An interview with Ekaterina McKenna of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), a group of industry-led manufacturing research and development facilities transforming skills, productivity and innovation, helping to make Scotland a global leader in advanced manufacturing.
What’s your day job?
I work as an Interim SME Engagement Manager for the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS).
My role involves developing innovation and improvement projects with small and medium sized businesses, also working with start-up companies developing innovative new products.
Why is fostering a culture of discovery, innovation & entrepreneurship so important for Scottish SMEs and society as a whole – especially now?
A culture of innovation is critical to success. Regardless of a company’s stage of development, it can thrive by adopting an innovation mindset, rewarding discovery and embracing new technologies. Innovating allows companies to adapt, grow and capture new markets. In Scotland, we are fortunate to have a fantastic network of support organisations, including NMIS, helping SMEs to meet their innovation goals and fulfil their potential.
What impact does the culture of an SME have on its ability to innovate?
Leadership culture is key to helping cultivate and grow innovation. The process of generating new ideas, problem solving and dreaming big, and most importantly, developing strategic vision, has to come from the top. There must also be a positive spirit of collaboration because, while an idea or a ‘spark’ often comes from within or ‘from above’, it’s critical to have supportive people with differing perspectives, helping to shape and moderate ideas and contribute their technical and business knowledge. Working collaboratively with knowledge providers, leading institutes and universities is the best way to stay ahead in the innovation game.
Looking to the future, what technology challenges and opportunities do SMEs face?
We are at the beginning stages of a new era of manufacturing.
With the introduction of robotics, digital connectivity, additive manufacturing and 5G, the most effective way to make products is changing. As a result, we must ensure we have the skills and knowledge allowing us to make wise decisions and respond quickly in an ever-changing technology and market landscape.
These new technologies present us with some exciting possibilities and many new opportunities. For instance, we can facilitate local manufacturing while allowing us to become more sustainable. Manufacturing innovation should increase our companies’ competitiveness on a global stage and present interesting opportunities for SMEs to ‘think big,’ and consider how their products and services can reach customers on a global scale.
What advice do you have for aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs?
Listen to all the advice you can get, but never go against what your gut tells you. Also, make sure you get your numbers right! Finally, there may be people who try to knock your confidence – ignore them.
Who is ‘one to watch’ in innovation in Scotland?
One that stands out is Carruthers Renewables, who teamed up with us to explore manufacturing methods for a patented water wheel capable of combating electricity scarcity in developing countries. You can read more about them here.