Siobhán Jordan, director, Interface

Siobhán Jordan, director, Interface

Celebrating knowledge exchange

Ahead of the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards later this month, we caught up with Siobhán Jordan, director of event organisers Interface to find out more about the awards and about how businesses can get involved with knowledge exchange themselves.

1. What are The Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards?

The awards recognise, reward and celebrate the impacts achieved through business-academic partnerships. Here in Scotland, we have world-class universities and research institutions, as well as an abundance of businesses with ideas to develop new or enhanced processes, products and services. We feel it’s important to showcase what can be done when businesses and academic expertise come together, and exchange their knowledge. The results can be truly game-changing, both for society and for the economy, and that is what the judges will be looking for from applications.

2. Who should attend?

We have created an inspiring event with an exciting programme: an opportunity for companies to present their experiences of collaborating with academia; all 23 world-class universities and research institutions showcasing their capabilities via an exhibition; and a celebration of the successful award winners from the shortlisted entrants. On the day businesses will be able to hear directly from other businesses, organisations and academics about their experiences of collaborative working, including the challenges, opportunities and the many positive impacts.

Any business that wants to create or develop something new, whether that’s a product, process or service, and which doesn’t have the expertise in-house could benefit from attending. The awards are a great networking opportunity as well.

3. How easy is it for smaller businesses to work with a university?

It may seem daunting to directly approach a university, or even know where to start looking for the right expertise. That is where Interface comes in, acting as a broker and impartial translator between the business, which is looking to solve an issue, and the academics. Our knowledge and connections are strengthened by our team based around the country from the Highlands and Islands to the Borders, giving us a unique role in making these matches. The majority (61%) of business challenges we take to universities and research institutions are from SMEs, and 79% of businesses we have worked with expect, or report, an increase in turnover as a result of their agreed programme of collaboration.

4. What sort of expertise is available in universities?

Everything from agriculture to zoology! The range and quality of expertise within Scotland’s universities and research institutions is exemplary – five of Scotland’s universities are in the top 200 in the world.

Often business' solutions require expertise outwith their sector (71% of cases), so it is not only more obvious matches such as food manufacturers and nutritional experts. For example, we have paired food manufacturers with chemistry, physics and mathematics academic departments. Universities are also home to specialist facilities which can be hired for commercial use, from animation studios, looms, greenhouses and sensory suites to human performance labs. For SMEs, that is an invaluable and cost-effective resource which comes with in-house expertise to help create, develop, test and analyse products.

5. How much is it likely to cost?

The cost of collaborating with universities does vary, depending on the type and scale of the project, however there is help from a variety of funding sources. Innovation Vouchers, funded by the Scottish Funding Council and administered by Interface, can offer up to £5,000 to help offset the cost of first-time collaborations. Further funding up to £20,000 is then available to build on initial projects through Follow-On Innovation Vouchers. Also Knowledge Transfer Partnerships are a great way of seconding a research associate to work in the business to develop an initial concept by bringing new knowledge into the business, which can be invaluable in helping businesses grow. That is why we have a category in the awards recognising postgraduate students and Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associates who have worked within a business to increase innovation.

***

The Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards will take place on Tuesday, 21 February, at Conference Centre, RBS Gogarburn, 175 Glasgow Road, Edinburgh. To register, and for more information, please click here.