It seems like no time at all since I was asked by the Executive Dean of Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University if I would join the team and develop entrepreneurship education and support provision. The vision was very clear; Professor Heather McGregor wanted the School to develop a quality offering to include, for the first time, entrepreneurship courses on the MBA programme, and contribute to the wider University’s entrepreneurial output.
With a background in teaching and research on entrepreneurship education I was pretty excited by the opportunity to put theory into practice and to reach new audience. There would be two deliverables: high quality, entrepreneurship education fit for real-life application, and incubation support for new entrepreneurs.
So, where have we got to two years later? Well we have developed two postgraduate courses Entrepreneurship and Creativity and Entrepreneurial Venturing. These have students consider what entrepreneurship is and what it is for, and they have students develop an idea, test its commercial feasibility, and ultimately write up a fully-developed, investor-ready business plan.
Originally piloted with a small MBA cohort, these courses are now delivered to MBA and MSc students throughout the University – including as part of Brewing and Distilling, Gaming, Translating and, of course, Business programmes – and they are delivered across our campuses in Edinburgh, Dubai and Malaysia. Along with the invaluable input from my colleague and Assistant Professor Laura Jackman, these courses have become truly international, and we are currently developing them for delivery also through our partner network.
The education part of the entrepreneurship offering has been informed all the way along by the in-theory proposition that creating ‘melting pot’ environments allows students to test their ideas and assumptions with people who are not necessarily like them; putting together people from different backgrounds and with a plethora of different life experiences. I am pleased (perhaps relieved) to report the theory is good – this ‘melting pot’ approach features very highly in student feedback as a key benefit of the classes. And it was the ‘melting pot’ approach that was applied also to the creation and development of the Edinburgh Business School Incubator.
To quote the Executive Dean, the rationale behind the Business Incubator was ‘to have business in the Business School’. There is a lot of business support out there in Scotland already, and I wondered if and how we could do things sufficiently different to attract interest from new and early stage entrepreneurs.
I spent a year travelling around and looking at how other organisations did it. I was conscious that at Heriot-Watt, we have specific specialisms in STEM and in Design, and of course, in Business. So, borrowing shamelessly from London Business School’s model (with their blessing!), but extending it so it would work for the kinds of specialisms we have at Heriot-Watt, the Edinburgh Business School Incubator was launched in July 2018. Along with accommodation and equipment, the Incubator provides a programme of seminars, including input from specialist Edinburgh Business School faculty and external expertise, it provides mentoring, regular one-to-one support, and of course, peer-to-peer learning and networking.
With the magic ingredient of Kallum Russell, the Heriot-Watt alumnus (class of 2006) ball of energy who manages the Incubator along with running his own firm Acorn Enterprise Initiative, we have now supported more than 25 new firms. Amongst the incubated firms we have engineering, manufacture, design, finance, and social enterprises. The entrepreneurs themselves come from Scotland, from elsewhere in the UK, and further afield, such as Nigeria, India and Vietnam. And these include graduates from every school in Heriot-Watt, from other universities, and from the local area; a real melting pot’ - take a look below!.
And this seems to really be working! In the 18 months we have been operating, incubated firms have won or been finalists in competitions throughout the country, including Converge Challenge, Scottish Edge and the VIBES, and recipients of awards from Scottish Enterprise, the EU and the Royal Society of Engineering.
It’s been a challenge, but what a privilege it has been too, to see how innovation in education and support has been of use to people who want to do entrepreneurship. This has been made possible in Edinburgh Business School by the professionalism and commitment of a brilliant team of people, and critically, by the trust, enthusiasm and energy of some fantastic students and Incubator clients.
Current businesses residing at our Business Incubator include:
A Place in Childhood
Head Impact Trauma Limited (HIT)
HindSight Vision Ltd
Our Nuptial Chest
Trade Effluent Management Services (TEMS)