SMALL businesses have injected more than £7 million into research and development projects carried out in partnership with three of Scotland’s universities, according to new figures.
More than 200 firms have taken part in the Business Innovation Exchange (BIE) project over the past three years, with 1,000 opportunities identified for R&D work.
The scheme – which involved Edinburgh Napier, Queen Margaret and St Andrews universities – has so far led to more than 50 products and services being launched and improvements made to a further 150.
BIE – which was funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Scottish Funding Council – will come to an end in July.
David Caughey, project manager at Edinburgh Napier University, said: “Significantly, more than 50 of the 250 projects the BIE has delivered to date have been from businesses returning after initial success on other projects. This illustrates long-term investment in innovation from these small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) helping improve their competitiveness.”
Caughey added: “Already we’ve seen jobs being created and safeguarded and there is no doubt there will be a lasting positive impact on sales growth too. Given the proportion of SMEs that make up Scotland’s economy – such a focus on innovation has to be encouraged.”
Kim Gilchrist, head of research and knowledge exchange development at Queen Margaret University, said: “Our food and drink industry partners have derived some significant benefits from our research work, for example, accurate nutritional information that will assist them with labelling, product claims and marketing, and well as the development of innovative foods.”
Malcolm MacLeod, vice principal for enterprise and engagement at St Andrews University, added: “The BIE has allowed us to extend and enhance our outreach to, and successful collaborations with, Scottish SMEs in a range of business sectors.”
A report compiled last year for Interface – the public body that brokers partnership deals between small businesses and universities – found wider collaborations between academia and industry could be worth £79.9m a year to the Scottish economy within the next five years.
Partnerships arranged by Interface currently contribute £17.1m each year to the country’s economy, but the figure is expected to increase by 79 per cent within five years, based on the growth projections of businesses that have worked with the body.
Within the same timescale, just under 2,400 jobs are expected to be supported by academic and business partnerships organised by Interface – an 85 per cent increase on the 2010 figure.
Since it was launched in 2005, Interface has helped to set up more than 700 university collaborations.
Last month, ingredients maker Macphie of Glenbervie – which counts bakery chain Greggs among its customers – revealed that it had boosted its turnover by £500,000 over the past three years through 15 research and development projects carried out in partnership with universities.
The company received an award from Interface in November for its work.