Last month saw the launch of The Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Catalyst (IBIC) in Manchester, which is set to position Greater Manchester and The North West of England as a global hub for Industrial Biotechnology Innovation.

Industrial Biotechnology is predicted to be worth £2.78tr by 2030 and therefore can have a significant impact on our region’s economic potential. By harnessing the region’s already strong scientific and research expertise to accelerate knowledge exchange and innovation in this space, the catalyst can help supercharge Greater Manchester’s growth in this sector.

Following the launch event, we met with Prof Aline Miller, Principal Investigator, Professor of Biomolecular Engineering and Associate Dean for Business Engagement and Innovation to discuss the aims of the IBIC, how it can support our region and why now was the time to open such an ambitious and innovative research collaboration in the city.

Firstly, can you tell us more about The Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Catalyst (IBIC) and what its main aims are.

The Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Catalyst (IBIC) is all about generating impact from academic research by helping businesses transfer to sustainable manufacturing processes. By looking at using biological resources within the manufacturing process to make the production of everyday items like food, fuels and medicines more sustainable. The confluence of consumer demand, carbon emission targets, and technological advancements requires new approaches to manufacturing, especially using methods that are divested of petrochemical feedstocks, and industrial biotechnology offers the solutions.

The Catalyst is a consortium of academia led by The University of Manchester and cocreated by the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester Metropolitan, Bolton and Salford, it’s also linked in with the civic University of Manchester. It’s working across the North West; Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Cheshire.

The aim is to build on the strong foundation knowledge and capability that we have across these universities and translate it into businesses, to support them as they transition into a more eco-friendly and efficient way of working.

Why did now feel like the right time to launch?

The real driver is the net zero agenda, trying to move away from fossil fuels as the supply chain material. With fossil fuels, the supply chain is running out, it’s not good for the environment and we’re limited in terms of what can we do with streams currently generated in the UK. We now need to look at the full circularity of products from the early stage supply chain to the product and how you recycle the product. This launch is timely in terms of the foundational science starting to emerge and the good capability available.

How will The Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Catalyst (IBIC) support the growth of business within Greater Manchester?

Our remit focuses more on the researchers and commercialisation side, helping them to think a little bit more with a business focus and develop entrepreneurial skills. We help researchers do customer discovery to build a value proposition and business proposal to generate funding, supporting the commercialisation of ideas. We then help these researchers and early-stage businesses to work within the wider GM and North West business ecosystem with support networks the GM Business Growth Hub and ID Manchester.

We do, however, have a couple of initiatives that can support existing businesses, as two-thirds of our funding pot is being used to help us create and strengthen relationships across the region.

How will Industrial Biotechnology support Greater Manchester’s economic growth?

Industrial Biotechnology has been recognised as a strong industry base within GM and the North West more broadly, it covers chemicals manufacturing materials and pharmaceuticals. Within that there’s also the food manufacturing and microbrewery industry, it all loops together. Even though it’s not badged as biotech these manufacturers can use biotech within their processes to become more sustainable.

The opportunity that biotechnology offers is to update manufacturing processes by using more efficient feedstock, using less organic solvents, and potentially looking at bioenergy sources and how you create the energy to run your plants that can come from more sustainable biotech routes.

We’re taking this industrial revolution one step forward to become the industrial biotechnology revolution.

Why did you choose to be based in Greater Manchester as the base for this project?

Manchester has strong research assets like the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) which has been the flagship institute of The University of Manchester since 2004. It’s home to more than 40 research groups leading pioneering projects to advance our knowledge and use of biotechnology. The Institute won the Queens Anniversary Prize back in 2019 – a prestigious accolade that rewards an outstanding contribution made to the UK by an academic institution – for biotechnology research.

With assets like MIB, Greater Manchester has built up a really strong knowledge base and a strong track record of delivery.

Plus, with the creation of innovation districts ID Manchester, this felt like the right time in GM to accelerate our research and connect with existing businesses, emerging spinouts and scale-ups that are new to Manchester’s manufacturing zones like Atom Valley and MIX MANCHESTER.

What was the draw of ID Manchester as an innovation district when choosing a location?

Once complete, ID Manchester will have a real ecosystem opportunity for companies that want to spin out in this space. We’ve got support mechanisms available and the catalyst will offer support and training. With ID opening the Reynolds incubation hub in September this year it’s very good timing. We’re aiming to create that network of connections to help businesses incorporate scale-up opportunities and encourage knowledge-sharing and collaboration.

Having innovation ecosystems like ID Manchester, Atom Valley, MIX MANCHESTER, Manchester Science Park and The Oxford Road Corridor on our doorstep alongside the knowledge base coming out of the universities, if we marry the two together it will allow great innovation from the university to come out and grow. However, it will also allow that innovation to stay in the Greater Manchester region. We’ve got the people, the businesses and the skills in the region. We’re also looking to develop the skills in line with the research so we’ve got the workforce to take this forward into the future and keep talent within the North West. This will drive investment and if we’ve got this investment in the North-West we can keep it in the region and within the UK.

Learn more about the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Catalyst (IBIC) here.