Photo courtesy of Jan Gosmann

New research discovers ‘unexpected’ innovation

New research by the University of Exeter Business School, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Knowledge Exchange Fellowship has uncovered some surprising new insights into innovation across the UK.

Approximately one quarter of highly innovative firms do not engage in internal research and development. These firms keep themselves ahead by investing in new technologies – machinery, equipment and software; product and promotional innovation and training activities to support innovation. Up to ten per cent of firms in sectors traditionally not thought to be innovative are found to be high performers, examples include the construction industry and the hotel and restaurant trade. Less surprisingly, the two locations identified as the ‘hottest’ hotspots are Cambridge and north west London.

Previous research in the area has tended to either adopt a regional perspective or just focus on innovation clusters. This work addressed these gaps by identifying and mapping the distribution of innovation across the country. Particular emphasis has been placed on uncovering innovation hotspots, geographical and industrial concentrations of highly innovative activity and uncovering highly innovative firms in unexpected places.

Richard Adams who conducted the research commented, ‘Recent and current policy has been strongly oriented toward new technologies, but this project shows that innovation isn’t limited to a few high-tech and bio-pharma industries located in well-known clusters. Policy makers and investors need to be aware that exclusively focusing on established clusters or trying to establish new ones is not the only way of supporting and promoting innovation. In fact, more than half of UK post code areas achieved high performance status at least once in the three survey periods.’

A full copy of the report can be found on the ESRC Evidence Briefings page.

The ESRC is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2010/11 is £128 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at:

Date: 17 June 2011

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