Business development · 24 August 2015

University of Edinburgh’s record number of new businesses reflects entrepreneurial mindset among UK universities

Investment in university-founded companies also hit a record high –attracting £237m for 2014-2015
Investment in university-founded companies also hit a record high – attracting £237m for 2014-2015

In an impressive indication of its commitment to developing new firms, the University of Edinburgh announced it formed a record number of companies during the past year, bringing the total created up to 184 in five years.

Some 44 startups were supported by the university in 2014, along with a further three spin-outs.

Coupled with recent news that the Open University has teamed up with Innovate Finance to launch the world’s first introductory course to financial technology, it seems the UK’s universities are leading the charge in helping develop and sustain the nation’s taste for entrepreneurialism.

Edinburgh’s first recorded spin-out was carried out more than 40 years ago, and it has since created over 400 startup and spin-out firms – so while it’s not a new development, the rate at which it has been creating new businesses has sped up.

Grant Wheeler, head of company formation at Edinburgh Research and Innovation, the university’s commercialisation arm, said: “Edinburgh is now emerging at the largest technology hub outside London, and at the heart of that phenomenon is the university and its enterprise scheme.”

Some 343 people have been employed as a result of the formation of the various businesses established during the last five years.

Wheeler credited the surge in companies to both “the world-class research base” and the student entrepreneurs with new ideas, before adding that the progress also meant “more and more have the potential to develop further”.

It seems many students are increasingly seeing starting their own business as a viable career path – Direct Line recently found that 15 per cent of undergraduates had been inspired to create their own firm.

The principal of Edinburgh University, Timothy O’Shea, added that the “first-class support provided by the university and the wider enterprise support network play an important role not only in the student experience but in delivering impact for the world-class research coming out of our university”.

Edinburgh Research and Innovation aims to commercialise the research and academic expertise at the university to potential funders, investors and collaborators. Since its creation 40 odd years ago, ERI has been involved in inventions and innovations including the first Scottish university spin-out company to list on the London Stock Exchange and the first genetically engineered vaccine against hepatitis B.

Among the initiatives developed by ERI, launch.ed provides a range of opportunities for current students or alumni within two years of graduation, offering meetings with business advisers for those formulating ideas, bootcamps to put budding businesses through their paces, funding assistance and mentoring.

The latest announcement from Edinburgh signals a milestone in both its commitment to developing entrepreneurialism in the UK, and away from London, as well as a wider reflection of how universities are proving instrumental in helping support and develop new businesses.

Business research and development is the foundation of productivity and growth, while university research collaborations often provide firms with new technologies and ways of operating, as well as highly-skilled individuals.

The CEO of Innovate UK, Ruth McKernan had responded to Ann Dowling’s review on business and university collaborations, and said while the UK had world-class universities, it had not translated enough into economic benefit.

Edinburgh’s latest stats on the rising number of companies it has established reflect movement is heading in the right direction.

Fintech – encompassing challenger banks – has seen a huge number of innovations in recent years
Fintech – encompassing challenger banks – has seen a huge number of innovations in recent years

The Open University’s latest announcement on the new offering of an online training course FinTech 101: Understanding Financial Technologies, also reflects how universities are looking for different routes to expand entrepreneurial learning and an embracing of new developments that are changing how industries are operating.

It has been unveiled as the world’s first introductory course to fintech, offering 50 hours of module-based learning, while examining the origins of fintech and how it has served to transform the financial services landscape since 2008.

By showcasing examples of technologies making up this ecosystem, the course aims to show how they can help democratise finance and promote social inclusion. It provides a transparent grounding for those interested in alternative finance, but who might not have the knowledge to make that first step into the dynamic industry.

Those who may be looking for a change in career, or have the inklings of a new business prospect, now know there’s a course that can provide them with a grounding in fintech innovation.

Liz Moody, senior lecturer, Executive Education at OUBS, said: “Fintech is changing rapidly with new sub-sectors emerging all the time. This course is designed to provide a comprehensive overview for people either working in or interested in innovating in this space creating products and access to services supported by technology.”

Fintech is estimated to be worth £20bn to the UK economy, and this is predicted to rise as more talent and investment comes into the country. It covers numerous services across sectors, including crowdfunding platforms, mobile payments, challenger banks and P2P lending.

The CEO of Innovate Finance, Lawrence Wintermeyer, said the vast expanse of the fintech landscape “must be understood to fully appreciate its impact to economies and societies”. The new course was “a great opportunity to learn about the origins of fintech and its growing influence in shaping the future of finance”.

Developments such as this and news such as Edinburgh University’s formation of a record number of companies indicate the burgeoning entrepreneurial mindset across UK’s universities. It also shows the widening options available to new businesses looking for support or a collaboration in some form.

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Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.