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Blog: Innovation Cities: Manchester

Manchester has been a constant source of new ideas throughout history. A place of firsts, the city is seen as inspirational by many, it was once said “This is Manchester, we do things differently here”. Successful football teams and iconic rock bands are not the only things we should link to the city. We look at how Manchester has had a major impact on UK innovation and why it is set to play a significant role in the future.

The University of Manchester

The University of Manchester is part of the Russell Group, made up of 24 British research Universities. Among its alumni, comprising more than 480,000 people from 190 countries, is Physicist Brain Cox. The University of Manchester is ranked as the 8th most innovative in Europe, and 4th in the UK behind Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge and University College London. The Reuters top 100 most innovative universities ranks institutions across Europe that are doing the most to advance science, invent new technologies and boost new markets and industries. The judges of the most recent ranking said Manchester’s jump up is largely due to the university’s “ground-breaking research” into Graphene. It’s not difficult to see why the university counts 25 Nobel Prize winners amongst its current and former staff and students.

The “supermaterial”

Dubbed a “supermaterial”, Graphene is a single, thin layer of graphite — the soft, flaky material used in pencil lead.  It is a mere one-atom thick, the first two-dimensional material ever discovered. The theory of graphene has existed for a while, but no one knew how to extract it from graphite. This was until 2004, when the first isolated sample of graphene was discovered by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. One Friday, the two scientists removed some flakes from a lump of bulk graphite with sticky tape. They noticed some flakes were thinner than others. By separating the graphite fragments repeatedly, they managed to create flakes that were just one atom thick. Their experiment had led to graphene being isolated for the very first time. Despite only being one atom thick, graphene is one of the strongest materials in the known universe, 200 times stronger than steel. It is also flexible, transparent, highly conductive, and seemingly impermeable to most gases and liquids. Being so remarkable in so many ways, graphene has an almost endless use of practical applications and will be no doubt have an impact our day to day lives in the near future.

Programming in minutes rather than days

The ground-breaking invention of the first working computer was designed and built by University of Manchester scientists Freddie Williams and Tom Kilburn. This Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM) referred to as ‘Baby’ was unveiled on June 21st 1948 in the then newly-opened School of Computer Science. This was the world’s first stored-program computer; a true universal computer, where changing a program would take minutes rather than days. The University of Manchester won the race to create the first digital stored program computer. It was a significant achievement that put Manchester at the forefront of a global technological revolution. ‘Baby’ can be credited as the forerunner for the modern computers and mobile phones we use and love today.

The contraceptive pill

The contraceptive pill was possibly one of the most significant medical advances of the 20st century. Herchel Smith was not the inventor of oral contraceptive, but whilst a lecturer in organic chemistry at the University of Manchester, he was the first to develop an inexpensive way of producing the chemicals that can stop women ovulating during their monthly menstrual cycle. Hormones in early contraceptive pills were extracted from natural sources in an expensive and inefficient process. Dr. Smith developed chemical reactions that produced the hormone. The ability to produce the pill on an industrial scale has enabled it to become an effective form of contraception used all over the world today.

High-Tech Hotspot

Manchester might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of tech. However, the tech scene in the city is growing at a phenomenal rate with a 130% increase in digital business births between 2011 to 2016. As well as having a large quantity of start-ups, many of these are developing into successful businesses. When Tech Nation evaluated the 50 fastest growing tech companies in the North of England, it was noted that 14 of them are based in Manchester. Home to the largest creative, digital and technology cluster outside of London, Manchester is the only British city outside of the capital to feature in the top 50 most high-tech cities in the world coming in at 34 according to annual rankings compiled by data firm 2thinknow. Modern tech companies such as LADbible, AO World and Boohoo all call Manchester home. In terms of employment in the tech sector, the city ranks 2nd behind London. Manchester is small enough to be an effective community where business and government, both local and central, work together collaboratively. The city is an attractive location for new businesses wanting to grow. The talent pool flooding from its universities is enviable, and its living costs are significantly cheaper than London.

Over the past 40 years, I’ve witnessed a dramatic change in Manchester’s local economy. But today, the city is on the verge of assuming its potential as a global leader in the digital economy.

Sir Howard Bernstein Manchester council Chief Executive

How MPA can help

Manchester continues to significantly contribute to advances in science, manufacturing and tech. If you’re innovating in any of these sectors, MPA can help you. We are specialists in the R&D Tax Credit scheme and Patent Box relief. These are government concessions which are designed to financially reward innovative work, maximising profitability and releasing funds that can be reinvested into R&D activity. To find out if your business could benefit  get in touch with us today.