£4.6m helps business to innovate

Lack of finance is often cited by businesses as one of the main reasons new ideas do not progress beyond the boardroom.

However, more funding options for business-academic partnerships are available than ever before, opening the door to different ways of working with academia.

Almost 900 business-university partnership projects have been funded through the Innovation Vouchers scheme since its launch by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) in 2009, amounting to more than £4.6m.  The scheme is administered by Interface which then matches businesses to the expertise within Scotland’s Higher Education Institutions.

Siobhán Jordan, Director at Interface – The knowledge connection for business, said: “We are helping more businesses access funding through Innovation Vouchers year-on-year showing an increased appetite from business to work with academia. By the end of this academic year, in July, we are on track to reaching £1m.”

Following the recent SFC funding extension announcement earlier this week businesses working with the James Hutton Institute and the Moredun Research Institute will also be able apply for Innovation Voucher funding.

Scottish colleges will also be piloting the scheme, initially available to businesses in the construction industry but with future potential to encompass other sectors.

Added to this a new funding scheme, the Innovation Voucher Student Placement Scheme, has also been introduced that will provide SMEs, already in receipt of the established Innovation Voucher, with £5,000 funding towards employing a post-graduate student to help them progress development projects. 

Siobhán added: “The announcement of the latest funding developments from SFC is another fantastic opportunity for business and will allow closer working with colleges, research institutes and graduates which will address business issues such as finance and staff resource.”

Innovation Vouchers can benefit Scottish businesses in a number of different ways, from stimulating company growth, increasing turnover, safeguarding contracts and jobs and allowing businesses to reach overseas markets.

An example of an Innovation Voucher helping business development is Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS), a national project within Scottish Cycling. Their goal was to encourage more people to take up mountain biking by developing an  interactive DVD to highlight the sport to consumers. Interface matched DMBinS with Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), a world leader in the development and evaluation of emotionally engaging technology.

The project was awarded a £5,000 SFC Innovation Voucher which allowed DMBinS to work with a team of academics and graduates to develop a business plan and prototype DVD to engage current and aspirational mountain bikers. 

Thanks to the funding DMBinS was able to use GCU’s eMotionLab to develop user-evaluation facilities which would explore the emotional engagement of the DVD. The end product was made into an App so that it could be distributed digitally and so that DMBinS were able to monitor customer behaviour and gather real time usage information. 

Businesses which have already worked with a higher education institute through the Innovation Voucher scheme can apply for up to £20,000 additional funding which they match with a cash contribution.

The Follow-On Innovation Voucher scheme is specifically intended to encourage existing partnerships that have previously collaborated; this can include the SFC Innovation Voucher Scheme or any other funded activity.  

Follow-On funding was awarded to Albyn Housing Society, which manages 2,750 properties either through affordable rent or low cost home ownership schemes in the Highlands.

A previous collaboration with the Centre for Rural Health at the University of the Highlands and Islands had included a feasibility study investigating introducing Assisted Living Technologies (ALT) such as telecare and telehealth for their vulnerable residents.

Telecare is viewed increasingly as a means of creating efficiencies and cost savings for service providers, prolonging independence and improving quality of life for service users and supporting carers and is particularly useful in rural locations.

Thanks to the Follow-On funding Albyn Housing were able to conduct a second collaboration with UHI enabling them to proceed with planning and establishing a telecare service for tenants, which has allowed Albyn to improve their market position and increase revenue.

Calum Macaulay, Chief Executive of Albyn Housing Society, said: “Our involvement with Interface has been hugely beneficial for Albyn Housing Society Ltd as their introduction has been fundamental in developing our relationship with the Centre for Rural Health and has led to further joint work with UHI. We have already generated interest from the social housing sector in the work we have done so far."

*The financial year for Interface runs from August 1 – July 31.