Albert Einstein famously quipped that “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity", writes Jennifer Craw, chief executive of Opportunity North East.
The rapid onset of the Omicron variant of coronavirus has served as a stark reminder of the difficulties faced by many as we draw the close on another challenging year. For businesses across north east Scotland this has been a period of upheaval, priorities have changed and models adapted in the face of extreme pressure.
And yet, through this unprecedented period new opportunities emerge.
This region has enviable strengths. A world-class talent pool, a globally recognised business environment and a pioneering entrepreneurial spirit. These are powerful ingredients for success. We must use them all to their fullest effect if we are to diversify our economy and deliver long-term sustainable growth as part of a managed and just transition to a low-carbon future.
Through Opportunity North East (ONE), the private sector is shaping the region’s future economy. Over the past five years, we've developed, led and delivered transformational projects that make a difference to new, scaling and established businesses in key industries.
Next autumn will see the opening of the ONE-led, £40 million BioHub at Foresterhill Health Campus, one of Europe’s largest integrated clinical, research and teaching sites for life sciences. BioHub will be home to up to 400 scientific entrepreneurs, bringing new drugs, therapies, medtech and digital health solutions to market. It will provide a unique combination of laboratories, office and incubation space for start-ups and spin-outs, and a long term home for growing life sciences businesses alongside specialist business growth programmes.
BioHub will double the size of the high-value life sciences cluster in the city and position Aberdeen as one of the most dynamic locations in the UK to create and grow life sciences businesses. This ambition was endorsed in the Campbell report published by the Scottish Government earlier this month in which three of our leading biologics companies, NovaBiotics, Elasmogen and TauRx, were highlighted as contributing to a thriving cluster of late-stage drug-discovery companies in Aberdeen.
The new year will also see construction begin for the £21 million Seedpod, a centre of excellence for manufacturing and production to support and grow the region’s £2.2 billion food and drink sector. It will stimulate and support a consumer-focussed, customer-driven approach across all areas of the industry to inspire established businesses to innovate and grow and to nurture the next generation of start-ups in the region.
Located at the Scotland’s Rural College Campus at Craibstone, Seedpod will offer bespoke programmes and specialist facilities, including incubator commercial-grade manufacturing units; development kitchens; full-service managed production and storage space; presentation areas; co-working and collaboration space. Crucially, it will play a key role in green economic recovery, helping businesses and the sector to lead in low-carbon production and contribute to net-zero goals.
Central to the success of these transformational projects and across all our region’s key sectors, is having an attractive and supportive environment for entrepreneurs and start-ups. Thriving entrepreneurial ecosystems stimulate economic growth, create meaningful employment, and deliver prosperity by supporting start-ups through to full-scale maturity. When a critical mass of start-ups and scale-ups reach a tipping point they create a virtuous network of effects that strengthen the cluster, generating critical mass of supporting industries, and attracting investment and talent.
A perfect example of this is on our very doorstep. From the emergence of first oil in the 1970s, a world-class industry grew, supported by the largest concentration of energy supply chain companies anywhere in the UK. This environment supported a high rate of new business starts over decades but, as the oil and gas industry matures, the start-up activity has slowed.
ONE is leading programmes to harness the entrepreneurial traits that have served this region so well. More than 400 businesses are now engaged in sector-specific business growth, innovation, market development and leadership support. Our accelerators have stimulated start-up activity and spinouts in life sciences, digital and food and drink.
ONE is currently delivering £6 million of new business growth, innovation and skills programmes supported by the North East Economic Recovery and Skills Fund to boost employment and economic recovery in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. The projects include our most extensive programme ever of start-up accelerators, an innovation investment fund, a graduate into business programme, leadership and entrepreneurial skills programmes, and hospitality apprenticeships.
Economic recovery and diversification in the low-carbon economy require an ongoing shift from business as usual in established and new businesses Our focus on entrepreneurship skills helps to create the right mindset for today’s economy with a focus on innovation-led business growth.
As we enter the new year, ONE will continue to work with businesses, the key sectors, and partners across the private and public sectors to support growth, diversification and economic transformation.
The last two years have presented us all with unprecedented challenges. Energising this region’s entrepreneurial spirit will enable us to make the most of the new opportunities ahead. Opportunities we must fully realise.
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