Clear road ahead for innovative businesses

When it comes to innovation, a lot can happen in a year.

The eight embryonic Innovation Centres (ICs) which fledged in 2013-14, are now well on their way to maturity, having appointed chief executives and teams to deliver their ambitions. 

Results are already emerging, but like any new start, the real impact will be seen further down the road.

As Suzanne Dawson observed shortly after taking up her post as Head of Sector Relationships at Interface last Autumn, each IC may look different and have industry-specific aims, but all have a common goal of increasing economic growth by bridging the gap between business and universities.

“At Interface we have demonstrated how hugely successful we are in delivering smaller scale projects and encouraging businesses to take that all important first step to innovation and growth. The focus for Innovation Centres is on larger scale collaborations with the potential to leverage additional public and private sector funding.  The collaborative R&D projects which the Innovation Centres will fund and support will be fully grounded in industry and will have clear business applications.”

Their success will be measured in numbers: the increased longer-term projects between industry and academics, and the resulting economic impact.

Since its launch at the end of 2014, the Oil & Gas Innovation Centre (OGIC) has worked extensively with industry and the academic research community to provide funding, support and advice on technology development with a focus on exploration, production and decommissioning applications in the North Sea.

Ian Phillips, OGIC Chief Executive, said: “We have completed our first project with Hydrasun, developing an innovative well intervention solution in partnership with the University of Strathclyde.  The completion of this first project highlights the potential which exists in collaboration between industry and the academic community.

“Our engagement with industry is ongoing and this year we have been running a series of events which have helped link businesses with the expertise and professionals they require to carry out R&D projects with topics including innovation funding and intellectual property. We have also worked on promoting industry collaboration with special events targeting key challenges in the UK Continental Shelf.

“In the current market, companies are increasingly looking to innovation to find ways to work smarter and more efficiently. Technological innovation will be key to maximising the recovery of reserves in the UKCS and our continuing goal is to stimulate the development of near to market technologies in oil and gas.”

Interface welcomes the additional opportunities ICs offer businesses.

Suzanne added: “We have already started to refer our client businesses to Innovation Centres providing them with the opportunity to take projects forward into larger collaborations which aim to overcome an industry-wide issue or benefit the population more widely. There is no wrong door for businesses wishing to develop a product or service. We are all aiming to stimulate innovation and support business and academic partnerships.”

Laurence Howells, Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: “I am delighted that our £100 million-plus programme of Innovation Centres is already having a real impact – better healthcare and medicine for our families; more sustainable food through improved fish farming; more energy-efficient homes through developments in construction. Through the Innovation Centres, research from our world-leading universities is helping industry develop new products and processes that will benefit our day-to-day living.”

A good example of the ICs working in practice is the development of snap40, wearable technology which has the potential to save thousands of lives.

Dundee medical student Christopher McCann, who has now taken a leave of absence to focus full-time on the business, combined his medical skills with computing knowledge (having previously studied an MEng in Computer Science) to develop the wearable device which continuously monitors hospital patients.

The device monitors patients across a wide range of indicators, including blood pressure, activity levels and hydration. Software then analyses that data in real-time and when it detects the patterns that pre-empt deterioration, sends an alert to mobile phones carried by staff.

"The support snap40 have received through the Digital Health and Care Institute and CENSIS has been excellent. As an early stage start up, they give us access to significant experience and expertise as well as a large extended network of contacts. Some of our most important clinical contacts, for example, have been developed through the DHI,” Christopher explained.

“Ultimately, I think the public sector should be enablers of start-up development rather than necessarily driving it, which is a subtle difference. It’s up to us as start-ups to actually drive it forward, but organisations like the DHI and Censis, and in fact all public bodies, should, in my view, help to remove speed bumps on the road.”

Another business which has benefited from innovation support is CM2000, starting with an Innovation Voucher.

As Suzanne explained: “The collaboration was so successful that they have progressed to working with the Digital Health and Care Institute. We hope that this kind of success is repeated with many other businesses. Often it’s just taking that first step for a business to realise what working with Scotland’s universities can make possible.”