Last night, about 20 fledgling tech entrepreneurs met in the basement of the new Business School for the first instalment of the New Ventures Support Group, a new meetup organised by Edinburgh Research and Innovation (ERI) at the University of Edinburgh.
The group, which is by invitation only, aims to bring together people from all corners of the University who are launching tech or research-based startups. Accordingly, in attendance were undergrads, postgrads, PhDs, and members of staff with a diverse set of business propositions, including creating a new electronic instrument with the same portability and jam-session appeal as a guitar, using light to deliver wireless communications, harnessing artificial intelligence to automate lip-synching in video games, and a more effective data mining tool for the oil industry.
Tom Ogilvie, a Company Formation Executive at ERI who helps University staff to launch new companies, said that this is the first time the University has sought to bring together all its tech entrepreneurs who are at a similar stage of business, regardless of their sector or staff/student status.
In the past, it has made sense to treat staff and students separately because students have greater rights to their intellectual property. However, the new group comes from a recognition that many of the challenges faced by staff- and student-entrepreneurs are the same. It is also a response to the recent lapse of the University’s EPIS programme, which was cited as being particularly effective because it created a community of entrepreneurs who could provide support and encouragement for each other, share best practices, and generate a healthy level of peer-pressure and competitiveness.
University officials hope that similar outcomes may be achieved by the New Ventures Support Group, which will meet monthly to discuss topics like raising funding and sales strategies.
Last night, the atmosphere was friendly, as attendees traded frustrations, challenges, and advice. Though the technologies and products were brand new, the main business obstacles were not. One member of staff volunteered that in his industry, it takes an average of 18 years for a new technology to travel from the lab to the field—a long time to wait for potential revenues. A PhD student expressed her frustration about making a sale, then not knowing how to finalise the deal with international clients. Another student said he’d tested his product and found a customer, but asked, “How do you know the price?”