Supporting businesses to prosper – Robert Gordon University and Interface

1st October 2020
Written by: Suzy Powell, Interface

Interface has strong contacts in all of Scotland’s universities, colleges and research institutes, which helps the team support businesses in finding the right academic expertise for them.

The relationships with these contacts keeps us up to date with academic capacity and capability for partnering with businesses, and means that the process of working with academics is as smooth and streamlined as possible.

For the academics, there is a reassurance that the Interface team are bringing them industry partners who are ready to collaborate.

One person who has managed both sides of the relationship is Gary Hogan, Knowledge Exchange Manager at Robert Gordon University. Gary spent several months on secondment to Interface in 2018-19.

We caught up with Gary and Gillian Hambley, Business Engagement Executive for Aberdeenshire, to find out more about the benefits to the university and business of partnering, and Interface’s role.

Gary, tell us what your role entails as Knowledge Exchange Manager at Robert Gordon University (RGU)?

As the Knowledge Exchange Manager at RGU, my role is to increase the number and value of innovative university-business collaborations by translating the needs of companies of different sizes and different sectors into projects for the university. Key to my role and the culture of the wider RGU Business and Economic Development department, is working with businesses within the region and more widely across Scotland, to help them address their business challenge through collaboration with the university. I provide a key point of access to the knowledge, expertise, services, facilities and equipment available at RGU to support companies develop their opportunities, and work closely with our sectoral Business Development Managers ensuring businesses are introduced to the person within the team who can best support them. I also explore with the academic teams what a collaborative project could look like and offer guidance on potential funding streams that the partnership can access to undertake the work.

As well as this, I’m out and about in the region networking, understanding what issues companies are facing within their sectors, developing new contacts and exploring how the university can support. Another important part of the role involves promoting knowledge exchange activities through organising workshops and events with intermediary organisations such as Scottish Enterprise and the Innovation Centres to share RGU’s capabilities and research interests. This also provides the academic teams with awareness of opportunities and challenges that they can address.

What are RGU’s specialities/strengths in its research?

I continue to be impressed by the depth of knowledge and experience of our academics. They seem prepared to have a go at almost anything, applying their skills in very different ways. As examples, we have colleagues in Gray’s School of Art tackling design and manufacturing challenges and our computer scientists taking on projects in sustainable fashion and heritage. Of course, across our Schools our researchers do the discipline-related things you would expect: computing scientists applying novel algorithms, artificial intelligence and deep learning to a variety of complex problems in a whole range of sectors; our engineers studying fluid dynamics and smart materials; and our life scientists looking at quality of water by assessing the impact of blue-green algal blooms and the dangerous toxins they release.

But, I would say that our real strength as a University is our ability to apply these research themes cross-sector, to deliver significant economic, health and cultural benefits.

What are the benefits of Interface bringing business opportunities to the university?

Supporting business to prosper and stimulating economic development is a stated part of RGU’s strategy and we do that by aligning with UK and Scottish Government agendas and regional priorities.  A really important mechanism for this is through the use of government-funded initiatives. Interface really helps with this by providing a valuable connection to businesses across Scotland, access to funding, and through the sharing of sectoral and company challenges and opportunities.

The transparency of the Interface approach and process along with the experience of the Interface team in managing this, works really well as it allows companies and the university to very quickly focus on the challenge in hand, with the structure and model of engagement already determined. Interface also understand both companies and the university sector and provide a further critical link between the two.

Working with Interface also allows the university to access government funded mechanisms such as the Innovation Voucher scheme. Over the past 12 months through Interface and the Innovation Voucher scheme, we have worked with over 30 companies, from across 8 different sectors, to address their individual business needs. We genuinely believe these government support mechanisms are particularly helpful for companies and so we use them regularly for funding engagement between RGU and industry, often leading to long-term partnerships.

In terms of wider benefits to the university, these projects also provide opportunities for academics, researchers and students to apply their knowledge and expertise to real-world problems and foster further links with industry.

… so yes, Interface really does benefit the university!

So, Gillian, what should Aberdeenshire businesses do if they are interested in working with any of Scotland’s universities in Scotland?

Contact me, at, so we can have a discussion about your business development idea, challenge or research need. We work with all sectors and all universities across Scotland and can help with advice on funding too. A virtual coffee is a great way to get things going and take the first step towards partnering with world-class academic experts.