SFC set to put up to £50m into 5 innovation centres

Industrial biotechnology could be worth 900m pounds by 2025. Picture: PA
Industrial biotechnology could be worth 900m pounds by 2025. Picture: PA
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THE Scottish Funding Council (SFC) is preparing to inject up to £50 million into a further five innovation centres which will bring together businesses and universities to work on research and development projects.

The council, which hands out funds to colleges and universities, is expected to announce the five centres in the coming weeks.

Stuart Fancey, assistant director for research and innovation at the SFC, gave details about the new centres at the Converge Challenge Open Innovation awards ceremony at the Royal Society of Edinburgh last week.

The latest sites are expected to cover aquaculture, construction, industrial biotechnology (IB), oil and gas, and “big data”, which involves finding patterns in large quantities of information.

Interim chief executive Laurence Howells told Scotland on Sunday: “SFC is currently in negotiations around five more innovation centres and it is hoped that these will be funded and ready to go ­before Christmas.”

But Scott Johnstone, chief executive of the Scottish Lifesciences Association trade body, challenged the centres to work with smaller firms.

“We understand why universities in Scotland find it easier to work with large companies than with small ones, but small businesses make up a major part of our economy, and we have to develop better ways of getting the benefits of this very welcome funding through to them too,” he said.

“The challenge for the universities in which these centres are based is to find effective ways of ensuring that the small life sciences companies can interact with the innovation centres in a way which will help them grow their businesses and employment.”

News of the IB centre comes just days after Scottish Enterprise used the first Ecochem conference in Switzerland to launch its strategy for the sector, which aims to grow revenues from £198m at present to £900m by 2025.

IB includes turning waste into energy and products, creating biological catalysts for the chemicals industry and finding replacement raw materials for oil and gas.

Strathclyde University has led a consortium bidding to run the IB centre, along with Edinburgh University, Glasgow University and the Scottish Association for Marine Science. Industrial partners include GlaxoSmithKline, Britain’s biggest drugs maker, and Grangemouth oil refinery owner Ineos.

Earlier this year, Julia Brown, senior director of life and chemical sciences at Scottish Enterprise, told Scotland on Sunday that she wanted to shine a light on the work being done with animal and fish health in Scotland.

The opening of an aquaculture innovation centre – the bid for which was led by Stirling University – would contribute to this goal.

Three innovation centres were launched in April by the SFC, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands & Islands Enterprise, with £30m of funding.

At the time, First Minister Alex Salmond said the three centres were expected to create 2,000 jobs between them over the next five years.

Glasgow University is hosting both the Innovation Centre in Sensor & Imaging Systems and the Stratified Medicine Innovation Centre, which is looking at “personalised” medicine designed to treat patients based on their individual genes.

Edinburgh University is home to the Digital Health & Care Innovation Centre.