In developing our S3 called Innovation Wales, we wanted to balance top-down identification of broad challenges aligned with EU policies, and a bottom-up approach of listening to our industrial clusters that showed genuine strength or potential. It recommended developing a small number of research centres of excellence with clear comparative strength and market opportunity. They would aim explicitly to commercialise knowledge and create wealth, and to work with others to support cluster development.
One of these centres is set to become Europe's fifth semiconductor cluster and the only one focused on compound semiconductors. Based on a vision from within the industry, Wales aims to be the leader in compound semiconductors, which will drive technological advances from wireless devices to transport and healthcare. The European Commission had already identified it as a Key Enabling Technology to drive re-industrialisation. Thus, a bottom-up approach was matched with a top-down challenge.
The ability of the Welsh Government to act as an enabler was important. Brokering links between local industry and the university base, an integrated support package was developed, considering strengths and potential weaknesses along the value chain. So far the investment has re-affirmed our decision. An initial contribution of €5.2m has leveraged more than €127m of additional investment. The long-term economic impact is predicted to be 2,500-5,000 new jobs in 10 years and 25-50 new companies.
Adopting a Smart Specialisation approach has guided Welsh Government investment and our experience with semiconductors is an “early win” for the S3, one which promises to benefit the economy and people for many years to come.