Professor Charlie Jeffery CBE discusses data driven innovation at the University of Edinburgh

An image to illustrate data driven innovation in fintech
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SciTech Europa spoke to Professor Charlie Jeffery CBE about data driven innovation in the financial technology industry in the context of the EIT Digital Scottish Satellite.

Charlie Jeffery is a Professor of politics and Senior Vice-Principal of the University of Edinburgh, and will become Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of York in September 2019. He spoke to us at EIT Digital’s new Scottish Satellite in Edinburgh about the University of Edinburgh’s work on data driven innovation and how this enhances Scotland’s national capabilities.

How active is the University of Edinburgh when it comes to FinTech? How does the work taking place there tie in to Scotland’s national priorities?

We are at the heart of the innovation ecosystem in the city of Edinburgh, which thrives on the strengths of the University of Edinburgh. We have brilliant computer science researchers who develop ideas with commercial applications. We also have a supply of brilliant graduates who are able to work with the computer scientists and enter the labour market with new ideas which contribute to the economy. In the last year we have placed a real focus on helping to drive the FinTech strategy of Scotland.

The University of Edinburgh offers a brokering role between the established financial services sector; the big companies such as banks, insurance and investment companies, and the FinTech startups. I believe that we helped to produce a context where each of these parties saw the other not as a rival, but as part of an ecosystem where each can thrive in the context of the other.

How did the University of Edinburgh become involved with EIT Digital’s Scottish satellite? What will this office mean for the university?

We’ve been involved with EIT digital through computer scientists, and have been
an obvious point of contact with them ever since syndicate established its operations in in the UK. As our capabilities have grown, the better the data driven innovation has been and has really generated awareness in university based research and innovation in data science in the UK. That was context in which all of the contact between our brilliant academics and EIT digital grew into the Scottish Satellite.

How do you hope the office will help increase university-industry knowledge exchange? How will the university be looking to contribute to this relationship?

In our data driven innovation program, we have fully physical locations, the Scottish Satellite is one of them, and the others are being built or renovated. In each of the locations, there is the same principle. We believe that one third of the activity here should be about research, one third of it should be about the education of our students, and one third of it should be the activity of businesses or government. We want those three things, not to be separate, but to be integrated. That is the vision that is driving us, and this is why EIT Digital fits in so well because its ambition is to connect education with innovation.

Through the doctoral program and other entrepreneurship activities, EIT Digital is fostering that connection point between what the academic world can offer and what industry can take from it.

What do you feel is lacking in Scotland at the moment when it comes to aiding spin-offs and start-ups? How does your University help? And how will a close relationship with EIT Digital boost this moving forwards?

I think we have actually got a really strong platform, not least with this very significant support from Scottish and the UK governments, which is helping us to grow our facilities and capabilities. So it is easy for us to host the EIT digital Scottish Satellite. We have the space and a building exactly for that purpose. We have such a strong entrepreneurial community in Edinburgh, some of it directly associated with the university, and some of it there because of the university but with no direct association. I think that is a great platform for EIT Digital to trade on and to accelerate.

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