In this blog, Professor Bill Buchanan OBE shares the highlights from our recent Innovation Hub’s Symposium on Technology Innovation and Collaboration.
“We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise, why else even be here?” — Steve Jobs
On Thursday 12 January 2023, Edinburgh Napier’s recently launched Innovation Hub hosted an excellent Symposium on Technology Innovation and Collaboration, and it was one of our first live events after the Covid-19 lockdown period. We, therefore, carefully picked the speakers for a balance of future gazing, some great success stories, and in sharing guidance on finding opportunities for funding.
Event opening – help to find funding
It has been an exciting time for us at Edinburgh Napier University, as our School of Computing recently merged with our School of Engineering and the Built Environment. This has been done under the leadership of our new Dean of our School of Computing, Engineering and Built Environment, Professor Peter Andras, so it was a natural start to the event to have Professor Andras open the event.
To kick off our Innovation session, our Head of Enterprise at Edinburgh Napier, Nick Fannin introduced the morning session on Enabling Funding and Routes to Impact.
ENU is open for business! Launch of our new Innovation Hub
Our Head of Knowledge Exchange, Linda Wallace, set the scene in Scotland and outlined the shared drive for innovation at Edinburgh Napier, giving an overview of our recently launched ENU Innovation Hub, driving the message that Edinburgh Napier is open for business and that we are keen to start building connections and collaborations between industry and academia to drive innovation.
Highlighting the benefits of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs)
Innovate UK has funded Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) for over 40 years, and they are one of the most successful programmes to link industry with academia. Judy Brown, who leads the East of Scotland KTP Centre, outlined for our delegates a thorough overview of its operation
Interface Funding Opportunities
Scottish Enterprise’s High Growth Spin-Out Programme
One of the true successes in Scotland has been the support from Scottish Enterprise within the High Growth Spin-out Programme (HGSP). This scheme allows the support for potential spin-out companies to develop a strong business case, and move towards funding.
All of our successful spin-outs to date have received this support, and it strengthened every one of them. This allows us to find an executive team to drive the spin-out forward, while also matching the research work to industry problems. We were pleased therefore to have Frank Tooley, outlining to delegates this valuable funding programme at the event.
Funding schemes supported by EPSRC
At the core of academic research is UKRI and for engineering and physical sciences, the main research council is EPSRC. Alex Peden outlined the extensive range of funding schemes that are currently supported by EPSRC, and also highlighted the importance of impact with research.
This highlighted the advancement of knowledge (e.g., new tools and techniques); social impacts (e.g. policy, regulations and standards); impacts on people (eg career progress); and an impact of the economy (eg job creation). For Alex, the greater the impact, the more that EPSRC can support its research base.
Bridging the gap between industry and academia
To end the first session, it was the inspiration of our Head of Business Engagement and IP Commercialisation, Fiona Mason.
Fiona gave an honest, overview on the historic challenges there has been for industry and academia to collaborate to support shared innovation ambitions. For Fiona, the future is all about building bridges between industry and academia, and in driving partnerships, which her and her ENU Business Engagement team are striving to do.
Showcasing diverse research journeys
The afternoon session showcased examples of successful, research journeys, with a natural place to start was with Dr Pavlos Papadopoulos – our ENU Scottish Cyber Awards 2022 Young Cyber Person of the Year winner.
Over the past three years, Pavlos has developed his research related to distributed ledgers, and this shows create potential in a number of areas. For Pavlos, the focus has been on an application into the software supply chain, and thus to create more trustworthy software.
Start for Future Global Entrepreneurship Programme
If you know anything about the great spin-out and start-up work that is conducted in the University, you’ll know about the leadership and drive from Head of Enterprise, Nick Fannin.
In his presentation, Nick outlined the opportunities for start-ups and the support from universities, and especially highlighted the work within the Munich Accelerator and Start for the Future global programme.
Continuing the theme of sharing success stories, a natural place to start was Jamie Graves, who led our first spin-out, Zonefox. For Jamie, the journey was a bumpy one and all about grabbing opportunities when they occurred. Along with this, his advice was not to build a fully defined product, but to be agile for its applications into use cases.
Jamie also outlined how difficult it can be to scale from a pilot implementation to a production-ready environment. Zonefox was acquired by Fortinet, and it all stemmed from Jamie’s drive for improved methods of creating and handling digital forensics data.
Healthcare and digital technologies
If there’s one person, I would recommend transforming healthcare with digital technologies, it is Chaloner Chute of the Digital Health and Care Innovation Centre. To me, no one on the planet understands more about how we can create more citizen-focused healthcare systems. For him, it is the driving force of ‘to tell my story once’; ‘meaningful dialogue with professionals’; ‘to access and understand my data and guidance’; ‘to do things on my own terms’; and ‘to unlock or unblock the care I need’.
All simple things that citizens understand, but where Chal breaks these down into technology solutions, that do indeed build bridges between the citizen and our healthcare infrastructure. To me, truly, truly, truly inspirational, and I have faith in the future of our healthcare infrastructure in Scotland with people like Chal around. As you may know, technological innovation in healthcare is one of the most difficult areas, but Chal does it so well.
From idea to impact
For our final session ‘Idea to Impact’, it was all about gazing into the future, and where Kendra Byers of Bright Red Triangle introduced us to areas of innovation in cybersecurity and around fintech industry.
For Bruce, the bump in the road was a complete refocus and redraft of a business plan. From an application towards data loss prevention, Ian Stevenson (the CEO at Cyacomb) refocused on the spin-out on their core market: law enforcement. It has worked like a dream, with Cyacomb advancing in international markets, and taking advantage of opportunities. For Bruce, a key focus has been continuing to develop new innovative areas, and have a pipeline of innovation.
Challenges in FinTech innovation
FinTech is one of the most disruptive spaces for innovation. Dia Banerji is a UK Ambassador for Women In Identity and Ambassador of Women’s Enterprise Scotland. In her presentation, Dia outlined the spaces where maximum disrupt about occurs, and that we need to move from a focus on features and products towards outcomes.
Getting the team right to drive the business forward
Always someone to listen to every word, we had Federico Charosky from Quorum Cyber. A core message from his was to get the team right, and partner with those who can drive the business forward not just for now, but for when the business grows in the future. And for Federico, he saw the opportunity of using Microsoft’s cybersecurity tools, while others in the industry looked elsewhere, and it was a genius decision.
Panel Discussion – gender balance and supporting scale-ups
Our panel consisted of Fiona Mason, Mark Logan, Federico Charosky, Dia Banerji, and Jamie Graves and could have gone on for hours, as it was so interesting! Topics the panel debated included how to address the gender balance within our innovation infrastructure, and how we can best support a scale-up of innovation.
Keynote guest talk: Professor Mark Logan – The Enterprise Campus
Our keynote guest speaker to close the event was Scottish Government’s Chief Entrepreneurial Advisor, Professor Mark Logan of the University of Glasgow, who gave a presentation to captivated delegates on his drive to see enterprise as a core part of university life: The Enterprise Campus.
Professor Logan outlined that we faced many exponential increases in many areas, such as the climate crisis. With a focused approach to innovation, we need an exponential decay in terms of the costs of the tools that we need to address these, and if we can find the balance, we can hopefully catch these in time.
For Mark, research is only part of the work that universities can do, and there is a need to get focused on innovation as a larger ecosystem that takes ideas and translates them into products that address fundamental issues in our society.
For Mark, key messages were that real innovation happens in the gaps between disciplines and that innovation isn’t just research, but invention and scale.
Connecting and collaborating
Throughout the day, delegates from across academia and industry had the opportunity to connect and network, and discuss and explore future planned innovation collaborations.
Conclusions – we must innovate for the future together
We must address the fundamental issues in our society, and innovation provides a core part of this. This is not a journey for one person to lead, but involves many hands working together.
Let’s build the future … go innovate!