Established in 1783, for the advancement of learning and useful knowledge, the mission of the RSE, Scotland’s National Academy, is to make knowledge useful. This includes encouraging enterprise, innovation and the commercialisation of ideas developed from academic research. We were therefore delighted to have the opportunity to support 20 early-stage entrepreneurs as part of the Scottish Government’s Unlocking Ambition programme launched in 2017 to support highly ambitious entrepreneurs develop their ideas and create the successful new companies Scotland’s economy needs in order to grow and flourish.
Building on our highly successful Enterprise Fellowship scheme that has been running for over 20 years, the RSE Unlocking Ambition programme enabled outstanding, early-stage entrepreneurs to establish and develop new, high-growth businesses equipping them with the necessary skills to build sustainable businesses. For the duration of the Fellowship, the entrepreneurs were hosted at a Scottish university or research institute and received a maintenance grant, a business development fund, cutting-edge business training, a dedicated mentor and connections into the wider entrepreneurial ecosystem.
There have been some fantastic results after just 12 months. In the first year alone, the 20 RSE Unlocking Ambition Enterprise Fellows have employed over 50 people, appointed more than 40 board members, secured over 2,700 customers, contracts and users, negotiated 16 investment deals, and been nominated for 19 awards. They have also realised important business milestones including forming spin-out companies, developing prototypes, identifying new commercial markets, and establishing scalable business models. These companies are the employers of tomorrow and on their way to becoming some of Scotland’s business success stories.
And the economic benefit, while important, is only one part of the picture. These entrepreneurs are developing ideas and technologies which will improve the quality of our lives: with companies ranging from an insect breeding company, creating high-performance genetics for the insects-as-feed industry, supporting our ability to feed the world’s growing population; a social enterprise that gifts bespoke clothing parcels to women in crisis; and a company that has created a digital companion to support carers of people living with dementia. These are ideas and innovations that are changing our lives for the better.
Scotland is an entrepreneurial nation, with a long and proud history of innovation. Indeed innovation has been at the heart of the RSE since its inception with former fellows a roll call of leading inventors and innovators from James Watt, whose development of the first practical steam engine in the 18th century was one of the driving forces of the industrial revolution; to James Clerk Maxwell, whose research on electromagnetic radiation in the 19th century paved the way for present-day uses such as radio, radar, microwaves and thermal imaging; to Alexander Fleming in the 20th century with his discovery of penicillin which revolutionised the treatment of bacterial infection.
We need to continue to maintain that entrepreneurial spirit through schemes such as Unlocking Ambition and RSE’s Enterprise Fellowship scheme which attract and nurture talent and support innovation. Entrepreneurs on our Enterprise Fellowship programme speak powerfully about the value of these schemes in enabling them to develop their ideas and establish viable companies. The results speak for themselves and demonstrate the value of entrepreneurial support not only for the good of the economy but for the good of society and our future world.
Find out more by visiting https://www.rse.org.uk/unlocking-ambition and following #UnlockingAmbition or #EnterpriseFellows on social media.
Dr Rebekah Widdowfield is Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Edinburgh