Accelerating innovation through the digital economy

Dr. Ian Campbell, KAUST Executive Director – Special Projects, was previously Innovate UK’s Executive Chair, part of UK Research and Innovation.

​"The digital economy moves very rapidly, and we've seen that in spades with the COVID-19 pandemic," said Dr. Ian Campbell, who has recently joined KAUST as Executive Director – Special Projects. His position, sitting under the President's Office, offers him the opportunity to work with KAUST Innovation and the office of the Vice President for Research to support the University's forward vision to leverage KAUST science and innovation to make an impact beyond the walls of the campus itself.

"I think it's about creating collaborations to address Kingdom-wide opportunities where KAUST can apply its know-how, technology, IP, people, even our geographical location to help bring collaborations together to address significant challenges," said Dr. Campbell.

Campbell stepped down as Innovate UK's Executive Chair, part of UK Research and Innovation, in 2020, but continues to represent Innovate UK as its nominated Non-Executive Director on the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Board.

Joining Innovate UK as Director of Health and Life Sciences and later serving as executive chair, Campbell played a vital leadership role in supporting the development of UK companies to the tune of £1.8 billion annually. This backing helped life sciences companies grow and scale by getting their products into clinical trials and getting them approved to treat patients. Campbell also led the initiative to secure an additional £750 million COVID-19 response package from the British government, in April 2020, to support thousands of UK businesses to survive and thrive through the pandemic.

Appointment as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)

In recognition of his efforts to understand and facilitate the drive of new technologies in the UK, Campbell has been recognized in Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's New Year Honours List and was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to innovation. He joins KAUST Distinguished Professor and VP for Research Donal Bradley, a Commander of the British Empire, as a member of the "Most Excellent Order of the British Empire."

"I am proud to have led Innovate UK to deliver its ambitious COVID-19 response plan, backing thousands of UK businesses to develop truly disruptive innovation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapid growth of new innovative products and services continues to support lives and livelihoods across the UK while generating jobs and contributing to our future prosperity," said Campbell as he expressed his delight in accepting this recognition on behalf of Innovate UK.

In addition to the health and life sciences, Campbell's tenure at Innovate UK also saw transformational funding initiatives in fully electric vehicles, battery technology and other sectors of the economy.

"The idea was to create next-generation technologies, products and services that are going to be in demand for the future, to allow the UK economy to flourish, to create high-quality jobs, provide a return to the economy, and allow government to invest in science, innovation and technology much more broadly," he said.

Collaboration at the heart of innovation

"This achievement would not have been possible without the collective efforts of everyone within Innovate UK. I am immensely proud of the resilience, dedication, and nimbleness of the team at Innovate UK during such incredibly challenging times. I would like to express my personal thanks to everyone involved," Campbell added—while looking forward to likewise benefiting and contributing to the inspiring spirit of collaboration at KAUST.

He applauds the response of KAUST through the Rapid Research Response Team (R3T) in the face of the global COVID-19 challenge as well as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's highly effective and timely tracking and tracing efforts.

Group of people standing for COVID-19 vaccination in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

"One of the things I would say that Saudi Arabia has done is really grasp the Tawakkalna app and make sure that it was embedded from day one. The UK took months to do that. I was both impressed and pleased to see that data could be collected, created and analyzed so effectively," as he points out. "So, I think it really did show that this whole idea of a data-rich, digital-based economy. You really see it in those applications where testing and tracing is so important for public health and safety."

As the world aims to return to a new normal post-pandemic eventually, Campbell hopes the innovation lessons we've learned through the accelerating pace of the digital economy achieved through collaboration across the globe will not be lost.

"It's incredible to see how when you have a common problem, and you put many arms around that, suddenly you can find a solution," he said.

Through that spirit of innovation, Campbell looks forward to helping drive KAUST ingenuity externally by working with faculty, the Core Labs, with the President, as well as partnering with the Kingdom and its government officials and collaborating with external companies to solve problems. His role is to identify opportunities where KAUST can contribute, convene minds and resources together to work on impactful projects, and aim to deliver solutions to benefit the wider Kingdom and beyond.

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