Robert Gordon University (RGU) in Aberdeen is one of the UK’s leading universities for entrepreneurship.
It has placed innovation, enterprise and curiosity at the centre of its overall strategy and key in its mission to transform people and communities.
The institution was nominated as entrepreneurial university of the year in last year’s Times Higher Education Awards for the second time in five years.
RGU also won a national award this year for its Women in Business initiative, designed to support those with children to start their own firm. It received the outstanding business engagement in universities accolade at the 2023 Herald Higher Education Awards.
Meanwhile, the university’s flagship entrepreneurship programme, its Startup Accelerator, has recently opened for applications for its sixth year.
Open to students, staff and recent alumni from RGU and North East Scotland College, the accelerator is funded in part through the Wood Foundation and designed to support the development of innovative, scalable products and services through training, resources and mentorship.
It has so far played its hand in creating more than 120 businesses which have gone on to create employment and make significant economic and social impact in the north-east.
Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group
The institution’s commitment and drive to stimulate economic development in Aberdeen city and shire was highlighted through the creation of its Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group (EIG) – a dedicated team which steers entrepreneurship across the entire university community and wider region.
Chris Moule is head of entrepreneurship and Innovation at RGU.
He said: “Entrepreneurs are ‘doers’. They try things out, experiment and are wholly action-orientated. They often have restless minds that jump from one thing to another.
“At RGU, we harness that ‘can-do’ mindset and help them focus on delivering something that people truly need, – an innovation that is viable and feasible.
“At its core, it is about solving problems and creating value.
“Young people that we work with today are full of ideas and creativity, and have great energy to shape a better world through creating new business models, new products and services, and combining existing ones to make new innovations.”
RGU says many of the Startup Accelerator innovators have gone on to create credible, successful businesses in various sectors.
Both start-ups were winners at the recent Converge Awards.
What’s more, Aisha Kasim, start-up accelerator lead at EIG, and John Isaacs, dean of RGU’s school of computing, were winners for their own innovation – Books2Life, which aims to enhance reading through artificial intelligence and image-generating platforms for young people with dyslexia.
Craig Troup is one half of Highland Moss – a shop that opened on Aberdeen’s Constitution Street in January last year and which progressed through the latest cohort of the university’s Startup Accelerator.
The entrepreneur, who runs the venture alongside his partner, Pamela, launched the business to fulfil their passion for plants.
He said: “We sell a variety of house plants along with specialist moss-focused products such as terrariums and moss poles.
“We aim to make house plants easy and accessible to all and do this through our workshops, care advice and handy services such as our plant hospital and reporting service.”
Mr Troup added: “We entered the Startup Accelerator last year to help us structure our business.
“We needed a way of taking all our ideas and USPs (unique selling points) and give them a coherent message.
“The whole team behind the accelerator were amazing and really put the effort into giving us specific advice for our business.
“We also made lots of contacts through the course, both established professionals and other start-ups who we’ve since partnered with on several projects.
I have been really lucky to turn my passion for knitting into an app.”
Another young Aberdeen entrepreneur who successfully manoeuvred through the programme is Lucy Fisher.
Her Knit It business has gone on to win several awards, while the Startup Accelerator propelled her towards her goals.
Ms Fisher said: “The RGU accelerator was my first taste of the business world and I learnt everything I needed to take the plunge and start my company.
“I have been really lucky to turn my passion for knitting into an app which makes knitting even better with interactive patterns.
“We launched it in September and are just back from exhibiting at Alexandra Palace in London. Since starting the programme, we have secured investment, grown to have three employees and now have a live product on our website.”
Widening access to entrepreneurship and ensuring it serves for more than just stereotypical innovators is vital in RGU’s mission.
Aside from its Startup Accelerator programme, Women in Business has thrived since launching in 2021.
Built in partnership with Aberdeenshire Council to serve mothers in rural areas, the scheme has now delivered seven cohorts and is always in high demand from applicants.
Diana Gormley took part in its inaugural cohort and now runs an award-winning-sustainable clothes business, Always Fun Clothing.
Ms Gormley said: “It guided me to discover something I’m really passionate about and gave me the tools and belief to pursue it.
Mums facing ‘unique’ challenges
“Women in Business approaches entrepreneurship from a different perspective – taking on board the unique challenges faced by mums and acknowledging the female mindset around belief, confidence and achievement.
“There is an amazing level of support available for business start-ups in Aberdeenshire and I wouldn’t have been aware of any of it if I hadn’t done the course.
“We were made aware of a grant that was available from Aberdeenshire Council and a few of us were successful in securing funding to help develop our businesses.”
Women in Business approaches entrepreneurship from a different perspective.”
Chris Moule, RGU’s head of innovation and entrepreneurship, explained the importance of being accessible.
“If we want more successful start-ups, we need to widen the funnel at both ends to get people more inspired to develop ideas and have the confidence to take them forward.
“That means we need to start the creativity process at an earlier stage, in primary schools, as well as reach those populations that are under-represented and feel disenfranchised due to the language and structures that have been put in place.”
These groups include mothers, those working in the creative industries and mature students looking for a career change, Mr Moule added.
RGU’s Help to Grow: Management scheme has helped more than 60 firms to date
Another of RGU’s programmes which inspires business leadership skills and key economic development is Help to Grow: Management.
The UK Government-backed scheme is led in the north-east by the university’s Aberdeen Business School, offering participants from across sectors a 12-week course of expert-led webinars, mentoring, case studies and peer-to-peer networking.#
It is now onto its fourth cohort, which is specifically catering for business leaders in Orkney, Shetland and the Highlands, supporting a local bakery, aquaculture firm and construction firms.
The scheme strengthens RGU’s “strategic commitment” to driving both business resilience and economic growth across the whole north region.
RGU is still the only university that offers the Help to Grow leadership and management training in all of Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, and the Highlands and Islands.
— Robert Gordon University (RGU) (@RobertGordonUni) August 11, 2022
Its programme director, RGU lecturer David Gibbons-Wood, said: “The Help to Grow programme gives senior people within businesses, who are looking to better themselves and their firm, 50-hours of proven, expert-led training which can provide that extra ingredient which may have been lacking.
“With an ever-changing and unpredictable economic outlook, upskilling and being ahead of the curve of change and innovation is paramount. The training this can provide, alongside the important networking aspect, can be game-changing.”
Mr Gibbons-Wood added: “At RGU, we’re very excited to be leading the programme and giving people and businesses in the north-east the opportunity to develop together, and foster the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that so many of us harness.”
The programme has to date supported more than 60 firms seeking to grow and has a satisfaction rating of 94% across the UK.
Its next cohort, catering for businesspeople in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, starts in January, with spaces still available at rgu.ac.uk/helptogrow