MEDICINE, entertainment and communications are just three of the many fields in which Scottish inventions and innovation have led the way – Alexander Fleming gave the world penicillin, John Logie Baird television and Alexander Graham Bell, the telephone.
They managed to make their mark without the help now available in 21st century Scotland, which is home to eight Scottish Government-backed innovation centres (ICs) covering every aspect of our lives – from health, medicine and care through to oil and gas, construction and the data science behind the next industrial revolution the Internet of Things (IoT).
The £120 million Innovation Centre Programme was launched in 2012, with the first centres established the following year.
Their overarching aim is to help businesses of all sizes increase the rate of innovation and help Scotland’s economy and its people.
The basic premise is that if you come up with a way to improve a product or service, or have identified a new idea, the centres will help you take it from theory all the way through to market.
They can put you in touch with companies already working in your sector, academics involved in specialist research and advise you on funding, be that from the Innovation Centre Programme itself or other funding streams.
And their work appears to be paying off. The ICs contribute to additional gross value added (GVA) for Scotland by creating and preserving skilled jobs, attracting inward investment and increasing the potential for exports.
They can also deliver cost efficiencies and higher profitability, as well as create new products and processes and open untapped revenue streams.
An independent review of the IC programme in 2016 noted: “Even though the ICs are still in the early stages of development and delivery, [there is] evidence of benefits and impacts for participating companies, and clear signs of the potential for future impacts.”
The Scottish Government sees innovation “as a driver of productivity and growth”, and in a review paper published last summer, set out plans to improve innovation performance in the Scotland Can Do action plan.
“Its aim is to create a culture in Scotland that supports ambitious businesses to use innovation to grow, all underpinned by a clear, easy to navigate, well connected system of information, advice and support,” said the report.
“It was developed with the support of the Scotland CAN DO Innovation Forum and identifies three clear themes for action.”
These themes were ambition, culture and connections, all aimed at boosting Scotland’s innovation performance to match the best-performing countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
“We want Scotland to be a place where innovation is an intrinsic part of our culture, our society and our economy – where businesses across the country are ambitious and open to collaborations and partnerships with one another, with academia and with other organisations, and have high levels of innovation and growth as a result.
“We must establish a culture of innovation across the board in Scotland; a culture that involves everyone, raises awareness and embeds innovation into everything from policy making to business development.
“We need to make the best use of not only our own expertise but also look outward to establish links with the right partners across the world.”
Much has been written about the Internet of Things (IoT) which has been likened to the industrial revolution, which so changed the way goods were made, how people worked and were paid and the country’s economic structure.
While there is considerable work being undertaken in this area by ICs, their reach extends far beyond it.
This initiative will develop data mining tools to monitor performances and trends and could save oil and gas operators billions of pounds every year.
Other industries such as nuclear, pharmaceutical, renewables and life sciences also stand to benefit from it.
by Greg Russel