University tie-ups could net companies £80m

Business links with universities, such as Edinburgh's Bioquarter project, can prove lucrative. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Business links with universities, such as Edinburgh's Bioquarter project, can prove lucrative. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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PARTNERSHIPS between businesses and universities will generate £80 million a year for Scotland’s economy by 2018, more than four times their current level, according to a report published yesterday.

Research by analysts at Biggar Economics found companies that work with academics have already boosted their turnover by £17.1m a year.

The businesses expect the figure will hit almost £80m within the next three to five years as they use the academic expertise to develop their products and services and grow their exports.

The data focuses on collaborations organised by Interface, the public body set up in 2005 to broker partnerships between businesses and boffins.

Direct connections between companies and institutions – such as those organised by the BioQuarter for Edinburgh University and companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Galapagos and Galecto Biotech – would take the total even higher.

A report by the Scottish Funding Council in 2011 suggested that the figure for broader partnerships was £23.1m a year.

As well as generating cash for the economy, partnerships will also support some 2,400 jobs by 2018, the researchers said.

The figures are likely to be conservative as they are based on responses from the 1,500 businesses that have already worked with Interface, rather than including projections for the number of extra companies that will work with it over the coming five years.

Siobhán Jordan, director of Interface, described the new report as “staggering”.

She said that her organisation had commissioned the research to demonstrate the opportunities available to firms.

Jordan told The Scotsman: “Demand for our services is as strong as ever. With companies, there’s a bit of a slow burn, so it takes time for the projects they complete with academics to filter through to new products and services. That’s why the rise from £17.1m to £79.9m can take time.”

Aqualife Services, a Stirling-based fish vaccination company, has become one of the latest firms to work with a university.

The company has been collaborating with the University of the West of Scotland to develop a gun with an electronic trigger for injecting vaccines into fish.

At present, staff have to pull the trigger on a mechanical gun up to 30,000 times a day, leading to repetitive strain injuries.

The new gun will also be more accurate, injecting the vaccine at the right depth into the fish, causing less stress.

Gordon Jeffrey, managing director at Aqualife Services, said: “Interface saved me many months of networking and relationship-building by giving me instant access to the institutes and people who could really move my project forward.

“That saved time has been a huge bonus for me as I work hard to grow my company.”