With its recent launch of Climate-KIC programmes for start-up support and innovation development, the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI) is at the heart of one of four climate-focused innovation clusters in the UK and Ireland.
The Daily Planet talks to ECCI Director, Dr Andy Kerr, and ECCI Head of Innovation, Ed Craig, to find out more about Scotland’s thriving cleantech sector, investment options for entrepreneurs and how the nation is boosting skills in data-driven innovation.
DP: The ECCI has just become Climate-KIC’s official partner in Scotland, delivering start-up support and innovation programmes. What goals do you have with this?
EC: Our goal is to attract, select and support world-class ideas from across all of Scotland, to be responsive and tailor our support wherever possible, to be a positive force in driving the acceleration of scalable low carbon solutions into the marketplace. We want to build innovative and solid place-based ecosystems for our two key sector priority areas: data-driven innovation, and rural and water-based services.
This is our first year of operation and so it’s a priority to adapt and establish a positive and proactive ecosystem including ECCI staff, partners, stakeholders, and mentors to trial and operate the three innovation and education programmes we will operate during 2017.
We are also seeking to meet and learn from our broader Climate-KIC network of partners. We want to integrate their knowledge and share our experiences to enhance the total value of Climate-KIC and inspire further programmes and applications of this significant network.
DP: The Scottish cluster will focus on data, rural and water innovation. Can you tell us a bit more about these innovation priorities?
AK: For ECCI and Climate-KIC, it seemed a natural fit to focus our Scottish innovation support on topics in which Scotland already has leading expertise in universities, in the corporate and public sectors, and for which there is strong global demand for solutions.
Scotland has leading sectoral strengths in cleantech and environmental services (broadly defined). In 2014, low carbon industries were worth nearly £11 billion, employing almost 44,000 people, and continue to grow. The UK Government’s recent Science and Innovation Audit identified Edinburgh and South East Scotland as a leader in data-driven innovation.
Data-driven innovation includes topics as diverse as improving mobility as a service, smart grids and buildings, and data tools for delivering affordable warmth and cooling in homes. There is also an insatiable global demand for solutions to the challenges of delivering affordable clean water and waste water services — and the need for sustainable land use.
DP: Scotland’s entrepreneurial scene is doing well. What sort of opportunities are there for climate innovation?
EC: The cleantech sector is well-developed, and has a vibrant ecosystem. Initially dominated by the renewable energy sector, specifically marine renewables, it has grown into a powerful ecosystem with strong service and product offerings – from energy efficiency and buildings to waste, water and circular economy, low carbon heating and cooling, storage and energy generation technologies.
Scotland has world-leading test and acceleration centres for new products and companies, as well as strong membership-based organisations such as Scottish Renewables, part Government-funded innovation centres and collaborations such as The Data Lab and the Energy Technology Partnership. These aim to integrate research and innovation between companies and universities to drive the low carbon economy in Scotland.
ECCI is at the heart of this climate innovation. We’re Scotland’s key low carbon and climate knowledge broker and catalyst for the application of good ideas and the displacement of carbon intensive solutions. We’ve been supporting and educating entrepreneurs, enterprises and other stakeholders since 2010.
(pictured above, Andy Kerr, Executive Director, ECCI)
DP: What are the main investment sources for entrepreneurs in Scotland?
AK: Over the past ten years, grant support has been all but removed from the core entrepreneur support service in Scotland. The national enterprise agency established Business Gateway as the one-stop shop for entrepreneur support. This is now primarily advice and limited mentoring support.
Several specialist support projects for young, BME and other specific sector groups have also been established, including ECCI, which provided intensive support to over 150 SMEs through its Low Carbon Innovation programme between 2011 and 2015.
Scotland has a vibrant angel network ecosystem but a limited Venture Capital network for larger scale investments. Events such as Engage Invest Exploit have attracted investors and venture capitalists into Scotland to support growing low carbon businesses financially.
Climate-KIC’s focus on pre-revenue ideas through to early start-up businesses is a unique offer within the Scottish environment. No other support agency will provide the blend of financial grants, mentoring, advisory services and training integrated through a place-based approach to facilitate incubation and acceleration.
DP: Many parts of Europe are suffering a skills shortage, which can hinder climate innovation. What sort of skills shortages do you see in Scotland?
EC: In Scotland, there are several areas of key skill shortages, but two to focus on are data science and environmental engineering, including technical skills around construction/buildings.
In Scotland, as in many other parts of the world, the recognition of the power of data, data tools and data analytics is growing exponentially. Plans are afoot to train 100,000 new data scientists over the next ten years.
Scottish Enterprise is reinforcing this trend by providing leadership courses to growth SMEs on the need for effective data collection and application. There is a recognised shortage in Scotland regarding clean technology / construction engineers and practitioners to service the growing low carbon economy in Scotland.
DP: How do you intend to address these skills shortages?
EC: According to the OECD, in the UK generally there is a huge issue with under-investment by SMEs and the public sector, both strongly represented in Scotland – in leadership and management skills, as well as technical skills. Climate-KIC has a responsibility, with strong service offerings in education and entrepreneurship, to link to the clear educational needs identified by entrepreneurs. The provision of a strong pathway through a learning partnership driven by Climate-KIC, in partnership with its regional hubs and local partners can provide a real opportunity to fill these learning gaps.
DP: The Climate-KIC UK and Ireland team’s recent climate innovation clusters series discusses how there are 18 ingredients for success when developing cleantech hubs. Which ingredients does Edinburgh demonstrate, and why?
AK: What do you mean – all of them, of course! And we have a monster too, did you hear?