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Innovative startups set to transform traditional industry

Posted 13 Dec 2021

Collaboration between innovative startups and industry giants is crucial to economic recovery and UK digital transformation.

Justin Cross, Head of Innovation, Digital Catapult


In 2022, as UK companies aim to strengthen resilience and productivity, fostering relationships between technology innovators and manufacturers remains key to economic recovery and the push towards Industry 4.0.

While business starts to bounce back, recovery is still complicated. Earlier promises of a full economic recovery, as gross domestic product (GDP) edged closer to pre-pandemic levels, suddenly look in doubt as a new COVID-19 variant emerges, exacerbating the strain for industry. 

2021 – a year compounded by other challenges including the supply chain crisis and labour shortages – has expressed the need for businesses to adopt advanced technologies, providing real-time analysis to strengthen resilience and resist disruption. As a long-term investment, digitalisation can advance product development and boost productivity to give industry and the UK a competitive advantage on the world stage. 

Many businesses don’t know where to start when it comes to innovation. A future charged by artificial intelligence, machine learning, digital twin technology and smart factories can seem too advanced for traditional organisations.


To drive digital transformation and solve complex industry challenges, larger organisations need to access the talent found within innovative startups.

In a new survey commissioned by Digital Catapult, manufacturing leaders said they are keen to make startup collaboration part of their business strategies, with 82% believing it will accelerate digital transformation.

The  research surveyed 100 senior manufacturers (director level and above)  to understand their views on digital transformation and innovation in the sector. However, this survey also revealed that while the long-term benefits are obvious, companies remain apprehensive in the short term, with only 25% viewing collaboration with startups as a priority over the next 12 months.

This caution comes as no surprise. For many, the current economic landscape makes technology an afterthought when matched with the greater challenges of business survival, cash flow and employee wellbeing. 

Also, innovation does not happen overnight. Larger organisations can sometimes be  risk-averse and process-driven, so decisions take time. As well as the financial investment, there are stakeholders to consider, with conflicting views, goals or interests. Just getting all the decision-makers together in one meeting can seem like a major battle. In addition, securing the right talent or upskilling existing employees can present a significant barrier. 

To drive digital transformation, larger organisations need to consider external talent: nimble startups with the agile, entrepreneurial mindset to advance technology and interject new skill sets. 

The partnership goes both ways. While collaboration enables larger organisations to access advanced technologies, smaller organisations want to extend their user bases and gain access to new markets and potential investment. 

Despite mutual goals, this relationship can be complicated. The contrast in attitudes and corporate culture can mean that both parties feel they speak different languages or focus on conflicting agendas. Larger organisations may perceive innovators to be disruptive or non-conformist, while startups may feel restricted by their larger counterparts. 


Digital Catapult plays a pivotal role in connecting large organisations in the UK to technology-driven startups.

Made Smarter Technology Accelerator is a national programme designed to advance the innovation and understanding of digital technology for the UK’s manufacturing sector.

As part of the Made Smarter movement, the programme connects leading UK manufacturers with technology startups to solve key manufacturing and industrial challenges. This year, as the UK’s largest industry-focused acceleration programme, Made Smarter Technology Accelerator has supported 14 UK startups, with a share of £700,000. From this group, four startups each received £100,000 to develop minimum viable products (MVP), working in collaboration with BAE Systems, Babcock, Northumbrian Water Group and Safran Landing Systems.


The 4 startups unveiled their work at an exhilarating showcase event last week, attended by the programme sponsors Verizon and Software AG, as well as prominent industry figures.


  • JetSoft Ltd is developing an automatic 3D dataset to simplify the hull inspection process of the Warrior armoured vehicles for Babcock International Group, a UK defence and engineering company responsible for the maintenance and management of armoured vehicles. 


  • Machine Intelligence uses a novel machine learning technique to identify defects in manufacturing, improve the quality of the end product, reduce waste and save money for BAE Systems, provider of some of the world’s most advanced, technology-led defence, aerospace and security solutions. 


  • Riscon Solutions Ltd in partnership with Inventia UK is working with Northumbrian Water to monitor and manage water quality, flow and pressure in near real-time. The ITERATION project delivers a cloud-enabled, remote water quality monitoring solution.


  • Total Control Pro will deliver a data-driven planning, scheduling and resource optimisation solution to tackle the challenges of complex planning and resource management for Safran Landing Systems, the world leader in aircraft landing and braking systems. 


Although some businesses have expressed initial caution, the successes of the Made Smarter Accelerator Programme and other partnerships demonstrate the value of collaboration and open innovation, with the survey also revealing that 92% of manufacturers who have worked with a startup before said they would work with a startup again.


“The Made Smarter Technology Accelerator provides hard evidence of what can be achieved by open innovation programmes; successful, real-world solutions delivered against the clock to drive real change for manufacturing giants.”

Jeremy Silver, CEO at Digital Catapult 


“Working with Digital Catapult gives us access to a wider pool of talent and technology from small companies with big ideas.” 

Iain Minton, Technology Capability Delivery Director at BAE Systems


“Programmes like Made Smarter are providing the gateways for wider industry to invest in and support some of the best technology start-ups and SMES we have in this country do what they do best – innovate.”

Dr Jon Hall, Chief Innovation and Technology Officer at Babcock International Group