Procurement · 18 July 2017

The most effective UK university hubs for student entrepreneurs

The University of Leeds encourages enterprise training and skills in all subjects
The University of Leeds encourages enterprise training and skills in all subjects

In the last few years, the UK has seen a boom in student enterprise. A study, published last year by Santander, revealed that 518,372 UK students had set up or planned to launch a new business in 2016 – a 38 per cent increase on the 375,000 student entrepreneurs recorded the year previously.

In fact, student-led startups are contributing more and more to the economy. In 2016, the UK’s student-led enterprises made £913m in total, with the average student venture turning over £13,213 a year.

Tech startups and firms related to the arts are proving by far the most popular amongst student entrepreneurs, accounting for 22 per cent and 18 per cent of all student enterprises respectively.

With student entrepreneurialism on the ascendance, Business Advice has taken a closer look at some of the most effective UK university hubs for student entrepreneurs, to find out which institutions are getting it right and encouraging student entrepreneurialism.

University of Edinburgh

In 2007, the University of Edinburgh set up LAUNCH.ed, its first programme dedicated to supporting the ambitions of its student entrepreneurs.

The University of Edinburgh has a long tradition of support for student entrepreneurs
The University of Edinburgh has a long tradition of support for student entrepreneurs

Recent success stories to have come out of LAUNCH.ed at the University of Edinburgh include Polorum, a tech company solving mass communication issues in rural Africa via people’s’ mobiles, and Skoogmusic, a startup which has invented a tactile cube to encourage and enable disabled children to play instruments and learn music.

The programme follows a long history of support for student-led innovation at the University of Edinburgh. Back in the 1960s, the institution became one of the UK’s first universities to set up an office specifically to grow and manage the commercialisation of its landmark research projects.

Given subsidiary company status in 1998, and renamed Edinburgh Research and Innovation (ERI), the office has since been involved in some of the most important achievements in innovation that have of Edinburgh University – one of the UK’s biggest and most established universities.

ERI has overseen the successful commercial launch of a diverse range of projects, including the first miniature digital camera, technology behind the world’s smallest television screens and the first genetically modified vaccines against hepatitis B.

University College London (UCL)

UCL’s center for entrepreneurship has been hailed as a shining example of support for budding startup founders in the past, offering students who want to learn to start or grow a business advice on funding, consultancy work and mentoring.

It’s consultancy service is one of the leading academic consultancies for business in the UK, drawing on the expertise of some 6,500 academics and researchers to work alongside student entrepreneurs. The UCLB hub, for student entrepreneurs who want to find out how to commercialise their inventions, specialises in bringing new technology to market.

Queen’s University, Belfast

Another of Britain’s universities which has become highly regarded for its enterprise initiatives is Queen’s University, based in Belfast.

Thanks to David Gibson, a pioneering professor in enterprise education who taught at Queen’s for over a decade, a modern enterprise model has been built in to the university’s degree programmes.

Queen's University campus in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Queen’s University campus in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Students are taught entrepreneurial skills across all departments and disciplines, and learn from a range of entrepreneurial modules, including creativity, finance, negotiating skills and leadership.

As well as the entrepreneurial bent attributed to its courses, Queen’s University also has a long tradition of supporting the commercialisation of innovation and invention achieved through its research projects.

It’s Innovation Commons hub offers a space where student entrepreneurs, advisors and investors can collaborate and explore commercial opportunities, while the Innovation Academy provides postgraduate students with intensive innovation and entrepreneurial courses.

University of Leeds

With a number of successful student enterprise initiatives launched in recent years, the University of Leeds also stands out as one of the country’s top institutions for entrepreneurial education.

The dedicated Centre of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies encourages every discipline and subject to integrate enterprise – over 1,200 students across all departments undertook enterprise electives in 2016.

Spark, the student startup service, also hosts a dedicated team to help student entrepreneurs and alumni graduates up to seven years after graduation with support in setting up and running their ventures.

An initiative which stands out at the University of Leeds is its Year in Enterprise programme, offering second year students with workable business plans the chance to spend their third year at university developing their venture – the equivalent of a work placement year – during which student entrepreneurs receive office space and living cost allowances worth £5,000.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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