Scotland shoots to become global innovation leader within 10 years with £100m fund

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Scotland's Innovation Strategy sets out the country's vision to become 'one of the most innovative small nations in the world over the next decade'. Pic: GettyImages
Scotland's Innovation Strategy sets out the country's vision to become 'one of the most innovative small nations in the world over the next decade'. Pic: GettyImages

Related tags Scotland Innovation Entrepreneurship agriTech Blue economy Food manufacture Exports startups Scottish Innovation Fund skills and development

The Scottish Government has outlined a new approach to turn research into successful products, encourage more businesses to innovate and improve productivity.

The blueprint aims to make Scotland ‘one of the most innovative small nations in the world’ by working ‘closely with universities to design and develop a £100m Scottish Innovation Fund to invest in early stage start-ups focused on deep science and other emerging tech’, such as advanced manufacturing and net zero.

“Scotland is already home to a number of globally competitive, research intensive universities and some of the most exciting and innovative companies in the world, and this strategy focuses on actions required to scale, accelerate and further unleash the potential of innovation across the country,”​ said Prof Sir Jim McDonald, vice-chancellor of the University of Strathclyde and co-chair of the Steering Group of entrepreneurs, industry experts, academics, business leaders and investors that shaped the strategy.

Magnets for talent and investment

Bakery apprenticeships andresr
Pic: GettyImages

“Countries that can show agility and harness the power of new ideas and new technologies will thrive and become magnets for talent and investment over the next decade and beyond.

“We must also support the development of a much more diverse and inclusive community of entrepreneurs, researchers and business leaders, which in itself will create a more innovation-led ecosystem.”

Scotland’s innovation strategy has taken inspiration from Nordic countries, including Denmark, Norway and Finland, known for placing world-class R&D at the heart of economic growth and productivity.

Key proposals include:

  • encouraging European-style clusters of similar businesses by focusing on developing key strengths in advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences, net zero, and data and digital technologies
  • adopting a new approach to investing in innovative companies by reviewing existing public sector funds and improving signposting towards other sources of finance
  • supporting Scotland’s world-class universities to become better at turning research into successful products and businesses
  • taking a new approach to monitoring Scotland’s performance and benchmarking this against similar nations

The current landscape

Baker shaking hands with consumer Ilhor Bulyhin
Pic: GettyImages

Scotland already has a range of established, growing and emerging clusters​ serving a number of key international markets.

One such sector is a vibrant £15bn food and beverage (F&B) industry, which comprises over 17,000 businesses that provide employment ​for over 130,000 people in all parts of Scotland, even its most nethermost regions. According to government data, the sector accounts for 4.9% of total employment in Scotland and 15.1% of employment across the wider F&B sector in Great Britain.

The appetite for Scottish products from across the globe is borne out by exports worth a record £8.1bn in 2022.

The government’s Industry Recover Plan committed £15m (between 2020 and 2023) to assist all sectors of the industry to overcome disruptions from COVID and Brexit. With the Recovery Plan coming to an end, the government is now looking to refresh its Food & Drink Export Plan - which initially provided £2.7m in funding over 2019-2024 - with aims and ambitions for the next decade.

Other influential sectors in Scotland’s economy include those that are pivoting in line with its transition toward a fair and greener future. Natural capital - defined as the utilisation of the natural environment for the benefit of communities and the economy - may be an emerging opportunity area for Scotland, but it’s a highly important one.

World leader in entrepreneurship

Scotland's Innovation Strategy
Innovation Minister Richard Lochhead and Prof Sir Jim McDonald

“This strategy sets out our vision to become one of the most innovative small nations in the world over the next decade,” ​said Innovation Minister Richard Lochhead.

“This is key to our efforts to transform the economy and drive a lasting improvement in Scotland’s economic performance.

“It also sends out a wider message - that we are determined to become a world leader in entrepreneurship and innovation.

“Scotland will use all the powers we have to create an economy which supports businesses to thrive. We will do this by harnessing the skills and ingenuity of our people and seizing the economic and social opportunities provided.

“Scotland is famous the world over for invention and innovation and today we have many strengths, including emerging and potentially game-changing advances in areas like biotechnology and data. So we build from strong foundations.

“I am very grateful to Sir Jim and to all those from business, academia and across the public sector who contributed to the development and will be key partners in the delivery of this strategy.”

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