The Scottish government established Interface to increase the level of SME Innovation and to increase levels of business led R&D levels in Scotland.
Universities in Scotland, Innovation Centres, Enterprise Agencies, Scottish Funding Council (SFC) (Scottish Government) are stakeholders in Interface. Interface liaises with these stakeholder and engages with SMEs to find the solution providers. Interface then administers SFC monies, with contribution from Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to help businesses offset the costs of academic collaborations . Interface achieves its results by building relationships and developing a culture of collaboration between academia and SMEs. To facilitate this it offers a very low risk opportunity to create the experience of collaboration. This is done by providing a voucher of £5,000, which the company can “spend” to support collaboration with the academic partner. The matching contribution from the company can be in kind. These vouchers come from the Scottish Funding Council which is the same body as funds the Universities. Follow on voucher up to £20,000 is possible. 80% of companies are Scottish SMEs and 95% of these participating SMEs have less than 50 people. Projects must be innovative (a novel/pioneering idea) and lead to new products, services or processes that will benefit the company, the academic institution and the Scottish economy.
Interface has an active marketing a promotion function to recruit new company collaborators and to publicise successful case studies as role models and demonstrate the effectiveness of interaction with academia
The overhead cost of the Interface organisation is not passed on to companies. An operational team of 24 people cover all Scotland liaising with stakeholders and working with companies. The Interface Board, made of up of leading figures from academia and industry meets three times a year.
Evidence of success
Interface has introduced over 2889 businesses to academic partners and 1918 company and university collaborative projects have been initiated. In the long-term, if businesses’ expectations about future performance are realised then the economic impact attributable to Interface could increase to £195.3 million GVA and this activity could support around 3,481 jobs. Each £1 invested in Interface generated £6.33 GVA for the Scottish economy
Critical to the success of Interface has been changing attitudes in academia and commerce. Effective collaboration in innovation is a major driver for the economy. It took a long time to break down barriers of perception from both academia and SMEs
Potential for learning or transfer
It takes time to change perception. To do this requires active marketing and publicising successes. The Voucher is essential to reduce perceived risk of SME and encourage them to start a collaboration, that more often than not leads on to further projects. It also establishes a relationship between academia and practical business to the benefit of both sides. The size of the voucher in one sense is not important but it does need to be sufficient to create meaningful project.
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