A welcome from Anita Friend
Head of DASA
It is a privilege to present the Defence and Security Accelerator’s third annual review, having the honour of becoming Head of DASA in September 2019.
The threats faced by the United Kingdom and our allies continue to be complex and are intensifying and evolving at a relentless pace.
Events over the last 12 months highlight the essential need for novel and innovative approaches if we are to maintain advantage over those who wish to cause harm to our country and our people.
But it is perhaps the effects of the coronavirus pandemic at home that have brought sharp national focus on the critical need for innovation as we respond, recover and rebuild from this crisis to ensure the UK remains a safe and prosperous place to live.
DASA is at the forefront of this vital effort: fast-tracking technology from a diverse range of sources outside of Government to unlock new and enhanced capabilities while investing in brilliant and inventive small and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs who are the lifeblood of our economy.
That is why I am so proud of everything our team has achieved.
Over the past year we have funded 245 proposals to accelerate their development, run 15 competitions and invested £42.8 million with innovators in supporting our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence and across national security departments.
We are seeing more and more of the innovations funded through DASA being tested and trialled with our Armed Forces and security organisations from autonomous logistics vehicles to gaming technologies for immersive training.
These innovations are providing exciting opportunities for UK defence and security.
These include: reducing risk of life, removing personnel from the most dangerous and deadly scenarios, increased automation, speeding up delivery of supplies to the remotest of places in the toughest of conditions, lowering the mental burden on individuals, harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence and data to enhance evidence-led responses.
At the same time they are offering cheaper and more efficient solutions to the status-quo.
The ingenuity of private sector start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and academia is a fundamental driver for change and innovation.
This year we launched our new Access to Mentoring and Finance service to help SMEs get business fit.
As part of this we hosted DASA’s first Investment Showcase to help SMEs commercialise their ideas by attracting more investment to grow their businesses, boosting UK prosperity and in turn allowing innovation to flourish.
And we have been working across the innovation ecosystem to form new partnerships with the public and private sector to co-ordinate activity, and eliminate duplication of effort. This has meant DASA has carved out a unique role as a smart and trusted broker for facilitating and accelerating innovation for the benefit of defence and national security more broadly as well as prosperity.
We are increasingly being seen as the go-to organisation for innovation in the UK Government.
We have reached out across the supplier base in pursuit of innovation, regionally, nationally and internationally with over 3,800 innovators now in our network.
DASA is gaining increased recognition for the value it adds to finding and accelerating solutions to meet some of our country's most-pressing challenges.
Our customer base doubled over the last year, as we continued to support those in the Ministry of Defence front line commands (Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, British Army and Strategic Command) but also expanded our reach across Government, working with the Home Office, Department for Transport and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.
In particular we’ve been working with our colleagues in the Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC) and the Accelerated Capability Environment (ACE) to ensure our services are complementary.
We’ve also been working with the National Security Technology and Innovation Exchange (NSTIx) adding our experience and learning to the developing operating model and the proposition for cohering innovation effort across the national security landscape.
DASA’s outreach team of supplier facing, regionally-based Innovation Partners (IPs) is unique within Government.
Throughout the past year the team has continued to grow its external networks, offering advice to anyone with innovative ideas across industry and academia.
They have been partnering with local and regional business groups, such as Local Enterprise Partnerships, ADS, Northern Defence Industries, Tech UK, Make UK, local chambers of commerce, and innovation hubs in universities and other venues in support of Defence and Security.
Altogether we are linked up to 3,859 innovators including around 100 academic organisations.
Defence Minister James Heappey attended the inaugural DASA Engagement Day to meet small businesses and innovators.
We continue to try to grow our network, and in February 2020 we held our first DASA Engagement Day, co-hosted with Cranfield University, aimed at SMEs and academia.
After receiving positive feedback about this event, we will be looking to hold more in the future.
In 2019/20 we ran 15 Themed Competitions and six cycles of the Open Call. We’ve invested £42.8M in 245 proposals with 164 organisations for innovations to benefit UK defence and security.
In autumn 2019 we placed DASA Partners within the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, Army and Strategic Command. They are playing a key role in building stronger relationships with the Front Line Commands and gaining knowledge and understanding of their current and future priorities.
This gives us a clearer view of the defence landscape and allows us to pass this knowledge onto suppliers through our funding opportunities – all enhancing our ability to respond to the needs of the Armed Forces.
Professor Dame Angela McLean, MOD Chief Scientific Advisor, announced in March 2020, £300,000 funding through the DASA Open Call to develop and trial Fortnite-based innovative training methods by Oxford-based micro-SME SimCentric.
• For the Royal Navy: we found, funded and trialled novel technology from Northern Ireland-based SME Kinsetsu that will keep track of crew and assets onboard the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. This technology also has security and civilian applications.
• For the Royal Air Force: we awarded contracts to accelerate development of innovative bioprocessing technologies to recycle waste oils. And we launched a major joint competition between the air force and the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to tackle interference to air defence radar systems caused by wind turbines, supporting the Government's green and technological agendas.
• For the Army, we delivered multiple competitions to fast-track autonomous vehicles and systems - and funded proposals to develop the concept of manned-unmanned teaming of capabilities.
Lieutenant General Richard Craig, Army lead for robotics and autonomous systems, November 2019.
• With Strategic Command we developed and are delivering competitions focusing on countering Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), exposing munitions and small drones.
As part of the Defence Innovation Directorate, we continued to collaborate with our colleagues in the wider defence ecosystem, providing thought leadership based on our experience and knowledge of working in innovation.
We continue to partner, experiment and try new ways of working in our quest to turn ideas into impact.
In 2019, we held a Security Showcase – the first of its kind for DASA and an opportunity to showcase what we do, alongside our colleagues from the Home Office, Department for Transport and the MOD, as well as the Bank of England who talked about the future security of banknotes – a precursor to a competition we later launched.
We were delighted to welcome the then-Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill onto the stage for the keynote address.
Iceni Labs, an SME with bases in Warwickshire, Scotland, and London.
The event was of benefit to all of our stakeholders:
• Businesses and academia could see what support DASA provides to help them progress their ideas.
• Government departments got to see how they can benefit from working with DASA as a cross-government organisation.
• The security sector gained a better understanding of the innovations available to them.
Sensor Driven, a micro-SME based in Bristol.
Meanwhile, we have been working closely with the Home Office as it looks to develop and pilot the National Security Technology and Innovation Exchange (NSTIx), which offers an opportunity for Government to coordinate and cohere wider national security requirements as well as supporting exploitation of the solutions selected.
In addition, we have clarified our role with other providers of innovation services in the security domain i.e. Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC) and the Accelerated Capability Environment (ACE), and we are building relationships with key groups of public and private sector end users.
We look forward to developing this more in the coming year.
Deployable space antennas innovator, Oxford Space Systems
This year we moved our focus towards the use of the innovations we fund – turning ideas into reality for defence and security in the UK.
Our Access to Mentoring and Finance lead has been in discussions with suppliers, equity investors, technology funders, business incubation and support providers, looking at the most effective design and impact this service can provide.
An Investment Showcase was delivered in November 2019. Fourteen DASA-supported suppliers presented to an audience of investors from venture capital, business angel and corporate venture firms.
Delegates from across the Ministry of Defence, Department for Culture Media and Sport, and Department for International Trade also attended, along with representatives from overseas.
Andrew Muir, MidVen venture capitalists:
The DASA-supported suppliers presented a total investment 'ask' of £41m. The average supplier turnover was a healthy £750k and the average ask was an impressive £2.9m. The investors have reported follow on conversations with at least three suppliers. The highest reported ten.
In defence, we have created two new ‘Defence Industry Partner’ (DIP) roles in DASA to maximise the possibility of MOD investment in innovative solutions resulting in new capability for the Armed Forces.
The DIPs have a key task on behalf of the MOD Defence Suppliers Forum (DSF) to optimise the relationships between MOD and industry.
They are developing an end-to-end MOD/industry innovation operating model with common working practices, creating links to exploitation opportunities, routes to commercialisation and the alignment of MOD and industry research and development (R&D) budgets.
In security, we have implemented at scale exploitation plans for all projects our security customers have funded.
This has enabled a granular view to be developed in terms of support to businesses and academia, and highlighted strategic initiatives which would provide collective benefit to a wide range of those organisations funded through DASA.
We have come a long way over the past three years and have learned many lessons along the way.
These lessons will be the catalyst for changes to our strategy as we move forward.
What we have learnt
Innovation takes time. DASA typically funds relativity low maturity innovation projects which can take several years to reach a stage where they can be acquired off the shelf or fully integrated.
Fail fast, learn quickly, move on. Innovation is a technological challenge and ideas that have been proved not to work or achieve the original benefits need to be stopped quickly with effort and funding redirected.
Projects need users. Necessity is the mother of invention and to keep project momentum those who will ultimately use and benefit from the innovations being developed need to take a lead.
Investment is needed. Developing the project beyond high maturity (technical readiness level 6) to prototype requires investment by the inventor which many, especially SMEs, cannot fund without a high level of certainty of a financial return.
Commercialisation is important. Innovators might have a brilliant product or solution, but they need a supporting business model to develop and scale-up the innovation to full production.
Collaboration is key. Neither DASA nor Government holds all necessary levers to take full advantage of ideas; nor is it efficient or effective to duplicate services provided by others in the innovation ecosystem.
DASA is committed to accelerating innovation and in being innovative we should expect some risks not to pay off and to fail.
What is important is that we spot and stop ideas that are not working quickly and learn from this. But it also means we should try out new ideas in new ways.
We are working with Imperial College London to bring together a group of stakeholders focused on defence and security, co-located with smaller start-up companies in the Translation and Innovation Hub building on Imperial College’s White City Campus.
This initiative is being undertaken to not only promote and progress world class innovation, but to demonstrate how we can achieve impact through this collaborative way of working.
Our Defence Industry Partners have also developed a Regional Defence and Security Cluster (RDSC) model, shortly to be piloted in the South West.
This aims to bring together strategic suppliers and SMEs to develop collaboration and commercialisation aligned to the regional Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), helping to build economic growth and prosperity across the country.
In our first three years, we have concentrated on building the number of competitions we run and services we offer to customers from the Armed Forces and the national security world.
Looking ahead, whilst moderately increasing this work we plan to shift the emphasis to maximising the impact of our projects.
By impact we do not just mean new capability in the hands of soldiers, sailors, airwomen and men or security professionals, but also innovations that change how national security does things that help keeps us ahead of our adversaries – e.g. via research programmes or a shift in policy.
Recognising the scale and difficultly of increasing impact, our growth will mainly be focused on doing what we can to facilitate and build pathways to market and create the conditions for others to utilise the innovation.
Build our service to act as a smart broker for business readiness services —signposting suppliers to mentoring, finance or co-creation pilots which aim to encourage collaboration between suppliers.
Place greater emphasis on the wider commercial attractiveness of ideas and help industry see the links which will make exploitation easier as industry will be inclined to do more of the heavy lifting.
Place the accountability for exploitation with the sponsor of the competition, as well as the potential user.
We recognise that innovation is a team effort.
Collaboration will be at the heart of DASA’s refreshed strategy which will build on our success while also taking account of the lessons identified to maximise the impact of our investments.