Dr. Rob Grundy was recently appointed as MATRIX Interim Chair, following the retirement of Dr. Rob Hardeman. Dr Grundy is the founder of Anglezarke Life Sciences. He was previously CEO of CIGA Healthcare Ltd and Director of Commercial Development and Licensing at Almac Discovery. Rob’s main focus is on the commercial development of differentiating innovation across science and technology. Rob also holds the position of Honorary Lecturer in the School of Medicine Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast. Rob was kind enough to answer a few questions on his involvement with MATRIX so far and how he sees the panel developing its work.
You’ve been on the MATRIX panel for five years now. How did you first get involved with MATRIX?
My introduction to MATRIX was through the putting together of the Life and Health Sciences report which we published in 2015. Whilst at Almac I was approached by the MATRIX team to work with Professor Jim McLaughlin from Ulster University and Intelesens to bring a panel together and compile the report to identify strengths and opportunities in the Life and Health Sciences Sector in Northern Ireland. The process was demanding but the satisfaction of bringing together a body of knowledge that could impact Northern Irish prosperity and health so significantly was such that it got me hooked on the whole MATRIX project!
You’ve been involved in many MATRIX projects over the years, can you tell me which one you feel was the greatest achievement in terms of supporting and growing NI’s science & technology sectors?
We produce such a wide range of reports covering a spectrum of diverse areas. The impact these have occurs at many different levels which is itself very satisfying. Watching the output of the Life and Health Sciences report weave its way into the strategic direction of Invest Northern Ireland, both local Universities and across private companies operating in the sector in NI gives me a tremendous sense of belief that the work of MATRIX is of paramount importance to our economy. Ultimately though, I think MATRIX’s ability to produce work such as the Women in STEM report will achieve the most profound impact as it is the very long term interests of Science and Technology we need to safeguard and inspiring all young people to get involved as early as possible will deliver the most benefit to our economic prosperity.
How do you see Northern Ireland’s science and technology sectors growing over the next decade – what trends do you see developing?
There are certain key sectors where global need and the pace of change will demand the kind of focus that will drive sector development in NI. Over the past 20 years we have established areas of genuine excellence in the digital and ICT sector. Our success in software development needs to be built upon into areas such as data analytics and artificial intelligence, both are set to revolutionise the way the world works. We are well set to meet this demand if we support skills development and enterprise in this area. The provision of healthcare and technologies geared at making Precision Medicine a practical reality are also areas where Northern Ireland is well set to grow and flourish. We have world class biobanking and diagnostic capability here and should build on that to lead the world in this space. Building on the traditional sector of manufacturing is also a massive opportunity for growth. Advanced nanomanufacturing and a world leading aerospace and heavy plant manufacturing capability will drive real opportunity in the coming years.
What do you see as the main barriers to growth here?
We have to be able to adapt to global changes in need and demand. The provision of the right skills is paramount to adapting a workforce that is ready and able to respond to these needs. A profound understanding of these needs in government and across the educational establishment needs to be fostered so the development of our young people can match what is needed to drive innovation, enterprise and progress.
MATRIX has been established for twelve years now and is currently going through a significant refreshment exercise, so it’s an exciting time to be Chair. What changes can we expect to see in MATRIX?
Although well established, MATRIX has to remain relevant to the constituents it serves. Ensuring that we produce intelligence, support and resources that help the government and educational establishments respond effectively to the needs of industry and that industry understands the opportunities and support available is really important. Making sure the output of MATRIX is fresh and accessible will be a focus moving forward. I’m determined that the visibility of MATRIX is increased too. Given the importance of our work everyone involved in Science and Technology, from primary school teachers in Enniskillen to the folk running the Universities in Belfast through to design engineers working in manufacturing in Coleraine need to understand why we are doing what we are doing and feel they can get involved.
Finally, as our new interim chair, what do you think is the main role for MATRIX?
This is a real opportunity to make a difference. The importance of Science and Technology to the economic prosperity of Northern Ireland is huge. External factors such as Brexit can exert potentially detrimental influences on our economy. The MATRIX panel can have direct impact on the way we steer policy and create an environment for growth in these uncertain times. Anyone who thinks they can bring their experience to bear on what is an important advisory tool for government should grasp this opportunity with both hands.