Glasgow is building on centuries of innovation to ensure it is well on the way to being a true city of the future
By Colin Cardwell
That Scotland punches well above its weight in the innovation stakes will come as no surprise to many people in the US. They will, of course, be familiar with a long list of past achievements that include the television, bicycle, telephone, insulin – and more recently Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal and the video game Grand Theft Auto, which in 2013 ranked among Britain’s top ten exports.
The city of Glasgow has been a dynamic center of technology for centuries and shows no sign of taking its foot off the pedal. Scotland’s biggest city is vigorously building on its reputation. The appetite for work and progress that had made it shipbuilder to the world and a global trade hub has in recent years witnessed the opening of several key innovation centers that are pioneering the technology of the future – and attracting international interest.
And those who come to check out the city’s credentials for themselves will find it an energetic – even forceful – metropolis (New Yorkers will instantly feel at home) but importantly, one that is spectacularly friendly. The readership of the Rough Guides voted it the world’s friendliest city in 2016, ranking it above Dublin and Montreal.
“The city’s special ingredient is its people,” says Anne Murray, who heads up the city’s Invest Glasgow team, pointing out that these people are also smart and business like: “We have five higher education institutions and three ‘super colleges’ ensuring a pipeline of graduates with qualifications that are fully aligned to our priority sectors.”
This means, she adds, that the city has access to a highly-skilled talent pool of more than 400,000 within easy reach to fulfill opportunities in areas that include engineering, IT and financial and business services.
Glasgow is a trailblazer in its ambitions to become a smart city and is building on its status, awarded in 2013, as the UK’s first ‘Future City’. The Future City program has demonstrated how using data technologies can make life safer, smarter and more sustainable.
It is also lead partner in the project ‘Scotland’s 8th City: The Smart City’ for which the Scottish Cities Alliance (see related post on smart cities) secured $13.5m of European Regional Development Fund backing toward a $32.5m programme to co-design technology and data opportunities to further cities’ ambitions to become global high-tech hubs.
The city’s focus on practical ways to nurture innovation and translate it into economic results include Glasgow City of Science and Innovation, a project focused on promoting cross-disciplinary projects and which has more than 50 partners, including universities, public sector bodies, and industry and aims to raise the city’s profile as a world class destination.
And a significant, landmark is the creation of two Innovation Districts in the city, a buildout that is welcomed by Councillor Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council and City Convener for Inclusive Economic Growth: “Glasgow has long had a reputation as city of innovation and this will be heightened through the creation of two Innovation Districts in the city, in the city center and the West End, where the public, private and academic sectors will collaborate to bring breakthroughs in key future growth industries such as life sciences and advanced manufacturing”.
It’s a sentiment shared by Kevin Rush, Director of Regional Economic Growth in the city: “It’s exciting to see Glasgow’s two Innovation Districts take shape. Each has its own unique focus, underpinned by world class academia, vibrant neighborhoods and a clear vision for growth, regeneration and academic research. Even at these early stages, both districts are attracting attention from across the globe, with investors keen to capitalise on these new opportunities in Glasgow’s City Center and West End.”
The Glasgow City Innovation District, with more than $135m of innovation investment, draws on the University of Strathclyde’s reputation as a leading international technical facility with a track record in working with business and industry.
An important constituent of the district sits in Glasgow’s Merchant City quarter. Once the preserve of 18th century tobacco lords who made their huge fortunes by trading with Maryland and Virginia planters it’s now home to the Tontine Business Acceleration and Innovation Hub, a development that opened in 2016.
It is expected to inject almost $72m into the city’s economy by 2021 by supporting and sustaining the development of high-growth companies in the technology, advanced design and creative industries.
Tontine is also building strong working relationships with the city’s higher and further education establishments, including the University of Strathclyde and the research work carried out in its Technology & Innovation Center (TIC) which links academics and industry to find solutions to challenges in energy, health, manufacturing and other areas.
The distinctive, triangular-shaped, nine-storey building is part of the University of Strathclyde campus and its innovation focus is on low carbon technology, future cities and sustainability, based on an ethos of reaching out to the world outside academia and was partly funded by private enterprises.
The TIC was officially opened by HM the Queen in 2015. She was also in Glasgow to open the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, which has helped establish the city as a world leader in precision medicine and is part of the Clinical Innovation Zone – in the second of the city’s new innovation districts, Glasgow University Innovation District. The zone has a multidisciplinary approach that brings together academia, industry and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).
Also based in the Clinical Innovation Zone is the $27m Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Center (SMS-IC), a Scotland-wide collaboration with industry and a world-class center of research, innovation and commercialisation in medicine. Medical analytics company Aridhia, which uses informatics to develop the technology and capability to help transform clinical research into practice, is located there.
Last year Aridhia signed a deal with Great Ormond Street Hospital Trust in London to develop an innovative cloud based data platform to bring more life-saving treatments to children with rare diseases in the UK and worldwide.
And as if Glasgow has nothing else to prove, it has truly stellar ambitions. Earlier this year Clyde Space, a leader in the CubeSat (mini satellite) sector and which was behind Scotland’s first space satellite UKube-1 which was launched in Kazakhstan in 2014 recently took an order from Israeli communications company NSLComm to provide a full “end-to-end mission service” including the design, manufacture and launch of a new satellite.
The space industry in Scotland employs some 7000 people and a consortium that includes US aerospace firm Lockheed Martin is bidding to host the first UK spaceport, identifying a prime contender at Prestwick, a 40-minute journey from Glasgow city center.
Ships or spaceships? The essential message is that Glasgow will continue to adapt, invent and innovate. It’s hardly surprising that the Scotland Attractiveness Survey – produced by EY, one of the world’s biggest professional services firms – has for five years confirmed that Scotland is the second most popular place for investors in the UK outside London. And Glasgow is at the heart of the action.