People holding glasses of wine making a toast

By Dr Siobhán Jordan, Director, Interface

Today, many Scots around the world will be celebrating all things Scottish, and it is certainly worth lifting a glass to our nation’s drive to be economically successful.

Greater collaboration between business and universities is viewed as a key factor in improving the country’s economic performance, however a change in gear is being called on from business leaders and both UK and Scottish Governments.

When Jo Johnson, the UK Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, announced a new barometer for measuring knowledge exchange in October he acknowledged that there were good examples of universities engaging with businesses and communities to make the most of their knowledge and research, but added that “the system needs to find a new gear” in commercialisation of research and development.

At the CBI conference on business-university collaboration last month, Hugh Aitken, CBI Scotland Director, urged the audience, which was a mix of business and university representatives, to “move the dial ourselves”, rather than relying solely on government action to boost productivity. Innovation was one of the main drivers to achieve a step change in company growth and productivity outlined in the CBI’s Pursuing Prosperity report.

We are working with the Scottish Government, enterprise agencies, Scottish Funding Council, Universities Scotland and many others to improve knowledge exchange performance – we need more companies across all sectors to innovate and on a much larger scale, resulting in transformational projects that power our society and economy.

There is no doubting the willingness for change to turn Scotland into a more prosperous, leading innovation nation, however lack of money and time are often given as reasons for smaller companies not undertaking research and development. That’s where Interface comes in. We have worked with thousands of SMEs – 39% have less than 10 employees and 56% employ under 50 people – matching them with academics to take their business to the next stage or overcome a wide range of issues.

In September we published an economic impact report based on businesses and academics who we have worked with over the last ten years. The figures show that company-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 3,500 jobs, if future expectations of the businesses are realised. 

Several of the companies interviewed for the report had experienced transformational effects on their business culture and many said that it had been a catalyst for deep and long-lasting relationships with academia.

One of these companies is Dunnet Bay Distillers, based in the far north of Scotland, on the famous North Coast 500 route. Director Martin Murray said:

“I would encourage any SME to engage with Interface to see what opportunities are out there for their business. It’s really important to do this at the business planning stage as there could be opportunities even at the very early stages of development that you won’t be aware of.

“Working with academia is part of my business thinking now. I would previously have thought it was too expensive or too difficult.  Interface has broken down that mental barrier.”

Fostering a culture of business innovation is an ambition certainly worth celebrating this St Andrew’s Day, helping to turn ideas into invoices.