New ‘incubators’ aim for high-tech development in Scotland, Ireland

Cleanroom space is an attraction, yet training is in the hands of the tenants

Trevor Ledger

EDINBURGH, Scotland—The Scottish Microelectronics Center (SMC), $12.3 million high-tech “business incubator” developed in conjunction with Edinburgh University and Scottish Enterprise, has officially opened its doors with its sights set on strengthening the already vibrant electronics cluster in Scotland.

“SMC is primarily aimed at business development,” says Iain Hyslop, chief executive of SMC, which provides high-tech process equipment and 250 square meters of ISO Class 4 (Class 10) clean space. “The center offers easy, low-risk and low-cost premises enabling companies to develop a product from idea to market with support research and development. Thus a 'tenant' need not spend money on capital equipment and plant; thus, there is no requirement for corporate infrastructure.”

MicroEmissive Displays (MED) is the SMC's first tenant. MED will utilize the four-story center to work on technology to produce television-quality moving pictures on mobile phones. According to MED, the phones will be equipped with a magnifying eye-piece that will make the one-inch square screen on the handset appear as a standard television screen.

MED is a “spin out” from Edinburgh and Napier Universities.

One word of warning for the successful, however. Hyslop stresses that the SMC is not designed to provide permanent “homes” for companies. “Once development has reached the point of acquiring corporate funding, the tenant will move out to its own premises.'

Across the Irish Sea, in County Donegal, the Letterkenny Institute of Technology Business Development Center (BDC) recently opened at a cost of IR£2 million funded by the European Economic Union.

The BDC has established similar objectives and opportunities, albeit with a backdrop of different economic priorities.

“Our ultimate goal,” says Noeleen Lafferty, enterprise project officer, “is to encourage hi-tech companies to move into the area in order to employ some of our graduates. There is not a huge electronics industry in Letterkenny at the moment.”

Unlike much of the rest of Europe, finding qualified staff is not such a great problem in Letterkenny—Donegal has the highest unemployment rate in Ireland. The county currently sees a great number of its graduates move to the more vibrant Dublin region. The BDC aims to reverse that trend via business incubation and promoting further educational opportunities at the new facility.

At present there is not a course designed primarily for working in the cleanroom environment; although, according to Lafferty, everything is in place, with 100 square meters of ISO Class 4 (Class 10) cleanroom space set alongside smaller units fitted out with necessary IT infrastructure. Such courses are possible should a company demand them.

The BDC has seen six companies move in, including a German IT consultancy firm, U.K.-based Sterling Fluid Systems Lt, U.S.-based Eland Technologies and Ebylls Ltd. which hopes to employ 50 people over the next three years.

While both the SMC and the BDC being linked to educational establishments, SMC is not in itself in the business of education.

SMC's Hyslop was emphatic as to the role of SMC as a business. “Our primary function is as an incubator for business development, while training is very much a secondary role. Certainly there is a skills shortage at present but we are here to provide an interface between the academic and industrial world. This building is owned by SMC and has nothing to do with education and training.

A further difference between the two projects is to be found in the potential uses of the cleanroom space. As the name suggests, SMC is involved purely in microelectronics, thus the cleanroom facilities are not likely to be utilized by any other users such as the pharmaceutical industry.

At Letterkenny, while the emphasis to date has been on electronics, the pharmaceutical option, according to Lafferty, is still open at this point.


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