New research commissioned by Shell Springboard has found a STEM[1] skills deficit could mean the UK low-carbon economy misses out on £6.7 billion annual growth by 2023. The study was led by Professor Erkko Autio, Chair in Technology Venturing and Entrepreneurship at Imperial College London Business School.

The report, ‘Engineering growth – enabling world-class entrepreneurship in the low-carbon economy’, established an annual deficit of 50,000 STEM graduates will hamper low-carbon innovation across the UK economy. It also identified a number of other key factors impacting the performance of low-carbon enterprise in the UK. These include university spin-out infrastructure, entrepreneurial attitudes and culture, and access to finance.

Professor Erkko Autio

Report author Professor Erkko Autio said:

“In order to successfully transition to a truly low-carbon economy, innovation is needed across all areas of industry, society and economic life. This research shows that we not only need new technologies, but also new business models and new entrepreneurial attitudes. A new breed of entrepreneurs will be spearheading such innovation, from university spin-outs to individual entrepreneurs, and we must do everything we can to ensure their scale-up performance is the best it can be.”

When it comes to developing low-carbon ventures, the UK has a strong track record, supported by historical investment in university commercialisation infrastructure (Technology Transfer Offices or TTOs): UK universities are twice as efficient in spinning-out low-carbon ventures as their US counterparts per $trillion in GDP (2000-2013).

However, when it comes to expanding and turning these low-carbon ventures into viable and growing businesses, the US outperforms the UK on a number of fronts, with a far stronger entrepreneurial culture creating the skills and aspiration needed to accelerate business growth. Rates of early-stage entrepreneurial activity are twice as high in the US than in the UK (12% vs. 6%) and UK low-carbon entrepreneurs are nearly a third less likely than those in the US to internationalise their businesses by exporting to other countries or expanding operations overseas.

The report was informed by experts from industry, policy, academia, low-carbon entrepreneurs and NGOs, and makes a number of recommendations to support a flourishing UK low-carbon eco-system, where high potential entrepreneurs can convert innovative ideas into commercially viable and growing businesses:

  • Technical and entrepreneurial skills reform: The Government needs to continue to provide financial incentives and educational pathways to encourage the take-up of STEM subjects, whilst also working with educators to facilitate closer alignment between STEM education and entrepreneurial training in schools and universities. Currently less than 10% of engineering students are provided with entrepreneurship-based training [compared to 60% for business students].
  • Big business has a strong role in supporting viable low-carbon innovation eco-systems, through providing funding and long-term support via programmes such as Shell Springboard and Shell LiveWIRE. Access to networks of large corporates can also be invaluable for growing low-carbon ventures by providing support and mentoring through corporate supply chains.
  • Policy stability is needed to support investment certainty in the low-carbon sector.
  • The funding framework needs reform to make it easier to offer stock and share options to investors. Additionally, existing corporates should be allowed to join existing investment schemes, including the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS).

Erik Bonino, Shell UK Chairman, said:

“This report reveals the urgency of concerted action to help the next wave of innovators unlock the potential of the low-carbon economy. It’s important that the entire education and enterprise pipeline is optimised to equip our brightest minds with the right combination of STEM and entrepreneurial skills to start up and develop their low-carbon innovation. Shell is proud to support innovators throughout this journey, starting in the classroom where we encourage the take-up of STEM subjects with “Tomorrow’s Engineers” right through to business development with Shell Springboard.”

Tom Hockaday, MD of Isis Innovation Ltd, Oxford University and a contributor to the report’s recommendations, said:

“University researchers are coming up with great ideas and technologies to develop the low-carbon economy. The next challenge for these companies is scale-up and there is much to be done to develop the right environment for this in the UK.”

Report contributor Professor John Perkins CBE, Former Chief Scientific Adviser, Department of Business Innovation and Skills, said:

“The development and marketing of low-carbon energy technologies represents an enormous economic opportunity for the UK. However, for the UK to realise this potential, concerted entrepreneurial activity will be necessary.”

The launch of the report coincides with the 10th anniversary of the UK Shell Springboard Awards, a programme run by Shell that has awarded over £3 million to 86 low-carbon entrepreneurs over the past 10 years.

For more information about Shell Springboard and how to join the programme, please visit:

For further information about the report itself, please contact Taryn Strautins in the Shell Media Office on +44 20 7934 5550 or email 

Notes to editors

About the research

Imperial College Business School undertook the research for this report from January to February 2015. Country-level data on low-carbon ventures is drawn from the i3 database published by the Cleantech Group. Broader country-level data are drawn from OECD statistics.

Country-level data on spin-outs is also drawn from SpinoutsUK for UK data and from the STATT database of the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) for US data. No such national dataset appears to exist in Germany.

University-level data for the top universities in each country studied within the report (UK, US and Germany), was gathered by Imperial researchers from published information from their Technology Transfer Offices. We have focussed on the top three universities in each territory, identifying them in the US from the AUTM data, in the UK from the SpinoutsUK data, and in Germany from a review of leading technology universities (in the absence of national data). Each TTO list of spinouts was reviewed to identify the low-carbon spinouts in the period.

Shell’s UK social investment focuses on the core themes of enterprise development and Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education. We believe these will play a central role in the UK’s ability to drive economic growth and meet growing energy demand in sustainable ways. Our national programmes consist of:

  • Shell Springboard

Shell Springboard is fully funded and managed by Shell as a Social Investment programme. It provides funding to UK-based small to medium sized enterprises with innovative, low-carbon business ideas since 2005. With total funding of £350,000 available in 2015, six regional winners will receive awards of £40,000 each – and for the first time one national winner will also receive an additional £110,000 at the Shell Springboard national final in March 2015.

  • Shell LiveWIRE

Shell LiveWIRE has been supporting young entrepreneurs in the UK since 1982. The programme offers an independent and free online service, business mentoring and awards programme for young entrepreneurs with innovative, smart and sustainable business ideas that meet the challenges of a fast-growing population. Monthly winners are automatically entered into the annual Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year award which includes a £25,000 grant to the winning business to further develop their idea.

  • Shell STEM education

Shell has long recognised the vital importance of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills to our business and the UK’s long term economic health. Shell recently announced an investment of over £1million in Tomorrow’s Engineers, a national programme that provides 11-14 year olds with hands-on engineering experiences and helps them understand the incredible range of opportunities that a technical career can provide.

To find out more about Shell Social Investment, please visit: