How to collaborate with academics?

30th May 2018

Research and development is sometimes thought of as the territory of large, multi-national corporations, however one organisation is helping thousands of Scottish small and medium sized businesses access world-leading academic expertise.

Interface was established in 2005 to bridge the gap between the worlds of business and academia.

With a team located across Scotland, the organisation works with all 19 universities in Scotland, as well as research institutes and colleges, finding academic partners for companies in all sectors.

The impacts of business-academic projects are many and varied, ranging from increased turnover, creation of new jobs and identifying new areas of research and product development.

Here are Interface’s Director Dr Siobhán Jordan’s top tips for creating successful business-academic collaborations:

  1. Finding the right academic partner is key to a successful partnership. We often call it a “meeting of minds” where the business and academic champions have real synergy and almost become one team. We have seen partnerships grow into a synergistic flow of knowledge and ideas from the business to the academic institution and vice versa with significant benefits for both partners.
  2. Be clear about what you want to achieve from collaborating with a university – the team at Interface can help produce a brief outlining the scope and details of the proposed project.
  3. Speak to a business support agency such as Interface, Scottish Enterprise or Business Gateway about funding for collaborative projects. Standard Innovation Vouchers up to £5,000 which is matched in cash or kind by the business, are a great way to fund small-scale projects such as feasibility studies or validating benefits of a product which can then lead to larger scale projects and other areas of R&D.
  4. Keep an open mind – the expertise which could help your business may not be in the same sector as you and could in fact be a discipline that had not occurred to you. We have matched cake manufacturers with hyperspectral imaging experts, and aerospace research with high performance bicycle chain manufacturers, with impressive results.
  5. Establish intellectual property rights from the start. All collaborative projects produce intellectual assets so it is essential to have a discussion about whether ownership will be with the business or academic institution. The Intellectual Property Office has a free online guide to help with the basics of IP.
  6. Look around your business to see what else could benefit from academic input. Better waste disposal? Quicker processes? Improved products? As they say, two minds are better than one and you never know where a new collaborative partnership might lead.

More information on partnering with universities, research institutes and colleges can be found here.