Interface is a free service connecting national and international organisations and industries to all Scotland's universities, research institutes and colleges.
Scotland’s business base is predominantly made up of micro businesses employing less than 10 employees (94%) and historically very few in this group have engaged with academia. Not only are companies unsure of the best means of engaging and often lacking the resource to pursue this, the financial returns available to universities and research institutes from working with small businesses are often not sufficient to justify significant engagement.
A core part of the rationale for establishing Interface was to help overcome these challenges by creating a mechanism to enable SMEs, particularly micro and small enterprises, to engage with the academic base in Scotland. By providing a central hub through which businesses can engage with academia and taking away the need to approach several institutions individually, Interface helps to make the engagement process more cost effective for businesses. Interface also makes engagement with SMEs more cost effective for higher education institutions (HEIs) by helping businesses to clearly articulate how HEIs might be able to assist them. In doing this, Interface also helps to identify those businesses for which academic assistance is likely to be of the greatest benefit.
Interface has developed an active relationship with all 23 HEIs and research institutes in Scotland, as well as Scotland’s eight specialised Innovation Centres, in order to fully maximise the opportunity for innovation and commercialisation of new ideas.
Interface is delivered by team of 23 experienced staff including 10 business engagement officers and a further four sector engagement officers. The team are based throughout Scotland to allow for in-depth engagement with industry and the Scottish academic and research centres.
Evidence of success
Since 2005 Interface has introduced 2,914 businesses to academic partners resulting in 1,941 industry:academia collaborative projects. A 2017 evaluation of Interface reports that companies supported by Interface add an estimated £64.2million GVA to the Scottish economy annually supporting around 1,000 jobs.
The additionality of Interface is evidenced by company feedback with 97% of companies stating their project would either not have happened or taken longer without support from Interface
Potential for learning or transfer
Having been running for almost 15 years, Interface has a proven track record in successfully linking industry and academia to ensure the best possible match, as evidenced in several independent evaluations.
The Interface model does not appear to have been replicated elsewhere in Europe, however, with the drive towards smart specialisation the importance of strong academic/industry engagement is higher than ever and this has the potential to be useful mechanism to encourage this in other regions of Europe, especially with SMEs.
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