Interface has played a critical part during Covid-19 connecting businesses of all sizes to Scottish universities, research institutes and colleges. In her article below, Dr Siobhán Jordan, Director at Interface, offers just some of a myriad of examples of collaborations between universities and diverse groups of businesses in the context of this crisis.

The Cambridge dictionary defines resilience as the “the ability to be happy and successful again after something difficult or bad has happened”.

Resilience is not a new concept. However, in 2020 resilience has taken on new meaning to all facets of society.  This year has brought difficult times with a COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted on all our lives and continues to challenge our nation and world, both medically and economically.

Resilience + collaboration in supporting the immediate medical response

Despite the difficult times however, we are daily witnessing tremendous strides in the medical and economic recovery responses to COVID-19 and at the heart of many of these are academic teams collaborating with companies across the UK. This porosity and ease of access is hugely welcome and ensures that knowledge is being translated at pace.

There are many hidden heroes in university corridors who have shown great agility and leadership through collaborative approaches including:

  • Delivering world-leading health research and deployment of staff and students to the NHS frontline
  • Releasing personal protective equipment (PPE) and specialist facilities
  • Playing a pivotal role in the fight against the disease through vaccine development
  • Commiting to being a catalyst in economic recovery through collaboration with industry

Resilience + impactful collaboration between universities and businesses essential to delivery economic recovery

Partnership approaches, collaboration and open innovation have been the golden threads in mobilising academics – be it with the NHS, other academic colleagues, policy makers or small businesses.

But universities, governments and businesses are trying to survive and thrive in an extremely difficult context.  The public health crisis is having a profound economic effect. But as a number of important reports on economic recovery have highlighted, further and higher education, science and research are demonstrating that they are the cornerstones to economic recovery – through education and training that helps people of all ages to develop the skills they need to succeed in a changing economy; by continuing to be open to all businesses, attract international investment and talent; and by coalescing around the national economic and social recovery strategies.

Our universities are the engines of expertise and growth whilst businesses drive it further through commercialisation that leads to growth. Brought together, businesses, universities and colleges can power ahead, making significant impacts on society and economy, even for the industrial sectors hardest hit.

Case example of business -academic collaboration for economic response

An example of how Scottish universities have mobilised to support the decimated tourism and hospitality sector is through a scheme called  Adopt a business.

Interface, which is a central hub for connecting academia and business in Scotland, has joined forces with VisitScotland and the Scottish Tourism Alliance to connect more than 80 tourism businesses to university academics and students for research and development projects which will help boost economic recovery.

“Adopt a Business”, is helping hospitality companies, one of the hardest hit industries from the impact of lockdown caused by COVID-19 by diversifying their business models and adapting to the new environment. Alongside providing practical knowledge and recommendations that can be rapidly deployed in the tourism and hospitality businesses, the academic partnerships have provided real-world experience to students and recent graduates.

One business which has benefited from further diversification after tuning into Interface’s food tourism webinar is Bellevue Farm on Arran. The farm worked with a student from Robert Gordon University to pivot and develop their product and an effective marketing strategy, thereby setting them on track to reach new visitors and grow their business.

Another example where collaborations are helping local economies is through a partnership between Scottish-based disinfectant company, Scotmas and Forth Valley College (FVC). Scotmas is an SME which has been supported by Interface for several years, that has taken on 10 apprenticeships who have recently been made redundant.

They received a grant from South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE) that allowed them to pivot, retool and adapt their business to the growing demand for high level disinfectants.

Innovation and collaboration will underpin greater resilience

Recent surveys have built up a picture of the barometer of resilience enabled by innovation and collaboration.  For example:

  • The results from Innovate UK grant holders[1] suggest that around 1 in 9 firms stopped all of their R&D activities during the lockdown period.  More worrying perhaps is that around 65% of firms reduced the scale of their R&D activities during the lockdown period and that around a third of firms plan to reduce their investment in R&D by more than half over the next three months.
  • However, on a more positive note, 53% of companies recently surveyed by the *Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) thought that creating innovative solutions to problems should be the top priority of businesses in future.

Our work at Interface, working in partnership with universities and colleges, has delivered outstanding results, and we have had our highest level of collaborations in this past academic year, up to July 2020, with 329 projects delivered, creating and safeguarding 77 jobs. Delivering a 22% year on year increase in partnerships and investments in innovation clearly demonstrates that the entrepreneurial spirit in Scotland is thriving even during a time of crisis.

The future looks bright

All in all, better times are in sight, through profitable collaborative partnerships between universities and businesses, which will help improve lives and make a lasting difference to society.

With universities and colleges being more open to businesses and collaboration there is much to be hopeful about in terms of building back from the pandemic. Entrepreneurship and innovation leading to resilience and recovery are now front and centre as we look forward to future prosperity following the crisis.

Businesses that will survive know collaborating for change has to be in their DNA – call it innovation, if necessary, but actually it is survival. This is a call to action for more businesses to be resilient, be prepared, be informed and make effective decisions through collaboration.


*A survey of more than 1,230 people was commissioned by Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS), the arm of Scotland’s enterprise agencies that supports company growth through employee ownership and co-operative business.


This article was first published as part of the State of the Relationship 2020 report.