Scottish universities are the third pillar of support for innovation, says Dr John Lonsdale, head of enterprise at Edinburgh Innovations
At a recent investor conference organised by the University of Edinburgh, Scotland’s Chief Entrepreneur Mark Logan said Scotland’s universities need to do better at entrepreneurship to “complete the [innovation] triangle”.
Edinburgh is a leading entrepreneurial university for staff and students, with 119 companies founded last year, and £107m of investment attracted into University-associated companies. Student businesses alone attracted £30m of investment.
This entrepreneurial success is underpinned by world leading research - fourth in the UK based on the quality and breadth of its research - known as research power - and Scotland’s top ranked institution, according to Times Higher Education's REF power ratings.
We understand that one of the best ways to get our world-leading research out into the world is to form a company, and/or partner with industry, so we nurture and facilitate an innovation ecosystem that supports staff and students every step of the way.
This is how the University of Edinburgh is promoting entrepreneurship, and how Scottish universities are already the third pillar of support for innovation along with Government and industry.
Many solutions to the world’s biggest challenges are being worked on in the minds, labs and lecture theatres of universities.
Academics and students can access funding, support and incubation space from six Data-Driven Innovation hubs, funded through the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. The hubs specialise in areas from supercomputing to robotics, digital health and social care.
The University’s commercialisation service, Edinburgh Innovations, accompanies students and staff on their journey from idea to impact, providing expert advice on intellectual property protection, company formation and business development.
Our entrepreneurial programmes include acceleration, incubation and venture building, and Old College Capital, the University of Edinburgh’s in-house venture investment fund invests in high-growth, early-stage businesses associated with the University.
We are plugged into a wider Scottish tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem that includes other colleges and universities, Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, competitions like Scottish Edge and Converge, and our own investment arm, Old College Capital, to name just a few. Tech Scalers will be a key part of the developing entrepreneurial environment, building national capacity.
Universities make funding go a long way. We received £2.5m for our Data Driven Entrepreneurship programme, for example, through Scottish Funding Council and others, and supported 471 entrepreneurs in 18 months. Those entrepreneurs were then able to raise £18m, an enormous 646% return on investment.
Government could also help by following through on other recommendations of Logan’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review – to create national showcases and market-places to support inward investment. Support for industry mentors and commercial champions to support spinouts would also be welcomed by the HE sector.
There’s also work we can do ourselves. Personally, I would like to see more entrepreneurial skills embedded into teaching and Edinburgh Innovations is working with colleagues across the university to develop entrepreneurial learning resources and support programmes.
EI recently launched an ‘innovation engines’ programme, to use our academic expertise in six areas including digital therapeutics and engineering biology to power new global partnerships, starting in the US.
Universities have been powering research and innovation in the UK for 500 years. We’re ready and able to work with Scottish and UK governments to continue this progress and make ideas work for a better world.
This article originally appeared in The Scotsman