A new £16 million initiative is to be launched in the Highlands to boost innovation.
The Northern Innovation Hub (NIH) will focus on four key industry sectors, encourage the adoption of new technologies and create more opportunities to attract and retain young people.
It will focus on life sciences, tourism, food and drink and creative industries, as well as delivering a technology and young people strand.
The initiative forms part of the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal (CRD) and is being led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) on behalf of the CRD partnership.
The Hub is a set of carefully targeted projects to strengthen innovation and increase competitiveness among businesses across The Highland Council area.
Over a seven year period it is expected to support more than 500 jobs and boost the Highland economy by around £26m a year.
Rather than a physical entity, the NIH will be dispersed and designed to benefit both small and emerging enterprises, reflecting the geography and business make-up of the area.
The young people emphasis will include the creation of new 12-month graduate placement opportunities in technology for small businesses, and 12-week summer student placements.
There will be support for 30 high-growth young or start-up companies each year and a ‘coding academy’ to train and develop a new generation of industry ready programmers and software developers.
In tourism the emphasis will be on digital and adventure tourism. This includes helping businesses embrace and exploit opportunities through digital enhancement across all aspects of their business.
The NIH will also help adventure tourism operators accelerate their growth through collaboration and capitalising on the natural advantage of the Highlands.
An XpoNorth digital project will help creative industries test new products, access funding and increase their profile.
There will be projects to help life sciences firms accelerate innovation towards commercialisation, attract inward investors and provide physical space for collaboration.
Food and drink projects are also being developed to support innovation and increase collaboration between industry, academia, research institutes and the public sector.
The Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal was signed in Invergordon in January 2017. Its aim is to position Inverness and the Highlands as a region of digital opportunity.
This signing formalised the commitment of £315m worth of funding; £135m from the Scottish Government, supported by £127m from The Highland Council and its partners, and another £53m from the UK Government.
The Northern Innovation Hub will receive £11m of CRD funding, along with £3m from the European Regional Development Fund and £2m from HIE.
David Oxley, HIE’s director of business and sector development, said:
“The Northern Innovation Hub is a great opportunity to support business innovation in a way that will deliver transformational change in the Highland economy. It will complement our other forms of innovation support and help address challenges facing the region such as geography, population and opportunities to collaborate.”
Councillor Allan Henderson, Chair of the Environment, Development and Infrastructure Committee of The Highland Council, added: “The Northern Innovation Hub will be a fundamental part of establishing the Highlands as a region of opportunity and growth with an emphasis on harnessing digital technologies, growing new business and developing relevant opportunities for young people.”
UK Government Minister, Lord Duncan, said: “The UK Government is pleased to be investing £11 million in the Northern Innovation Hub through the Inverness and Highland City Region Deal. The project is a genuinely innovative approach, remotely connecting key sectors and encouraging businesses to adopt new technologies that will help them grow. It will help support growth through better paid and higher skilled jobs, helping to keep young people in the area. This project recognises the unique geography of the area, and I am confident that it will bring great successes for businesses and companies across the Highland region.”
Scottish Government Economy Secretary Keith Brown said:
“The Northern Innovation Hub will be fundamental in building new businesses, developing new skills, and attracting young people to the region. I’m sure that it will be a key driver in maximising the significant contribution that Inverness and the wider Highland area makes to the future prosperity and economic growth of Scotland.
“The £135 million invested by Scottish Government as part of the £315 million City Deal – which the Innovation Hub is a part of – for the Inverness and Highland region, will continue to deliver significant long-term benefits for the city, region and Scotland as a whole.