Vision Scotland: sparks fly at interface

Professor Andrea Nolan
Professor Andrea Nolan

Research: How link-up between universities and business is igniting innovation

With the recent news of an additional £11.6m for research and innovation announced by the Scottish Funding Council, opportunities for business to partner with our academic institutes are set to thrive.

The funding will help maintain the world-leading research in Scotland’s universities and support collaboration with businesses and other partners across the country to maximise emerging opportunities such as additional UK competitive funding for research and innovation in Scotland.

This is positive news for research and innovation.

This good news follows another sizeable opportunity - the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which encourages businesses and academia to tackle some of society’s thorniest issues together, whilst boosting inclusive economic growth.

Now is a good time to innovate.

Although Scotland is already known the world over for its pioneering spirit, many more companies could “take the plunge” and tap into academic expertise to boost their business in a range of ways. Some 83% of businesses reduced operating costs; increased productivity, profits, export, turnover; and created or safeguarded employment after working with a Scottish university, research institute or college.

It is often said that innovation is the lifeblood of the economy. Research is also vital for universities and research institutes. Put the two together and the results can be hugely impactful on society, often greater than the sum of the two parts.

The reasons companies give for not innovating are more to do with resource and time constraints than a lack of appetite for working with cutting-edge technology, facilities and available expertise. Having recognised these pain points, Interface, which connects business to academic expertise, has been establishing thriving and successful partnerships since 2005.

If hand-holding and a guide through the wealth of academic know-how is what a company needs, then Interface is well positioned with direct contacts in universities, research institutes and colleges throughout Scotland, and the knowledge of how to translate business needs.

The organisation has an incredible track record of matching businesses to academia by shaping viable propositions for the academic community – over 4,000 expertise searches have been issued by Interface’s regionally-based team to date, with 92% of them identifying capability and capacity for companies to consider.

The outcome of these connections is more than 1,700 collaborative projects, most which would not have happened without Interface’s involvement, or would have taken far longer without the specialist support.

Inspiring businesses to innovate is a key priority for Interface. It is intensive, but it is happening, with 70% of the businesses connecting for the first time with academic resource. Once the match is made, around 40% of companies continue to work with academics on follow-on projects.

Collaboration can lead to exciting new opportunities, (and different ways of looking at a problem), by tapping into academic know-how, research, equipment or specialist facilities which could have a significant impact on our economy.

One thing is clear: innovation can have immediate impacts designed to test a product, service or process. Or it can be about finding data to validate a claim (G-Hold and University of the West of Scotland). Or about future-proofing a business by designing a digital roadmap (The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and Edinburgh Napier University). Or developing a new training planning process (James Frew and West College Scotland). Or exploring gluten-free vegan alternative foods (Sgaia Foods Ltd and Abertay University).

Supporting innovation in ways that are faster, smarter, more collaborative and more inclusive is an ambition for all of Scotland, with Scotland CANDO as a backdrop, and one we are working hard to support every day.

This article appeared in the Autumn 2018 edition of Vision Scotland. A digital edition can be read here.