Creating new products, services or processes can be challenging, particularly for smaller businesses where time and money are in short supply.

Tapping into universities is one way that small and medium sized businesses can get ahead, but knowing who to ask and working out which institute offers the help a business needs can be daunting and time consuming.

A free and impartial matchmaking service started in Scotland in 2005 and has helped hundreds of organisations across all sectors, including tourism, creative industries, energy and food and drink, to increase their profits, maximise their exports, and become more competitive in the marketplace.

Interface connects businesses and organisations to Scottish universities, research institutes and colleges that can best provide the knowledge companies need.

Lorna Watson is Interface’s Business Engagement Executive located in Tayside. 

“We have worked with thousands of businesses and organisations and have very positive feedback about the experiences of partnering with academics. We would love to help more local businesses meet their goals in this way,” Lorna explained.

“The benefits include business growth, job creation and security for existing staff, increased turnover, new or improved products, processes or services, and entry to new markets, all of which help strengthen businesses and contribute to their future success.”

Among the businesses Lorna has worked with are Highland Boundary, a craft distillery based in Alyth, near Blairgowrie. Co-founders Marian Bruce and Simon Montador identified a gap in the market for Scandinavian-inspired spirits with the botanicals sourced from local woodlands. Although they had significant experience in scientific research and business, they were keen to tap into academic expertise to develop new products.

Lorna spent time with the company understanding their needs and translating these into an initial project scope. Heriot-Watt University’s International Centre for Brewing and Distilling expressed an interest in working with the company and Lorna introduced the teams.

Funded by a Scottish Funding Council Standard Innovation Voucher administered by Interface, an MSc student at the university investigated ways of including the woodland botanicals to maximise flavour and consistency.

The company recently launched its first products. Marian said: “By accessing the expertise at Heriot-Watt University we were able to try out different botanicals to produce new flavours of spirit with distinct Scottish flavours reflecting Perthshire’s “big tree country”.

“Now that we have launched our first product, Birch and Elderflower Wild Scottish Spirit, we want to build the company and create employment in an area where manufacturing jobs are few and far between.

“Lorna’s knowledge of academic expertise in Scotland and ability to translate what we needed was a huge help. We wouldn’t have known where to start, or had the time to search for the right expertise, so Interface’s support saved us valuable time and resource.”

Lorna added: “We are really fortunate in this country to have some of the world’s top performing universities; four Scottish universities are listed in the world’s top 200, and they want to work with businesses large and small all over Scotland. Businesses can work with any one of the 23 universities and research institutes, so that is a fantastic choice of specialist knowledge in just about every subject area you can imagine.

“Sometimes people think that research and development is just for large corporates, however we match all sizes of companies with academic expertise with really positive results for both the business and the academic institution,” said Lorna.

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