Innovation Zero: A short look back, before looking forward


Published 14th May 24

By Kalyan Sarma, VP of Climate, Environment, and Sustainability Commercialisation at Ploughshare

It’s been just over two weeks now, and I’ve had a think, and believe that Innovation Zero was successful, from my point of view at least. I always enjoy events that are a combination of people who are working towards a purpose as well as profit. Profit is important, as it allows those same businesses to re-invest back into making R&D and its results more affordable for those who will benefit from it. The addition of purpose gives a sprinkling of something more that we could all do with.

For me, this coming together of industry and government was a super opportunity to discuss how we can collaborate better to learn from each other and work towards a more sustainable future.

Perhaps most importantly in my mind was that it was all about discussing the fact that government funding for research is not infinite, so we need help from industry. Government funding is important because it gets things going – certainly from the nascent idea stage. This is almost as important as getting something new and novel to the stage of being in the market – where the idea is coming to life and becoming something beyond words on paper.

This is the first obstacle, and then the second big one is crossing the Valley of Death with such an idea. Government funding can be redirected, lessened, or even simply just stopped. This is where industry can come in with partnerships to precisely avoid that. Ideas need funding, and government funding isn’t never-ending – despite what we all hear. Industry partnerships can help unlock that funding to help get ideas out there, as well as helping researchers with other parts of bringing ideas to life.

Equally, we were able to reinforce during the event that government expertise isn’t all knowing – especially when it comes to scaling up and developing the systems to put in place to fully adopt new technologies. And that is ok to admit. In fact, admitting it should be admired. Industry has been scaling things up and deploying them at scale and speed for years and years. There are, for sure, those in government who may have worked in industry in previous roles, and are able to help to a point, but not to the extent that is necessary. Alongside this is something that is almost fundamental to that deployment stage of an idea or a technology. That is the development of the systems that are needed to further deploy those same technologies.

With sustainability, if we take a new form of energy technology as an example – the challenge is transporting the energy, deploying the energy, ensuring the grid is able to take it, and if it isn’t, how it can be converted to something usable. Government, yes, will be able to provide the answers, but not necessarily the journey towards this. Industry has the prior experience and knowledge of creating these “systems of systems” to ensure that technological developments can be as impactful as possible.

This is only possible, however, with a desire and an acceptance of the need to collaborate. You can be successful alone, of course, but in the long run collaborating ensures that you can do so much more than one may have thought possible. In the field of climate, energy, and sustainability (CES) – the coming together of knowledgeable, driven, and dedicated people who have found their why is the key to unlocking the potential that we know exists in the field. It might be material science, it might be new ways of harnessing energy more renewably, or it might be different ways of interpreting and deploying data in deep tech applications. In any case, it takes multiple people working together.

I know that I might sound like a broken record with the above, but coming together is a far more effective way to share knowledge and make progress. From what I saw at Innovation Zero – that spirit is alive and well. Perhaps the environment that we can create by coming together will make sure that collaboration is easier and better equipped – but that is a story for another time. For now, I’d be content to know that more teamwork, more collaboration between industry and government, as well as an openness to more creative ways of using the knowledge that we have as CES professionals is bringing our potential to move forward and shape the world for the better in the future.