NERC Innovation business school: The first week

By Christoph Mazur

On 9 March a group of students, accompanied by innovation and system thinking coaches, embarked on a Business Innovation Journey organised by NERC and the Grantham Institute. Aiming to tackle NERC’s key challenges through the means of innovation and entrepreneurship, the first week  involved visits to the UK’s Catapult centres which take inventions from academia and to turn them into innovations – the perfect space to get inspired.

On Monday, the students were introduced to the challenges lying ahead of them: the creation of business ideas which would then be presented to an expert panel at the end of the second week. They also visited the Future Cities Catapult where they were given an introduction to the challenges and opportunities that arise in current and future cities. The whole concept of the Catapult System, which is motivated by Germany’s Fraunhofers institutions, was explained, showing how the UK wants to create wealth and prosperity through innovation.

NERC-business-school2The second day was based in Harwell, at the Satellite Catapult, with a focus on the possibilities of satellite technologies as well as the on-going developments in this domain. In discussions with experts from ESA, Airbus and the Catapult the students discovered the vast opportunities that access to small and very cheap satellites has sparked. This was followed by a visit to the ESA Business Incubation Centre and a discussion with funding bodies where the students were made aware of the ways by which their potential ideas could be funded.

The students then spent the evening exploring common areas of interest and sharing skills and expertise. The lively discussions went on until deep into the night.

The next day was based at the Transport Catapult in Milton Keynes. There the participants considered the challenges and opportunities in the future of transport. Aspects such as minimizing traffic, changing to cleaner means of transport or technologies for electric cars were presented and discussed. Additionally, different ways to model and visualise flows of people and goods, and how they can be used to inform decision makers, were illustrated.

Finally, the participants brainstormed and presented different ways to innovate in the rail sector.


Chris is a Grantham PhD student who helped to develop this program and who is also one of the business innovation coaches. In this blog he provides insights into the program and the experiences the students have gained. 


The NERC School for Environmental Innovation and Entrepreneurship would like to invite PhD students and early career researchers with an interest in Environment and Climate Change to register their interest in attending the London Environmental Challenge, a full-time residential course that will run from 13 April to 24 April 2015.

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