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Entrepreneurship: ambition and innovation

By Eleanor Shaw - Posted on 23 March 2018

In today’s third and final blog in the series, Professor Eleanor Shaw looks at what lessons Scotland can learn from successful innovation districts, cities and zones to ensure we keep and attract the very best talent in and to Scotland.

Creating a more joined up, collaborative environment which boasts a tolerant, open mind-set, focused on opportunities for growth and innovation, is a magnet for keeping top talent in Scotland and attracting the best talent from around the globe to Scotland. We know that a diverse, talented workforce is critical for driving invention and innovation from the earliest Technology Readiness Levels all the way through to the launch of new technologies, services and products and their successful commercialisation.

I think this is an area of enormous potential for Scotland and much can be learnt from the successes of the 22@ Project in Barcelona, the Mission District in San Francisco and the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven, to name just a few of the  innovation districts which are globally-recognised as being successful in:

  • redeveloping disused urban spaces
  • creating new jobs and boosting economic regeneration
  • creating innovations and new social interactions and engagements through collaborations between academia, industry and government.

In Scotland, we are already making some headway: we have the Edinburgh Bioquarter, the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, a  new ‘Factory of the Future’ - the National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland - being built on the banks of the River Clyde at Inchinnan, and two innovation districts centred on Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities.

Each of these developments is bringing industry, academia and government closer together, creating spaces and environments which encourage collaboration and innovation focused on key sectors relevant to Scotland’s future with potential for significant global reach. They also have the potential to offer the types of jobs and lifestyles which our talented school leavers, graduates and apprenticeships are looking for and which talent outside of Scotland is being drawn to.

So what can we do to encourage us, as a nation, to be more ambitious?

It is critical that educators, scientists, engineers, medics, entrepreneurs and policy makers (to name but a few) work together to raise the level of ambition in Scotland – we need events which document, capture and celebrate our successes; we need to learn from our failures and we need to have the support of our media to celebrate the diversity of our ambitious business builders.

Crucially we need to be more ambitious in two important areas:

  • We need to scale our knowledge exchanges. I’ve already mentioned innovation districts and in the future we need to be ambitious, using these districts to transform urban economies and serve as a magnet for attracting talent, investment, enterprise, creativity and as hot beds for social progression, offering more opportunities and more, and better, opportunities for all.
  • We also need to be more international in our outlook and our experiences. If we travel, if we experience other cultures, if we make international connections, networks and relationships, we will be better placed to have that openness to the world and all its ideas and opportunities that is so critical for innovation.  We need to encourage more international students to visit our universities and we need to encourage more of our school leavers, student and graduates to undertake international travel – this will create a virtuous cycle which leads to open, growth-focused mind-sets and an awareness of the opportunities for Scotland which lie beyond our borders.

And finally, how can we build the leadership capacity and excellence needed to initiate and grow innovative organisations with global reach which provide opportunities for talented graduates, apprentices, entrepreneurs, creatives, inventors and innovators?  

Numerous studies on productivity, innovation and competitiveness highlight the significant, bottom line impact of leadership. To raise our game in Scotland we need to invest in leadership: equip our emerging leaders with the tool-kits, experiences, including international, networks, mentors and coaches that are vital in creating ambitious and inspiring leaders with the empathy needed for them, in turn, to lead ambitious, open-minded, talented, collaborative workplaces.

We also need to provide our entrepreneurial leaders with the skills, competencies and experiences needed to not only start but to also grow innovative businesses with the potential to internationalise and make disproportionate contributions to our economy, society and environment.

Universities have a strong role to play in this, working with industry and enterprise, creating meaningful learning and development opportunities focused on tool-kits, local and international case studies; opportunities for the application of learning, and the facilitation of peer-to-peer interaction and development. Creating learning environments which permit future leaders to acquire the soft skills needed to make them active listeners and successful coaches of their teams are vital.

There is one final consideration I would like to finish on.  For me, the values of an organisation are also vital - they help guide quick decision making; they guide organisations towards those opportunities best suited to their DNA and they often dictate the nature of organisational collaborations and relationships.

I believe that to achieve our shared ambition for Scotland to be a ‘Can Do’ nation, we need to be clear on what our respective organisational values are. How we articulate these and how we use these to guide our ambition, attract and lead top talent, support open, growth focused mind-sets and encourage more and more impactful collaborations and knowledge exchanges are, I believe, important considerations.

If we handle these discussions thoughtfully, intelligently and with empathy, we have it in our gift to ensure the engagements between our universities, research institutions and colleges and their industrial, social, entrepreneurial and government partners are transformational for us and our future.

This series of blogs was taken from the content of a speech Eleanor made for the Scottish KE Awards.

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