Gavin Cullen: The EDGE really matters '“ for Scotland and its entrepreneurs

There can be few more influential business funding competitions than Scottish EDGE which has helped to foster a new spirit of entrepreneurship in recent years.

Gavin Cullen is a Registered (UK) Patent Attorney for Marks & Clerk LLP
Gavin Cullen is a Registered (UK) Patent Attorney for Marks & Clerk LLP

It’s amazing to think that it has awarded more than £10 million to start-ups and created some 2,000 jobs since its inception in 2013.

By anyone’s yardstick, that represents a huge impact on Scotland’s economy. Indeed it’s thought that alumni of the programme – who have just three minutes to pitch their business plans to an expert panel of judges – have generated an additional £79.8million in turnover.

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Then there’s the ‘EDGE Pledge’ – a pioneering initiative which sees winners undertaking an agreement to contribute a minimum of one per cent from exits or make a donation from future revenue streams to support Scotland’s next generation of entrepreneurs.

In other words, acknowledging the vital role that EDGE has played in the winners’ success stories and giving something back in the most sincere way possible.

I’ve watched eagerly as the shortlist has been whittled down, culminating in the winners being announced at the awards dinner this month, with prizes of up to £150,000 being handed over.

Each of the chosen 11 stood out for their huge passion and commitment, not to mention their potential to scale quickly and disrupt the market.

These deserved winners were Aurora Sustainability, Broker Insights Ltd, Cearban Ltd, Guy & Beard Ltd, Just Venue Holding Ltd, MiAlgae Ltd, Novosound, The Little Herb Farm and The Start-up Drinks Lab.

Cytochroma was awarded the special Higgs EDGE, for science, technology and engineering-focused businesses, while Curious Chip Ltd received the Creative EDGE awards, for those drawn from the creative industries.

The awards dinner also served as an excellent forum for discussing how best to promote and encourage future innovation and entrepreneurship in Scotland.

Attending were a host of investors, politicians and friends of the scheme, but taking centre stage were quite rightly the current and former alumni who have worked so hard to turn their visions into reality – the true beating heart of Scottish EDGE and the real reason why all were gathered.

For university spinouts particularly, the skills that you require to become a successful entrepreneur are very different to those required to be a good academic, and there are of course many hurdles and challenges to overcome, plenty of which are unforeseen. That’s where the competition has potentially benefitted recipients most – by providing vital grass roots encouragement.

That’s where specialists like ourselves can come in and why we take such a keen interest in engaging with aspiring entrepreneurs. Marks & Clerk has worked with many university spinouts, offering advice on how to robustly protect their innovation when they don’t have much more than an idea, while delivering valuable prosecution and strategy services at a hugely important time in a young company’s development.

We believe, fundamentally, IP strategy should always be driven by business strategy. Our patent and trade mark attorneys know the business environment their clients work in and take time to understand their goals and needs.

For budding entrepreneurs, it can mean everything from basic advice on whether a new invention can be patented and the many different ways you can leverage your IP rights, to simple good practice - like ensuring that you file your patent application before you disclose – and reviewing competitor activity to help you plan your branding strategy.

There can be other trickier barriers to realising your ambitions. When a university negotiates and signs over IP rights, it can be a complex process, so it’s best to get expert advice.

The more that we can support innovators’ transformation into successful entrepreneurs with viable commercial companies, the better for Scotland’s economy – and it has to start with encouraging academics to consider commercialisation, and that’s where Scottish EDGE remains vital.

Gavin Cullen is a Registered (UK) Patent Attorney for Marks & Clerk LLP