By Andrew Macdonald, Director of Offshore Wind Development and Operations at ORE Catapult
Small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are a hugely important part of the UK economy. The latest government figures show that SMEs make up over 99% of the total number of businesses in the UK private sector, and employ over 16 million people. Their role in the growth and development of the UK offshore renewable energy sector is equally important, especially when it comes to developing the wide variety of market disruptive innovations that major developers will need over the coming years.
This is a market opportunity that UK SMEs are well-placed to respond to but there remain technical and commercial barriers that are not easy to overcome.
At ORE Catapult, we are dedicated to championing UK SMEs as the offshore renewables industry continues to grow. We have identified the most common challenges that SMEs face in the offshore wind sector and have developed sector solutions to help them overcome these barriers.
We support them from start-up to commercialisation, pushing the country towards net zero and boosting the UK economy.
SMEs may have a great solution to a pressing issue, but a perennial challenge is de-risking their technology in the eyes of customers and investors. They need to plan a staged approach to testing their products, in a representative, yet safe and accessible environment, to validate the performance of their technology.
Solution – We provide world-class testing facilities
Our world-leading testing and validation facilities create an environment to safely develop and de-risk technologies that the SMEs we work with want to commercialise. Supported by our highly experienced technical researchers, test engineers, and technology specialists, we provide SMEs with the tools they need to accelerate technology development and give project owners peace of mind that their supply chain is futureproofed.
SMEs know their technology inside out. Where they can struggle, is understanding how it fits and integrates with an offshore installation, or how their customers will build it into their operations. This is crucial to SMEs in engaging with their customers and satisfying end-users that the technology will fit into their business.
Solution – We provide invaluable access to market knowledge
Our in-house expertise is tailored to the needs of key stakeholders at every stage of the offshore renewables journey, whether they are the project owners, manufacturers, innovators, or SMEs. We share this knowledge and expertise to help SMEs strengthen their proposition and provide an independent and credible view of their idea.
For example, we support SMEs through our Launch Academy accelerator programme which prepares them for commercialising products and services in the offshore wind industry, with input from key industry players and delivery partners. Find out more here.
Companies we work with often struggle to find a foothold in the sector, and engagement at the right level in industry. This could be gathering technology requirements or being included in relevant procurement opportunities.
Solution – We provide credibility in the sector
Our programmes give SMEs the opportunity to raise their profile and give them the credibility needed to win sought-after grants or contracts with project owners. In our Fit for Offshore Renewables (F4OR) programme, for example, we work alongside companies (including SMEs) to support their journey in the UK supply chain, ensuring they are ready to bid in the offshore renewables sector. If companies receive ‘granted’ status as part of the programme, they will also be promoted to key industry contacts who could be future customers.
Funding and finance are essential to developing a technology and growing a business, and they can be difficult to come by. Grant funding is essential for proving early-stage feasibility and getting a first prototype over the line, while private investment can be vital in growing a team, scaling a business, and taking a product to commercialisation. Once established, companies can struggle to access the right funds to grow their capacity or capability.
Solution – We provide opportunities for investment
SMEs in the UK supply chain hugely benefit from grants and investment to help them launch their products and services, and we collaborate with them as part of this journey. The Offshore Wind Growth Partnership (OWGP) is funded by industry and delivered by ORE Catapult. OWGP provides SMEs and other businesses with funding and business transformation services to enhance innovation, drive competitiveness and stimulate growth through the provision of Development and Innovation Grants.