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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 £120million 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. The 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.
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.