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Ensuring an innovative future

The 2021 CAN DO Innovation Summit was a platform for sharing hard won insights and exciting new ideas for the future according to Dr Stuart Fancey, SFC’s Director of Research and Innovation.

Yesterday, around 1,200 forward-looking people from across Scotland and beyond came together in a virtual format for the 2021 CAN DO Innovation Summit. Under the theme of Discovery, Resilience, Growth, the conference was a welcome platform for sharing hard-won insights gained from the COVID-19 pandemic, and for discussing ideas about the future. With innovation always at the centre, topics for the day included climate change; the circular economy; social innovation; advanced manufacturing; and organisational culture.

CAN DO Innovation Summit

Even as an online experience there was a real buzz about the day’s activities, with energy and purpose from the speakers and positive interaction and engagement from the delegates. Against the ravages of the global pandemic, it was clear that innovation across both the private and public sectors of the Scottish economy remains in good health. One HR expert felt that uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 crisis had focused people’s attention on the need for survival and sustainability, and that workforce cohesion had improved as a result. I think that’s an interesting observation and it points to a dynamic that will serve us well as we emerge from difficult times.

Another thing that struck me was that, at a time where challenge can seem a more prominent force than opportunity, yesterday’s speakers spoke a lot about opportunity.

There were opportunities to transform processes, opportunities to embrace new digital technologies, opportunities to collaborate, and opportunities to develop new skills in the workforce. And this wasn’t just wishful thinking. There were many examples of how these opportunities were being exploited, often with the help of agencies like Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and SFC.

Indeed, according to John Reid, Chief Executive of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), there has never been a better time to innovate. John argued there is an increasing recognition for innovation and for its ability to create future wealth and employment. He spoke of the support now available for SMEs, including NMIS’s ability to help them reduce the risk of innovation in the manufacturing process.

Innovation is one of the key themes for the Review of Coherent Provision and Sustainability currently being carried out by the Scottish Funding Council on behalf of the Scottish Government. We want to help supercharge progress towards a future based on innovation by greater translation of our investment in research into successful innovation; we also want to encourage even more collaborations between industry and academics, and to evolve our Innovation Centres to meet new challenges.

Evidence like that of yesterday’s Innovation Summit makes me optimistic that the environment is right for these types of policies and investments. I believe there are many more businesses willing to work with Scotland’s world-leading universities to discover new ways of making things, businesses ready to develop the skills of their people and find new ways of doing things, and businesses resilient enough to survive when times are tough in order to thrive when things get better.

If you’re interested in the future of innovation in Scotland, please make time to dip into at least some of yesterday’s summit - all sessions are now available on the CAN DO Innovation Summit website.

It only remains for me to thank Glasgow City of Science and Innovation, the lead delivery agency for the CAN DO Innovation Summit, for such a well-designed, well organised and outstandingly managed event.

Dr Stuart Fancey, Director of Research and Innovation, Scottish Funding Council - 4 Feb 2021