For more than twenty years, I have been passionate about the benefits that academic expertise can bring to young businesses when correctly harnessed and focused on driving business growth. However, as someone who has been involved on both sides, it can be difficult to engage the right academics – those who have a positive attitude towards developing their expertise commercially – and pairing them with the right companies.

In Scotland, we have become much better at joining our academic and commercial acumen together, thanks in part to Governments north and south of the border seeking to measure the economic impact made by public investment in research. In Scotland, we have also successfully established Interface as the organisation which can marry needs from a business to where academic expertise lies – but we need it to do much more.

We have to provide other stimuli to help businesses innovate through targeted amounts of funding, and competitions which showcase the best that we have, like the Knowledge Exchange Awards, Converge, Scottish Edge, and many others.

With a refreshed Government in place, now is our chance to do even more to help our economy recover from the shock of the Covid shutdown. Summer 2020 saw the publication of two key reports; a review of the Scottish technology ecosystem by Mark Logan, and the Benny Higgins report on Scotland’s economic recovery. These underline the importance of Scotland’s colleges and universities in delivering economic recovery. This summer will see another major report, this time from the Scottish Funding Council, commissioned by Scottish ministers. It will explore how we can achieve coherence and sustainability in the delivery of post-school education during the Covid-19 crisis and beyond, while maintaining and enhancing quality.

Taking the Higgins and Logan reports together, it is clear that there is a huge opportunity for colleges and universities to position themselves as key contributors to economic recovery, building the bridge between academia and business and making a real difference to Scotland’s future by generating a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation.

In particular, Logan noted “Education is so important to the eco-system. For example, increasing the funding available to start-ups won’t make much difference to outcomes if the competence doesn’t exist within the eco-system to build businesses that are capable for putting that capital to good use.”

However, the Logan report encourages us to think beyond existing frameworks and consider whether colleges and universities could be doing more to develop the current and future generation of entrepreneurs. It asks three fundamental questions: Firstly, are universities producing the right number of graduates in the disciplines we need to support the future of our technology eco-system? Secondly, are those graduates also being equipped with the right entrepreneurial skills so that they have the right attributes to create or join a start-up? And finally; how can we improve not only the rate but also the viability of university spin-outs?

Business needs to articulate and communicate what skills are needed going forwards, and our young entrepreneurs need tangible and flexible support to establish and to grow their businesses.

The IoD stands ready to help through establishing a closer partnership with our universities and colleges, helping to embed the business skills necessary in the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. This will be done through our branches to provide local support to our institutions, providing mentoring and development case-studies as a part of the undergraduate learning experience.

Scotland needs to produce more flourishing businesses to rebuild our economy, and this requires long-term investment by all parties to embed their success effectively.

Douglas Mundie is a member of IoD Scotland’s advisory board