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:
Olaf Stando, Communications & Marketing Officer: firstname.lastname@example.org