British Innovation Awards Bankrolled By German And US Firms

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Government celebrates UK innovation with the iawards, highlighting Swedish R&D and backed by Microsoft and Siemens

The UK government wants to reward the next generation of UK innovators who can take their proud place next to the inventors of the web and the jet engine but curiously it has selected US software giant Microsoft and German engineering behometh Siemens as the lead sponsors of the new iawards.

In a statement released this week, the Prime Minister Gordon Brown repeated a mantra that investing in innovation, rather than say curbing public spending, is key to helping the UK struggle its way out of recession.

“New innovations will help us build for the future and take advantage of new opportunities in low carbon, digital technology, bioscience and advanced manufacturing,” he said. “The iawards will celebrate and recognise Britain’s most innovative entrepreneurs.”

The BIS is very keen to ensure that the iawards are a very British affair by only opening it up to entrants that can “specify the British involvement in any innovation – demonstrating that innovative thinking and development came from a British organisation or team”.

Curiously though, British industry does not appear in the role of companies who are listed as sponsoring the awards which include 13 categories of innovation from energy and environment to digital communications. In fact the two sponsors picked out in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) statement are German engineering giant Siemens and Microsoft. “Siemens will sponsor the ‘Next Big Thing’ category and Microsoft will sponsor the best technology start up category,” according to the BIS.

In a scheme meant to celebrate “British” innovation, Siemens inclusion in particular may jar with some. The BIS was approached for comment on whether any UK tech companies had been approached to sponsor the awards but did not reply in time for this article.

In a similar move to the announcement that The Apprentice star Alan Sugar will become a business adviser to the government, Dagon’s Den panelist and entrepreneur James Caan has been drafted in to support the iawards.

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“Britain is home to some of the greatest minds in the world. We are the nation that invented the jet engine, created the code for the Internet and led research on the human genome project. Science and technology will shape the future of our economy. This is why it is so important for the iawards to recognise and honour Britain’s innovators for the vital contribution they make to our economy,” said Caan.

To illustrate the calibre of projects that will be celebrated under the iawards, Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson singled out technology projects including the BBC iPlayer.

“Now more than ever we need to support and celebrate British innovation,” he said. “New ideas and products will get us out of the downturn and provide the foundations on which we can build Britain’s future. The next iPlayer, Spotify and Ecotricity are out there and the people that will create these successful companies need to be supported and celebrated. The iawards will do just that.”

However the choice of the BBC iPlayer as a technical project to emulate may not make sense to some commentators given its troubled background. The project received criticism for lengthy delays and spiraling costs and when it was eventually made public was only available on the Microsoft Windows XP which led to a petition being signed by thousands of aggrieved Mac and Linux users.

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Online music service Spotify could also be seen as a curious choice to highlight British technical expertise given that although the organisation behind the service is headquartered in the UK, the research and development is actually done in Stockholm, Sweden, and the parent company is actually based in Luxembourg.

For more information, and to enter, visit www.iawards.org.uk. The closing date for entries is 16 September.