NBIC: Realising our potential

The National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC) was formed in late 2017 as the very first BBSRC supported Innovation Knowledge Centre (IKC) and we are tasked with building upon and leveraging existing and historical investments in biofilm research and innovation in the UK from the Research Councils, and connecting with the industrial expertise and needs that sits across multiple sectors in businesses of all sizes.

Our aim is to facilitate, stimulate and support the translational opportunities for the research investment outwards and we have established a community where we have connections to a range of unmet needs and problems across a range of industry sectors, such as: health; personal care and consumer products; manufacturing; process and marine industries; water and wastewater treatment; nuclear; oil and gas exploration and refining; chemical; and agri-food sectors. The UK is blessed with a diverse set of companies in all these sectors from small and medium to large so there is a great opportunity to support existing businesses as well as nucleate new ones.

I strongly believe that truly successful innovations satisfy a need – a very real and specific user need that is either currently not met at all or is poorly met.

From day one we have aimed to be open armed (and eared!) to all industry sectors, both to listen and to understand/explore the needs of industry partners. The ‘Connect and Collaborate’ approach we provide offers sustainable partnerships and cross fertilisation across different industry sectors in an (1) Open Innovation environment.

We have found that the connecting of academic and industry partners to pair problem and solution, opportunity and need, has been one of the most valued parts of what we can offer our partners.

We are inclusive with our academic base, expanding from our 4 core universities to now 53 – with over 400 key principal investigators within our network who are active in biofilm or Microbial community research. They have a wide and diverse range of knowledge, expertise, capabilities and technologies that could be brought to bear on industry needs.

We also have access to the “science, capability and technology bank” invested in by the Research councils in our research institutions over many decades. These two elements allow us to connect the two in a number of ways.

Where an industry sector or partner has a clearly defined unmet need, we can try and identify if a solution for this exists either in the UK academic base (or our wider international network) or in another industrial sector. We do this by our own knowledge and by communicating the need directly to our community, where they have previously agreed to receive this information. This can then lead to links, conversation, projects, funding applications, business collaborations, consultancy activity and new friendships. If this need cannot currently be addressed right now then this unmet need becomes a query that informs our research strategy and direction.

If a research partner has a technology, expertise or capability and they wish to assess whether there is a need for in our industrial partners, we share this opportunity to those partners and set up connections for them to further progress and discuss. An example might be an academic who has developed a model system that allows testing of antimicrobials against biofilms derived from multiple species in model of the oral cavity. We have carried out over 20 such partnering calls and these have led to many dozens of conversations between academics and companies, and even projects being submitted and funded through our POC call. They have also led to work being funded directly by a company in a university.

These many conversations, and the clarification of needs and opportunities sit alongside our own workshops, where we deep dive into the areas of Prevention, Detection, Management and Engineering of biofilms aiming to crystallise the key scientific questions and the translational opportunities. We document these in our reports posted on our website. We then work to use these outputs to influence policy and funders alongside other groups, such as the learned societies, to ensure that focus and funding follow the industry need and the research questions.

We want to be a good open Innovation partner to industry and to be receptive to their requirements and needs across short medium- and long-term time horizons. In all this we have been guided by our Industry Advisory Board a mix of R&D leaders from small and large companies from a range of sectors. Our Innovation team of myself, plus two others, all have Industry and business experience. We develop a common language between the academic and industry sectors that allows communication of needs to deliver efficient and effective solutions. We have, since forming NBIC, had direct contact with over 150 companies.


1- “Open innovation is the use of purposeful inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively. [This paradigm] assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as they look to advance their technology.” Henry Chesbrough, Open Innovation: Researching a New Paradigm (2006)

Dr Mark Richardson, NBIC CEO