When I worked for the University of Wales prior to my recent move to Bristol Business School, one of my primary objectives was to build better links between Wales and the leading innovation institutions in the World.

One of the most important relationships formed during my tenure was with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is currently ranked as the leading university in the World.

With seventy-six Nobel Prize laureates having been affiliated with MIT and £400m spent annually on research, it has become a real powerhouse for the generation of new knowledge.

But what is the real impact of all this brainpower on the economy?

Not surprisingly, MIT's motto is "Mens et Manus" which translates from the Latin to mean "Mind and Hand". This philosophy is reflected in how it has made a real difference in transferring technology from the university to the market-place through its graduates. Indeed, it has been estimated that there are 25,800 companies that have been founded by MIT alumni and these currently employ about 3.3 million people and generate annual world sales of £1.5 trillion, producing the equivalent of the 11th-largest economy in the world.

This, more than anything else, was the reason why I felt we should be creating a link with MIT to benefit Wales and the Welsh economy so that we could not only access one of the best knowledge bases in the World but also learn how to create a more entrepreneurial economy.

Fortunately, MIT already had a mechanism in place to facilitate this through its Industrial Liaison Programme (ILP). Established in 1948, this is a body that is dedicated to creating and strengthening mutually beneficial relationships between MIT and businesses worldwide thus providing opportunities for entrepreneurs and corporates to build relationships with key academics working in various fields of science, technology and engineering.

In the two years in which we ran the programme, a number of Welsh businesses benefitted from the relationship with one of the great universities of the World.

However, when the University of Wales restructured its operations, it decided that it no longer wanted to maintain the link with MIT and so I approached the Welsh Government to see if they would be willing to continue this relationship.

Fortunately, with a new Minister and a new approach to a strong innovation policy, a decision was take to renew the membership with MIT-ILP and to continue a process we began within the University of Wales of taking the best of Wales to the world and bringing the best of the world to Wales.

So what does this mean for Welsh firms who wish to take part in MIT- ILP?

Membership of this programme gives access to world-class academic expertise in key science, engineering and technology areas at MIT, enabling firms to monitor emerging innovations in science and technology and explore their potential impacts on their business.

The ILP also enables Welsh companies to access private workshops and conferences with MIT faculty which can be used to bring outside expert viewpoints into the company’s strategic planning efforts and to explore the impacts of emerging and disruptive technologies on the company’s business.

To this end, the Welsh Government is organising its first trade mission to MIT to attend the 2014 Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Conference in April. This will bring together the leading minds in academia and industry to discuss the latest ICT research and its impact on emerging applications in manufacturing, engineering, healthcare, insurance, transportation, energy and finance. More specifically it will examine:

- Decision support and tools for data capture, visualization and analysis
- Technologies that assure data security and privacy
- Mobility and access to information any time, any place
- Content distribution and the role of providers and operators
- Web mining and social network analysis
- Sensors and the “Internet of Things”
- Advanced imaging and sensing technologies
- Supply chain optimisation

Given this, I hope that Welsh firms operating within this sector will take full advantage of this opportunity to listen and learn from the conference and, more importantly, to build links with individuals and faculties within MIT itself.

But it is not only about what MIT can do specifically for each business as the ILP is also a network of two hundred of the world's leading blue chip organisations. As a result, those attending the conferences have direct access to senior executives from some of the best companies globally and this presents a real opportunity for Welsh businesses to link into this exclusive club to generate more trading opportunities.

Therefore. I am delighted that the Welsh Government has become a partner in MIT-ILP to help Welsh firms to keep pace with industry changes, develop new products and processes, and adopt innovative management practices.

Of course, it is only supporting the membership of the ILP programme itself and it is up to the Welsh business community to take advantage of all of the opportunities available through the initiative. Certainly, I expect that those running our most innovative firms will take every chance to make this relationship with the World’s top university work for their companies and, as a result, create long lasting benefits for the Welsh economy.

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