Nesta: Promoting Innovation in the UK

Nesta: Promoting Innovation in the UK

Innovation in the UK is being taken forward by Nesta. Undergoing extensive research into new ideas, Nesta then tries out the best ideas that it comes across in the real world, to bring innovation into fruition. Nesta describes itself as:

 “An innovation charity with a mission to help people and organisations bring great ideas to life”.

The background to this is that NESTA believes that in current times there is a greater need than ever before for experimentation, risk taking and creativity. NESTA offers an approach to support ideas that can lead to improvement. In particular it helps people to be able to overcome the many barriers to innovation, such as the many naysayers that innovators meet along the way. NESTA describes them as the people that say “It won’t work”, or “If it is such a great idea why has no one else already done it?” NESTA helps people with their innovations by offering them the skills, research and even funding to bring people’s innovative ideas to life.

Nesta was born when David Puttnam, its founding chairman felt that the UK had failed in capitalising on innovation during the 20th century, with the belief that the country had been poor at transforming inventions into applications that were marketable. In 1997 he convinced the then Labour government that an endowment would help. With a source of income there could be risks taken to back innovations in the longer term without being subject to a withdrawal of funding with a change of governments. NESTA became a reality in 1998. NESTA stands for the National Endowment for Science, Technology and Arts. It was set up to promote creativity, talent and innovation. By 2010 it was determined that NESTA had an important role to play but that it should no longer be a public body and as a result, in 2012 it became an independent charity. The organisation believes it has the freedom to “promote fearless creativity in the service of the common good” while building a stronger society.

The overall goal of NESTA is to “boost innovative potential”. In this, NESTA has an aim of getting individuals and organisations to develop their ideas that have the potential to improve quality of life for many. The organisation invests through growing social impact, capital value and pioneering new finance types. It carries out research into the quality and influence of its analysis and ideas. It also uses its Innovation Lab to nurture new ideas.

NESTA has set five year goals to improve in a number of different areas. One of these is growing its global reputation for being a centre of understanding and practice of innovation. Another is helping great innovations deliver impact when scaled. A third is evolving into a network of collaborating organisations with a view to extending its reach. Finally it also wants to try out new ways of taping great ideas and the power of many to achieve the greater good for all. NESTA is equally clear on what it will not do. It does not and will not fund individuals. It has no plans to develop a network of regional offices in England, or to work solely within any particular sector. It won’t become a training organisation or a generic consultancy. It also won’t support technology transfer with universities or fund science education. It does however provide links to help people with some of these different activities.

NESTA seeks new ideas continually. In particular it has highlighted the need for ideas of how to survive given the aging population, ideas on how to continue to make money while cutting back on greenhouse gases and carbon footprint, and ideas about how to create good jobs for young people.

As mentioned, the organisation is now a charity and is extremely transparent about the ways in which it chooses to spend its money. It plans to publish all of its grants online, and its financial data is available for download in spreadsheets. By far the largest proportion of its funding is spent on the different programmes that it is supporting. Another large area of expenditure is policy and research. Other spending includes endowment management costs, skills and investment management as well as governance. This degree of transparency provides a strong element of trust in what NESTA is aiming to achieve which increases its overall integrity.