Scottish grants spur academic/industry innovation

Last October, I was invited by the Scottish Enterprise Board to visit high-technology companies located in Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland. I visited numerous companies, including the Scottish Enterprise Board itself. There, Alastair Wilson of the Information Industries Group (Glasgow, Scotland) explained the procedures used to help foster innovative high- technology ideas in Scotland. According to Wilson, individuals with a marketable idea can apply for grants of up to $75,000 to try to commerc

Dec 1st, 1997

Scottish grants spur academic/industry innovation

Andy Wilson Editor at Large

andyw@pennwell.com

Last October, I was invited by the Scottish Enterprise Board to visit high-technology companies located in Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland. I visited numerous companies, including the Scottish Enterprise Board itself. There, Alastair Wilson of the Information Industries Group (Glasgow, Scotland) explained the procedures used to help foster innovative high- technology ideas in Scotland. According to Wilson, individuals with a marketable idea can apply for grants of up to $75,000 to try to commercialize their idea. Then, if the idea proves successful, the Scottish Enterprise Board may back the idea for another two years with an additional $150,000, after which, according to Wilson, Scottish Enterprise could help further by negotiating venture-capital deals. I found all this highly commendable. And it seems that the thrust from academia to commercial production is already working in Scotland.

During the tour, I visited The Institute of Photonics (Glasgow), an organization developed to promote the collaboration of university research and development projects by industry. Professor Allister Ferguson, technical director of the institute, described the development of a solid-state, femtosecond laser that is expected to dramatically improve on confocal fluorescence imaging. Developed in conjunction with Biorad Microscience (Hemel Hempstead, England), the laser will be incorporated into future versions of Biorad`s confocal microscope.

At the end of the week, Alastair Wilson asked for my impressions of the tour. I mentioned The Institute of Photonics and how impressed I had been with Ferguson`s work. Wilson said that Ferguson had already licensed some aspects of his solid-state-laser technology to a company in Japan. And this licensing agreement was bringing revenues of $1.5 million per year to Ferguson`s own company.

Providing an incentive

I became more intrigued as Wilson went on to describe Ferguson`s purchase of an old rectory in a small village outside of Glasgow. When the clergy asked him whether he wanted to purchase the unused church that accompanied the rectory, Ferguson snapped it up and converted it into a hall so that he and his colleagues could practice Scottish dancing. My thoughts wandered to Southern California, where I could not quite envisage Ferguson starting a high-technology company or performing Scottish dancing in the Los Angeles smog.

I put my thoughts to Wilson. How could a government authority provide enough incentive for such a person to start a company in a completely different culture and expect that person to live a completely different lifestyle? Wilson, it seemed, had faced this problem before. One of the fortes of the Scottish Enterprise Board, he said, was to take good ideas and small companies and help put the marketing and sales infrastructure in place that would make them succeed on a worldwide basis. So don`t expect Ferguson to be relocating to California anytime soon. However, you may see a sales and marketing operation spring up in the near future.

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