Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions for SMEs on establishing partnerships with academia

From ongoing discussions with the Innovation Scotland partners (Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Funding Council and Universities Scotland) and in conjunction with other business support organisations including Business Gateway, Interface has created the top ten questions that companies would like to know prior to establishing a potential collaboration for research and innovation with an academic team. 

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, rather a way of encouraging businesses who do not have an established collaboration to find out more. If you have any other specific questions not included on this list please email info@interface-online.org.uk

  1. What are the benefits to a business in collaborating with an academic institution?
  2. I am not seeking to take on a graduate so what can Universities offer my business?
  3. Why would an academic team wish to collaborate with my business?
  4. How do I go about finding an academic partner in Scotland?
  5. Where can I find out about new technological developments in a key industry area?
  6. How long will the project take to establish and complete?
  7. How much will it cost?
  8. Is there any funding available to help offset the costs to collaborate with a University?
  9. What is full economic costing (FEC) and why does FEC need to be applied to the Higher Education Institute costings for collaborative working?
  10. Where can I find information about Intellectual Property (IP) and commercialisation?

 

  1. What are the benefits to a business in collaborating with an academic institution?
    Many projects between businesses and academic teams provide independent research or validation of new ideas for the company.  Key benefits include reducing cost and risk, providing access to new ideas and horizon scanning, supporting the development of research skills, capability and profile.

    Accessing the knowledge and facilities in universities and research institutions can reduce the time for a business to take a new product, process or service to market.  Longer term benefits to businesses include expanding into new markets, staying ahead of competitors and increasing profits and turnover. From an independent survey 79% of businesses which collaborated with universities in 2013 reported an increase in turnover.  
    All businesses, regardless of sector, size or geographical location can partner with an academic institution and case studies to illustrate the benefits can be found here:  www.interface-online.org.uk/case-studies

    Back to top >>
     

  2. I am not seeking to take on a graduate so what can Universities offer my business?
    Scotland’s 23 Higher Education Institutes (HEI) and research Institutions are home to a wealth of expertise, unique technologies, testing facilities and research ideas which can be used to solve problems or develop new areas for businesses for the short, medium and longer term. Working with researchers and academics can help raise a company’s profile and keep businesses at the forefront of their industrial sector.

    Back to top >>
     

  3. Why would an academic team wish to collaborate with my business?
    The universities’ research teams can benefit greatly from working with business. The research and development projects give them the opportunity to innovate in new strategic directions, employ graduates, provide work based learning opportunities for students and enhance teaching.

    Academic to business partnerships can take many forms, including providing ‘real-life’ projects and resources to help students understand the practical relevance of their courses or undertaking a one month to three year collaborative project with key milestones and deliverables.  There are many ways academics and businesses have worked together through a one-off project or large scale collaborations with other businesses in their industrial sector.
     
    Back to top >>
     

  4. How do I go about finding an academic partner in Scotland?
    Interface-The knowledge connection for business www.interface-online.org.uk/ was set up specifically as a impartial, free service to connect businesses with academia from across all Scottish Universities and Research Institutions.  The team work with businesses to understand their aims and objectives and through close relationships with Scotland’s higher education and research institutes, find the best academic match across all areas from engineering, arts, business schools etc.

    Back to top >>
     

  5. Where can I find out about new technological developments in a key industry area?
    It could be that technology for developing a business idea or product already exists at a Scottish HEI. These “off the shelf” technologies can be explored at www.university-technology.com . HEIs are constantly adding new technology so if something is not available now, it could be on offer in the near future.

    In addition Innovation Centres have been established to support new developments and collaboration opportunities in some of the key Scottish industry sectors including oil and gas, construction, digital health, stratified medicine, sensors, industrial biotechnology, aquaculture, data lab:  www.sfc.ac.uk/FundingImpact/KnowledgeExchange/InnovationCentres/FundedInnovationCentres.aspx

    Back to top >>
     

  6. How long will the project take to establish and complete?
    Some projects can be relatively short, particularly for product testing or accessing facilities. Many are completed within three months, especially if they are funded through an Innovation Voucher (Q8). Others can take longer and are delivered in phases with defined milestones.

    Back to top >>
     

  7. How much will it cost?
    The cost of the project should be agreed at the start of any collaboration. The overall project cost can vary widely depending on the scale and length of the project.  Some of the main ways businesses can partner with universities include:
    • The use of consultancy services provided by academic experts
    • Innovation Voucher funding – in kind or cash contribution required to match grant value (Q8)
    • The use of university equipment or facilities, normally for a fee
    • Undertaking a strategic project eg. through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership or sponsoring of a post graduate student
    • The commissioning of contract research – where the business is a paying customer and owns all resulting Intellectual property
    • The commissioning of collaborative research – where there is a partnership between one or more universities and one or more companies, often with involvement of a public funding body
    • Staff exchanges, placements and secondments

      Back to top >>
       

  8. Is there any funding available to help offset the costs to collaborate with a University?
    There are a number of funding schemes to help offset the costs of the collaborative research and development.  Further information can be found here: www.interface-online.org.uk/how-we-can-help/funding
    If the business has not previously collaborated with an academic partner then Scottish Funding Council Innovation Vouchers, are available for up to £5,000 (which the businesses match with funding or a non-cash alternative such as use of facilities or materials).

    Back to top >>
     

  9. What is full economic costing (FEC) and why does FEC need to be applied to the Higher Education Institute costings for collaborative working?
    All Universities are required by the government to apply a Full Economic costing model. The principle behind FEC funding is that Research Organisations should indicate the full economic cost of a project which includes an attribution of the cost of academic staff time, and the institution's facilities, estates & indirect costs. This helps institutions to understand the full costs of the research they carry out and supports their research activities on a sustainable basis, with appropriate investment in research infrastructure, including buildings, facilities, and staff.  In summary, Full Economic Costing is:
    • A standardised costing methodology for research
    • Applied at project level
    • Used by all UK Higher Education Institutions
    • Mandatory by Government for external research funding

      Back to top >>
       

  10. Where can I find information about Intellectual Property (IP) and commercialisation?
    All collaborative projects between businesses and academia will create Intellectual Assets ranging from know-how to designs or patents.  UK SMEs who have registered Intellectual property report up to 20% higher growth, income or employment, so it is an important consideration in advance of establishing any partnership.

    Intellectual property can be bought, sold or licensed.  A licence is an agreement between the IP owner and another party. It grants permission to do something that would be an infringement of the rights without the licence. Further information can be found here: www.gov.uk/licensing-intellectual-property

    During the process of scoping out the collaborative project, it is necessary that the company and academic institution have a discussion on the ownership of Intellectual Assets and Intellectual property that already exists and may be produced as a result of the collaboration.  This discussion should seek to agree terms for IP and confidentiality at the outset before any project work is undertaken.

    To simplify the process of collaborating with a research partner, the Scottish university partners have agreed a series of downloadable, standardised legal agreements and documents including standard template for the company – HEI contract for an innovation voucher that will be agreed prior to project initiation www.interface-online.org.uk/how-we-can-help/guidance-collaborating/legal-templates

There are many other sources of advice available to help businesses understand Intellectual Assets and Intellectual property include:

  • Bright Idea Scotland provides support and advice to individual inventors, pre-starts/new starts and lifestyle businesses.
  • Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have Intellectual Assets Specialist Teams to support companies registered in Scotland, and trading at either a national or international level. They are able to offer free consultancy and advice to assist companies in identifying and developing strategies for the management of the key intangible assets (IA) within your business. They also offer more intensive support, through a mixture of IA Project development support and Workshop programmes supported by in depth 1:1 consultancy advice. 
  • The  Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has designed IP Equip - a new online learning tool that can help you understand the basics of IP.  It’s free to complete and can be accessed via desktops, tablets and smart phones.

Want to find out more?

Back to top >>