, he said, collaboration was key. Collaboration sits at the heart of the MSP ethos and culture, and with our central role in the commercialisation of R&D in Manchester we were proud to sponsor and attend such a fantastic event and be the headline sponsor of ESOF.