This week more than 800 delegates gathered at the Glasgow Science Centre for an event exploring the progress Scotland is making in building an economy through innovation. The Can Do Innovation Summit is an annual opportunity to bring people together to explore current tech trends and put some of our most impressive SMEs in tech heavy industries on display.
Delivered by the Glasgow City of Science and Innovation partnership (GCOSI), the event flourished online during the pandemic and is now genuinely combining the best of live and online content. The GCOSI partnership is itself based at the Science Centre and run by a small scientifically literate team devoted to raising the profile of Glasgow’s own role in science and technology development.
It was the invention of former Chief Medical Officer for both Scotland and subsequently England, Sir Ken Calman. Sir Ken wanted Glasgow more widely recognised for the quality and range of the science research emerging from its educational institutions and for the commercial partnerships being achieved with the private sector. He felt Glasgow’s name was not featuring enough in policy and funding decisions. His proposal was to bring together universities, colleges, the Chamber of Commerce, national agencies and Glasgow City Council to tell the story of our science research capabilities and show how Glasgow is a natural home for research funding, private investment and the implementation of government innovation policy.
Had Sir Ken been able to witness the summit discussions, I hope he would have agreed Glasgow is now getting more of the attention he wanted. Arguably the city is on a roll.
First came the decision in 2022 by the UK Government to make Glasgow one of three Innovation Accelerator Partnerships alongside Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.
An allocation of £33 million is being invested in 11 university research commercialisation projects including circular manufacturing, quantum computing and digital chemistry and all the projects have private sector funding support. I was privileged to be involved in the allocation process and can say with enthusiasm that it was a heartening experience. The range and depth of the proposals were excellent – we could easily do a second round – and the level of professionalism shown by the Glasgow City Region and Glasgow City Council staff in managing a complex process to a very tight timescale was outstanding.
In June this year, the UK and Scottish governments announced Glasgow would have an Investment Zone – a further boost to at least one of our emerging technology clusters involving an additional £80m over five years in grant and/or tax incentives. And in the same month came the Scottish Government’s Innovation Strategy which included a very strong emphasis on science and technology cluster development and specifically highlighted the role of Glasgow’s Innovation Districts.
I cannot emphasise enough the significance of the Innovation Districts as catalysts for economic growth and resilience. We have a powerful mix of three that provides a focus for new industries. The University of Strathclyde’s Glasgow City Innovation District based in Glasgow City Centre around the University’s campus with the hugely successful Technology Innovation Centre at its heart majors in various engineering technologies. The very different and distinctive Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District alongside Glasgow Airport, again led by Strathclyde and drawing upon the National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland and the Advanced Forming Research Centre, is helping rediscover Glasgow’s manufacturing tradition.
And finally, the University of Glasgow’s Riverside Innovation District will capitalise on the Gilmorehill campus expansion and the research role of the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Govan with engineering and health and life sciences as the primary sectors of interest.
Much of the new government funding is being channelled through the Glasgow City Region and the regional team are responding with an action plan designed to keep our innovation economy growing and attract yet more public and private investment. Sir Ken originally aimed for Glasgow to be named European City of Science. That objective is no longer available to us but I hope he would agree that his GCOSI proposal is paying off nonetheless.
Stuart Patrick is CEO of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and Chair of Glasgow City of Science and Innovation.