The Growing Value Scotland (GVS) Task Force has been in action for nearly a year now and it is in the second phase of investigation into improving business university research collaboration. The intended output is to generate industrial “competitive advantage” to positively impact the Scottish economy.

As an industrialist with over 20 years’ experience working for American multinationals based in Scotland and now a business development consultant for SMEs, I remain very motivated and active on the steering board of GVS. An essential part of my business generation role is to identify and stimulate commercially exploitable research innovation output within the local university base.

The GVS Task Force recently commissioned Biggar Economics to conduct an intensive set of interviews with representatives of Scotland’s key industrial sectors, universities, policy makers and industry organisations to gain their insights into the university-business innovation collaboration practices. Having just read the output of this latest research exercise, two of the initial conclusions resonate with me.

1. Innovation collaboration is “all about people…and having the right incentives in place”
2. Universities need to radically improve their information and knowledge exchange processes and focus more on economic development.

My observation is that there is a “lot of good stuff” going on in universities, however the appropriate level of incentive for academics to engage with industry for the innovation collaboration process is sometimes lacking. One of the prime measurements of university prowess is published paper output. I think that in most enterprises you tend to get what you measure!

Moving on to the university knowledge exchange process, in an ideal world this needs to be a two-way process with industry stating requirements and universities responding accordingly. Realistically, there has to be an easy starting point for industry to seek out the location of appropriate university research. A crisp, well-structured articulation of the current university research landscape presented in a digestible form would be most useful. Perhaps this is the job of an efficiently orchestrated knowledge exchange network as recommended by the recent Biggar Economics research exercise.

Whist many improvements can be made to the university/industry collaboration process, I am very encouraged by the Scottish Funding Council initiative to create innovation centres, whose remit is to bridge the gap between academia and industry. I have the privilege of serving on the board of Censis (Innovation Centre for Sensing and Imaging) which has recently played it’s part in bringing together academic, public sector and industrial partners to create a new semiconductor technology platform for leading edge near infra-red sensor development… A great example of what can be achieved when the appropriate measurements, motivations and collaborative processes are put in place.

The innovation centres are only one tool, as the GVS Task Force proceeds to the final stage of its journey we will be considering many more of the points highlighted by the recent research. I am confident that in our final report the task force will present a set of balanced outcomes and recommendations which if implemented, will significantly improve research collaboration with the creation of industrial “competitive advantage” and the resulting economic impact for Scotland.

By Tim Summers
Former Director of Networking Products Group Freescale EMEA
Independent Technology and Business Consultant
Board member Scottish Innovation Centre for Sensing and Imaging
Honorary Professor -School of Engineering: Glasgow University

Tim Summers is a member of the National Centre’s Growing Value Task Force, which will be releasing conclusions and recommendations on the future of university business collaboration in Scotland, on 25 May.