Helping business ideas out of their shell

Looking to the future, a family-run oyster farm on Lismore wanted to diversify by introducing a new product which would help offer local employment and more economic security.

Poaching oysters in unusual flavours such as artisan gin, white wine, champagne and lemon was the brainwave of Mairi Hawkes, whose father started farming oysters from the Isle of Lismore, 25 years ago. Before launching the new product range, Mairi wanted to carry out some research to ensure that the shellfish didn’t shrink during the process, had as long a shelf life as possible and develop the flavours.

Lorraine Thomson, who heads up Interface’s Highlands and Islands team, met Mairi at an event in Oban. Lorraine scoped up a brief of the project requirements which was sent out to universities and research institutes throughout Scotland for consideration. Mairi chose to collaborate with Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), which has expertise in food production and whose chefs helped the business work on the technical challenges presented.

Through SRUC, the project was awarded a £5,000 Innovation Voucher from the Scottish Funding Council which Interface administered to help offset the costs of the collaboration.

The business is now working on the logistics of producing the poached oysters and is preparing for the launch of a range of cocktail-inspired drizzles using similar flavours to complement their fresh oysters.

Interface has introduced almost 2,700 businesses in all sectors across Scotland to academic partners, from kitchen table enterprises to family run companies and community groups.

Lorraine explained:

“We are here to support businesses through their collaboration with academic expertise and make the process of finding a suitable partner as straight-forward as possible; we really are matchmakers for businesses.” 

Among the businesses Lorraine and the team have supported locally are Craine Communications, Zing Organics and Staffin Community Trust, which were connected with Heriot-Watt University, University of Strathclyde and The University of the Highlands and Islands respectively, for projects to develop their business or organisation.

And it is more than just academic expertise on offer; business can also access specialist facilities including 3D printers, microscopy, human performance labs, wave tanks, virtual reality and textile printing, which come with the know-how at the university or research institute.