Towards economic renaissance

 

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!).

Life sciences

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.

Tourism


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:  olaf.stando@abdn.ac.uk

Website: http://www.abventurezone.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/abventurezone/

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The smart way to map out your business model

The business model canvas — as opposed to the traditional, intricate business plan — helps budding businesses and established organisations alike. It allows you to conduct structured, tangible, and strategic conversations around new businesses or existing ones. Leading global companies like GE, Nestlé or Lego use the canvas to manage strategy or create new growth engines, while start-ups use it in their search for the right business model.

In fact, some insiders point out to the canvas as the key to Lego’s great turnaround story. Facing bankruptcy a few years ago, the company had to reinvent themselves and re-position their brand. The canvas allowed them to smartly map out the key challenges and helped come up with direct solutions, such as streamlining the manufacturing process and adapting the kits to the modern times.

The canvas’s main objective is to help companies move beyond product-centric thinking and towards business model thinking.
It is also increasingly popular in competitions, such as the upcoming 2017 Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards. (Keep an eye out on this blog to find out more soon!)

In summary, the canvas is incredibly useful because it lets you look at all nine building blocks of your business on one page. Here’s a sleek little video explaining it in more detail:

 

Push yourself to the limits at the Elevator Challenge

Hello again!

Our friends over at Elevator have just launched the applications for this year’s Elevator Challenge, which will take place between the 16th and the 18th of June. This weekend residential will test your team building and leadership skills and developed through participation in physical and mental activities. You’ll be tasked with problem-solving and idea development – using your communication skills and initiative to motivate yourself and team members through demanding and unfamiliar situations.
The aim is to get out of your comfort zone – as you often will be in business.

Setting up and developing a start-up often involves hurdles which you’ve never jumped before. It is, in a way, a leap into the unknown and comfort-zone-stretching can certainly help you build confidence and resilience.

What’s more, this residential is completely FREE to participate in. It is funded entirely by Elevator, including transport from Aberdeen to the outdoor centre in Aberfoyle, Trossachs.

Are you ready for a weekend of raft-building, abseiling, orienteering and pushing your boundaries in a friendly, supportive environment of like-minded individuals? Are you looking forward to the extensive programme of pitching workshops and mentoring sessions to develop your business skills and ideas?
If so, don’t delay and give the Elevator Challenge a go. Apply HERE now.

Funding opportunity with the QF scholarship

We know how challenging it can be to start a new business, particularly for those who are also studying at university or college. Quality Formations, one of the UK’s top company formation agencies, runs a scholarship devoted to help student entrepreneurs turn their ideas into reality.

The scholarship is open to all students studying at higher education institutions in the UK and US and while it is undoubtedly competitive, it can be fantastic for kickstarting your business.
The bursary of £1000 (or $1400) is designed to provide seed funding and supplement each student’s income to allow them to spend more time developing their business idea.

Funding tends to be one of the main barriers for start-ups, so an inflow of cash is likely to help elevate your start-up onto the next level.
Even if you happen to be unsuccessful this time, the experience of taking part in competitions and getting your ideas scrutinised by experts is invaluable. We believe that determination and belief in your product are the key components of a successful start-up.

So why not give it a go and apply? Deadline for applications is 5pm, January 27th 2016. Click HERE to find out more and start the application process.


We are extremely proud of one of our bright occupants, Liam McMorrow from Adelie Health, who won the £1000 award in the inaugural scholarship last year.
He was praised by the panel for his extraordinary aptitude for business and innovative design.

Look out for our new series of podcasts, ‘What’s Your ABVenture?’, which will feature Liam sharing his business story, recent developments and advice for budding entrepreneurs.


Liam Mc Morrow is the Founding Director of Adelie Health which aims to use insights from behavioural economics to help people self-manage chronic illnesses.

Meet The Entrepreneurs: #1

ABVenture Zone is home to some of the most exciting student start-ups in Scotland, and we are proud to provide them with the space to develop their ideas, move forward and make an impact.

We want to introduce you to some of our occupants and update you on what they’ve been up to. Let’s Meet the Entrepreneurs.


Jason Bamidele originates from Nigeria, where he got an MSc in Geology and had his first job in an IT firm which sold school management solutions. His entrepreneurial story began with visiting a school in a remote part of Nigeria, without any access to the internet. The firm felt like it shouldn’t be there and the experience was “very discouraging”. But Jason spotted an opportunity and had to get creative in order to figure out the fundamental challenges of geographical isolation. After a series of meetings, a local bank agreed to provide one-off funding to facilitate internet access.
That was a critical point that changed my life and my perspective on everything“, Jason says. “What I noticed was the enrolment in the school was massively shooting up, there were now many people who could access the school from everywhere. Before the applications were restricted by the geographical isolation and the lack of internet access“.
When he returned to that place after some time, more students had debit cards and new ATM machines were popping up around the campus. Eventually, businesses started springing up and providing sustainable internet access to the community.
It became a community thing and the community just started growing. Everything became better and more connected“, said Jason with a visible entrepreneurial spark in his eyes.

One of his main passions is driving transformative change by providing
technology.

“How much difference just a bit of technology makes to the people. If you make money on it, it’s just a bonus, but the feeling of being able to spark a change, transform a community – this is priceless.”


Making these positive, organic changes during his time with the company made him realise that this was the direction he wants to follow in life. This inspired him to start his own business, which he is currently in the stage of developing.

Naturally, business development doesn’t come without its challenges. Jason starkly admits that he “has seen how things can fail spectacularly“, but says that the good part of being an entrepreneur is learning lessons from everything, which really shapes the product or service you’re developing.

Perhaps the biggest challenge he had to face was realising that he couldn’t do it alone and that it’s essential to find the right group of people to work with. He warns that “if you’re not careful in the choice of business partner, they can drag you down in the wrong direction“. Eventually, Jason found someone whose goal and passion aren’t just profit, but also making an impact. This sense of impact has been really important to Jason, who often points out that money shouldn’t be the sole focus.

Jason heard about ABVenture Zone through word of mouth and decided to take a chance. “Sometimes it’s all by chance, but these chance meetings have resulted in something very meaningful for myself and this business“. We’re sure you’ll hear more exciting stuff from Jason in the near future!


Surakat Kudehinbu, the founder and CEO of E-LIT, says “the entrepreneurial path has always been attractive and I’ve always wanted to do something different“. E-LIT is a digital literacy company which is currently developing software equipping people with skills fit for the 21st century. His company seeks to “improve the quality of life of people by removing the barriers restricting them from partaking effectively in our rapidly growing digital world“.

He tells us that since his youth, he’s always had “a huge amount of ideas“. In fact, he had so many that he had to shortlist them and select those that were the most realistic.
During his time in Africa, he met a lot of people with very low levels of literacy, which came as a big shock to Surakat. He explains how it was “highly ineffective and unproductive when people working at universities didn’t have sufficient basic skills; literacy skills are definitely something we take for granted here“. Realising the barriers arising from the lack of basic skills, something he described as “a bit of a nuisance“, was one of the triggers for creating E-LIT.


“Today everything is becoming digital, and lack of digital literacy skills can make people fall behind.”


Surakat is currently at the stage of prototype development. It is a long and winding process, but he’s getting closer and closer to finalising it. He recently involved a person with computer science expertise, who has been highly helpful in developing the prototype.

Surakat is currently looking for a design intern to help take his exciting start-up to the next level. If you’re interested or know someone who might be, find out more here:
https://abdn.targetconnect.net/graduate/jobSearch.html?execution=e1s1

His list of successes is expanding, and one of these successes was reaching the final of the University Start-Up World Cup in Copenhagen. Surakat is full of bright ideas and motivation, and we’re convinced that his business will flourish.


Hamish Blythe is the founder of Twigd, a student-focused mobile phone network which gives users the chance to reduce their mobile bills by participating in surveys and interacting with tailored ads. Twigd was shortlisted and received hundreds of votes in Virgin’s VOOM competition for start-ups, and he’ll be hoping to achieve even more in upcoming competitions.

He is using the MVP to test the market and to see how many students would actually take part in the surveys and ads which from the commercial core of the enterprise. Having this research done will be greatly helpful to Hamish when he brings his idea to investors, as it gives the business a lot more credibility.

Hamish confidently outlines the next steps for Twigd – “when we launch the network, we will launch it nationwide, and we will engage those who took part in the MVP as brand ambassadors“. He already found one partial investor who is prepared to make a long-term investment, but he also states the scale of the challenge: “when we started, we realised that we need a lot more money than we thought we needed“.

Twigd are also looking at crowdfunding opportunities.


“The perk of crowdfunding is that you don’t give away too much equity and you can keep a clearer sense of direction”


We finished our lunchtime hangout by chatting with James Duncan from the Research & Innovation department at the University of Aberdeen. He emphasises that there are many opportunities for seed capital within the university, and that this money is readily available as a catalyst for start-ups. The university is always considering applications from student companies and the best way to access this money is to get out there, talk to people, forge connections and be bold with your ideas.

James also advises student entrepreneurs to look at collaborative project opportunities with staff. He concludes with some sentiments about ABVenture Zone.


“ABVZ was about giving a home to entrepreneurs but also enhancing these collaborative opportunities. Now it’s a lot smoother thanks to our convenient on-campus location”


Thanks for reading and look out for Meet The Entrepreneurs features coming soon! If you’re a student entrepreneur, a budding entrepreneur, or just someone who wants to talk business, we’re always happy to hear from you and conduct interviews. Get in touch with ABVenture Zone: