Siobhán Jordan: Innovation is realised in partnerships between business and academia

From a potentially life-changing smart irrigation system designed for farmers in developing countries to a unique collaboration which offers legal help to hundreds of women affected by violence and abuse, innovation comes in many forms.

The Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2018, RBS Gogarburn
The Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2018, RBS Gogarburn

The sheer diversity of projects and people shortlisted for the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2019 is impressive and is testimony that when the great minds of businesses and academics get together impactful outcomes emerge.

We will reveal the winners tonight at a celebration in Edinburgh of business-academic partnerships across all industry sectors and academic disciplines.

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The awards are a real highlight for me and the team at Interface. Every year we support hundreds of companies and academics by making connections to tackle some difficult issues. Therefore it is hugely exciting to get those at the forefront of research and development under one roof to celebrate their achievements at this special event.

Dr Siobhán Jordan, Director, Interface

Innovation is so much more than multiple iterations of the same product (although the story of how Dyson developed is an inspiring one). Among those shortlisted, we have businesses and academics coming together to solve problems as far ranging as monitoring marine mammals to allow offshore, construction and engineering companies to carry out essential procedures in the sea at no risk to the mammals (RIGOCAL and University of Edinburgh), to a botanicals library which allows distillers to create new gin recipes and export their products internationally without falling foul of regulations in different countries (the Scottish Distillers Association, five distilleries and Heriot-Watt University).

In total there are seven awards which recognise, reward and celebrate the impact of collaborative partnerships in different forms including celebrating consortia of multiple parties and long-term powerful partnerships.

We also recognise the impact of individuals – the heroes making the collaborations happen. We have two categories aimed at people at different career stages – Rising Stars and Knowledge Exchange Champion. In a recent blog from last year’s Outstanding Contribution to Knowledge Exchange winner, Professor Bill Buchanan OBE from the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University, illustrates how passionate people are about ensuring knowledge flows easily between our academic institutes to commercial environments. In it he says: “As an academic, I believe that education, collaboration and knowledge exchange are at the core of our society, and that we should never stop learning and teaching others.”

Tonight, we have equally passionate and dedicated stars and champions to keep the light of research excellence shining brightly.

This year, for the first time, the judges will choose a Spotlight Award for the partnership which has come together from a different business sector and academic discipline to provide a disruptive solution to a challenge.

With 19 shortlisted applications, there are too many to mention here, but check out our website ( for full details and later tonight we will be sharing the winners far and wide.

The shortlisted companies and academics demonstrate the range of businesses and organisations who have embraced innovation. Ordinary - or perhaps extraordinary - entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs feature strongly in the awards. After all, invention is the mother of necessity. Partnering with academic expertise can unlock the door to that vital piece of data, information, technology or know-how which can turn an idea into an invoice, makes a product profitable or a system simpler.

Innovation is essentially the application of knowledge to bring about better solutions and our showcase of the cream of business-academic collaborations proves that it is thriving in Scotland.

And that’s important as innovation acts as a catalyst for economic growth and benefits many facets of our society including health and wellbeing. Businesses use innovation to grow and prosper, fuelling employment opportunities and reaching into new domestic and overseas markets. Those that innovate see marked increases in turnover and profitability. Research carried out for Interface showed that business supported by the organisation contributed £64.2m GVA (gross value added) to the economy each year.

However, it takes effort, foresight and sometimes a bit of a leap of faith by both business and academic to see a successful collaboration through. In his blog, Professor Buchanan quotes Professor Linda Hill, from Harvard Business School, who says the process of innovating can be “exhilarating… and downright scary”. Interface hand-holds businesses through those tentative first steps in establishing a collaboration with an academic team, giving support and advice along the way.

Investing time and resource in innovation is a barrier to many small and medium sized businesses, but it is worthwhile speaking to Interface to see how we can help. Who knows, you could be joining future celebrations as a knowledge exchange hero.

Dr Siobhán Jordan, Director,