It's just become even easier for businesses and social enterprises across the north of Scotland to tap into the ideas, research and expertise generated in Scotland's world-leading universities.
An official event was held by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) in Edinburgh this week to mark the Scotland-wide expansion of Interface - the knowledge connection for business. Co-located in the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) office, Interface now has a new base in Inverness to meet growing demand across the region.
HIE Chair Willy Roe was at the SFC Scotland launch on Wednesday, which was attended by Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.
Mr Roe said: "Bringing together the latest research and expertise from our universities with our businesses to provide practical solutions makes them more competitive and is a win-win situation. We are delighted that Interface is here in Inverness to advise Highlands and Islands companies on where they can find the most relevant education partners."
The event also announced additional funding to the SFC's Innovations Voucher Scheme, which is administered by Interface. SFC is to invest £2.2 million into the scheme, which provides funding of up to £5,000 to universities to work with SMEs on projects including developing new products and services, improved production processes or experimental testing and measuring. In return SMEs contribute a matching value of cash, staff time or access to facilities.
Through SFC's Innovation Voucher Scheme, £1 million has been distributed to more than 200 companies over the last three years to allow them to engage with the latest thinking in the academic world to develop their business.
Further SFC funding of £1.2 million was also committed to Interface over the next three years which includes European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funding of 35 per cent. Highlands and Islands Enterprise is also providing Interface with an investment of £120,000 and in-kind support of office facilities in Inverness over the next three years.
Heading up Interface in Inverness, senior executive David Chapman says the region's businesses are already exploring the opportunities.
"Small and medium sized enterprises in sectors such as food and drink, renewables, sustainable technologies, fashion, energy and tourism have all benefited from the Innovation Voucher Scheme. Tain-based Highland Fine Cheeses is one local example, which worked with Abertay University to investigate the viability of launching a new product," he commented.
Interface is holding a free event in Inverness on 10th November which will encourage businesses to be creative in how they work, looking at the wealth of expertise, facilities and funding available to help them. Details of the workshop and simultaneous webinar are available on www.interface-online.org.uk.