Awards 1993 Worldaware Award for Effective Communication

Worldaware Award for Effective Communication

The Technology Exchange

The Technology Exchange is based on two wonderfully simple ideas. The first is that it is often better to license an invention widely than seek to sell it, expensively, to a single user. The second is that the best way to find users for innovations is to publish a catalogue.

The catalogue for Techmart India in November listed over 1,300 offers of technology, from all over the world, and 400 requests for it. Sixty British firms made offers. One is a Northern Irish firm which is embarking on a joint venture to make vehicle silencers in Bangladesh.

A previous Techmart resulted in Zambians and Ethiopians acquiring Indian know-how in chemicals, printing, food, spices and woodworking. Indians acquired know-how from Kenya for papaya wine, from Britain for dipping plastics, and from France for lasers and electroplating.

Brian Padgett founded the Technology Exchange when he was running the United Kingdom programme of the Intermediate Technology Development Group. This programme launched local trusts in British towns to help new enterprises.

The South Hams trust in Devon was approached by Ray Bristow, a power-generation engineer, with a device for controlling the power supply to electric motors, thereby saving both power and wear. Without such a device, the motors receive the same power whether they are fully or partly loaded. Bristow had failed to interest GEC in manufacturing the controller. Padgett suggested licensing all the major electrical manufacturers on a pay-as-you-use basis. At first they all said No. Then all except an American firm said Yes.

However, none wanted to take the risk of being first into production. Padgett was nevertheless confident that a smaller firm would do so. This proved to be MTE in Sussex which supplied Fords. A controller arrived there ahead of the MTE engineer, and a Ford engineer was able to fit it because it operated digitally and was self-adjusting. This made the controller's reputation and 35,000 have been sold. It is particularly useful in developing countries where the voltage commonly varies with distance from the power station.

Brian Padgett's catalogue idea tackled another problem, how to locate possible users of inventions. Holding exhibitions seemed to him ineffective because visitors did not know what they would see till they got there. A Department of Trade and Industry plan to hold one at Brighton was a disaster: hardly anyone booked a stand. Padgett proposed that instead he would hold a Technoshop at the Post House Hotel, Heathrow, first distributing a catalogue, then inviting people making or interested in offers to meet. He sold 900 catalogues at 220 a set, bringing about 3,000 introductions of which 500 led to negotiations. He also offered the catalogue on a computer database; but people who take decisions don't use databases.

Bulgarian visitors mentioned Technoshop to the UN Industrial Development Organisation. UNIDO had an underused database of technology for developing countries. It invited the Technology Exchange to join it in presenting the first Techmart, in Beijing in 1991. Twenty-seven countries sent delegations and the Chinese printed 25,000 copies of the catalogue. In 1992 there were Techmarts in Bulawayo and Delhi. UNIDO and national organisations put on international fairs while the Technology Exchange produced the catalogues.

An early problem was that firms bid for all manner of technologies, not realising they needed to prove they were competent to use them. Brian Padgett also found it hard to persuade firms owning technology to put offers in his catalogues. They already had their local agents or they couldn't spare the time. He pointed out that he could provide them with the largest number of introductions they were likely to get.

He also points out that firms manufacturing and selling in Europe are vulnerable to lower-cost Far East competition. A partner in an even lower-cost country widens the market and can provide keenly-priced components.

The first Beijing Techmart is known to have led to ten deals, the latest in India to 100. China and India are now holding Techmarts each year. There will be marts in Mexico, Vietnam and Zambia in 1994 and in the Baltic in 1995. Requests from Brazil and Tanzania have also come in.

Gordon Morrell formerly at ICl, has worked with Brian Padgett for 11 years. Also working with him are Dr David Lefever, formerly of Cranfield University, and Sheila Musson. They are based at Silsoe Research Institute which is also a source of innovations for their catalogues. One is a worm culture system for turning wastes into compost.