Renowned Manchester champion Anthony H Wilson famously said: “This is Manchester. We do things differently here.” And when it comes to innovation, the University is no exception.
From the splitting of the atom and the creation of the first stored-program computer to the suffragette movement, innovation is nothing new at Manchester. In 2016, this spirit of innovation was formally recognised by the Reuters Top 100 Most Innovative Universities list, ranking The University of Manchester 87th in the world, 17th in Europe and 4th in the UK, where only five UK institutions made the top 100.
With a reputation that continues to attract the best minds, this recent success comes as no surprise.There’s something about our city – its people and its culture – that challenges the norm and dares to be different. And that’s true of our University too.
No new drugs for Alzheimer’s have been developed in the past ten years.”
Unlocking the potential of new discoveries
Doing things differently has led to significant innovation, not least in health care. Our spin-out Stratastem has developed a revolutionary technique using patients’ hair or skin cells, rather than animal cells, to test new Alzheimer’s treatments more quickly and reliably. Co-founder Dr Lisa Mohamet says: “Alzheimer’s disease is now the leading cause of death in the UK and is one of the largest medical challenges facing public health. There remains no cure – in fact, no new drugs for Alzheimer’s have been developed in the past ten years.”
She stresses the value of innovation in the field: “Our approach represents a significant innovative advance compared to competing technologies. Our core technology actually arose from an unexpected result in the lab, which could have been easily overlooked as ‘the wrong result’. I think it’s important, particularly in research, that you’re mindful of the bigger picture.”
With high-profile breakthroughs like this, in addition to the game-changing discovery of graphene, there’s no doubt Manchester is turning heads among the scientific community. But it’s the application of these discoveries that’s driving meaningful innovation and changing lives.
PhD student Sebastian Leaper won the Eli and Britt Harari Graphene Enterprise Award 2016 with his business proposal to develop world-changing water filtration technology using graphene. He says: “It’s crazy that in some parts of the world people still have to walk miles every day for such a basic commodity. Graphene has promise to unlock the door to low cost, sustainable desalination technology that can end the global water crisis.”
Keen to harness the application of this revolutionary ‘wonder-material’, Graphene Enabled Systems was set up by The University of Manchester to bridge the gap between academic research into 2D materials, and industry.
Its CEO, Andy Wilkinson, says: “Traditionally, the challenge has always been to translate academic ideas into something that can be understood and used by industry. We’re here to mentally close that gap – to turn science into a tangible product demonstrator that will attract industry funding.”
With several successful spin-outs in the pipeline, Andy says the key to it all is doing things differently: “By adopting the Graphene Enabled approach, which is widely used in industry – but crucially, not in academia – Manchester has proved it’s prepared to challenge the accepted view of how innovation takes place.”
It’s now vital to ensure we’re prepared for the future by inspiring and enabling the next generation of innovators.
QuadBot does just that. A fun educational tool with vast potential,this fully programmable, 3D-printable walking (and dancing) robot teaches coding, maths, engineering and mechanics to beginners.
Jack Scott-Reeve, co-founder and Manchester graduate, says: “Our dream is to have everyone making robots, and we really want to bring QuadBot into schools to inspire the next generation of makers.
”Driven by an ambition to be one of the top 25 research universities in the world, The University of Manchester continues to build its support infrastructure in order to propel an innovative academic and entrepreneurial community, where discovery, application, knowledge transfer and impact all have equal standing.
The University of Manchester Innovation Group (UMI3) encourages entrepreneurship through various schemes including its Social Enterprise Initiative and the Innovation Optimiser, and its technology transfer division (UMIP) supports the transfer of science and technology to the marketplace through intellectual property sale, licence and spin-out.
Manchester Enterprise Centre is also paving the way for a brighter future of innovation at the University, offering popular master’s courses in enterprise, and numerous extracurricular initiatives to nurture entrepreneurship – many with industry backing – including the Venture Further business start-up competition with an impressive £10,000 prize.
SocialGrowth, last year’s Venture Further winner, was set up to encourage new start-ups by using social responsibility as an innovation driver.
Its founder and Manchester graduate, George Konstantakopoulos, says Manchester’s got innovation right: “It’s a forward-thinking university in many ways. The Manchester Enterprise Centre is a University-wide entrepreneurship hub doing brilliant work to cultivate start-up culture between Faculties, students and the local community.”
If The University of Manchester stays true to its spirit of doing things differently, and continues to value and encourage people who think differently, it will no doubt continue to stand apart from others and thrive as a centre for innovation, tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges in new and exciting ways.