Acceleration Through Innovation: business innovation experts in Cornwall
Acceleration Through Innovation is supporting businesses at all levels by connecting them with university experts with the right research skills to support their innovations and help to take their ideas from concept to reality.
As the only organisation throughout Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly with Innovation and Knowledge Exchange (IKE) accreditation, experts at Acceleration Through Innovation (ATI) are nurturing a culture of innovation in the county by supporting businesses that want to adopt innovative processes and bring new products or services to market.
ATI is a £3m European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) project, led by the University of Plymouth in partnership with Cornwall Innovation. Its unique offering of trained innovation experts, combined with world-class university research and innovation expertise, takes IKE’s knowledge out into the Cornish business community and makes ATI a valuable resource for small to medium enterprises (SMEs). But, how is this example of university and industry collaboration really helping local businesses?
ATI is working with businesses on specific innovation projects, which have the potential to progress to scalable and commercially viable new products, services and processes. Every SME engaging with the programme is assigned a dedicated business innovation advisor who works collaboratively with the business, sharing IKE tools and frameworks, which accelerate the pace of innovation.
In some cases, this can lead on to further research and innovation support via ATI’s innovation champion, whereby businesses gain access to University of Plymouth resources and specialist consultancy, to ensure they have all the necessary information to help take their ideas forward. The final string in their bow is investment.
The project recognises that financial backing is necessary to enable businesses to innovate and, thanks to ERDF support, the ATI Innovation Fund assists eligible SMEs with grants of between £2,500 and £10,000 for both capital and revenue costs in five areas. These areas include proof of market, proof of concept, prototyping, IP protection, and new product or service generation.
Research assistance: supporting innovation and development
One such business benefitting from ATI support is The Big Beanbag Company, a Cornish start-up, which contacted ATI with ambitions to design and manufacture high-quality, eco-friendly bean bags. Traditionally filled with the petroleum-based plastic known as Styrofoam, The Big Beanbag Company was struggling to find a more environmentally friendly alternative.
To help the team with their search, support was provided by ATI’s innovation champion, who was able to offer detailed research assistance. With the ability to initiate both UK and overseas research, ATI presented the company with a number of potential beanbag fillings including a material known as BioFoam®. As a compostable biopolymer made from plants, The Big Beanbag Company decided that BioFoam® was the perfect filling for its sustainable beanbag.
Our business has benefitted massively from finding what we call the magic beans."
David Crawford, managing director at The Big Beanbag Company explains: “Our business has benefitted massively from finding what we call the magic beans. Without that material, which the research had found for us, we wouldn’t have the product or the business that we have now.”
Recent successes saw its sustainable beanbag crowned ‘The Indy’s Best’ beanbag and celebrity endorsement from Olympic and world rowing champion, Helen Glover MBE, who loved the ‘green’ ethos. Support through the ATI programme is ongoing: the latest developments from The Big Beanbag Company include using thread made from recycled bottles and encouraging their customers to ‘refill, reuse, reinvent and recycle’.
The company continues to innovate by persistently looking for new ways to make its beanbag business “as sustainable as possible”, and move ever closer towards becoming a circular economy business.
Linking innovative global projects with university expertise
Creating a circular economy business is no easy task, says Rob Thompson, another of ATI’s clients: “The circular economy is a difficult problem to solve because what it really requires is a complete societal change.”
Thompson founded Odyssey Innovations, one of perhaps only a few businesses in Cornwall that can boast having achieved a circular economy. Spurred on by a movement to pluck plastics from Cornwall’s oceans and beaches, Odyssey Innovation has had to overcome a number of serious challenges, including how to reach inaccessible areas of coastline in order to retrieve marine plastics and what to do with them once they have been collected and how to fund this growing operation.
To solve all three of these challenges, Thompson pioneered a process to recycle marine plastic waste into a material that can be roto-moulded into practically anything. Rather than reforming what he’d salvaged from the oceans back into the buckets and spades he so often picks up, Thompson decided to return them to the ocean in a positive way - in the form of a kayak.
Odyssey Innovation kayaks are now used to paddle into inaccessible coves to collect the very same plastic waste needed to make them, plus their sales help to fund their expanding marine conservation operation.
ATI is supporting businesses at all levels by netting together the right people within the university landscape."
The project is particularly suited to the University of Plymouth, which published the first research identifying microplastics within our marine environment in 2004, and continues to lead global research and policy change through its International Marine Litter Research Unit. Its scientists have identified microplastics everywhere from the Arctic to the deep seas, and have been instrumental in bringing about international legislation on issues such as microbeads in cosmetics and single-use carrier bags.
Whilst innovation spans a multitude of things, ATI is supporting businesses at all levels by netting together the right people within the university landscape, who have the research skills and expertise to help support innovation in the business community. From light-touch research assistance in the case of The Big Beanbag Company, to larger projects which have potentially global ramifications such as Odyssey Innovation, ATI offers business innovation advice, no matter how big or small the project.