When is government funding not “funding”?

The answer is – when it’s a contract.

The US government has always had Scientific Research Based Interventions (and example is the programme running in Connecticut, but Northern Ireland pioneered the concept of “pre-commercial procurement”. Now, at first glance this seems like a terrible idea. – solutions being procured without access to the free market snd government controls? But that’s not what it means.

What it means is that government comes in before a solution is necessarily complete, before it is necessarily commercial, and uses it’s considerable buying power to help a solution become viable – which is better than the “old way” of government being outwitted on specifications for products and then being overcharged to have the product or service modified from what was “written” to what was “wanted”.

While we believe that government should stay out of things they’re not good at (like accelerators and venture capital), we do think that this programme, called SBRI in Europe (for Small Business Research Initiative) is exactly what government should be doing.

Functionally it’s a massive customer (an anchor customer in a key market) saying they are looking for a solution to a problem – rather than trying to buy a particular product.

Look at the current solutions they’re looking for:

  • Supporting people living with pain (for the Public Health Agency Northern Ireland)
  • Rapid visualisation and identification of body fluids (for Forensic Science NI)
  • Digital detection of grazing animals (for DAERA)
  • Space data analytics (for Health)

The IP is retained by the small business, the government becomes an anchor customer and it is envisaged that the solution should be commercialised globally.

So, why aren’t you thinking about this?

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