Minister celebrates freight industry innovation

Freight industry heavyweights and innovative start-ups came together to showcases the success of the Freight Innovation Accelerator and Cluster.

“Some of what I’ve seen today is game changing,” exclaimed Transport Minister Guy Opperman, shortly after being introduced to several SMEs involved in the second cohort of the Freight Innovation Accelerator at Connected Places Catapult’s office in London at the start of May.

“Taking a traditional sector – involving ports, logistics and HGVs – applying technology we see in the rest of our lives, and bringing it into 21st Century; that is very cool.”
Transport Minister Guy Opperman

The Minister spoke with six SMEs involved in a range of new freight technologies to hear their innovation stories – Iona Logistics, GoRolloe, Ensemble Analytics, Flexible Power Systems, Hubl Logistics and Meteor Power – and was impressed with what he heard.

“I’m excited that the outputs are about solving problems; such as helping to make ports run better, providing deliveries to rural communities by drone or helping filter out pollutants from trucks,” he said.

In his nine years in Government, the Minister has been involved in many innovation clusters and pump-primed various technology programmes. “But the blunt truth is they don’t always go well. Government gives money, and sometimes the innovation isn’t what you would hope it would be,” he pointed out.

“But what is really clear here with this programme is we are working really well with these SMEs, we’ve got a really good partner in Connected Places Catapult, the money is making a real difference, and we are not micromanaging it.”

He also said that not a lot of Government money promises to make “a massive difference, and get a huge amount of return”. For £1.2 Million worth of investment in year one of the Freight Innovation Fund Accelerator, he explained, participants reported £97 Million of commercial investment.

Transport Minister Guy Opperman speaks to Kristen Tapping of GoRolloe

“It is so exciting to be taking modern tech and applying it to more traditional sectors. Phones now have banking and navigation apps, but the freight sector has never really had tech. Now we are applying that, and tech-savvy people are helping traditional businesses.”

The Minister described the size of the prize associated with innovating in freight as “massive”. Clearly, he said, the country will continue to demand freight to move goods and services around, there is a need to bring the infrastructure forward to a 21st Century way of working, “and change what has remained pretty much unchanged for the last 50 to 70 years”.

“Some people say our better days are past us, the world is so difficult and we are being out-competed by other countries,” he added. “Yes, it is complicated. But if we can take some of this tech and apply it to other countries – and quickly – that is an export of a product by a UK based company backed by UK Government. That is something very special.”

Announcing year three of the Accelerator

Shortly after his interview, the Minister announced an open call for year three of the Freight Innovation Fund Accelerator, with £1.8 Million on offer to support innovative tech to achieve more sustainable deliveries. Speaking to a room of SMEs, academics and investors to mark the first year anniversary of the Freight Innovation Cluster – a group convened by Connected Places Catapult with 327 members – he said: “I see some of the work you are doing, and the seed capital that we have managed to assist you with as Government, and I want to say a massive thank you.

“Thank you for being bold enough and brave enough to decide that you really want to do something innovative and different on an ongoing basis.”

The Minister also expressed gratitude for innovators who are helping to bring down costs for the large companies they work with. “And that matters: it makes them more competitive, and if ports are more competitive, for example, the cost of the goods you buy on the high street is going to be cheaper.

“We want to support you,” he continued. “I can’t commit future Governments, but I can certainly say that the Department for Transport is totally behind this and will continue to be behind this. We are fully in support of what you do.”