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Economic impact of Interface-supported collaborations reaches £64.2m

Business-academic projects supported by Interface have enabled Scottish companies to generate £64.2 million gross value added (GVA) a year for the Scottish economy, supporting around 1,060 Scottish jobs, a new report has revealed.

The long-term economic impact attributable to Interface could increase to more than £195.3 million GVA/year, supporting almost 3,500 jobs if future expectations of the businesses are realized. 

Dr Siobhán Jordan, Director of Interface, said: “With the strong focus on innovation by designing and producing the products of the future to boost growth and create jobs in the Scottish Government’s vision for Scotland, this new report shows that marrying businesses to academic expertise has already delivered significant impact on our economy.

“Small and medium-sized enterprises play a crucial part in contributing to the economy and to our society and 95% of businesses we support have fewer than 50 employees.

“We have worked with thousands of companies matching them to universities, research institutes and colleges to create new products, services and processes, increase turnover, expand businesses to new markets and safeguard jobs in remote regions.”

Paul Wheelhouse, MSP, the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, said: “Innovation is so important for our ambition to ‘shift the dial’ on boosting Scotland’s economic performance. Integral to this work will be driving greater collaboration between industry and academia, and building on existing research strengths.

“That is why I warmly‎ welcome the role that Interface plays in connecting business and academia, and enabling SMEs to benefit from academic insight to drive forward their profitability and commercial success.

“Our universities, research institutes and colleges are a key part of Scotland’s innovation landscape and have a vital role in supporting business innovation. The Scotland CAN DO Innovation Action Plan shows how we want to make best use of university research knowledge and talent and the expertise of the college sector to drive economic growth. We are working with our Enterprise Agencies, the Scottish Funding Council, Universities Scotland and Interface to improve Scotland's innovation and knowledge exchange performance‎."

The report, carried out on behalf of Interface, shows that 46% of businesses have increased their turnover and 31% have increased employment as a result of collaborating with academia. 54% expect turnover and employment to increase in the future as a result of the collaborative project.  

Academics and research teams also benefited from the business-led collaborations in a number of ways, including introductions to new research areas, entering international markets, additional research funding, new collaborative partnerships, developing intellectual property and commercial links. Academic institutions also benefited from increased reputation and new skills acquired by staff.

Several of the companies interviewed had experienced transformational effects on their business culture as a result of their interaction with Interface, with many reporting that the collaboration had been a catalyst for a long-lasting relationship with academia. 

One such company is Highland Galvanizers, which has plants in Elgin and Cumbernauld making a range of metal finishes for steel and aluminium used in construction, utilities, street furniture and fencing. Projects have included The Kelpies and the new Queensferry Crossing.

They approached Interface to solve an issue they were having with a finishing technique where small pinholes appeared on the surface of the coating. Initial research in-house revealed that other businesses had come up with different solutions, implying that the problem had more than one cause. The solution identified with Interface was a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Glasgow Caledonian University and a graduate based in the company. The project saves the company between £70,000 and £100,000 a year by reducing the rate of reworks needed and it led to further collaborations with the Universities of Abertay, Heriot-Watt and Strathclyde.

Geoff Crowley, Development Director, said: “For researching a problem that we don't have the people, time or resources to do ourselves, this KTP was great for us. Interface has helped to open up new relationships with academia.” 

Interface also supported the collaboration between a not-for-profit organisation in Thurso and academics by formalising the relationship between the partners and administering an Innovation Voucher, funded by the Scottish Funding Council.

Joanne Howdle, Curator of Caithness Horizons Museum, a five-star tourist attraction, said that their involvement with Dr Andrew Jennings at the Centre for Nordic Studies, the University of the Highlands and Islands, had contributed to the success of their first Viking Festival, staged in 2016, by giving them unique insights to help put the region firmly on the Viking tourism map. Outcomes from the collaboration included visitors to the event generating an estimated £0.4 million in the local area, follow up speaker invitations and interest from overseas.

“In small places like this museum staff are all generalists so having someone with specific expertise is invaluable because we don’t have the time.  This type of service is very important for the third sector,” she said.

“Not only did the project make a massive impact on Caithness Horizons Museum in terms of its community, lifelong learning and formal education programme and brought in money to the local economy, it has inspired others in the world to run with similar ideas.”

Interface’s Highlands and Islands team is hosted by Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Almost 200 businesses and organisations in the region have benefited from Interface’s support through collaborative projects.

Dr John Kemp, Interim Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council which funds Interface and the Innovation Voucher Programme, added: “With five universities in the top 200 of the Times Higher Education world rankings and three in the top 100, Scotland’s universities are world-leading institutions.

“Bringing together innovative and ambitious businesses with the research and discovery excellence of our universities is a winning idea for the Scottish economy and these figures show its value and its future potential.”

To read a summary of the report please click here.

The report was launched following a visit to Interface from Paul Wheelhouse MSP Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy and Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science.