Dating agency brokers profitable partnerships

November 9, 2007

Scotland marks two years of a venture that helps businesses to make use of university research, says Tariq Tahir. It is a "dating agency" that can boast that it has helped establish lasting and fulfilling relationships - between academics and small businesses.

Interface has been the perfect matchmaker for a range of ventures, from an IT company looking to develop new software to a whisky distiller needing historical research to help develop its brand.

The agency, set up with cash from the Scottish Funding Council, the European Union and the Strathclyde European Partnership, has just celebrated its second birthday with the release of figures that show how much interest its work has been picking up.

Interface describes itself as the central point of industry access to Scottish universities, which produce 1 per cent of the world's published research despite having 0.1 per cent of its population.

The new Scottish Government has said it believes the university sector has a key role in boosting the nation's sluggish economic growth.

The number of inquiries have gone up from 205 in its first year to 372 this year - an 81 per cent increase - and this has resulted in 186 expertise searches, up from 129. There are now 37 joint projects between universities and businesses on the go.

Siobhan Jordan, Interface's director, said: "For a small or medium-size company it can be difficult, as they might have to go to between 20 and 30 different departments to find the right academic.

"Our primary role is to demystify and to break down barriers, and our key target market is those companies that don't have a track record of working with academic partners. About 60 per cent of the companies we work with don't have that."

Dr Jordan said there was perhaps still a traditional view among many in business that academia had nothing to offer them, but as well as staff there are facilities on offer that many businesses could not afford to buy.

The service that Interface provides is free: businesses and the universities are left to work out the contracts themselves.

Interface holds information on the expertise, the equipment and the facilities universities have, the consultancy on offer, and the collaborative opportunities. It even offers students for work placements.

Dr Jordan said: "Universities get a better understanding of the problems that need to be solved in terms of their research requirements. They develop a lot of links to businesses they would never have met before."

David Gani, SFC director of research policy and strategy, explained that the agency had been created because of an awareness of the knowledge that many firms, particularly small and medium-size ones, were looking for academic help.

He said: "So far, the signs are that it is doing well in matching the requirements of business with the substantial expertise and talent that exists in Scottish universities."

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