Scottish efforts reap reward

August 11, 2000

An international conference at Heriot-Watt University for technology-transfer experts is being hailed as proof of Scotland's success in commercialising research.

This is the first time the Association of University Technology Managers has held a conference outside the United States. It will attract 200 delegates from around the world.

Nicol Stephen, Scotland's deputy minister for enterprise and lifelong learning, said: "This is a vote of confidence and reflects the international standing of our country in the field of commercial research."

Mr Stephen said the Scottish Executive had invested heavily in programmes to encourage more commercial activity in universities. This included Technology Ventures Scotland, the Scottish Institute for Enterprise and the soon-to-be-completed Glasgow Science Centre. "Together, these projects will ensure that in future Scotland receives the financial benefits from the products and processes it gives to the world," Mr Stephen said.

Conference organiser Adrian Smith, consultant technology broker for Heriot-Watt, said that as recently as 1996, Scotland was asleep to the huge potential of technology companies delivered from universities. It had now woken with a vengeance, boasting the highest density of research and commercialisation opportunities in the United Kingdom.

This stemmed from key universities taking a lead in demonstrating the potential value of research expertise, combined with the national focus provided by development agency Scottish Enterprise and the greater political confidence engendered by devolution.

But Mr Smith said the conference had shown that Finland, with a comparable population, far outstripped Scotland in terms of start-up venture capital because it closely integrated investment, government and research.

"People are learning that just wealth isn't enough and just research and knowledge isn't enough," he said. "Networking is, if anything, more important than the science, because it is the personal relations that people build that enable them to have joint ventures."

Research is becoming increasingly more technically challenging, with scientists more likely to create a component rather than a complete suite of products, Mr Smith said. It was therefore essential for researchers to be able to work with colleagues in other disciplines and institutions on potential products that could then be taken up by industry as a package, he added.

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