An undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg, played here by Jesse Eisenberg in ‘The Social Network’, founded Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. It has become the start-up cliché, but there are thousands of successful entrepreneurs who turned their dreams into reality thanks to abundant (and free of charge!) support that universities provide.
Entrepreneurs have acquired rock-star status in recent years, not least among undergraduates vying to become the next Mark Zuckerberg. But despite all the hype around starting your own business, one fact remains: most new start-ups fail.
So armed only with a student loan which may barely cover registering a web domain once essentials like rent are met, is it really responsible for students to start up their own business? Shouldn’t they be concentrating on getting a good degree?
No. For anyone with a flicker of ambition to start a business at some point in their life, university is the perfect place to try your hand. Here’s why…
Fail early, fail fast
Failure in the UK is too often seen as a liability, as if it were somehow proof of your inability to run a successful business in the future. But failure, in fact, should be considered as valuable experience.
No one particularly likes to fail but it happens. Fail early and fail fast at university and you’ll have that safety cushion. The likelihood is that you won’t have children or a mortgage, and you can just get on with your degree or even your next start-up.
As Samuel Beckett famously said, “Try again, fail again, fail better.”
Support for young student entrepreneurs is abundant. If you’re currently at university, you’ll have a range of organisations to go to for help.
It’s likely your university will have its own enterprise society, as ours (The University of Aberdeen) has its Enterprise and Business Society. They host a range of events, talks and workshops throughout the year and joining a society is a perfect way of meeting like-minded people.
SIE (Scottish Institute for Enterprise), Enterprise Campus and Elevator run numerous events to help give young student entrepreneurs invaluable skills and networking opportunities. Contact them and you’ll be able to meet with enterprise advisors, who can assess your business idea and guide you through the process. It’s so, so important to reach out for help rather than struggle on your own.
Even if you think that you have it all figured out, things will come up that you never considered and without the right support, they may throw you off track. And how can you say no if all this support is offered free of charge for budding student entrepreneurs like you?
Once you have crystallised your idea and want to start working on making it happen, join a start-up incubator like ours. Nearly every city in the UK has an incubator, many of which are specialised in specific fields. Incubators often boast plenty of high-tech equipment, powerful working stations, in-house advisors, space to work collaboratively and, usually, fancy coffee machines.
If you want to find out more about joining ABVenture Zone, visit our website and get in touch!
Gap in the market
With an abundance of potential customers living right next door and friends with spare time to help, university offers the perfect environment for starting out in business.
And you can be up and trading in no time. As a student at your university, you’re best placed to understand your potential customers; you’ll know what is already good and what is lacking. Try to pick up signals from your friends when they talk about what they’d love to have at the university. Our occupants, Margaret and Rob, identified a lack of accessible information on events at the university, and will soon be launching UniTrix – an ‘all-in-one’ student app which addresses that gap in the market. Read more about their story here.
Try before you apply
Most graduates will automatically look for employment with a company immediately after graduation. This is entirely understandable, but a large proportion will dislike their jobs and begin to dream about starting their own business.
How can you know whether you’d prefer the trials and tribulations of a start-up if you’ve never tried?
It’s well-known that an undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. So who knows – just because the odds are stacked against you doesn’t mean you won’t create the next big thing.
It’s tough for entrepreneurs to think about social and environment impact while facing all the challenges of starting up.
When faced with trying to get a business off the ground, thinking about people and planet seems like a hassle when it’s hard enough to balance the books.
Yet, the world needs entrepreneurs to be a force for good. Let’s think about Yoda for a moment. He was tiny and green but totally mighty at being a force for good and keeping the dark side in its place. We need small businesses to become like Yoda. Before you point out that you don’t have a lightsaber and could never operate one anyway, we have three simple points which might sway you towards #SocEnt.
Money – We know it’s tough to think about giving away when you are starting up. Consider giving away some of your profits to a local cause or charity. You don’t need to give away all your profits straight away or become a CIC – beginning with small but regular donations can help you make that transition in the long run. Successful entrepreneurs like Ella’s Kitchen, LUSH or Social Biteall use this model.
Identify ‘the need’ around you, build links with the local community and not only will you be able to help others, but you’ll also strengthen your customer loyalty by being seen as a force for good.
Stuff – Utilise the giveaway model. You don’t need to offer like-for-like, it just has to be serviceable for the person in need. Everyone talks about how TOMS gives away shoes for each pair bought so think how you could do the same. For example, washing machines retailers could offer to take away old ones and deliver them to a local charity that furnishes homes for those in need.
People – Don’t underestimate the value of your time and using it to send the elevator back down as you become more successful. It’s always good to build networks and partnerships, and this can be done, for an example, by volunteering for a day at a local charity. Sharing skills can be another way of “doing good” while also benefitting your business.
And most importantly, there are plenty of support networks for budding social entrepreneurs. Numerous free events, workshops and competitions are there to help you so don’t hesitate to attend as many as you can!
With all the distractions of running a start-up, why should busy entrepreneurs bother with all this? Quite simply, thinking about people and planet now will help future-proof your business.
Now it’s over to you to be like Yoda and join the many entrepreneurs doing the same. Here are some events and organisations that can help you make that move:
http://project-turnkey.org/ – A former ABVenture Zone occupant and the winner of the Converge Challenge Social Enterprise category in 2016, Erika Grant, is the founder and CEO of Project TurnKey: a social enterprise which helps women to exit prostitution and change their lives. Get in touch with her to find out more, or get some inspiration and advice.
We at ABVenture Zone are proud to host and assist social entrepreneurs. The winners of the 2017 Lightbulb competition, Anna Strong and Joel Lin-Kit Yeap, are set to establish a social enterprise which will be a dementia-friendly café in Aberdeen.
Our incubator also just welcomed Rana Abu-Mounes, a social entrepreneur and co-founder of Al-Mushkah.
Al-Mushkah are a social enterprise that provides consultation and training services to public and private sectors to help improve the integration, cultural assimilation and economic development of Muslim and BME women (including refugees of Muslim background) in Scotland. What’s more, they are finalists of the Converge Challenge 2017 Social Enterprise category, and we wish them the very best of luck.
Or as Yoda would say, “may the force be with them!”.
Google Analytics is an excellent tool for providing a wealth of insight into how visitors interact with your website. Many of us entrepreneurs have websites or are in the process of creating one – it’s essential to have an online point of a call to stay connected and competitive. However, the vast majority of entrepreneurs overlook the importance of analytics. Understanding your online interactions is easier than you think and it can help to increase your traction.
How do people find your website? How long do they stay? What is the user experience like on different devices? An analytics tool will help you find the answers.
People will arrive on your website from a range of sources – these can be search engines, social media and other websites. If your visitor numbers are low, you need to improve your search engine optimisation (SEO). It’s the process of optimising your website in order to rank higher in search engines.
Google is notoriously tight-lipped about its criteria for ranking sites, but apparently there are at least 200 criteria considered. These include user experience (how easy to navigate your site is and how long the users stay), signals from social media and how regularly content is updated.
Choosing a tool
There are a number of tools available to analyse your web traffic. Some of these are entirely free and others have advanced features that are paid for – so-called freemium models. Google Analytics (GA) is a freemium tool and one of the most popular. The free version is usually sufficient for small businesses, but it’s easy to overlook some of its many features.
To sign up for Google Analytics account you must first have a Google email account. Once you’ve signed in, click access Google Analytics. You need to enter your information, including your website’s URL. You will then be asked to select data sharing options and to accept the tracking ID.
The tracking ID, which sends data to GA from a website, needs to be copied and pasted into your web pages, within the website code, for analytics to run.
By default, the GA dashboard gives an overview of data derived from a website. This includes how visitors have used your website over the past seven days. To the left of the main page is a menu with five main headings:
Real time – information about users currently using the site Audience – a range of metrics about users including demographics and interests Acquisition – data about how users arrived at a website Behaviour – insights into how users navigate a site Conversions – only relevant if goals have been set up
Acquisition and behaviour
Arguably the most useful features in GA are under the acquisition and behaviour tabs.
Acquisition shows you how your site acquired visitors and breaks down both organic traffic (traffic that comes to your site via unpaid search engine entries or social network posts), paid keywords (such as AdWords campaigns, where users pay for their website to appear in Google search results) and organic keywords (words used to generate free traffic on search engines).
Behaviour, on the other hand, shows you in detail how users navigate your site. This includes how many exit your site after viewing just one page (bounce rate), how long they spend on your site (average time on page), and how many pages they view(page sessions, tracked before 30 minutes of inactivity), as well as goal conversions (your goal might be getting a visitor to buy something for your website, for example, and a goal conversion would be them completing the purchase).
Find your site’s weaknesses
Under the behaviour tab is a section called behaviour flow. This shows the path visitors normally take from when they visit your site to when they exit. It can help you diagnose potential problems – you might find a lot of visitors are exiting on the same page, for example. As a result, you could shorten the page, add a call to action (such as sign up or buy now), or include more images. You can also track which pages are the most popular and which are the most effective in securing conversions (whether that’s sales, sign ups or providing contact details).
Find out what visitors are searching for
If you’ve got a search box on your site, set up site search using the tips here. This will give you access to information such as how many times the search box has been used, what terms people searched for and how many page views were generated through searches.
As of May 2015, mobile searches have surpassed desktop searches. Your website should already be optimised for mobile but you can check using Google’s mobile-friendly tool. Just enter your URL and the test will show screenshots of how your site looks on mobile and highlight usability issues like small font sizes.
GA can also tell you how many people are viewing, or trying to view, your site in mobile: find reports in your GA dashboard, click on audience and then mobile. This will generate a table showing a breakdown of the devices people are using to browse your site.
Pop-up shops are a brilliant way to reduce the admin barriers and bring a breath of life back to the High Street. Creating a system for facilitating the growing trend of start-ups and connecting entrepereneurs with spaces to execute their ideas was the mission of Ross Bailey, when he founded Appear Here in 2013.
Top of the agenda for Appear Here was simplifying the whole process for both parties, Bailey says. That included minimising legal jargon, having a simple two-page agreement, and making all charges transparent. As a result, it takes much less time to organise a space.
“Traditionally when you try and get a store, it takes three to six months to do a deal. On Appear Here, it takes three to six days. Our vision is to build a global marketplace where anyone with an idea can find space to bring it to life.”
Appear Here is a disruptive system which already helped hundreds of entrepreneurs to test their ideas without the risk of a long-term rental. By widening access, Appear Here enable anyone to be an entrepreneur, revitalise the real-estate market to adapt to changing conditions, and truly democratise something that tends to be hard to access.
So far, Appear Here only offer pop-up space in London, Paris and New York. With potential to expand into Edinburgh over the coming months, we would be delighted if Aberdeen got its share of the action. Opening up more spaces for pop-up trading would perfectly complement the existing business support agencies, which continue to shape entrepreneurs in Aberdeen. Our city is ready and pop-up shops may be a perfect way to revitalise our Union Street.
You might remember Margaret Brinkley from a ‘What’s Your ABVenture?’ podcast we did with her a few months ago.
Back then, she was the co-founder of a company called Around Town, which was an app focusing on bringing events and deals to local students. Soon after that, her and Rob Kelly (another one of our brilliant ABVenture Zone occupants!), the co-founder of SEATS (a smart seating system app), merged together to start an exciting new venture – UniTrix.
We caught up with them for a chat in the Sherlock Room, overlooking the beautiful Aberdeen coast from the 8th floor of Macrobert. They tell us all about their entrepreneurial beginnings, working together, the launch of UniTrix and… Disney characters. Sit back, grab a coffee and read on to find out what they have in store!
Olaf Stando, ABVZ:So, tell us a bit about your business and how you started…
Margaret: Through a series of different events and circumstances, both of our former partners had to leave our original businesses, and we were both having a bit of a struggle going at it ourselves. So, we started chatting a few weeks ago and realised that there’s potential. We decided to combine forces. Rob had already changed the name from SEATS to UniTrix and we just thought, “we’ll still go with the flagship feature of events and deals, and then instead of trying to launch all the features at once, let’s launch them in phases”.
Right now, it’ll be events and deals but soon after, we’re hoping to launch a “student market” section, to buy and sell books, bikes and whatever students want to get rid of.
Did you both come from a similar background? Did you do similar courses at uni? Rob: Oh no, absolutely not! I have a biomedical science background and then went to do a research post at the Rowett Institute, all about nutrition and health. I then did a Masters in business with the idea of getting into the commercial side of pharmaceuticals, and during that, I co-founded SEATS. So no, I don’t have a business background.
Margaret: I always knew that I wanted to eventually be my own boss. I didn’t think it would be through entrepreneurship, I rather imagined that it’d be through the “traditional” career ladder approach.
What’s the best thing about being your own boss?
Margaret: I don’t like being told what to do! *laughs* No, it’s really more to do with the creative aspect and knowing that you work for something that you genuinely believe in. For me, that creative drive has always been important. My background is the complete opposite of Rob’s – I’ve been involved in theatre and the arts, and I came here to learn more about the business approach. It turned out really well and I just fell into entrepreneurship…
How did you develop your initial ideas – SEATS and Around Town? Was there any particular trigger which made you come up with them?
Rob: I was doing it as part of a university project, where we were asked to come up with an idea that used a mobile application. So we just came up with an idea of an app that would, using geolocation services, show you where the free space on campus is, which we thought could be quite handy. From there, we realised that there’s traction here and scope for a business. After two years, we got to the stage where we pitched the idea to the university but unfortunately things didn’t work out quite the way we planned. That being said, I still believe the idea is good so hopefully it’s something we’ll consider again – in conjunction with UniTrix.
Margaret: Around Town, in its original form, was actually also from a university course! It was just about coming up a new product or service targeted towards students. Four international students collaborated on it with the vision of being able to find places around the city in this easy, seamless manner. We wanted to promote local stuff and give users the “feel of Aberdeen”. Then, afterI finished my dissertation, I worked with Fiona McIntyre (the founder of Greyhope Bay and another ABVZ occupant) – seeing how she pushed through all these challenge and really seeing her vision come to life – really inspired me to get going and to aim for something big.
Is it important to be surrounded by people with like minds, and people that can inspire on a daily basis? One of the main functions of enterprise incubators is connecting fellow entrepreneurs. Or is it enough to go it alone, browse websites and read success stories?
Rob: Having that face-to-face interaction is definitely useful. I’ve learned a huge amount from just speaking to people, getting advice and contacts, and I think that networking is imperative – so yeah, it’s been good for me!
Margaret: It is nice to read case studies and see success stories, but it’s just a whole new world to come into a place full of entrepreneurs. Whether it’s just one or two others at a time, or whether the place is buzzing with 15 or more entrepreneurs, really gives you a lot of support which you miss if you were to just scroll through a computer screen.
So what do you think are the biggest barriers to entry into the world of entrepreneurship? So many people do courses in enterprise and management but only a minority start their own businesses…
Rob: I think it’s often the lack of awareness of what resources are out there. In the UK, we’re blessed with the amount of resources that exist, such as the space in which we’re sitting just now. But also, historically, we were always told to “go and get that job” and to focus on security, whereas entrepreneurship is always connected to risk. I’ve committed my last two years to this venture and not made a penny so far. That’s definitely a barrier and you need loads of patience to carry on.
But you also need an idea in the first place. It’s not a case of just sitting in your bedroom and fabricating an idea – they have to have traction and a vision to go forward.
Do you reckon that stumbles, like you had with SEATS, business partners leaving… do they make you stronger? Do they enable you to learn more?
Margaret: Oh absolutely, without a doubt! Stumbles and challenges are something that you’re going to face, whether you’re starting your own business or working for an established company. There’ll always be some roadblocks and what matters is how you handle them, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get going.
Perseverance is so, so important. Is there anything particular that keeps you going? Maybe mindfulness, meditation, anything that helps with patience?
Rob: Certainly not yoga or anything like that! *laughs* I think you just have to keep in mind that failure is a very possible eventuality, so you always have to be very “real”. You always have to keep a fresh eye on your idea and consider whether there is traction and whether there is a future. Look, there may not be – and the earlier you recognise that, the better.
That being said, if you have a bit of negativity, you shouldn’t just assume that your business has no future – so it’s all about striking the right balance and staying realistic.
Positivity is so important though. You should surround yourself with people that provide a bit of that daily inspiration. If you isolate yourself, you might be in trouble. Speaking to people about your doubts and challenges really helps – I can’t stress that enough!
What’s been the biggest challenge so far and what have you learned from it?
Margaret: The biggest challenge is probably the development of the app itself. Basically, creating the whole thing that our business is going to rest on. We both have varied backgrounds but neither one of us has those technical skills. Again, I think it’s where the perseverance comes into play – we try to find the answers ourselves and explore our options.
Rob: Without having the technical background, we are basically just facilitators. We need to get all the right people, at the right places, at the right time. Very successful apps usually had co-founders with serious technical abilities, and they have been able to develop the apps without having to rely on someone else. App development is obviously a costly thing, so that’s another challenge.
Let’s now turn to talking about you as entrepreneurs. Ultimately, business is all about people and it’s always great to find out more about personalities and your stories. Entrepreneurship is people-powered so let’s find out about you as people. So, if you were to describe yourself in one adjective – what would it be?
Rob: Perfect. *bursts into laughter*
(I wish you could see Rob’s smug smile at that moment.)
Margaret: I like the idea of describing myself with a colour rather an adjective. Rob, how about you give me a colour and I’ll give you one?
Rob: Margaret would be green. It’s calm, peaceful…
Rob: I can guarantee you, I’m going to get red!
Margaret: Actually, I’d give you orange. It’s basically a variation of red, very strong but also like a constant – almost like a sunrise every day, always going to persevere and making sure that you have a sense of routine.
And if you were a Disney character for a day, who would you be?
Rob: Oh wow, my goodness…
Margaret: I’m trying to imagine Rob as a Disney character.
That’s an interesting pick. Simba seems to be full of courage and curiosity.
Rob: He’s in touch with his emotions too, which is pretty important.
Margaret: I’d like to think that I’d be Jiminy Cricket, from Pinocchio. I’m a little wise but small next to you – and he’s a total nerd. But more realistically, I’d probably be more like Olaf from Frozen. I just like to have fun and I think I’m a very happy person most of the time.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time – both you and your business?
Margaret: Well, firstly I’d like to pay my bills without a problem. *laughs*
Rob: Realistically, in five years, I’d like to see this nationwide. This app would have lots of extra features at that point, obviously we’re launching this September but we hope to keep adding a whole range of features. Maybe we’ll operate in other countries in five years’ time – I hope the app really spreads like a wildfire.
Margaret: In two years’ time, we’ll have all the features developed and we want to be spread all across Scotland.
Inspiring, right? You may be reading this and wanting to start their own business. You may have these burning ideas in your head, or a couple of rough thoughts that you’d like to polish, but you’re just not sure where to start. Where should you go? Margaret and Rob share a few tips with you.
Margaret: Write it all down if you haven’t already, and really figure out what it is you want to do, how you want to do it and how you’d make money from it.
And if you’re a student – look at entrepreneur support organisations on campus. I can guarantee, you’ll almost always find some support and people waiting to help you. Chat to people and see their take on your idea. Tell them to be honest with you and to provide you genuine feedback, so you can use it to tweak a few bits and move forward.
Rob: Certainly in the UK there’s loads of support out there – that’s the comforting thing to know. But it’s so important to prepare for every advice session or meeting you may have, and be ready to answer challenging questions.
Make that first meeting worthwhile, so they can guide you in the right direction.
Margaret: People at incubators and accelerator programmes really want to see entrepreneurs succeed. So, any advice and criticism that they’re giving you, is coming from experienced sources – they see hundreds and hundreds of businesses a year, they see their ups and downs.
Last year, we launched Lightbulb – an initiative which is all about innovation and the process of developing an idea, rather than creating a mature business plan. It’s about taking the first steps towards entrepreneurship and getting into the entrepreneur’s frame of mind. It’s about identifying challenges or opportunities and searching for solutions. Next year, we’re making it bigger and better – hoping for bigger attendance and a more prominent venue on campus. Margaret, you were part of the pilot Lightbulb team this March – what did you think about it?
Margaret: I thought it was great! There were definitely a few ideas that I bought into more than others, but everybody who took part genuinely believed in their idea and often these ideas were generated on that very day. People were very happy to get advice and act on it. Myself and Chris Burnett, another part of the Lightbulb team, went around the room full of participants and talked to them about our business experience.
Would you say that it’s important to take out the barriers to entry into pitching competitions, and genuinely open up entrepreneurship to everyone?
Margaret: Absolutely! You are going to have that red tape in many instances, such as Enterprise Fellowships or Converge Challenge. It’s important to practice asking the right questions, asking for advice, and to not be afraid to take your ideas forward. After you’ve gained experience, these applications will basically write themselves.
Margaret and Rob, founders of UniTrix, are full of enthusiasm and passion for their business. Whilst unforeseen circumstances made them go into business together, they have a long-term vision and know what they want to achieve. UniTrix will be launching this September, just in time for Freshers’ Week, and the launch certainly isn’t something that you should miss.
It takes place on 4th-6th September 2017 on the King’s Pavillion playing fields, on King’s College campus of the University of Aberdeen.
You can expect a whole range of activities at the launch – there will be live music, a DJ set provided by Aberdeen Student Radio selectors (tbc!), as well as some games and activities to bring the student community together. There’ll hopefully be free haircuts as well!
Local businesses will be involved, the launch will be a fantastic opportunity to see what Aberdeen is made of, and most importantly, to find out more about UniTrix’s bright future!
Come to the launch and while we can’t promise an abundance of sunshine, fun times are guaranteed. Rob, Margaret and the ABVenture Zone team hope to see you there in September 🙂
30th May: Enterprise and Entrepreneurship workshop
| Sir Duncan Rice Library
Do you have an idea for a new product or business opportunity but not sure how to proceed? Are you interested in learning some tools you can use to develop your entrepreneurial mindset? Would you like to meet others and possibly form a team?
Barry Middleton from Opportunity North East will give an introduction to the right mindset and some practical tools to get you started, followed by an opportunity to meet other likeminded individuals and find out more about forthcoming taster sessions and formal programs to come later in the year.
Barry hails from Aberdeen and is a former RGU graduate who left Aberdeen 20 years ago. Since then Barry has worked in a range of companies from Global players such as financial gurus Ernst & Young to AIM listed Pharmaceutical companies, VC backed life sciences companies and start-ups. More recently Barry has been delivering LifeSciences business accelerator programs across Scotland, supporting over 100 opportunities in the past 3 years. Barry also has a PhD and an Executive MBA from Nottingham University.
The team at ABVenture Zone invites all PhD students at the university to check out our incubator space, grab a light bite to eat, and find out about how to get on a path towards success in entrepreneurship. We will give a short presentation on what’ve been up to so far, how we’ve benefitted and collaborated with postgrad students, and what the future has in store. You will also have the opportunity to network with some of our occupant entrepreneurs, some of whom recently got their PhDs and are now developing their bright ideas.
8th June: Marketing and Social Media workshop | ABVenture Zone, Macrobert Building, Room 830
Are you keen to understand how to get more likes, followers, interactions and shares on your social media channels?
Then once you grow, how do you turn these fans into loyal customers?
These are the key questions the workshop will aim to address. We will be covering an overview of how to use Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube, in addition to giving you the chance to work on your brand positioning, target audience profiling and social media content strategy.
An interactive workshop for those who want learn more about building their business online, smart ways of marketing, and the benefits of using social media. The workshop will help you to understand how to create an effective social media presence and select which channels are best suited to your target market. We will look at some “social media fails” and success stories, and we’ll think about how to best identify trends and adapt to them.
The workshop will have an engaging, interactive format and will include a presentation by Graceann Robertson, the Marketing Director at a fast-growing SME, EC-OG.
Whether your business is already up and running, or you’re just searching for that entrepreneurial spark, this workshop is a great opportunity to delve into the fast-paced world of marketing and explore the best ways of interacting with your market. See you there!
Last week we took part in a very productive round-table discussion with Opportunity North East, the new economic development agency identifying market challenges, opportunities and driving growth in our region.
The North East economy undoubtedly faced many challenges in the past few years, particularly since the sharp decline in oil prices which lead to redundancies and diminished prospects for the industry. The price will continue to fluctuate, but is projected to fall even further in the decades to come.
However, there are also numerous opportunities arising from that. How do we get into the “renaissance mindset”? How to make the most out of the economy’s potential and diversify it for a sustainable future? We have an incredible amount of talent at the University of Aberdeen, but how do we make the most out of that talent and how do we encourage the top minds to stay in the region? We believe that many answers lie in promoting entrepreneurship and excelling in innovation.
Let’s look into the four “key” sectors of our region’s economy:
Oil and Gas Oil and gas are finite resources, but there is still a significant scope for exploration and innovation in the industry. The Oil and Gas Technology Centre opened in February this year and is “something that the industry has never seen before”. It’s high-tech focus enables Aberdeen-based companies to develop a technological edge over the competition, which will help sustain the industry for years to come.
There are also huge opportunities in diversification into renewables, as well as decommissioning. Aberdeen is trying to position itself at the forefront of that.
Food, drink and agriculture We have a really strong food & drink industry in the North East – in fact, our region accounts for 40% of Scotland’s agricultural output and nearly 60% of the fish output. Brewdog is just one example of an outstanding high-growth start-up in this sector.
Some of the main aims are to develop the market further and to internationalise it, in order to export the fine North-East produce onto the shelves across Britain and the continent. To do that, there has to be a stronger, more co-ordinated marketing strategy and more focus on products with ‘added value’ – artisan, premium products which place quality at their heart. The University’s Rowett Institute leads the way in nutritional research and is a renowned institution in the UK (they just opened their new building, too!).
At this point, there are only around thirty companies in the region which operate within the life sciences sector. However, they are all high-value companies with huge prospect for growth and high-skilled jobs.
The recent trend has been moving from the chemical era of treatment towards the biological. One of the pioneers in that regard is an ABVenture Zone occupant, James McIlroy. His start-up, EnteroBiotix, is an award-winning, patient-centred biotechnology company focused on using the body’s own microorganisms to prevent and treat debilitating infections and diseases.
While it takes years for companies like these to start generating profit, they are a very exciting feature of Aberdeen’s “new economy” and the aim is to attract more spin-outs and start-ups from University’s pool of talent.
It is also crucial to drive innovation and commercialisation opportunities within the universities, and our incubator certainly has a role to play in that. In fact, we’re excited to reveal that a new accelerator programme has been launched in order to stimulate students & researchers to work together and develop commercial products. Find out more about the ‘Pathfinder’ accelerator programme HERE. Another life sciences accelerator programme is OneStart – a fantastic opportunity to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and win funding as well as lab space.
Visit Aberdeenshire are the region’s main tourism board and agency and they have recently re-branded in order to increase the North East’s appeal. They say our region is “beyond words, but not beyond reach” and focus on the natural landscapes of our coastline, the Cairngorms and the Deeside castles. A new, more robust brand identity will hopefully evolve the North East as a tourist destination. There is also extra emphasis on the transport links: Aberdeen Airport is undergoing an expansion, with new airlines and routes launching later this year. There is still a lot of room for improvement in terms of land transport, and one suggestion was to introduce an integrated transport card, bringing together rail and bus travel in a fixed-price “day ticket” package.
We also talked about emphasising Aberdeen’s growing festival programme: events such as Spectra, LookAgain and Nuart have been extremely successful in the past few years and helped to boost the city’s art scene which has always been seen as neglected. The University’s May Fest is happening later this month and is hoping to attract record numbers. Find out more here.
Where does the future of Aberdeenshire tourism lie? The region should embrace the trend of “digital nomads”, tourism combined with work, and thus we need to expand high-speed digital infrastructure particularly in the most remote areas. Many people’s travel choices are influenced by social media, so we should build up a grassroots network of “Aberdeenshire ambassadors”, spreading the beauty of our region to the internet and to get people talking about tourism.
The North-East is already on the right track. Aberdeen has been named “the most entrepreneurial city in Scotland“, and we are thrilled that we can play our part in this by supporting start-ups and spin-outs.
This corner of Scotland has always been known as a very enterprising region, but can we be even more entrepreneurial? The answer is yes, absolutely, and it lies in reaching out to more people and emphasising the benefits of entrepreneurship. We can do even more to promote the “innovation mindset” within universities, and one example of that is our recent Lightbulb challenge.
We need to continue the conversation about entrepreneurship, and get beyond the “start-up bubble” by reaching out to high school students, undergraduates and people who may have never considered business before. The opportunities are exciting and it’s about channelling that excitement onto the wider population.
We will soon set up a cross-city group to consider city-wide entrepreneurship initiatives, more opportunities for commercialisation within universities and areas where we can work with the industry, so… watch this space!
Meanwhile, if you are a student, researcher or a recent University of Aberdeen graduate, why don’t you pop into our cutting-edge incubator space to have a look and meet some of our entrepreneurs? Have you thought about starting a business but not sure how to go about it? Does free office space and membership of a start-up community sound good to you? Get in touch to find out more: