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Scotsman.com
 
Back issue: Wednesday, 8th March 2006 Change DateLatest Issue

Business

Edinburgh Evening News Wed 8 Mar 2006

Interface is happy to play matchmaker role

JIM STANTON

LIKE all newlyweds, the plan is for a perfect match with high hopes for future prosperity.

The head of the pioneering Interface project, which is set to launch today, says her new “matchmaking” service should not only benefit both partners, but the Scottish economy as well.

Dr Siobhan Jordan’s remit as Interface director is to introduce the business needs of Scottish companies to university experts to help them profit from the vast pool of expertise and research knowledge residing within Scotland’s universities.

“Until now, it’s been difficult for companies to find out what’s going on in the universities in terms of research and technology that could be of benefit to them,” says Dr Jordan.

“Before, they might have had to knock on many different doors to get anywhere. We’re essentially offering a matchmaking service.”

Interface has been established as a free-to-use conduit for companies to both expertise and funding options in a bid to stimulate innovation.

It will allow companies to exploit existing world-class knowledge to boost their competitiveness, develop new products and increase market opportunities through greater research and development initiatives.

That in turn should create increased wealth for the Scottish economy and also boost the number of skilled jobs, says Dr Jordan.

Interface – which was due to be officially unveiled by Enterprise Minister Nichol Stephen at Our Dynamic Earth today – is hosted by the University of Edinburgh on behalf of all Scotland’s universities. It is the first initiative of its kind in the UK.

Among the benefits to companies could be consultancy, problem-solving input, access to testing facilities or research that cannot be carried out in-house.

Ongoing support will include progress monitoring, guidance and contractual and fund-raising advice.

While Interface has initially been funded for three years to the tune of £870,000 by the Scottish Funding Council and the Scottish Innovations Action programme, it will be a demand-led service.

“It’s too early to say what may happen, but if it’s successful it could last further,” says Dr Jordan, a biotechnology and process engineering graduate who has also helped manage Scottish Enterprise’s Proof of Concept Programme.

‘WE want to build on current collaboration and level of knowledge transfer between higher education and the commercial sector,” she notes.

Currently the flow of exchanges is estimated to be worth around £355 million a year for the Scottish economy.

However, experts believe this figure could rise significantly, creating many jobs in the process.

Dr Jordan says: “Time-poor and small companies don’t have the luxury of knocking on lots of doors. Interface will help overcome that and introduce companies to academic mentors to help them plan for the future,” she explains.

David Watts, director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland, says: “Interface will create more effective links that will benefit Scotland’s companies and her economy.”

And Iain McMillan, director of employers’ group CBI Scotland, says Interface will help “create new partnerships between Scottish companies and academia that will in turn benefit our economy”.

He adds: “Interface will help companies identify innovative solutions to their business challenges which is crucial to their competitiveness and job creation in Scotland.”

While initially established to assist Scottish companies, Interface could also be marketed to overseas companies.

“We’re aimed at Scottish companies but we’ve already had a query from an Australian company. Scotland has a chance here to lead the world on so many initiatives on knowledge transfer,” says Dr Jordan.

John McLelland, chair of the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council, says: “The potential for adding value to, and enhancing the effectiveness of, business/university interactions through streamlining information flow between interested parties on know-how and on the availability of facilities is substantial.”

THE FACTS

Interface is being marketed as the “the knowledge connection for business”. While it has yet to prove itself, Roslin-based Ice Robotics, which engineers products for use in the dairy industry, has and continues to benefit from tapping into university research and facilities to help its business.

Managing director Dr Andrew Peacock says the firm has been involved in a number of knowledge transfer programmes with Napier University and the Scottish Agricultural College.

He says: “There’s a lot of benefits you can take: access to knowledge that might not be readily available elsewhere, or the use of specific skill-sets or equipment. In our scheme with Napier, we have a person employed by Napier but who works full-time with us.”

Dr Peacock say that has led to the design and creation by that person of a housing for one of its products which without Napier’s on-screen design equipment would have involved the building of numerous prototypes.

In its links with the SAC, Ice Robotics tapped into the knowledge of animal scientists to develop technologies to investigate animal health.

“In working with universities it’s important to recognise they have objectives too, such as knowledge or research publication, which are different from typical commercial partners,” says Dr Peacock.

This article: http://edinburghnews.scotsman.com/business.cfm?id=350832006

Last updated: 08-Mar-06 13:12 BST