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Scottish Enterprise urges businesses to embrace change and innovation

Why Scottish Enterprise is focusing on innovation - and how Scottish businesses can benefit.

Business person walking up stairs in modern office.
Businesses that innovate are more competitive, says Scottish Enterprise.

More than half of all business growth is a result of some form of innovation – which is why Scottish Enterprise has made it one of its three key areas of focus.

As a central driver of the Scottish economy, all companies should be thinking about how they can embrace change for the better. At a practical level, the implementation of ideas – resulting in new or improved products, processes, and services – is a key differentiator, providing a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Speaking to Insider, Scottish Enterprise’s head of innovation Alison Munro explained that the organisation’s core purpose is to support Scottish businesses to innovate and scale to transform the Scottish economy.

Businesses that innovate are more competitive and are three times more likely to successfully internationalise. Innovation also attracts research, talent and investment, driving Scotland’s productivity growth and boosting our global reputation.

How Scottish Enterprise promotes innovation

With an extensive team of dedicated specialists focusing on innovation, Scottish Enterprise can support Scottish businesses with access to financial assistance, specialist support and connections to university knowledge and expertise via innovation and research centres across a broad spectrum of sectors.

Alison Munro explained: “We provide advice and guidance to companies, alongside a range of financial support – effectively sharing the risk with them and helping to scope project feasibility and implementation.

“We’re looking at our investment to bring an economic development return – be that improvement in jobs, salaries, exporting, raising other investment – as well as encouraging companies to reach net zero emissions, addressing principles around fair work and boosting international sales.”

Innovation has always been a key priority for the organisation, but in line with the government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation, it has been brought to the forefront as something critical to competitiveness and sustainability.

Concentrating the organisation’s expertise to make a step change in Scotland’s economic performance, Scottish Enterprise’s new, mission-based approach focuses on the importance of scaling innovation.

Its other two missions will concentrate on building an internationally competitive energy transition industry and unlocking capital investment to drive productivity.

Focusing on innovation across different sectors

Scottish Enterprise has seen many more sectors capitalising on the growth potential of innovation.

Alison Munro, Scottish Enterprise’s head of innovation
Alison Munro, head of innovation at Scottish Enterprise.

“In terms of innovation performance, traditionally our research and development activity was concentrated in oil and gas, life sciences, technology and manufacturing businesses, but what we’ve seen over the years is that it has become much broader,” stated Munro.

Areas like renewables and fintech have grown rapidly in the last few years, alongside a small, but significant, digital sector – particularly using satellite data to drive insights in other industries.

“I think we’re seeing more companies embracing innovation within sectors like food and drink, renewables and space,” said Munro, pointing out that recent investments by Innovate UK – such as the £7m Industrial Biotech Launchpad at Grangemouth, or the £33m Innovation Accelerator Programme in Glasgow – have demonstrated how Scotland’s position is changing.

Innovation Districts

The development of specific Innovation Districts is another way Scottish Enterprise is working with partners such as Strathclyde, Glasgow and Edinburgh universities and Glasgow City Council to find ways to make its funding go further. Examples include the Glasgow City and Riverside Innovation Districts and Edinburgh’s BioQuarter.

Munro said: “These really help to put specialist infrastructure in one place, trying to get a concentration of skills and facilities in order to create national reach.

“We’re also seeing a marked change in our spin-out activity, in that these start-ups are really being able to scale-up, which is a good sign we’re getting something right.”

Collaborating with Innovate UK

She also reiterated the need for collaboration to continue this positive trajectory, noting things like Scottish Enterprise’s long-standing relationship with Innovate UK.

In November 2023 the two agencies entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to streamline the journey through the innovation support system for companies and deliver further and faster assistance to Scottish businesses.

The Glasgow City Region Innovation Action Plan, a partnership with Glasgow City Council, Innovate UK and Scottish Enterprise, was launched as part of this, is the first in Scotland and sets the scene for further regional actions plans to be developed in the future.

“Our teams are working on practical solutions, looking at joint loan and equity funding, raising awareness of what we do and thinking about future support – what might need to change in terms of innovation demands and how we jointly respond,” explained Munro.

“These partnerships are a collaborative approach – bringing in local businesses, local authorities, colleges and universities – meaning that plenty of people are actually putting the agenda into action,” said Munro.

“I’m part of the delivery team and it’s been truly collaborative, with one group working towards delivering the ambition.

“Sometimes we underplay the connecting strand of what we do, but for innovation it’s critically important – and it’s often surprising that business competitors are so keen to collaborate.

“Obviously, they’ll keep certain things to themselves, but businesses really want to work on common agendas, things like skills development and data solutions.

“We want to foster that, because that way we get clarity of what’s needed and the future agenda – which then helps us to line up investments and services tailored to actual industry need.”

Securing intellectual property

A final, but crucial, part of what Scottish Enterprise assists companies with on the innovation front is securing the intellectual property that comes out of new ideas and inventions.

It has a team dedicated to this area – given how potentially complex it can be for businesses – many of them professionals with experience in this part of law.

There’s also an established partnership with the UK Intellectual Property Office to help with audits, filing patents and developing a strategy.

How can Scottish Enterprise help your business?

Scottish Enterprise is Scotland’s national economic development agency, supporting businesses to innovate and scale to transform our economy.

Putting businesses at the heart of everything it does, Scottish Enterprise is focused
on the areas where it can make the biggest difference – innovation, investment and internationalisation.

It provides a range of services including business development and advice, innovation support, export and international market support and targeted capital and inward investment that align with economic opportunities.

It also supports businesses to adopt net zero, fair work and equality, as well as diversity and inclusion practices. Scottish Enterprise offers investment in projects that support regional innovation capabilities and infrastructure.

Its experts provide real insight into emerging market opportunities and access to a professional support network that has been helping Scottish businesses to leverage their strengths and build on their capabilities for more than 30 years.

Find out more – visit Scottish Enterprise.