By Laura Goodfellow, Head of Business Engagement, Interface

Photo from left to right:  James King, Petra Crocker

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships have been helping UK businesses innovate for over 40 years and are one of a range of initiatives which support knowledge sharing between universities and industry.

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) is a three-way collaboration between a business, university/research institute and graduate who leads a strategic project aimed at tackling a particular challenge within the business.

KTPs are open to business in all sectors, and usually last from one to three years. The partnership can bring many benefits to the business, including solutions to long-standing issues they may not have had the expertise, resource or time to tackle, major cost savings and innovative developments which can support the company with additional revenue streams, new machinery or breaking into new markets.

Embedding knowledge into an industry setting in this way has many advantages for all three parties. Apart from the company benefits mentioned above, having a graduate, known as a KTP Associate, based in the business can bring about a change in the culture and attitudes towards innovation, inspiring other employees to share and exchange their knowledge and ideas. The company not only gets a KTP Associate but access to an academic expert and the host university department.

For the KTP Associate, valuable hands on in-depth project experience in a relevant sector is gained over the course of the project, and in some cases permanent employment with that company at its completion. For the academic institute, apart from being a source of funding, it opens another route to graduate employment and builds valued relationships directly with industry.

KTPs are one of the vehicles which Interface promotes to support businesses which want to partner with academic expertise in a longer-term partnership, often following an initial feasibility or proof of concept project funded by an Innovation Voucher.

Through Interface support, over 40 KTPs have been enabled with various Scottish university partners across different industry sectors. In fact, one of the companies we’ve supported is working with their fourth KTP Associate, having realised the benefits of bringing academic expertise into the workplace. There are currently around 100 KTP Associates in Scottish companies and with the continued backing of the programme from UKRI opportunities to expand this number in the next year.

Allowing world-class knowledge to be embedded into a business can bring about impressive results, which are celebrated annually to showcase the valuable contribution of all forms of knowledge exchange including KTPs. The Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards, hosted by Interface, recognise the impacts from final year students, postgraduate students or Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associates in increasing innovation in business through a dedicated category.

Winners have included Lee-Anne McGee, KTP Associate from Abertay University, who helped to redesign and validate an innovative starch filtration system, Peel Tech, which also won the Innovation of the Year in 2017. Malcolm Wood of Ivan Wood & Sons, a Fife-based fruit and vegetable wholesaler, came up with the idea of a compact and affordable filtration system as new legislation was brought in preventing fast food outlets from disposing of starch in drains.  

The project Lee-Anne led on reduced waste materials and generated sales of the system within the UK and Europe. Lee-Anne also implemented a Food Quality Management System for Ivan Wood & Sons, which resulted in significant cost savings to both the company wages and packaging. She impressed the judges by developing a high quality vegetable stock from the recovered starch to be sold as a new product to the food service industry. Lee-Anne continues to work with Ivan Wood & Sons and Peel Tech as a Technical Manager since the KTP finished in early 2017.

The previous year, Laura Kreiling, a KTP Associate from University of Strathclyde, won the Building Skills Through Knowledge Exchange Award after she undertook a 24-month long project to significantly improve engineering resource estimation at Alexander Dennis Ltd, the UK's leading bus and coach manufacturer. The new tool she developed reduced the amount of time spent on forecasting resources from several days to just 30 minutes, saving the company thousands of pounds.

This year’s winner was Petra Crocker, a KTP Associate from Edinburgh Napier University, who worked with Multiply UK Ltd in Edinburgh to create a real-time digital consumer tool to drive both the expansion and reputation of the company as industry experts in planning and insight.

KTPs are one of a range of funding initiatives available through Innovate UK, the UK Government’s innovation agency. The cost of a project is shared by the business, and public sector funding which in Scotland can include a contribution from the Scottish Funding Council.

If improving competitiveness and productivity are important to a business, then working with a graduate in this way could be a clever connection to make.