Our History

January 2020

Tommy Flowers Network

A new decade a new name. The Tommy Flowers Institute is evolving!

We launched 4 years ago with the mission statement of ‘bridging the gap between the ICT Industry and UK Academia to help produce research leaders of the future’. 

Now, the ‘Tommy Flowers Institute’ will become ‘Tommy Flowers Network’.

We’re growing into a network of likeminded people and institutions working for a greater good.  We’ll expand our remit to bring you Thought Leadership and other exciting events alongside our conferences.

We want to build upon that and with your continued support we can continue to create something really special we can be incredibly proud of.

September 2016

The Launch took place on 29 September 2016, at Adastral Park. We were joined by over 80 attendees from 17 Universities; 1 Vice Chancellor; 2 Pro-Vice Chancellors; 18 Professors; 7 companies; EPSRC; National physical Laboratory; Institution of Engineering and Technology; New Anglia LEP, and Suffolk County Council.

Tim Whitley, MD Research & Innovation and MD of Adastral Park opened the launch, saying “It’s appropriate that the institute is named after Tommy Flowers. He brought together the best of industry and academia to create the world’s first electronic programmable computer.
“This institute will bridge the gap between industrial research and the fantastic talent that exists in the academic sector.”

The Researchers’ View.  The Tommy Flowers Institute is a cross-industry initiative to develop ICT doctoral and post-doctoral researchers’ skills to be future research leaders. 
But what do today’s researchers really want?   Three early-career researchers discussed their thoughts at the launch.

Sam Tickle – Lancaster University PGR
Reginald Ankrah - Robert Gordon University PGR
Anasol Pena Rios - University of Essex PDRA 

Having worked in industry with other ICT companies before starting his PhD, Sam felt that receiving practical and technical skills via the Tommy Flowers Institute has enormous potential. “Industry really can be a pioneer”, he said. 

Following 3 years in industry after graduating, Reginald received full funding from Ghana to enable him to study for his PhD. Reginald is looking for personal development skills and feels that networking with industry will really help him develop his knowledge in areas such as Innovation; skills to become a research leader and project management skills.

Anasol studied for her PhD to challenge herself, following working in the Banking and Retail industry.  “You want your research to matter”, said Anasol, “you want to apply your knowledge into the real world”.  She felt that the Tommy Flowers Institute will help researchers to do this. Help and support from Tommy Flowers Institute will enable research to move forward and make a difference. 

What came through from all of the students was despite receiving good support from the University mentors, studying for a PhD can be a lonely process.  They all felt that the Tommy Flowers Institute will provide help, support, and mentoring which will be very valuable.

The Industry’s View.  During the launch, a panel from Industry provided their view of the Institute and challenges ahead.

Richard Burguete from the National Physical Laboratory
Wenbing Yao from Huawei
Jorg-Peter Elbers from Adva
Dennis Moynihan from EIT Digital London 

Richard is Director of the NPL Post Graduate Institute and fully supported the Tommy Flowers Institute. Working together will help enhance the experience of getting the students to really understand what’s out there. Establishing the link between Tommy Flowers Institute and NPL’s Post Graduate Institute, he believes, will be a good transfer of knowledge.

Director of Strategy and Marketing at Huawei, Wenbing Yao wished she had had more visibility about what industry needed whilst studying. She fully supported the Tommy Flowers Intitute, offering Huawei as a partner. Wenbing felt that industry should let academia know what their real problems are, so that they could work together to solve problems. An area she highlighted was Virtual Reality which covered anything from CLOUD, to the pipe and keeping the information flowing through.

Jorg-Peter from Adva - an optical networking company and research partner with BT  – felt that the Tommy Flowers Institute framework should be a great inspiration for researchers. Jorg-Peter felt that the networking opportunities would be great. He felt the research challenges would include processing generator updates – both the technical challenges and the economic challenges. “The ICT landscape has changed so much”, he said, “from Internet of Things to Smart Cities, the company of the future has to have computing capabilities”.  Jorg-Peter felt that to be a future researcher, you need to be curious and passionate.

Dennis Moynihan from EIT Digital London - a leading European open innovation organisation - explained that he has partnerships across Europe in his organisation, with links into the doctoral schools, which links into the Tommy Flowers Institute really well.

“Tommy Flowers Institute is a great reminder to step back and focus on science”, he said, “BT takes itself seriously for Innovation”.  Dennis felt that by collaborating, this drives more momentum together. He confirmed that EIT Digital London will contribute to the seminar series.  “It’s time to get mud on your boots”, he said, “time to get dirty and get experience with real problems”. 
 The Tommy Flowers Institute is a new way of collaborating between industry and academia: it’s researcher-focussed, not just research focussed.
Both industry and academia need their future research leaders to have the greatest impact that they possibly can, and if we can work together to do this with early-career researchers now, then this can only benefit both us as a community and the UK economy overall.
This is something new: it’s being kick-started by BT initially to create better research leaders for the whole ICT industry, for academia and the UK economy.


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