Edward Cunningham: Unlocking Ambition programme a route for entrepreneurs '¨to realise aspirations

The Commercialisation Inquiry of 1996, which included Scottish Enterprise and the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), concluded that a mechanism was needed to enable the commercialisation of the excellent research being carried out in Scottish universities and research institutes. Hence, the Enterprise Fellowship programme was created and began in 1997.

Sydney Chasin, founder of lil'POP

At that time just four Fellowships were available, two in Biotechnology and two in Optoelectronics. Some 20 years later the programme has grown dramatically, not simply in the number of fellowships and funders (which now includes Scottish Enterprise, QuantIC, BBSRC, NERC and STFC) but also in the range of disciplines covered.

The RSE Enterprise Fellowship programme allows individuals to take their commercial ideas in research and technology and turn them into thriving, successful businesses. The Programme provides individuals with cutting-edge business training from EBS Ltd, one year’s salary, a mentorship with an established business expert and access to business development funding.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

The Programme has already made a real, tangible contribution to the Scottish and UK economy, and the RSE expects this to continue and increase as the programme grows. Out of the 224 Enterprise Fellows who have been funded since 1997, 70 per cent have formed a successful company after completing their Fellowship year. These companies have secured over £86 million in private investment and over £35m from public investment funds such as Innovate UK. This impact shows the real contribution that these Enterprise Fellows can make to the Scottish and UK economy.

Edward Cunningham CBE is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Chair of its Enterprise Fellowship Scheme.

The RSE’s most recent intake includes Sydney Chasin, founder of The Healthy Crop Ltd, with her first product lil’POP a healthy and sustainable snack alternative to popcorn made with sorghum grain. Barely half-way through her Fellowship, Sydney has already secured a £10,000 award from Scottish EDGE and an Interface Innovation voucher, and since her launch in February she has been generating interest with UK retailers and trading on their online platform www.thelilpops.com

The 20th anniversary of the Enterprise Fellowship programme brought with it several ‘firsts’. For the first time, the Programme has a corporate funder, BP. The BP Fund is a charitable fund created from an endowment to the RSE from BP. The fund will support individuals with products in the field of energy innovation that enable the transition to a low carbon economy.

Another new development in 2018 is the addition of funding from the Scottish Government to enable the RSE to deliver a new entrepreneurial support programme, as part of the Scotland ‘Can Do’ initiative, called ‘Unlocking Ambition’. Launched by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in November 2017, the £4m Unlocking Ambition Challenge is delivered by key stakeholders from Scotland’s entrepreneurial network. The RSE will lead the academic strand of this programme.

Based on the success of the RSE Enterprise Fellowship Programme, the RSE Unlocking Ambition Enterprise Fellowship Programme will nurture and support early-stage innovators, academics and researchers who have entrepreneurial potential and an innovative business idea. The year-long Fellowships will include a host of bespoke benefits including: total grant funding of up to £900,000; over £150,000-worth of personally tailored, cutting-edge training; a dedicated mentor for each Fellow; and access to professional, financial and entrepreneurial networks.

Edward Cunningham CBE is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Chair of its Enterprise Fellowship Scheme.

Applicants do not have to be Scottish or even in Scotland – applications will be accepted from anywhere in the world – the only condition is agreement to relocate or establish the business in Scotland. The deadline for submission of applications is 5pm on Wednesday 2 May 2018 – www.rse.org.uk

These past 20 years have brought a myriad of successes for the RSE’s Enterprise Fellowships scheme. As the Programme continues to strengthen and develop, it will continue to play an increasingly important role and have a positive effect on Scottish and UK businesses.

The commitment from the RSE to supporting and cultivating entrepreneurial success in Scotland and the UK will help create a stronger economy, and with the addition of the RSE Unlocking Ambition Enterprise Fellowships, help put even more successful enterprising businesses on to the Scottish map to succeed in today’s fast-paced global business environment.

Edward Cunningham CBE is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Chair of its Enterprise Fellowship Scheme. The Enterprise Fellowship Scheme has two intakes a year, the next being in November 2018. The Unlocking Ambition Enterprise Fellowship Programme deadline is the beginning of May. For more information on the Enterprise Fellowships, please visit bit.ly/RSE-Ent-Fellowships