In a few weeks, Interface will be celebrating its 10th anniversary. Plans to mark the occasion are already well underway with the inaugural Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards, a celebration of achievements and successes showing what is possible when business and academic expertise come together.
The past decade has been an incredible journey for the Interface team, and shows no signs of abating, as our recent annual report, for Academic Year 2014-15, demonstrated.
If success is measured in numbers, then here are a few to consider:
• Interface scoped and presented 369 enquiries from businesses to academic teams – more than one for every day of the year;
• 179 collaborative projects were undertaken after the team found suitable academic partners for businesses from all sectors, of all sizes;
• 83% of businesses reduced their operating costs, increased productivity, profits, exports, turnover, and created new or safeguarded employment as a result of collaborating with an academic team;
• 97% of businesses reported that their projects would not have happened or would have taken longer or been less valuable without the assistance provided by Interface;
However, the annual report is a snapshot in time and things have already moved on in the two months since the 2014-15 review was published.
For example, the number of Innovation Vouchers approved for business-academic collaborations has almost reached 1,000; while the number of expertise searches translating the requirements of businesses has topped 3,000. We have also welcomed two new members of staff to develop longer-term collaborations with businesses in the Highlands and Islands.
Looking ahead to 2016 – designated the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design – we will continue to ensure Interface plays a vital part of the innovation ecosystem in Scotland through our involvement in the Scotland CAN DO framework. Government support is crucial to foster an innovation nation and my recent trip to Australia for the international veski residency programme highlighted the key ingredients for success; people make connections and our successes have been founded on the impartial translators understanding companies’ needs and translating them into wants that can be delivered by academia.
The Australian government is placing innovation firmly at the centre of the economy, and Interface is seen as an exemplar of what could be achieved – but only if all universities get behind it.
There is still some way to go so that academia is seen as a partner of choice for innovation by all businesses. The Dowling review this year provided a clear road map to deliver continuous improvement and success.
As we look forward to the next ten years one thing is clear: business to academic partnerships lead to significant benefits including the creation and development of products, processes and services which have a huge impact on improving Scotland’s GVA and stimulating employment, not forgetting the benefits to society as a whole.
By Siobhán Jordan, Director, Interface