Invent, invest, innovate: Scotland’s global impact

This year has been designated the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design (#IAD2016), with a special  focus on Scotland’s innovative past, present and future. To celebrate and recognise innovation in all its forms, over the coming year, we will be highlighting the links between the great inventions which transformed the world, to the everyday innovations happening in businesses across Scotland as they work with universities and research institutions.

Scotland is well-known as the home of some of the most ground-breaking, world-changing inventions: from tarmac to telephones, and fax machines to penicillin. The first patented flushing toilet with an s-bend was even invented by a Scot, revolutionising hygiene.

As a relatively small nation, Scotland punches well above its weight when it comes to inventors and inventions. Invention and innovation can lead to ground breaking revolutionary new discoveries or iterative evolution of an existing concept – both transformational and impactful to the economy and society.

Luckily, the creative brains – usually trying to solve a frustrating problem – are as active nowadays as they were in the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. However, it is often people looking for a better way of doing a routine but important process, or frustrated by not being able to do something (travel in comfort, know when food has gone past it use by date or monitor patients’ vital statistics easily) who are our modern-day inventors.

There are thousands of evolutionary and revolutionary inventors, working in businesses and higher education institutions throughout Scotland – although they don’t always see themselves as such, most of the time they are simply “doing their job”.

Interface works with the full range of businesses, from kitchen table SMEs to global companies, all seeking to improve processes or develop products in one way or another. It could be testing the nutritional value of food products to be able to position them as the healthiest option on the market – IQ Chocolate, Plan Bee and the Scottish Rapeseed Oil Group have all gone down this route - or deployment of sophisticated technology in a new market, such as celebration cake manufacturer Lightbody working with The University of Strathclyde’s Hyperspectral Imaging Centre to quantify moisture levels of their cakes.

Technical development of an established product is a common way for businesses to tap into Scotland’s academic expertise. From Uan Wool working with Heriot-Watt University to Sansooz’s collaboration with Duncan of Jordanstone, University of Dundee, the opportunities are limitless as to how businesses and academics share knowledge in these highly productive partnerships.

Others want to test an idea or prototype before investing more time and money on the development phase – Scotlab and Robop are just two companies which have taken this approach, partnering with university experts to improve their end products.

Research and feasibility studies have also been instrumental in enabling companies to grow, develop, reach new markets and safeguard jobs.

Whether it is inventing logarithms which laid the foundations of computing (mathematician John Napier of Merchiston) or deploying sophisticated mathematical algorithms to improve waste efficiency (Interface client Coast & Glen),  the number of Scots inventions that continue to play a big part in our everyday lives are too many to list.

There is no doubt that Scotland, and its people, have a huge impact on our modern world – and will continue to do so with the right support and connections.