Last Wednesday evening I was lucky enough to host our ‘Fostering Innovation 2016’ event, where BBSRC announced the winners of two competitions that recognise and celebrate innovation.
The Innovator of the Year competition, now in its eighth year, recognises individuals or small teams of researchers who have taken their scientific discoveries and translated them into real-life applications. The winner of the Social Innovator of the year, Barrie Rooney, has developed a rapid diagnostic test for sleeping sickness that will enter field trials in Africa later this year. Speaking to her after the awards it was clear how wide-ranging collaborations had been vital for enabling this outcome. The work Martin Pule (UCL), winner of the Most Promising category of Innovator of the Year, has pioneered research on Chimeric Antigen Receptor T Cells, which have great potential to revolutionise cancer treatments. The overall Innovator of the Year, Tom Brown (University of Oxford), has really pushed the boundaries of nucleic acid chemistry and taken interdisciplinary approaches to translate his discoveries into diagnostics, forensics and therapeutics – co-founded three successful biotech companies along the way. Congratulations to all three winners and to the other six finalists too – all very impressive!
The Excellence with Impact competition has been a 3-year programme seeking to recognise those institutions who have developed a vision for maximising impact and embedding this into the culture of their organisation. Not only has this been an incredible amount of work for colleagues in the 30 participating organisations, but also for BBSRC staff. Colleagues from across BBSRC have been involved in visits to universities and institutes, giving them first-hand experience of the breadth of excellent research we support and how this is being translated. While speaking to participants it struck me that this programme has been a real catalyst for change, for example: recruitment of new staff whose focus is on accelerating impact; changes to university promotion criteria to recognise and reward innovation; influence on organisational impact strategies; involvement of early career researchers and the imaginative ways teams have engaged with the public. I was also really impressed by how willing participants where to share their experiences and how enthusiastic they were about building on their achievements.
We were delighted to be joined during the evening by the BIS Permanent Secretary, Martin Donnelly, who presented special commendation awards to EwI participants and spoke to many of the Innovator of the Year finalists – all clearly enjoyed the discussions.
The sense of anticipation built throughout the evening, my own included as I genuinely did not know the outcomes of the competitions. I was extremely pleased that Professor Nessa Carey was able to join us to present the awards. The team from the University of Glasgow were the Excellence with Impact runners up, with The John Innes Centre taking the top prize – £500,000 to invest in translational projects in Africa. The excitement on the runners up and winner’s faces was evident to all – huge congratulations to them – and to all participants for their involvement and hard work. I left the event feeling incredibly uplifted!
I will be taking a break from blogging over the next few weeks – join me again after 23 June.
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