Transport and Play-Doh, not a common comparison, but it’s what Play-Doh, the well-known highly entertaining children’s toy, did as an organisation that is important. They pivoted!
From a wall cleaner product aimed at removing coal heating soot (a diminishing market in 1950) to now part of Hasbro, selling millions of units annually all over the world. It’s this opportunity to pivot that the new Net Zero Mobility Programme is seeking to enable. The leveraging of existing organisational capability and technological competence to one or more different transport markets such as maritime, automotive or rail.
Strategic decision making
Pivoting and addressing new strategic markets is of course nothing new, achieving highly profitable effects for small and large businesses long before Play-Doh’s strategic decision. Certainly, the transport sector is not short of examples. Yasa Motors, now a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, has its origins in the automotive sector dating back to 2009.
In 2021 it took its core motor technology and successfully spun out Evolitov with the aim of addressing electric propulsion needs of fixed-wing and Electric Vertical Take-Off, and Landing (EvToL) applications.
Technology challenges and solutions
However, there are technology and business challenges with addressing new markets and the extremes of pivoting, for example existing and new customer base, expectation management and cash flow. A company’s existing technology solution will also require development and testing before they can be used in a new application.
For many smaller firms this development is very costly, often without the capital and extensive resources of their larger counterparts. Smaller firms also tend to have fewer technical and managerial competences and limited access to information.
While they may be agile and accepting of risk initially, the risk of getting it wrong comes into focus for those firms where one major unsuccessful product or process development may threaten survival. The consequence is risk aversion, which can build over time.
The Net Zero Mobility Programme
Through the Net Zero Mobility Programme, Innovate UK has looked to create the conditions for companies, especially small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), to take on risk associated with a change in direction. Certainly, for SMEs the ability to supply an adjacent transport market is clear and perhaps ‘easier’, given more accessible volumes and quality requirements.
The recipe for success and efficient learning includes working with Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Network, who will drive new opportunities to collaborate and connect with organisations in other receptive transport markets. Focus on low to mid technology readiness level developments that are technically ambitious including those that break with convention but adopt a healthy approach to risk appetite.
Business development and support
Grant fund technology developments offer equity and research and development support to finance early development stages. Lastly, through Innovate UK EDGE, we provide business development and acumen support so that SMEs become investable, allowing scale and growth.
Success in the long term will be measured through increases in UK content and strength of the UK supply chain. If your organisation and the IP within can be part of this including considering where you can address other market opportunities the net zero mobility funding round may be the catalyst.
Net zero mobility and Play-Doh…good, clean fun!
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Top image: Credit: Innovate UK