Opinion: Moving from ideas to impact – how we can unlock innovation from Scottish SME

Glasgow Science Centre

by Dr Susie Mitchell, Programme Director for Glasgow City of Science and Innovation

WITH just two weeks to go until Scotland’s annual event for innovation in business, the CAN DO Innovation Summit, I’ve been reflecting on how to best support start-ups and small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to implement innovation to boost productivity for economic sustainability and social value.

This year’s summit on 7th November has a future tech theme, including insights on artificial intelligence (AI), the Metaverse and Web3. SMEs tell us they come to the Summit to learn about new tech and find support to innovate with success. With 1000 people registered, the event will connect our innovation community and showcase a range of exciting Scottish companies driving forward clusters of strength, from space technologies, health and climate tech to digital and creative tech.

To unlock innovation, it’s not enough to have inspiring speakers, it is also crucial to provide businesses with the tools and skills to apply these new ideas. That’s why this year we have a number of practical sessions curated by top experts, from Scotland and beyond, to support the adoption of the right tech to help them develop new solutions from the ground up.

These sessions include masterclasses and workshops on hot topics like extended reality (XR), but will go ‘beyond the hype’ on steps to successfully implement XR into business. We also know funding can be a barrier to bringing good ideas to life, so we have sessions on funding and business support, along with a ‘Support Village’ to connect businesses with support networks.

New for this year are Sofa Sessions, allowing people to book time in small groups to meet experts and ask questions. One of Europe’s most innovative law firms, Shoosmiths is hosting ‘Legal Lounge’ Sofa Sessions, providing legal advice on a range of topics including raising capital, energy and intellectual property. Techscaler, the Scottish Government’s tech startup support programme, delivered by CodeBase, will also be on hand for delegates needing startup-specific support. 

Innovation is also bolstered by diverse perspectives and experiences. I’m proud of the diverse and experienced line up of speakers we’ve put together, including three female tech leaders as keynote experts. Advances in tech raise new issues around inclusion, such as AI ethics and making sure AI depictions are diverse, a hot topic which is also covered in the programme. Shoosmiths will also run a session on closing the funding gap for female founders.

Importantly, the Summit brings together key leaders including Summit funders Glasgow City Council, Scottish Enterprise and Innovate UK. Scotland has great business support organisations and innovation hubs, but even more needs to be done to unite them. The event is a great opportunity to discuss how the different agencies can work together to incentivise innovation and streamline support for start-ups and SMEs.

The same applies to uniting industry and academia. Scotland has the highest numbers of students studying computing, tech and engineering per 1,000 students in the UK. We need to make sure industry taps into this knowledge and talent. “Change is the only certainty in tech” and critically we need to educate, upskill and reskill to meet market demands, whilst creating safe spaces in business to experiment and learn. 

It’s an exciting time for innovation in Scotland. We punch above our weight in a number of industries, including space and the life sciences. We must now build critical mass across areas of competitive advantage. And to ensure we grow a responsible and resilient innovation economy, we must collectively – as an ecosystem – support and invest in brave new approaches and tech to create a better future for people, place and the planet.

Dr Susie Mitchell is Programme Director for Glasgow City of Science and Innovation, lead agency for the CAN DO Innovation Summit, www.candoinnovation.scot

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