Scotland wants to be a leading innovative nation: we have the people and the resources to make this happen, however there are some obstacles to overcome.
Two things smaller companies often lack are money and time to undertake research and development, and yet it is within Scotland’s 344,000 small and medium-sized businesses that many ideas reside.
The importance of innovation cannot be overstated; without it businesses stall and the economy slows. The demand for new, better and improved products, services and processes from consumers is high, which is what makes today’s business world so exciting and full of opportunities.
The word “innovation” was peppered throughout the 2017-18 Programme for Government with 30 mentions in all areas of work, from public health to companies increasing their research and development.
Earlier this month (September) we published an economic impact report based on survey data and in-depth interviews with businesses and academics who have worked with Interface over the last ten years. The figures speak for themselves: business-academic projects supported by Interface have enabled Scottish businesses to generate £64.2 million gross value added (GVA) annually for the Scottish economy, supporting around 1,060 Scottish jobs.
Looking ahead, the economic impact attributable to Interface could increase to more than £195.3 million GVA/year, supporting almost 3,500 jobs, if future expectations of the businesses are realized.
The report shows that 46 per cent of businesses have increased their turnover and 31 per cent have increased employment as a result of their collaboration. 54 per cent expect turn-over and employment to increase in the future as a direct result of the collaborative project with academics.
The Scottish Government’s vision as a “nation with ambition”, is for Scotland to design and produce the products of the future boosting growth and creating jobs. As our report demonstrates, marrying businesses to universities, research institutes and colleges has a significant impact on both.
Small and medium-sized enterprises play a crucial role in contributing to the economy and we have worked with hundreds of SMEs – 17 per cent are start-ups with one employee, 22 per cent have less than 10 employees and 56 per cent employ under 50 people.
One of the biggest challenges is persuading the many businesses which do not undertake research and development at all to consider it as part of their plans, company culture and ambition.
But taking the first step to working with academics can be daunting. If you are an SME with a limited number of employees tasked to carry out specific roles and margins are tight, then finding the capacity to look at what you are currently doing and identifying areas ripe for improvement is challenging.
We are often described as matchmakers, and people are at the centre of all that we do; from the passionate team at Interface, who aim to “get it right” for our customers, and the business people we are supporting in their goals, to the academic experts at the cutting edge of research and learning (five Scottish universities are ranked in the respected Times Higher Education list of the top 200 worldwide).
Academics and research teams also benefit from business-led collaborations. Our report highlighted a multitude of benefits including introductions to new research areas, entering international markets, additional research funding, new collaborative partnerships, developing intellectual property and commercial links. In addition, academic institutions benefited from increased reputation and new skills acquired by staff.
Life sciences, aerospace, renewables and financial technology are among the industries being targeted to boost growth, alongside traditionally strong sectors such as food and drink. Our sectors team has supported more than 300 business in tourism, food and drink and creative industries through a multiparty approach – clusters of businesses and academics working together to overcome common challenges.
Innovative ideas can come from anyone anywhere leading to evolution or revolution of a company. There are many examples of people on the factory floor or poring over data who come up with good ideas. Small improvements to a process or adaptations to a product can lead to new markets, improved efficiencies and increased turnover. From ideas to invoices, workplace innovation starts with encouraging and supporting people to be creative, think big, and try to solve problems.
We have some fantastic examples of business-academic collaboration – take a look at the case studies on our website (www.interface-online.org.uk) to read some of the stories.
The Scottish Government’s aim for innovation to become an intrinsic part of our culture, society and economy is achievable. We need to work together to make this possible – the enterprise agencies, business support organisations, government, business community and academia – a true ‘Can Do’ collaboration.
Dr Siobhán Jordan, director, Interface