Collaborators: Macphie of Glenbervie, the University of Edinburgh and Interface
Collaboration Type: Research collaboration
Funding: mixture of government grants and private funding
Summary: A University – Business research collaboration that has resulted in numerous individual collaborative research projects and saved hundreds of thousands of pounds. This research collaboration was spearheaded with the help of Interface
image credit: Macphie
For Macphie of Glenbervie a three-month project with the University of Edinburgh two years ago, facilitated by Interface – the knowledge connection for business and funded by a modest £5,000 Innovation Voucher, has expanded to more than 15 individual collaborative research projects which have yielded cost savings to the business of many hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Headquartered at Glenbervie, near Stonehaven, Scotland, Macphie has supplied premium food ingredient products to customers across 40 countries for more than 80 years. In the past the company has funded PhD students but had never collaborated with a university on research that was to be directly applied to its product portfolio.
“Innovation is at the core of everything Macphie does. We invest heavily in R&D, developing new technologies, products, processes and packaging to add value to our business and better meet our customer needs. A part of our innovation approach and R&D programme is to access external as well as internal idea and capabilities. Using the cutting edge science of Universities through R&D collaborations and translating those into new commercial technologies is a key part of our strategy,” explains Ashley Baker, Macphie’s Head of Research and Development.
“Using the cutting edge science of Universities through R&D collaborations and translating those into new commercial technologies is a key part of our strategy” Ashley Baker
Rather than approaching each university independently Macphie decided it would be more efficient to go through Interface, the Scottish brokering service that brings businesses and universities together. Interface have facilitated a series of collaborative projects across a range of business requirements with Scottish universities.
“For us to research every academic department in the UK, identify the one that meets our specific needs for a particular project and then find the right contacts would be very time consuming. With Interface the process was significantly accelerated and very efficient; they helped us to develop a brief explaining what we wanted and they then identified appropriate university partners and approached them.”
The universities with which Macphie has now built productive collaborative relationships are those which demonstrate knowledge and understanding of industrial needs and timeframes: they are able to respond quickly to requests and have staff who understand both the research requirements and the commercial applications of the project.
“What adds value is the combination of business development people who can help with things like scoping out grants for funding and confidentiality agreements, and good academics who are not only excellent researchers but are also fast, flexible and have the skills to manage a project”, says Ashley.
“What adds value is the combination of business development people who can help with things like scoping out grants for funding and confidentiality agreements, and good academics who are not only excellent researchers but are also fast, flexible and have the skills to manage a project” Ashley Baker
Setting clear project objectives and milestone, regular contact, and adaptability are the key elements that have aided the success of Macphie’s university collaborations. There is always a clear project scope and a plan that has been mutually agreed by all parties. For the more high-risk exploratory projects, adaptability has been essential. Often where the primary objective of the research has not succeeded it has led to other discoveries and potential applications of a technology.
The benefits to Macphie’s business extend beyond research and development. They have built internal capacity and increased employee expertise in areas such as analytical techniques. In addition the new products and improvements have created PR opportunities. Over the past two years, Macphie has achieved more than 90 articles in international trade publications and have seen an increase in new inquiries from abroad relating to some of the upstream, novel technologies being developed.
Partnering with universities is part of Macphie’s long term R&D strategy. Ashley’s advice to other businesses looking to replicate their success is to set out with a clear idea of want they want from the collaboration and how it might translate into the business, and to be prepared to shop around to find the right partner. He concludes: “In our experience, it is the long term, more speculative projects that will often yield the best and unexpected results. To achieve this you have to be prepared to invest time and cash. While some longer term R&D projects can be speculative we have achieved returns many times greater than our initial investment.”
For further information:
Ashley Baker, Technical Manager
Macphie of Glenbervie
Tel: 01569 740818
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