Cranks, Engines & Powering Economic Growth: How Fashion & Culture Affect The Support You Will Receive

The Cultureship Practice
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The Libralato Engine, Anti-Business Culture & A Country Struggling To Make It

There’s a guy in Manchester who is trying to commercialise a radical type of engine.

Wow – what a crazy thing to be trying to do! Is he a crank?

Well, no, actually he’s not; although most people passionate about invention tend to be labelled cranks until and unless they have a decisive breakthrough – and only then do they become heroes. So, yes, perhaps he is – if that’s what it takes on the road to possibly becoming a hero.

The media is full of stories at the moment about anti-business sentiment, as our excessive hoards of over-paid and largely idle politicians vie to condemn bankers’ bonuses.

It’s an easy diversionary target for our pampered politicos at a time when swathes of their over-governed but under-led constituents experience real hardship.

But it’s the tip of an enterprise-chilling iceberg which goes much deeper, should any other of those of you who may have tried to commercialise a radical engine design recently will have experienced.

An inventor is always a crank until he or she has successfully invented. There is no such thing as an inventor-in-the-making.

That’s just how it is. But what is more disturbing is the way we have almost casually given up on the notion that we are capable of making things.

In the States, Microsoft’s Bill Gates is just one of several high profile investors who have recently backed the OPOC engine project with several tens of millions of dollars of investment. Over there it doesn’t seem remotely odd to back a mission to produce more economical and more efficient engines.

But, oh no, not here in Manchester – the birth place of Rolls-Royce and once the engineering crucible of the world. Seeking to do such a thing here these days seems totally alien.

Hence I didn’t get fabulous initial feedback on local regeneration professional Dan Aris and the Libralato engine project from those who had seen it before. Amongst the promising projects and the no-hopers, you get to see another kind of project once in a while if you are in corporate finance….and so does everyone else.

They are the living dead; big, ambitious projects which seem to have quite a lot going for them but they don’t quite close off the loose ends, don’t quite resonate with the requisite credibility. They keep doing the rounds but they never get funded.

But I thought I would try and look again with fresh eyes – for goodness sake, I’m the one who’s been shouting from the rooftops recently about this country’s systematic and encultured abandonment of manufacturing.

The project deserves being afforded the airspace to either fly or fail. It would appear to have every bit as good a chance as succeeding – in my opinion more – as the heavily backed U.S. project.

We have a very narrow band of tolerance in the NW around what it is reasonable to try. Despite being far from perfect, there is a natural ambition around IT projects which can at least be partially matched by a cycle of investment support. It seems right to have a go in this realm.

And enterprise support is fashionable in so far as the state and the residual agencies still pump money into an over-supply of physical supports by way of yet more office space and a needless supply of cod psychological support by way of vacuous programmes.

Dan, against all the naysayers, has fought tooth and nail to secure some real support on a different, bigger stage. It’s taken years of hard graft and network building but a £2m European Green Cars research project is now underway. It centrally involves pan-European experts at Loughborough University, Bucharest University, an Italian engineering house, a French automotive house, a German engine control unit supplier and a Turkish mechanical designer. There’s a host of lesser partners in various support roles.

A pre-project trial proved the basic functioning of the engine. It will now go through four generations of prototype project, each being rigorously tested. At stake is the long hoped-for realisation of the full commercial potential of rotary engines.

Simulation software has predicted that the Libralato engine may emerge as the most efficient petrol engine in the world, with the potential to be significantly more efficient than competitors and with comparable power outputs at half the size and weight.

I’m tracking all of this closely and am delighted to be involved, making ready to connect the project with commercialisation finance if the potential is deliverable.

Me, I’m always happy to be labelled alongside the cranks if that’s the way heroes can be made and that’s the way we can build new engines to drive our economy.

- alcolm Evans is a business funding expert and a Manchester Economic Development activist.


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