But for an early-stage company – or even an established player moving into renewables – accessing the funding necessary to develop a product or commercialise it in the sector can be challenging. The path that leads an innovator to funding, willing customer, and commercial success is notoriously fraught with difficulty; dead ends and dropouts along the way are common.
A new competition launched by the Catapult earlier this year has the aim of making that tough transition easier. And for the first time ever, it puts tangible connections with potential clients and investors within reach for the high-growth potential SMEs with the most promising technologies.
The Offshore Wind Innovation Competition issued a call for solutions to specific industry innovation challenges identified by wind farm owner/operator ScottishPower Renewables. Successful entrants will have the chance to access the Catapult’s world-leading market knowledge and test and validation facilities to de-risk their technology, as well as pitch their ideas to investment group Green Angel Syndicate and ScottishPower Renewables at an event later in 2018.
Open to SMEs aiming for a share of the offshore renewables market, ORE Catapult’s Commercialisation Manager Andrew Tipping – whose idea brought the competition from concept to reality – says the new programme delivers a significant advantage to UK businesses.
“Driving UK economic growth through support for high-growth potential SMEs is at the heart of the Catapult network’s mission,” says Tipping.
“Our competition seeks to match innovative technology developers with the three most important elements they need to commercialise their products. First of all, the market: an offshore wind owner/operator seeking solutions. Secondly, it offers a technology proving ground in the Catapult’s testing and validation facilities. And third, access to finance: the private investors who provide the essential capital to make it all happen.
“Innovation challenges have always been a key part of the Catapult’s offer, but never before has this proven method for accelerating technology development been backed up by private investment.”
Alongside Tipping, the Catapult’s Research and Disruptive Innovation team liaised closely with industry giant ScottishPower Renewables to understand their most pressing pain points and innovation needs. “By working with the sector’s biggest players,” he says, “we demonstrate a ready market for new products.
“By rigorously assessing the competition entries, we can then identify the firms developing technologies with the highest growth potential to fill those gaps, and work with them to test, validate, and de-risk their solutions.”
Investment is the final piece of the puzzle. “The Catapult’s backing adds clout to smaller firms, making them more bankable and an attractive proposition for investors,” says Tipping.
This unique approach is “original and highly constructive,” says Green Angel Syndicate co-founder and director Nick Lyth, a ten-year sustainability veteran who played a key part in building up the International Resources and Recycling Institute.
A successful trial programme saw Bristol-based Rovco carry out testing and validation of their innovative 3D visual subsea surveying systems, which could cut inspection costs on offshore wind farms by 80%, at the Catapult’s National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth. The Catapult also linked the firm with Green Angel Syndicate, who offered an initial investment of £160,000. Rovco has tripled in size since it launched less than two years ago and estimates its export revenue at £20m per year before 2025 – numbers that demonstrate the potential benefit for the UK supply chain, as well as individual companies.
The challenges range from developing a fault detection system for subsea cables, to a cost-effective subsea survey methodology. Jacket foundations to pin pile connections, and low-cost wind measurement methods, are also among the solutions being sought.
“The vision to link innovation with enterprise and investment… is the most practical possible intervention to accelerate the development required to meet the industry’s technology needs,” says Lyth. “It is a real example of best practice in the sector.”