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The Global Innovation Institute: a Tremendous Opportunity for our Economy

  • Written by David Quinn, Executive Director of the Global Innovation Institute (GII) at Queen’s University Belfast. 

    It is difficult to find your dream job, especially when you have a very specific and challenging set of criteria. After 30 hugely enjoyable years in business and technology consulting, most of it as a Partner at PwC, I wanted to apply what I had learned about purpose, collaboration and collective ambition in a new role where I could work in an area I’m passionate about - inclusive, sustained economic growth in Northern Ireland

    Being a proud native of this region, I really want to see improvements in the economic and social circumstances of everyone here. A more prosperous, inclusive and healthier place is simply a better outcome for everyone.

    I feel very privileged that in my new role I can focus on three things that are important to me – addressing our region’s longstanding productivity challenge by growing world-class expertise to make an impact globally, working in the vibrant innovation and technology ecosystem and making a contribution to our health and environmental challenges.

    GII is one of five projects being delivered under the Innovation Pillar of Belfast Region City Deal. They represent a total investment of almost £320m from the UK Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, Queen’s, Ulster University and other partners.

    GII represents a once in a generation opportunity to place a research institute - with sufficient scale and critical mass to compete with any found elsewhere in the world - at the heart of Belfast’s emerging Innovation District. The project aims to transform our digital economy by substantially increasing both the volume and range of digital innovation taking place within the region, with a particular focus on driving a Digital One Health agenda. This will deliver rich returns. GII will be an accelerant for high value jobs and economic growth while bringing solutions for agriculture and environment, healthier lives and our healthcare system. It aligns fully with the Department for the Economy’s ambitious 10X vision to make NI one of the most advanced smaller economies in the world. It really is a case of ‘carpe diem’ with this fantastic opportunity.

    We will build on great foundations. I am really impressed by how, over the last decade, the Institute for Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) and its component Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT), have led the development of an internationally renowned NI Cyber Security ecosystem. With around 2,300 new jobs created, this sector is a global exemplar for a research and innovation ecosystem. This commercialisation of emerging technologies through creating early-stage critical mass in a distinctive domain, founded on international quality research, is a blueprint for future success.

    The GII, with ECIT sitting within it, will build on this cyber security model. Its research excellence, outreach, innovation and economic impact will play a critical role in developing a significantly larger ecosystem - and putting that expertise and excellence firmly on the global map. It will provide expertise across the spectrum of digital technologies encompassed by its Secure Connected Intelligence approach which comprises cyber security, wireless connectivity, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

    To achieve our aims with GII for the Digital One Health agenda, we will create a novel multi-disciplinary environment, placing our international experts in Secure Connected Intelligence alongside those with excellence in food security/sustainability and health sciences. Research capability from the University’s internationally regarded Institute of Health Sciences (IHS) and Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) will be embedded in GII. The multi-disciplinary teams will create technological solutions to challenges in agriculture and health. Digital experts will work with those who have insights into the health of soil, the environment, livestock, humans, infectious and non-communicable diseases and populations. It will be a powerful collaborative combination and achieve outcomes based on an approach to data which applies the principles of trust, transparency and fair value.

    This alone is not enough for GII to achieve its significant ambitions. We are keen for much wider collaboration and partnership, which we are already forging. We will work in a quadruple helix manner, collaborating with others in industry, government, academia and the ‘owners’ of the problems we are trying to solve. We have secured key strategic partnerships, including four of the world’s largest cloud and computing infrastructure providers, a number of major players in the agri-food and health sectors, and the Department of Health (Northern Ireland), as well as other industry partners, from large corporates to SME’s. We will work with regional companies at all stages of development - from start-ups to established SME’s and larger entities on a challenge-led basis - to unlock digital innovation in the region. Our partnership approach with Invest NI will be extended through a joint plan of engagement, ensuring GII maintains a strong focus on economic development. Aligning to the 10X vision, we will also support the development and growth of our regional strengths in the Fintech/Regtech and Advanced Manufacturing sectors.

    To bring this unique combination of people and skills together, we will create an exciting new physical co-creation environment at Titanic Quarter, strategically located within the Catalyst ecosystem. The new facility (incorporating the existing ECIT building) will accommodate over 500 people, and enable co-location of multi-disciplinary research expertise, engineering and business development and innovation support, public and private sector partners, and fledgling businesses, working collaboratively in an open, interactive environment. We will have a cutting-edge “AI Engine” capability to apply computing solutions and leading data science capability to real-world problems. GII will showcase the adaptable capability required to drive modern AI.

    We will work as part of the Innovation City Belfast partnership which has exciting plans for a vibrant Innovation District in Belfast, incorporating GII and Catalyst in Titanic Quarter, extending to the new Ulster University campus in the centre of the city. The vision is for a thriving ecosystem of 20,000 jobs and 500 companies by 2035 in the 10X focus areas of Health/Life Sciences and Fintech. GII will not be a stand-alone Institute, but central to the vision of this new district and the impact it will deliver.

    We will work closely with Ulster University, other City Deal partners and beyond to ensure that economic growth is inclusive and truly benefits all parts of the region. As well as delivering job and productivity growth, we will create a pipeline of talented people for NI’s future economy, and solutions (co-created with industry, the health service and citizens) to major health, environmental sustainability and business challenges.

    GII will be a game-changer for our region. Key to its success will be the dedication, talent and ambition that I see in colleagues at GII and across Queen’s. We have a hugely collaborative and collective spirit in NI and a hunger across a large spectrum of people, businesses and organisations to drive innovation and inclusive growth. I look forward to working with many fantastic local people and with great talent from elsewhere to achieve our goals. Let’s do this!

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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