Elizabeth Adams: Entrepreneurial PhD students can use research

Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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STARTING a business is an increasingly viable option, says Elizabeth Adams

Time was, PhD students and Postdoctoral researchers would have never considered a career which didn’t involve staying within their university to further its research, or if they did move out of academia, their career path would normally be aligned to working with a larger company or organisation such as a pharmaceutical firm or the NHS. Few gave thought to using their research capability to forming a business and adopting an entrepreneurial mindset.

Today, however, this is an increasingly viable option open to many PhD students and postdoctoral researchers and there is no shortage of enterprise and innovation-focused organisations willing to encourage them.

From the PhD student’s perspective, this is about Scotland’s pioneering entrepreneurial eco-system giving them a plethora of guidance and options and enabling them to reach their potential. Of course, many do “want to change the world”! They maybe thought that entrepreneurship wasn’t a natural thing for them to do, but they want to be socially innovative and now they are starting to see they can do a bit of both.

We have a couple of social enterprises which have launched this year from our PhD research students and it’s gratifying that the University of Glasgow, with its traditions steeped in pure research is becoming more enterprise-savvy amongst its researchers. They recognise that enterprise is a way of having an “impact” on society.

The recent Global Entrepreneurship Week saw more PhD students than ever coming to organised events. Through collaborative training programmes with other universities and actively encouraging students to participate in successful groundbreaking initiatives like Converge Challenge, we are continuing to build momentum across our campuses.

A research student based at the University of Glasgow, Dr Mallika Punukollu, alongside a colleague, Dr Fiona Mitchell, formed a social enterprise called SafeSpot, an app which aims to equip young people with all the information, advice and access to services that they need to manage their own mental health and deal with any challenges they may have.

Mallika and Fiona had never considered forming a business and were firmly focused on careers in Psychiatry. However, on seeing an advert on how Converge Challenge actively encourages entrepreneurial development, helps shape business plans and brings sharp focus on mentoring and training programmes into preparing academics for running their own businesses, they pooled their resources and opted to look at creating a company. That was 18 months ago and SafeSpot has now received funding from Firstport, an organisation which provides business support and funding from social enterprises in Scotland. They have been successful in working alongside the NHS and local schools to provide the SafeSpot app and education curriculum to be used by young people across Scotland.

In previous years, we would have one or two students inquiring about how they might look to commercialise their research, but now we are seeing 20 or 30 students coming forward every year and programmes like Converge Challenge merely spark further interest, giving these students confidence and the training and support which is invaluable for any budding entrepreneur.

• Dr Elizabeth Adams – Researcher Development Manager (Research Strategy and Innovation Office), University of Glasgow