Innovation projects can be ‘game changers’

Madhu Nair from the University of Aberdeen was a winner at this year's Converge Challenge

Madhu Nair from the University of Aberdeen was a winner at this year's Converge Challenge

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Global Entrepreneurship Week is a worldwide quest to encourage individuals to be more entrepreneurial and start their own businesses.

This year, Global Entrepreneurship Week happened at a time (last week) when Scotland’s own technology innovation sector has never been in better shape. There remains a robust appetite for invention across our university campuses, with an abundance of ideas generated and crystallised into new products and services.

These novel offerings often have global potential, and bodies such as the Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Enterprise and a myriad of other financial backers provide encouragement and assistance to our entrepreneurs in crossing the bridge of exporting their ideas into worldwide markets. However, the reality remains that a transition into exporting business, building contacts, securing funding and marketing channels on a pan-European or global scale remains a daunting challenge for many.

That’s why initiatives like the Open Innovation Project that operates in six countries of north-west Europe can easily become a “game-changer” for business start-ups. It is a natural progression to link with Converge Challenge, Scotland’s biggest start-up competition and entrepreneurial training programme. Converge Challenge provides staff and students with the opportunity to explore the commercial potential of their inventions and awards the largest cash prize of its kind available.

The September final of Converge Challenge was a celebration of a new generation of entrepreneurs. It took place at Heriot-Watt University, an institution that has a very strong reputation for its international activities. Therefore, it is fitting that Converge Challenge has now extended its reach into Europe by working in partnership with Open Innovation Project, which helps in breaking down geographical barriers of engagement and effectively throws open the opportunity to offer budding entrepreneurs a means to interact with a much wider range of potential collaborators.

Diversity of ideas

Open Innovation is carried out in partnership with local governments – City of Edinburgh Council has enthusiastically adopted the concept – universities, business support services and other public bodies, delivering a diverse and dynamic programme of activities across the UK, France, Germany, Ireland and Belgium.

Underpinning this, at the Royal Society of Edinburgh last week, we had 12 young companies from these countries participating in the Converge Challenge Open Innovation competition. They came to the event from, University College London, Laval Technopole, France; VOKA, Flanders’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Belgium; Somerset City Council; University of Kassel, Germany; National College of Ireland, Dublin; IRSEEM/ESIGELEC, Rouen and the Converge Challenge. All were chasing four-figure cash prizes for Best Open Innovation Idea and the Best Open Innovation Business, but more importantly it provided an opportunity to meet their peers across Europe and build strong international contacts.

The diversity of ideas was impressive: from an app for wine-lovers to a diagnostic test for mental health disorders.

Dynamic working relationships

The eventual winners were SACCADE Diagnostics (University of Aberdeen) and UXCam (University College, London) who picked up awards for Best Open Innovation Business and Best Open Innovation Business Idea respectively.

Open Innovation helps foster new, dynamic working relationships between small and large companies, universities and corporates. Government, too, at local and national levels across Europe, can contribute by investing in “knowledge exchange” between businesses and universities, helping to create the conditions that can generate economic value.

Earlier this year, David Cameron suggested that Open Innovation offers the UK’s best researchers the chance to decide the most pressing challenge in need of an innovative jump forward.

He continued: “We think about what the world needs now – it’s growth. And we believe that will be coming from small businesses and start-ups more than big, existing traditional business. This is vital; the world is moving at such an incredible pace.”

Our universities remain the springboard that propels new ideas to create new business and investment.

That, coupled with the appropriate support and training programmes, will generate growth and specialist knowledge to enable new connections and resources that embed a proprietary innovation platform in the coming years.

Innovation in Scotland maintains a solid grass-roots community of start-ups, helping to shape the careers of so many people.

Initiatives like Converge Challenge Open Innovation helps foster the ambitions of those who want to work at the forefront of the innovation process and, above all, it helps to produce a vibrancy that few other sectors can match.

• Olga Kozlova is director of Converge Challenge

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