Innovation knows no boundaries

By Claudia Cavalluzzo, Converge Executive Director

First published in Business Insider on 23 February 2024

Investment in research and university innovation in Scotland has lagged significantly behind England, growing by a mere 7% from 2016-17 to 2022-23, compared to a 30% increase in Research England’s core funding streams.

These and other financial concerns affecting universities come at a particularly inconvenient time, as Scottish ministers set the nation’s aspiration to become a global leader in innovation and entrepreneurship.

The question then is inevitable: how can Scottish universities facing such dramatic financial constraints be expected to bolster their innovation and commercialisation? 

The answer lies in a profound reimagining of ‘collaboration’.

Historically, universities have collaborated on research projects and capital investments, but this has often been shadowed by a veil of competitiveness.

Today, I see a sector rapidly evolving towards deeper, more meaningful partnerships. Amid these challenges, Scotland’s higher education institutions are more united than ever, creatively maximising resources and their impact for the benefit of the nation; not just their own.

There are great examples throughout Scotland of universities working together – in Midlothian, the Roslin Innovation Centre supports spin-off commercial activities from Scotland’s Rural College and the University of Edinburgh.

Robert Gordon University, the University of Aberdeen and the University of Strathclyde are among the partners for the TechX Clean Energy Accelerator, a 15-week virtual programme run by the Net Zero Technology Centre for start-ups that want to have an impact on the energy transition.

The University of Glasgow, Glasgow School of Art and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland are joining forces in support of creative entrepreneurship called the Founders Fund for Creatives. It’s a pilot innovation fund for early stage projects in the arts and humanities that have entrepreneurial and impact potential.

At Converge, our efforts to foster collaboration extend beyond our university partners, aiming to knit together the broader ecosystem of public and private sector needed to support innovators from our world-class institutions.

A shining example of this is our new partnership with the Techscaler hubs, designed to offer enhanced and streamlined support to tech entrepreneurs from all Scottish universities.

Innovation knows no boundaries, and neither should our collaborative efforts. By engaging with UK- wide and international partners, we can secure funding, gain exposure for Scottish spin-outs and start-ups, and open doors to global markets.

Initiatives like GlobalScot and Foras are already paving the way for such international collaborations, proving that working across borders is a win-win, fostering job creation, inward investment and generating wealth that benefits society at large.

Our collaborations with the British Business Bank and OBN represent a key step forward in our mission to widen the horizons of Scotland-based entrepreneurs, expanding their networks and their opportunities for growth.