Supercharging SMEs to tackle global challenges through a CAN DO approach to innovation

Supercharging SMEs to tackle global challenges through a CAN DO approach to innovation

Supercharging SMEs to tackle global challenges through a CAN DO approach to innovation

It was Winston Churchill that 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 – it is central to our story.

Indeed, for centuries we have embraced the impact of discovery, entrepreneurship and invention to mitigate adverse global headwinds and transform economies for the wellbeing of people and planet.

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 grand challenges; aging societies, the impacts of AI and big data, tackling chronic disease and the effects of climate change.

SMEs are the backbone of Scotland’s economy, accounting for 93% of all private sector business in Scotland and 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. And only a small proportion of those who are innovating do so in collaboration with others (such as other businesses or academic institutions) or focus on the potential of international markets.  

In consideration of the above, 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 greater 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. Without the right support SMEs will struggle to stay ahead of the curve on technologies like robotics, blockchain and IoT and realise the potential of these advancements.

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 support initiatives to encourage greater business innovation, this framework has a business innovation target to double Business Enterprise Research and Development (BERD) from £871 million in 2015 to £1.75 billion by 2025.

One major CAN DO initiative is VentureFest. Scotland’s festival of discovery and innovation which culminates in a headline programme every autumn kicking off with Start Up Summit (30 October, Edinburgh) and concluding with the inaugural CAN DO Innovation Summit (20 November, Glasgow).

Now in its eighth year, Start-up Summit is hailed as one of the UK’s leading events for start-ups. Attracting 1000 delegates, it will focus on people, process and performance and will explore all aspects of running a business, including marketing, strategy, leadership, sales and investment.

The CAN DO Innovation Summit will aim to stimulate more innovation within growing SMEs by showcasing the stories of global brands like LEGO as well as over 40 homegrown SMEs. These inspirational forerunners will share how they are creatively adopting new technologies and progressive business cultures across key sectors – from health and connectivity to finance and entertainment – to generate growth through innovation. Local companies like Sustainably (an award-winning fintech startup 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. This can be overwhelming for some businesses. They will also 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. We should celebrate that. Sharing our rich innovation capabilities globally will inspire and leverage greater opportunities to attract new investment and talent to the nation. And by designing support mechanisms that enable and empower SMEs to innovate with both social and economic impacts, we will  reach our CAN DO ambition of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the best performing countries in the World, whilst helping to tackle some of the biggest challenges of our time.

Dr Susie Mitchell is Programme Director at Glasgow City of Science and Innovation – the lead delivery agency for VentureFest Scotland (www.venturefest.scot).

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