The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) has announced the expansion of a successful scheme which has given more than £1 million to over 200 projects supporting small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) over the last three years.

SFCs Innovation Voucher scheme, administered by Interface - the knowledge connection for business, 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.

In the last three years, the voucher scheme has helped 230 projects with funding of over £1million. SMEs in areas such as food and drink, renewables, sustainable technologies, fashion, energy and tourism have benefitted from the knowledge of academics to develop their business. Over the last five years Interface has worked with over 900 companies, creating almost 450 business-university projects with another 300 being explored.

Interfaces service is launched Scotland-wide at an event hosted by Morton Fraser today, enabling more businesses to connect directly to the ideas, research and expertise generated in Scotlands world-leading universities.

SFC is to invest £2.2 million into the Voucher Scheme and £1.2 million into Interface over the next three years. This includes European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funding of £800,000.

In addition, Highlands and Islands Enterprise is providing Interface with an investment of £120,000 and in-kind support of office facilities in Inverness over the next three years. Similarly, Scottish Enterprise is working in partnership with SFC through seconding staff to Interface and sharing its resources, including office facilities, to further strengthen the public sector support available to help companies increase their innovation.

Mark Batho, Chief Executive of SFC, said: Both Interface and the Innovation Vouchers scheme have been a great success in providing Scottish companies, particularly small and medium sized businesses, with access to Scottish universities research and academic expertise. This approach directly links the expertise in our universities to the need to develop and strengthen the Scottish economy and new markets.The Funding Council is delighted to have helped hundreds of Scottish businesses in this way. We hope many more will benefit in the future.

Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning said: The Scottish Government is committed to enhancing the links between education and the world of business and allowing a number of Scottish SMEs to tap into the considerable expertise of our world-renowned academic institutions will help get them on the front foot in the global marketplace. And as well as seeing their research become reality, our universities will also benefit financially from the scheme. I see this as a win-win situation.

Siobhán Jordan, Director of Interface, said: We know from the year-on-year rise weve seen in business and university collaborations that there is a huge appetite amongst the SME community for access to the leading expertise within Scotlands university sector. This is why todays funding announcement is superb news for those businesses looking for the support to innovate, develop and thrive.

Strengthening links between the business and university sector will undoubtedly enable more SMEs to realise their potential in these uncertain economic times, and were delighted to have received this ongoing support from the Scottish Funding Council, European Regional Development Fund and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to help make this happen.