Acorn Enterprise provides growth spurt for start-ups

The 'acorns' who graduated from the ninth accelerator programme. Picture: Contributed
The 'acorns' who graduated from the ninth accelerator programme. Picture: Contributed
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A Dundee-based business support initiative that has given a foot up to more than 80 fledgling companies across Fife and Tayside has pushed the button on its latest programme.

Acorn Enterprise, which is based in the Flour Mill, Dundee, has helped scores of early-stage ventures since it was rolled out in 2013, running nine business accelerator programmes in Fife and Dundee. It is also co-ordinating the Edinburgh Business School Incubator, based at the capital’s Heriot-Watt University.

The new businesses on the tenth accelerator programme are set to benefit from co-working space in the Flour Mill, weekly seminars on topics such as marketing, law and finance, and the allocation of a business mentor, to provide an “extra layer of accountability”.

Unlike many other organisations in the Scottish entrepreneurial ecosystem, Acorn Enterprise receives no government funding.

It generates revenue through sponsorship and philanthropy, offering 3D printing services and providing entrepreneurship training activities to colleges, universities and other organisations. This money is used to provide the business accelerator programme for free to new businesses, typically pre-trading up to three years old.

Acorn Enterprise does not take any equity in the start-ups that it supports.

The business accelerator programme is run in LibertySpace, Rosyth Business Centre, and in the Flour Mill.

Kallum Russell, co-founder and chief enterprise officer at Acorn Enterprise, said: “Acorn Enterprise was launched in Fife because we felt there was a real need for support for new business owners that was structured, intensive and entrepreneurial-led.

“It was really borne out of our own frustration so my business partner Jerry [Alexander] and I decided to tackle this head on. A lot has changed since we launched more than five years ago.

“We constantly read stories about how great Scotland is to start a new business and this is true. However, there are some real problems with the ecosystem, namely: there is a lot of overlap, there is no clear ‘map’ for business owners to determine the type of support available to them, and many of these organisation are run by the government or at arm’s length.

“Due to the way the system is structured, many of these agencies have to focus on ticking boxes or fluffing ‘impact reports’. Unfortunately, the problem is compounded because they are all vying for the same pot of money from the state.”

He added: “Acorn Enterprise is on a mission to grow the UK’s entrepreneurial culture and in doing so, challenge the way the ecosystem works for the better.

“We can do this because we are self-funded and can speak out against some of the bad practices many of the new businesses we accelerate have experienced. We can be truly disruptive in a positive way.”

Craig McKay, owner of Bearded Basturds, an ‘acorn’ on the sixth programme, said: “The support I received from the team, the seminar hosts, my mentor, and everyone else on the programme was invaluable. We have since exported to more than 15 countries, secured several white labelling contracts and also secured private investment.”