SCOTTISH businesses are being urged to build closer ties with academia in order to increase energy efficiency and overcome obstacles preventing growth.

Suzanne Dawson, head of sector relationships at Interface, which labels itself as a knowledge connection for business, said that it was important for small and medium sized businesses to build relationships with academics in order to progress the development of products that can help increase profitability.

Speaking at the All-Energy 2016 conference in Glasgow, Ms Dawson said: “We would encourage SMEs to come to us. We match the right businesses to the right academic research. Academics can help these businesses, and also learn from their experiences to identify new paths of research.”

Interface offers business advice for any SME looking to access academic support. In its 11 year existence, it has facilitated almost 1,300 company and university collaborative projects. Presently there are 184 businesses in discussions or negotiating with universities over projects.

In total 78 per cent of all enquires presented to universities are from Scottish SMEs and more than half of first-time collaborations have involved companies seeking expertise in a discipline different to their own business sector.

Director Siobhán Jordan said that the transformation in businesses seeking new ways to improve their efficiency has steadily increased. Collaborations facilitated by Interface are now estimated to have put back £70 million into the economy through cost savings.

“We save businesses time and money,” said Ms Jordan. “Large firms have technology scouts who have relationships with universities across the world. SMEs don’t have that luxury so we can do that for them.”

Ms Jordan said that Interface worked across all industries, facilitating relationships that results in everything from new products and innovative technology developments to pairing architects with universities to work on evidence-based design processes.

Twenty per cent of enquiries come from the food and drink sector, with projects working on reformulation and ensuring compliance with new legislation so commonplace, that a five year project, labelled Interface Food & Drink, was launched. It collaborates with the likes of Scotland Food & Drink and Scottish Enterprise to help locate academic partners for producers.

In a session at the All-energy conference looking at sustainability and efficiency in the food and drink sector, Ms Dawson highlighted the success of Scottish Gold, a group of eight independent producers of cold-pressed rapeseed oil who came together after being approached by Interface to work together with academia to identify and respond to any industry-wide challenges and opportunities. All eight firms have since seen sales growth.

“By working with Interface, companies can grow their businesses, save money through efficiency and even sell on solutions to add new revenue streams,” said Ms Jordan. "A Fife firm, Ivan Wood & Son had developed an affordable starch-filtration system to help it comply with new legislation on the disposal of starch. The managing director approached us with his prototype and we connected him to Abertay University, who helped him secure funding for the device."

Meanwhile, the conference also saw Finnish and Swedish joint venture Cleantech Kvarken announced its plans to increase the international reach of its cluster of businesses. The initiative involves clean technology companies from Finland and Sweden strengthening their collective position to do business on local, regional and international levels. The project choose All-Energy 2016 to launch a catalogue highlighting what each of the 113 companies involved in the cluster do.

“We choose Scotland to launch the catalogue because of its strong tradition of innovative,” said Scottish representative Stephen Fox. “Scotland is leading the way in offshore and tidal, there’s more investment and so there’s more opportunities for collaboration between international companies.”

Mr Fox also called on the Government to improve air links between Scotland and Scandinavia. “We operate in a global market and businesses have to think internationally, yet they can only travel to a number of European cities in the summer months. Businesses don’t just operate in the tourist season.”