Boyden's Guy Herbertson shares insights on disruptive innovation in the aerospace industry from Gary Elliot, CEO of the Aerospace Technology Institute.
I gained an insight from Gary Elliot, CEO of the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) into the opportunity that technology presents within the UK Aerospace sector in particular. Gary speaks openly about his thoughts on the UK and how the economy could do even more to leverage the real strengths of innovative minds.
Gary believes that when it comes to innovation the UK already has a strong and proven pedigree, however we must not rest easy as international competition remains robust and the geopolitical environment causes uncertainty. We need to harness our strengths, have a bold and ambitious vision and continue to collaborate to develop innovative technologies and companies.
The UK’s strengths lie in its innovation ecosystem: excellent universities, strong research base, great businesses and a government which recognises the strength of collaboration through Industrial Strategy. We already do this well in many sectors and the one Gary knows the most about is Aerospace where he and his team have harnessed this through the creation of the Aerospace Growth Partnership (AGP) and the co-founding of the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI).
This provides a trusted and enduring environment for fostering innovation and indeed in attracting inward investment, the key for Gary is the strength and stable long-term nature of the partnership. It also makes economic sense, as R&D returns more to the overall economy than to the individual companies undertaking it. In the ATI’s view, for every £1 invested by government £9 is then attracted directly from industry.
However, there is an opportunity to do even more, crowding greater sums of private investment. In Gary’s view that opportunity lies in ‘disruptive innovation’, being broadly defined as a product, technology, process or business model that radically changes the way an established market operates, it may also create completely new markets. Whatever shape or form disruption comes in, it completely changes the way things are done. Some examples, the Internet, Netflix (vs Blockbuster), Lithium Batteries, Smartphones (vs Mobile Phone), Kodak (vs Digital camera) and Uber (vs Black Cabs).
In aerospace the potential for disruption is probably at a level never seen before, mainly as a result of innovation. For example, the development of battery technology, light weight structures and autonomy could see the arrival of the so-called urban fully autonomous flying taxi in the not too distant future, changing the way we commute in our daily lives (and this is just one example).
It is Gary’s view that as a nation we don’t benefit from as much disruptive innovation as we could. Not because we don’t have the right ideas or ecosystem but rather, we don’t have some aspects of the culture required for taking risks. Additionally, there is a lack of private venture funding at the level or duration required to support these new concepts from ideas through to sustainable growing businesses. In the UK we have addressed a number of these challenges and in some cases it makes sense to solve these problems at national level and in others at a sector level.
In the ATI they are investigating potential solutions that would encourage more disruptive innovation in aerospace, using the strengths of the current ecosystem but supplementing it with an evolved model, significant levels of ambition and vision and new capital- subject of course to ATI’s stakeholder support. At a national level we could do more to support entrepreneurs and directors too, by accommodating a cultural and legal system which within reason supports a feel safe to fail trying culture. I alluded to this when in conversation with Sameer Savani and discussing the path to Aerospace 4.0 and the ability to fail fast but also to think big, start small, scale fast.
All in all, Gary feels these are exciting times for disruptive innovation, particularly in aerospace where there are real opportunities for improvements to our daily lives and genuine prospects for growth (commercial and economic).
Gary very strongly believes we need to be ambitious and brave to make this happen, importantly ensuring innovation is greater that the sum of its parts!