How universities are boosting business in Scotland

24th March 2016

It is 20 years this July since Dolly the Sheep was born at the Roslin Institute, just outside Edinburgh.

In the intervening 20 years much has changed with innovation; research and development no longer the preserve of large corporates.

We have seen greatly increased collaboration between small business and the academic sector; and what’s more these collaborations are underpinned by multiple disciplines from science, engineering and technology to arts, social sciences and humanities.

We have a clear policy direction for delivering innovation in Scotland with the Scottish Government’s Can Do framework placing innovation at the heart of economic success, bolstered by the Innovation Scotland Forum and Universities Scotland’s five point innovation action plan.

There is no doubt Scotland, and its people, have a huge impact on our modern world – and will continue to do so with the right support and connections.

By simplifying business access to university knowledge through Interface brokerage and introducing harmonised legal contracts, among other things, universities in Scotland are showing real commitment to delivering economic impact in the Scottish ecosystem.

All businesses large and small need to keep moving forward, harnessing opportunities, pushing boundaries and keeping ahead of the curve. Innovation embraces a wide spectrum of activities beyond R&D, whether to improve a standard process or to reinvigorate a lackluster product, it is an essential element to success and can directly impact the bottom line.

Many SMEs are realising the extent and breadth of knowledge in our world-class academic institutions. We know from our own research that 79% of the businesses Interface has helped have seen an increase in turnover and a growing number continue to partner with academics and researchers to further develop a product or service, having realised the benefit from first time round.

Plan Bee is a small company with big ambitions.

The company rents beehives to businesses for a specified time and allows the business to reap the rewards – in jars of honey! The success of the business, led by founder Warren Bader, is underpinned by collaborating with a number of Scottish academic teams including University of Glasgow to establish the health benefits of Scottish honey and Abertay University to analyse the most efficient and effective methods of using QR codes with augmented reality to highlight the provenance of the honey products.

Furthermore, partnering with Heriot-Watt University has facilitated product diversification including a new range of “Beehive Brae” honey beers.

This one case study highlights how universities have the potential to play a much greater role in supporting innovation within Scottish businesses through multi-disciplinary partnerships. We are advocates of agile, flexible and practical ways to help individual or clusters of companies deliver incremental or step change innovation.

However, many more enterprises could benefit from exploring the possibilities of partnering with a university or research institution and all those involved in the innovation landscape need to keep reinforcing the message that these types of collaboration are a win-win situation for both business and academics.

Siobhán Jordan, Director of Interface is a member of the National Centre’s Growing Value Task Force, which will be releasing conclusions and recommendations on the future of university business collaboration in Scotland, on 25 May.