Elizabeth Gammie and Dr Ian Broadbent: Universities have a key role to play in producing future innovators

It is widely accepted that skilled and passionate entrepreneurs are fundamental to innovation-driven entrepreneurial ecosystems and hence economic development. However, with Scotland lagging behind the rest of the UK for business birth rates, what action can universities take to bring economic opportunity and prosperity to Scotland?

Recent MBA graduates Sam Pettipher and Nick Beeson established EBar Initiatives to develop a self-service, fast-dispensing drinks device fitted with the latest contactless payment technologies

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor recently reported that young people aspire to be entrepreneurs more than any other age group but are unlikely to act on their intentions. What can be done to help these young individuals realise their aspirations?

At Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University (RGU), we are firmly of the view that entrepreneurship is a skill and a mindset that can be developed and nurtured. Universities, with their unparalleled access to bright individuals studying across a range of complementary disciplines, have a key role to play in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

However, the Centre for Entrepreneurs, in a report on the role of 
universities in supporting high-growth graduate start-ups has been very critical of the support given by universities to graduates in entrepreneurship. Indeed, they report that only a third of recent graduates were of the view that their university prepared them well for entrepreneurship and only around 1 per cent of graduates are starting their own business within three years of leaving university.

Elizabeth Gammie, Head of Aberdeen Business School at RGU

This is not the case at Aberdeen Business School where developing this entrepreneurial mindset and building confidence and competence within our graduates is a key focus. All our undergraduates have the opportunity to develop a business idea as part of their degree. Students are then supported by academic staff to further develop their idea into reality and can spend time in the RGU Incubator Unit where they are supported by the Aberdeen Business School Entrepreneur in Residence.

Recent success stories have been the establishment of The Bicycle Security Company Limited which has secured £10,000 funding from O2 Think Big, and a golfing tourism company, Saltire Golf Vacations, which is working on tourism partnerships in Fife.

Postgraduate and MBA students can study modules on technology innovation and commercialisation where they analyse market needs, assess opportunities and develop innovative, technical and commercial solutions. Many business partnerships are formed on the MBA course, such as recent graduates Sam Pettipher and Nick Beeson who established EBar Initiatives to develop a self-service, fast-dispensing drinks device fitted with the latest contactless payment technologies to serve customers faster and reduce bar queues at major events.

Citing that “the MBA program provided the spark that created the company” and provided “knowledge and tools that we use on a day-to-day basis”, the pair returned to speak at the 2018 MBA Leadership Week to inspire students to “do something different once they graduate”.

Dr Ian Broadbent, MBA Director at RGU.

Other recent alumni include Alessandro Bedin and Mami Nakao of RIGOCAL Ltd, who are currently working on an R and D project for an automatic system to improve the protection of marine mammals from human offshore activities.

Recent graduate, Dr Jenna Ross, a scientific researcher currently developing a spin-out based on a pioneering slug control project states “I feel that I graduated with all the tools required to spin out my business”.

Empowering students by providing them with the tools to develop a sustainable business is crucial, but igniting that spark and providing inspiration and confidence is also a key component of developing the entrepreneurial mind-set. The school therefore invites alumni to return to provide Master classes to both undergraduates and postgraduates, as well as hosting student placements and projects.

Recent events have included Martin Simpson who set up The Deeside Water Company, a natural mineral water company, and Nick Rankin, a serial tech entrepreneur who sold his first mobile check-in and ticketing venture to NCR and is now developing speech recognition systems through Quorate Technology. Nick was so enthused by the ‘hungry and enthusiastic’ students that he met during his Masterclass that he is currently mentoring three undergraduates as they develop their business ideas alongside completing their degrees.

In addition, recent alumni Laurie Mackay (MCL Protection Ltd) and Sripad Gopala and Innes Auchterlonie of IMRANDD have supported projects that provide students with an opportunity to work on a “live” business issue of strategic importance, leveraging the students’ new found skills and competences.

The provision of ongoing support is another important cog in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and there are exciting developments at RGU which should further enhance the business birth rate in Scotland. RGU has recently received £1.6 million to launch the first funded start-up accelerator programme in North East Scotland. This programme will support entrepreneurial students, staff and recent alumni to create new businesses with up to £10,000 of funding each.

Our future lies in the hands of our bright young graduates and universities have a key role in supporting their entrepreneurial ambitions. We take this responsibility very seriously within Aberdeen Business School by developing in our graduates the skills needed for future success so that they can change our tomorrow.

Elizabeth Gammie, Head of Aberdeen Business School at RGU and Dr Ian Broadbent, MBA Director at RGU