Last week, we held our 2016 Student Enterprise Summit in Edinburgh with hundreds of students, entrepreneurs and members of the support community coming together under one roof. We invited our friend, Christopher Sladdin, to join us and blog about his experience of the Summit. Christopher is a student at The University of Edinburgh and is the founder of The Startup Interviews.
When was the last time you saw students so animated and concentrated at the end of an afternoon of talks? This was the case at last week’s Student Enterprise Summit, hosted by the Scottish Institute for Enterprise at Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms. Exactly as I remember it from last year, the day made for an inspiring day of learning, networking, and supporting each other for the three hundred or so student entrepreneurs who gathered from across Scotland’s university scene. Today, I want to recap on some of the day’s highlights, from the guest speakers to this year’s competition winners.
The afternoon’s first speaker was an engineer, chartered accountant, and entrepreneur – quite the combination. Becky Woodhouse, who runs PURE Spa & Beauty described her experience of setting up her business in Lothian Road, and her subsequent expansion into Ocean Terminal, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and beyond. Today, the business operates from six locations around the UK, but Becky’s ultimate aim is to take her business global (and she’s going to make that happen, apparently), an ambition which was sure to tell the assembled crowd that, should they put their minds to it, they can accomplish anything as entrepreneurs. “Have a vision and a plan,” she said, “but remember there’s always something better coming round the corner.”
Second up at the summit was Christopher McCann, winner of SIE’s New Ventures Competition in 2015 and founder of snap40. As I’ve already interviewed Chris, I’m not going to regurgitate his story (you can read it here), rather I’m going to highlight what I learnt about Chris and his startup which I didn’t already know. Since I first met Chris, he’s relocated his business into new offices in Edinburgh, and begun clinical trials of snap40’s revolutionary medical technology which, he hopes, will save countless lives by predicting whether or not patient health will deteriorate in the near future, before it deteriorates. He shared ten things which he learnt, many of which you’ll find by searching for #SIEsummit2016 on Twitter, but perhaps of greatest importance was his view of advice, something any entrepreneur will agree is in abundant supply; “Everyone’s advice applies to their very narrow experience, and everyone’s experiences are different. So listen to advice, and trust yourself to agree with or disagree with bits of what they say.”
Half way through the afternoon’s activities, the Scottish Institute for Enterprise announced this year’s Fresh Ideas and New Ventures Competition winners, always a highlight for the assembled crowd, and the end of a nervous wait for those awaiting the outcome of their applications and pitches. This year saw Anna Renouf, a third-year student at the University of the Highlands and Islands take the £1,000 top prize in the Fresh Ideas competition for her design of a new horse saddle, designed to improve comfort, safety, and performance.
In the New Ventures competition — which focuses on more developed business ideas — a series of awards were presented to both undergraduates and postgraduate students. This year saw Sandy Enoch win the Innovation Forum Award as part of the category for his business, Robotical, which designs affordable robots for education. He was followed by the teams from MindMate and EuroBiotix, both firmly established SIE start-ups, who took home £1,000 and £5,000 for their ideas respectively. And taking the top spot at this year’s awards, worth £10,000 thanks to the Bank of Scotland, was Paul McGinley, whose Pyramid WiFi product is the world’s first plug-and-play unblocker. The recent University of Strathclyde graduate believes that he can offer a simpler, faster, and more accessible way to unblock the internet and legally access subscription content from anywhere in the world.
After a short break, the afternoon’s sessions resumed, with keynotes by Andrew Dobbie of MadeBrave and Carol Smillie of Diary Doll. Andrew stressed the importance of developing your own brand through which to tell your story and sell your product. In what was a laughter-filled session, he shared his own brand at MadeBrave, a Glasgow-based design branding agency which he started with just £1,000 in savings and a newborn son, who features heavily in the company’s marketing. Whether it was stunts involving helicopters, or photoshopping Richard Branson on his son’s body to stand out from the crowd before an awards ceremony, it was instantly clear from his keynote as to the type of company MadeBrave aspired to be, something all startups should make clear, but which many fail to do.
To close this year’s summit, after a short employability panel took students’ questions on entrepreneurship and careers post-graduation, Carol Smillie, the TV personality and now the co-founder of the award winning startup Diary Doll took to the stage. Now, as a male, I have no use for her product — women and girl’s pants with a waterproof panel which prevents embarrassing leaks caused by periods or urinary incontinence — but that isn’t to say her presentation was any less interesting. Quite the opposite in fact; Carol told of how she had first come to develop her product, breaking down conversational barriers about women’s needs below the waistline, and how she’d wrongly assumed that showcasing her product to the world would be easy for a former television presenter. She also discussed the fantastic support she’s received from the Scottish business community, including working within Entrepreneurial Spark’s hatcheries, which proved a major source of determination and advice.
Bang on the dot of 5pm, the 2016 Student Enterprise Summit came to an end and the three hundred or so students left to catch their buses back to the far reaches of the country, inspired and with a renewed sense of confidence to go out and develop their own ideas. It’ll be fascinating to see who returns next year with a chance of winning SIE’s competitions.
If you want to see all of the pictures from the day, visit our Facebook page. You can find all of the tweets from the day on our Storify board. For more from Christopher, follow him on Twitter: @SladdinCJ.