Investment coupled with initiative makes innovation possible…
Foreword by Sir John Arbuthnott MRIA, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
Investment coupled with initiative makes innovation possible
The eight new Innovation Centres being established in Scotland are intrinsically innovative in several ways. Not only are they ambitious in terms of the plans to develop new business solutions and stimulate industry progress, but they are also being set up to deliver social benefits as well as economic impact.
The other innovation is that all the new Centres are “industry-led,” bringing university researchers together with business to deliver what industry needs, rather than doing original research then searching for someone to buy it. If there is no existing demand, the Innovation Centres simply will not fund the research.
For the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), which is backing the Centres with up to £120 million over five years, the project is also a change in direction in several important respects. The budget is significant and so are the pressures to invest the funds wisely. The SFC is used to building bridges between academic researchers and business, but the new Innovation Centres will create a new emphasis on economic and social impact as well as industry-led innovation – in other words, applied research.
Economic impact is easy to define but hard to measure. The Scottish Government wants to see new jobs created, new companies emerging and new skills acquired by the workforce. It wants to see new innovative products and services reaching the market, generating revenues and boosting exports, and it wants to see inward investment. That is why the Innovation Centres are not getting government grants – they are getting investment. And the Government wants a return.
Established and emerging industries
Oil and gas, construction and aquaculture are established major industries where innovation could make a huge contribution in the future, whilst industrial biotechnology is a relatively new field which promises spectacular gains, along with sensors and imaging systems – another old science being powered by new digital technology. Data science (the Data Lab), stratified medicine and digital health may not yet have the same public profile, but they also have great economic and business potential.
Social impact will be difficult to measure for most of the Centres, but data science, stratified medicine and digital health will have more obvious effects on people’s lives and government policies. Data science will help business analyse mountains of data, but will also help governments analyse social behaviour and health-care requirements; and also support the emergency services as well as defence and security. Stratified medicine and digital health will revolutionise health care, not only via personalised medicine and new digital technologies but also by reducing costs and making budgets easier to plan.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the eight new Innovation Centres is cross-fertilisation – reflecting the inter-discplinary nature of most modern science. Collaboration is not a new thing for researchers in Scotland (e.g., the university alliances in informatics, physics and life sciences) but the connections between the new Centres are already extensive. For example, data science uses sensors and imaging systems for many of its applications, including a new generation of wearable health-care devices which may emerge from DHI, providing information which helps to develop solutions for stratified medicine. Data science can also help oil and gas improve recovery rates, and help planners estimate housing requirements – which links to construction. Using the latest generation of sensors, developers can then build more sustainable and more intelligent buildings, whilst their colleagues on fish farms use sensors to monitor water and fish populations, generating data for the Data Lab – and so on.
Other industries may also have new Innovation Centres in the future, or continue to deliver world-class research without being part of the programme – for example, life sciences and informatics.
But the eight new Innovation Centres profiled in this special issue of Science Scotland are a welcome initiative, backed by a significant investment, which will hopefully breathe new life into traditional industries and create new ones – as well as new technologies and business solutions not dreamed of before.