Introduction - the Scottish Funding Council
Innovation Centres: Connecting the Future…
Innovation Centres: Connecting the Future
Scotland’s Innovation Centres
> The Data Lab
> Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC)
> Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC)
> CENSIS: Innovation Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems
> Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC)
> Oil & Gas Innovation Centre (OGIC)
> Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (SMS-IC)
> Digital Health & Care Institute (DHI)
Setting up a ground-breaking programme of eight Innovation Centres in Scotland, the Scottish Funding Council’s concept was for social as well as economic impact. The aim is to create sustainable and internationally ambitious communities of university staff, research institutes and businesses to create future prosperity and wider benefits for Scotland. Backed by a five-year investment of over £120 million, the centres are making rapid progress and are starting to produce some exciting results in terms of projects and collaborations between academic researchers and businesses across different industry sectors…
Focused on industry need
The concept of Innovation Centres burst into life through a dynamic set of conversations between the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the enterprise agencies and Scottish industry. The talks were focused on a determination that Innovation Centres should be tightly aligned to industry needs – with industry leading the way to the best economic returns and the strongest potential for technological progress.
The idea was to accelerate technological advances by creating new and transformational collaborations between Scotland’s world-leading university researchers and business, with industry partners sharing the costs of research activities. This was a radical change in direction for both universities and businesses, backed by the belief that this fusion of intellect, discovery and entrepreneurship could bring about a revolution in how we build future prosperity and social wellbeing in Scotland.
Progress so far
According to Professor Albert Rodger FREng FRSE, Chair of the Scottish Funding Council’s Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee, the Innovation Centres have been quick to set themselves up and get on with the business in hand. They have also been quick to build their connections with industry and to initiate projects. Professor Rodger believes every sector is different, but feels patterns are already beginning to emerge as projects cross the boundaries between different Innovation Centres and their respective industries and markets.
Professor Rodger sees the potential for huge benefits to society from Innovation Centres involved in medical and health-related research collaborations: “Scotland has long been a place for medical discovery and continues to be a world leader. Close and constructive partnerships between those at the cutting edge of medicine, science, technology and engineering – whether they be in universities, NHS Scotland or in industry – will be key to Scotland staying ahead of the field.
The Digital Health & Care Institute (DHI) is intended to have a strong social impact and has already begun to produce results. These include the development of My Little One – technology that makes it possible for parents to keep in touch with their babies while they are in neonatal care (which is the case for more than 10% of babies born in the UK every year). The DHI has collaborated with the Scottish Ambulance Service to explore how digital technology can enhance human interactions. It is also helping to develop a clinical decision support system in partnership with a consortium formed by the University of Dundee, Duodecim Medical Publications and NHS Education for Scotland. The DHI is already talking about medical technology and data to potential partners and clients in other parts of the world, including North America and Asia.
Stratified Medicine Scotland (SMS-IC) is unique in its ability to take advantage of Scotland’s integrated patient data system and in its capacity to connect directly into an international network focused on this revolutionary new branch of medical science. It is currently putting forward a case for UK Catapult funding, which will see it become part of a network of world-leading centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in areas such as medicine, energy, satellites and transport.
The uniqueness of the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) lies in its technical expertise, linking the Industrial Biotechnology community and providing the tools for success. The three came together in the recent opening of the Rapid Bioprocess Prototyping Centre (RBPC) at the University of Strathclyde. This suite of state-of-the-art equipment will allow users to rapidly analyse new microbial strains for a range of bioprocesses. The RBPC will be complemented by the opening of the Flexible Downstream Bioprocessing Centre at Heriot-Watt University later this year. These facilities fill a critical gap in the ability to scale up biotech processes.
CENSIS, the Innovation Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems has recently announced its new £6 million Mirage Project, a collaboration to produce materials integral to manufacturing a variety of goods that use sensors, ranging from asthma inhalers to infrared cameras.
The project, the first of its kind in Scotland, will see four companies and the research division of Electronics and Nanoscale Engineering at the University of Glasgow working together. Aiming to boost turnover for the businesses by a collective total of £135 million over the next ten years, as well as cut their production costs by up to 50%, the project will give them a critical competitive edge in the global sensors market. The project is expected to deliver £56 million to the Scottish economy over the next decade.
The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) works within a tightly-knit industry where everyone gains from each other's success. The centre has addressed issues such as sea-lice control and pollution. It is also the closest example of what SFC calls a “multi-disciplinary cluster of innovation,” engaging other skills from, for example, engineering, where innovation in design and construction can support the work of the aquaculture research community.
As businesses respond to the challenges of the 21st Century, the data they collect – and perhaps sometimes even take for granted – may prove to be one of their greatest assets. Led by the Data Lab Innovation Centre, the race is now on to exploit that asset in ways that give Scottish businesses and companies operating in Scotland a competitive advantage. One way the Data Lab is making experimentation and innovation possible is by analysing the big data held by companies such as ScottishPower, the industrial partner in one of the first projects to get underway at the Data Lab. The project is looking at the application of data for predictive maintenance, where there is the potential for significant economic benefit for both operators and consumers.
The oil and gas industry has gone through a volatile period since the sector’s Innovation Centre (OGIC) first opened its doors. According to Professor Rodger, while there is still an important and necessary focus on extracting oil and gas from diminishing North Sea reserves and beyond, “the Innovation Centre needs to work in the context of the economic challenges facing the industry – securing long-term employment and retaining hard-won skills in the face of current job losses facing the sector.” The Oil & Gas Innovation Centre also has a role to play in engaging with other industries, such as utilities, where similar skills are employed and exploring where it can adapt existing engineering or IT solutions with innovative results. He believes that, although times may be hard for oil and gas, the industry has the capacity to adapt and emerge even stronger. Therefore, when the predicted recovery comes, the industry needs to be ready. Oil and gas companies and academic researchers are also engaged with a wide range of organisations across the UK and overseas, where they are sharing expertise as well as resources.
Opening for business at a time when confidence in the industry is at a seven-year high, the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) has already been in touch with over 500 companies to explore their needs. CSIC also has strong international potential and is working closely with organisations such as Scottish Enterprise to exploit this to the full. It sees international advantages to many developments in low-carbon building technology, including off-site construction techniques and the development of materials for demanding environments – both areas where Scotland is already strong. Another area of interest is single-skin party wall systems, in which CSIC is a co-investor, together with Glasgow Caledonian University and Edinburgh Napier University, in a partnership with Stewart Milne Homes.
Innovating with Innovation Centres
The Innovation Centres are already beginning to realise what they set out to achieve. Above and beyond that, they are beginning to combine their forces to provide an exciting multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving and product development.
“What is really exciting is the potential for the Innovation Centres to work together on the big industrial and societal challenges facing Scotland", says Professor Rodger. “We are asking, for example, what could happen if we make a “super-link” between, say, innovators in digital health and care and innovators in big data. Therefore, from this year we have introduced the Innovation Centre Challenge Fund, making available a further £1 million for collaboration across Innovation Centres.”
This Innovation Centre Challenge Fund will call for action across more than one industry sector, stimulating multiple Centres to draw collaboratively on the expertise of Scotland’s world-leading universities and other stakeholders to bring innovative, industry-focused solutions to market to benefit the people and economy of Scotland.
So which sectors of the Scottish economy could be the next to benefit from similar support?
According to the Scottish Funding Council, continued support for the first eight Innovation Centres, and potentially the creation of new Centres, will happen where innovation can be proven to be critical to economic growth. To assist with the next stage of development, SFC is to commission an independent review evaluating impact and progress so far.
In the meantime, there continues to be a role for the Scottish Funding Council and its partners in continuing to promote the idea of collaboration for innovation to academic researchers, business and the general public. The 2016 Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design is providing a great platform to get across the wider social impact of the Innovation Centres and their part in the Scottish Government's vision for future economic prosperity. SFC also wants to communicate Innovation Centres’ potential impact on Scotland’s quality of life, including health, transport, food and housing, as well as education and life-long learning.
“It’s all about building belief and excitement around Scotland’s ability to innovate”, says Professor Rodger. “People are aware of what Scotland achieved in the Enlightenment and are really proud of the great innovators of the past such as James Young Simpson, Mary Somerville and James Watt. I’d like them to be equally proud of what we’re achieving now and what we are capable of achieving in the future. Innovation Centres are part of that future and the possibilities are limitless.”
The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) is helping to make Scotland the best place in the world to educate, to research and to innovate. Investing around £1.5 billion of public money into further and higher education each year, SFC provides the funding that allows Scottish colleges and universities to provide opportunities for over half a million learners. Our support for university research means that every university in Scotland is carrying out world-leading research.
Innovation Centres: the vision
The Scottish Funding Council’s vision for the Innovation Centres is to use the “research excellence” of the Scottish universities as a platform for collaborations across the whole of Scotland. The Innovation Centres “will create sustainable and internationally ambitious open communities of university staff, research institutes, business and others to deliver economic growth and wider benefits for Scotland.”
Visit the Scottish Funding Council website: www.sfc.ac.uk