Summit’s in the air for Scotland’s innovative SMEs - Susie Mitchell

Too few SMEs are innovating products, services or business models, says Mitchell. Picture: David Stanton
Too few SMEs are innovating products, services or business models, says Mitchell. Picture: David Stanton
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It was Winston Churchill who said of the Scots: “Of all the small nations on earth perhaps only the Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.”

Scotland has a gift for innovation. It’s in our DNA. From penicillin and ultrasound to refrigeration and Watt’s improvements to the steam engine . Today, Scotland can boast world-leading research across ­several emerging areas including ­quantum, communications technologies, precision medicine, low carbon and advanced manufacturing, to name a few.

Knowledge transformation is central to Scotland’s future success in the global market place and in tackling the 21st century’s grand challenges; aging societies, the impacts of AI and big data, chronic disease and the effects of climate change. SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) are the backbone of Scotland’s economy, supporting an estimated 1.2 million jobs.

Bolstering innovation performance and entrepreneurship will be vital to improving Scotland’s international competitiveness and productivity. Yet, too few SMEs are active in innovating products, services or business models. Only a small proportion of those who are innovating collaborate with others or focus on the potential of international markets.

Scotland’s most innovative SMEs will play a critical role building cultures of innovation that combine human creativity and entrepreneurship with disruptive new technologies (many being developed and researched on Scottish soil) to come up with the breakthroughs that will drive business competitiveness, improved ­productivity and help to secure the wellbeing of future generations. That being said; testing and adopting the latest technologies to find new solutions requires a few key ingredients – the right knowledge and skills, money and time.

'World-leading entrepreneurial nation'

Supporting and bolstering business innovation lies at the heart of Scotland Can Do, a framework that sets a vision to make Scotland a world-leading entrepreneurial and innovative nation where innovation and growth that benefits all in society, go hand in hand. Backed by a raft of initiatives to encourage greater business innovation, this framework aims to double business enterprise research and development to £1.75 billion by 2025.

One major Can Do initiative is VentureFest, Scotland’s festival of discovery and innovation culminating in a headline programme every autumn, which this year kicks off with Start Up Summit on 30 October in Edinburgh and concludes with the inaugural Can Do Innovation Summit in Glasgow on 20 November.

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Now in its eighth year, Start-up Summit is hailed as one of the UK’s leading events for start-ups, attracting 1,000 delegates. The Innovation Summit aims to stimulate innovation within growing SMEs by showcasing the stories of global brands like Lego as well as more than 40 homegrown SMEs. Local companies like Sustainably (a fintech start-up for social good) will also talk about how they have used the power of responsible business practises to help solve societal challenges.

Crucially, both summits will help SMEs to navigate the vast range of support in Scotland (and beyond) available to them along their innovation journey. They will also allow ­businesses across all sectors to make the right connections – academics, investors, entrepreneurs and others – to help them to unlock their innovation capacity and explore the ­possibilities of tomorrow.

Scotland is already a leader in innovation. Sharing our rich innovation capabilities globally will inspire and leverage greater opportunities to attract new investment and talent. By designing support mechanisms that empower SMEs to innovate with social and economic impacts, we will reach our ambition of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the best performing countries, while tackling some of the biggest challenges of our time.

- Dr Susie Mitchell, programme director at ­Glasgow City of Science and Innovation.