Engaging the defence supply chain
With a sea-change in procurement underway throughout the MOD and defence network, Defence Online takes a look at the initiatives being developed to show the way forward. We speak exclusively with Rob Solly, Head of the MOD’s Defence and Security Accelerator, about the key engagement days being held to engage new innovative businesses with the defence supply chain.
The Defence and Security Accelerator holds regular events to promote its competitions for funding. They allow industry to network with technical and military experts, helping to build relationships and encourage working with other science and technology providers.
In January, an innovation networking event was held to mark the launch of the Enduring Competition, giving a unique opportunity for industry and academia to engage with a wide range of Ministry of Defence personnel – from the Defence and Security Accelerator, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory technical specialists and military advisers, and military users from the front line commands.
The Enduring Challenge builds upon the Centre for Defence Enterprise Enduring competition and provides innovators with an on-going means to submit a proposal to the Accelerator. This challenge identifies nine areas where the defence and security communities need to improve current, or add new, capabilities.
One of the first engagement days was held recently and I believe it was well received by the attendees. What were your thoughts on the day?
The engagement day was a great success with standing room only. It was wonderful to get a chance to speak to suppliers about their ideas – and understand their requirements and hopes for how the Defence and Security Accelerator will develop. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of many of the participants, whether they were from academia, small businesses or the Primes.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the engagement days?
Our engagement days are varied but the main aim so far has been is to provide suppliers with more information on specific competitions we are holding – so they can determine whether their proposals can meet our needs, or be developed to meet our needs. We provide information from technical specialists and military or security personnel to highlight the requirement for the defence and security of the UK. These may be themed competitions – so the event will be very specific, such as the recent ones on ‘beyond battery power’ or ‘synthetic-biology’, or on the wider Enduring Challenge which focuses on nine wider challenges for defence and security.
Suppliers have the opportunity to meet with members of the Accelerator team, specialists from within the defence and security environment (perhaps from the Ministry of Defence or other government departments), commercial team members and Innovation Partners.
At these events we often hold face to face meetings where people can book a 15 to 30 minute slot (depending on the event) to pitch their ideas. This is their chance to ask questions and receive advice from the team.
Obviously the attendees can gain a lot from the days, what do you hope to gain from them from the MOD side?
We really hope that these engagement days will help suppliers to provide solutions to our defence and security requirements – whether that’s by focusing their proposals to meet our needs, or through suppliers joining forces and collaborating to find solutions. We are conscious that we, within government, do not have all the answers, and hope that by bringing innovators together we can provide advantage to our Armed Forces and for the security of the UK.
I have spoken with a number of defence suppliers and they have indicated how important the engagement days are to them to – to be able to evangelise about their products and have direct customer input, is invaluable. Do you think more engagement and SME involvement will change how defence procurement is managed – to be able to add in or take away pieces to create a better whole?
It is crucial for us to engage with SMEs – they may have the answers to our requirements or the ability to find an alternative solution. We are particularly keen to reach out to those SMEs who have never worked with defence and security before – they may not even realise that their innovations have an application we need. The Accelerator is able to place contracts quickly with suppliers, which in turn could provide a swifter solution to our Armed Forces and security departments than possible through traditional procurement routes.
What else do you think can be done to support supplier engagement? How would you encourage more SMEs to attend?
We are looking at ways to encourage greater collaboration between suppliers and the defence and security communities – whether this is through virtual or physical locations. We are also discussing with some of the Trade Associations how we can reach out to the wider supply base, through things such as webinars with their members. This is still in the early stages but we would hope it would generate discussion and collaboration across the supply base and our government organisations. I hope that SMEs can see how the Accelerator can help them take their innovations from proof-of-concept stage through to market. We have Innovation Partners who can help guide them through the defence procurement processes, who can link them up with the end users – perhaps through demonstration events or exercises – all the time allowing the SMEs to retain their original IP (intellectual property). We also want to make things as simple and straight-forward as possible for suppliers, with no wasted meetings and no long application forms. It’s a win-win situation for all.
Will you be carrying out more industry engagement days across the country? – it most be hard for smaller companies to get down to London/Bristol.
We do try to find venues which are accessible to as wide an audience as possible with good transport routes. We are therefore holding face-to-face meetings around the UK where people can pitch their ideas – recently we’ve been to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Southampton and Bristol – and we’re currently looking at which locations to go to next. In addition, after a networking event that we recently ran in London for one of the Accelerator’s themed competitions, we also ran a webinar on the same topic, such that those who couldn’t make the day could still benefit.
Since conducting this interview, a permanent Head of the Accelerator has been announced, Dr Lucy Mason, whom we hope to be speaking with soon.
Suppliers can also visit Defence Online’s Innovation Marketplace for all the latest events and competition news.
Images: © Crown Copyright. On 27th February Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon visited Reaction Engines at Culham Science Park in Oxfordshire. The visit was part of a series of visits to various facilities in the Oxford area to promote innovation inter-relationship amongst the Ministry of Defence, FLC’s, and suppliers. The image shows the minister looking at a heat exchanger, a component part of the SABRE (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine).
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