University of Edinburgh start-ups see amount raised almost triple to £30m-plus in last year

Student start-ups from the University of Edinburgh have secured more than £30 million in combined investment over the last year, nearly triple the previous 12-month period’s amount.

It comes as the University’s commercialisation service Edinburgh Innovations reveals that another 100-plus student start-ups formed over the same timeframe – 105 in the year to July 31, compared to 102 in 2020/2021, and 72 in 2019/2020 – a milestone that has just been marked by the planting of the first of 100 trees on campus.

The £30.5m bankrolling of student-led businesses is up from the £11m secured the previous year, as the portfolio of University-supported companies matures, and company founders and University enterprise leaders have teamed up to plant the first of the 100 trees.

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Dr George Baxter, chief executive of Edinburgh Innovations (EI), said: “Our impressive cohort this year is notably using data and artificial intelligence to transform areas of society from health care to energy provision. Their ideas have the potential to change the world, and our job at Edinburgh Innovations is to equip them with business knowledge and skills to ensure that impact. We are proud to support them on their journey.”

Synthetic biologist Maggie Hicks founded SynSense after fellow research student Florentina Winkleman suggested she commercialise her PhD. The pair say they have attracted the attention of the US Navy with their skin patch that uses sweat to detect potentially problematic body states, enabling diagnosis.

Ms Hicks said: “We’ve gained so much knowledge and confidence this past year through [EI], from being directed to award schemes to support with the legal side of our intellectual property to coaching and training through the Startup Accelerator. Our aim is to keep the patch as low cost and accessible as possible, for it to be used as a universal, non-invasive medical device.”

Another member of this year’s cohort present for the tree-planting was graduate Xiaoyan Ma, founder of robotic waste-sorter Danu Robotics, which is set to use automation to increase the percentage globally of waste that is recycled.

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From left: Maggie Hicks, founder of SynSense, and Xiaoyan Ma, founder of Danu Robotics, plant a Hawthorn tree to mark the 100-plus start-ups supported by Edinburgh Innovations over the last year. Picture: Callum Bennetts – Edinburgh Innovations.

The University of Edinburgh says it is top in Scotland and second in the Russell Group of universities for student entrepreneurship according to Higher Education Statistics Agency data covering 2020/21.

In April, cancer treatment innovator Carcinotech, founded by graduate Ishani Malhotra, announced that it had secured investment of £1.6m to accelerate its commercialisation and global expansion plans.

Successes

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The University also flagged previous successes include audio tech company Two Big Ears, acquired by Facebook in 2016, and Krotos, creator of the Dehumaniser sound effects software used by Hollywood movies and blockbuster video games.

EI says its support for students includes events, competitions and workshops, one-to-one business advice, awards and programmes, and funding opportunities, including via the University's in-house venture capital fund Old College Capital.

The University’s student enterprise manager Lorna Baird said: “With emphasis on inclusivity and sustainability, our aim is to inspire and equip every University of Edinburgh student with the enterprise and entrepreneurship knowledge and skills to meet the world’s biggest challenges.”

It was revealed in April that EI had supported a partnership between Scottish investment giant Abrdn and the University of Edinburgh to create a facility dedicated to fostering innovation in the investment sector. Other firms EI has helped include energy innovator Ionate and woodland regeneration innovator Rhizocore Technologies.

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