Business and Enterprise Training
- University of Edinburgh
- Scotland and Northern Ireland
- Date first submitted:
- 23 Nov 2006
- Date last modified:
- 16 Mar 2011
- Personal effectiveness
- Enterprise-related activities
- Career development
- Postgraduate researchers
- Doctoral researchers
- Research staff
Rationale, aims and outcomes
What is the rationale for doing this?
How does it fit with institutional strategy?
What are the main features of the provision?
What are the aims and expected outcomes?
Initial funding was provided to the University by the UK Government, as part of the Scottish Institute for Enterprise, to promote entrepreneurship amongst science and engineering doctoral researchers. As a result a programme of half-day workshops was developed to allow students to gain basic skills and develop the confidence to run their companies while the commercialisation adviser helped build a team around the idea. The rationale behind the workshop programme was to fit with the time commitments of PhD students and allow skills provision during the period of the PhD. Roberts funding was then used to further develop the programme, and expand it to students across the University. The programme ran on Wednesday afternoons over Semester 1 and 2.
The training has been running since December 2000 and has increased in size each year, and now covers all of the University's Colleges. In 2009 the programme was reviewed, and completely re-structured to more effectively meet the needs of our students.
In the 2009/2010 academic year we piloted a new provision consisting of a revised workshop programme which ran every week in Semester 1 to provide students with basic business skills, and to allow them to begin building their business networks. They are also able to meet the University's commercialisation adviser. Most of the students on this programme are attending in order to obtain skills which will help them with their future career plans. A smaller proportion of the participants are interested in establishing a business.
In Semester 2 we now run a programme of 10 mentoring sessions for students and staff with enterprise ambitions. In order to attend participants must have a business idea. The sessions are mainly presented by the training manager, and commercialisation adviser with business experts brought in for specific topics such as pitching. Each session covers a specific part of a business plan e.g. identifying your business competition, what is your business model etc. and enables the participants to build their plan. Participants work through exercises, and receive individual support from a team of mentors. The programme culminates in an opportunity for participants to 'pitch' their business idea in a safe environment and they are then helped to enter business plan competitions to gain funding for their idea.
Over the summer we run a residential course in enterprise skills. This course was developed by Dr Donna Murray and Dr Sarah Cooper from the University of Edinburgh and was piloted in summer 2010. The course was specifically designed for PhD researchers, and research staff and ran in two parts with a team working project which participants were involved in between the two sessions. The aim of this was make it easier for staff to attend without requiring significant time away from work. This course is being evaluated using the Education for High Growth Innovation instrument. The informal feedback on the course was very positive, and we have had many requests for another course focusing more on advanced business skills. We have also had requests for a residential course focusing on social enterprise. In addition, the course was fully subscribed with a long waiting list for places. This indicates that there is significant demand for these courses, and we would obviously like to offer our students and staff these trainings opportunities.
This pilot was very successful, with increased participant numbers, and very positive feedback. Therefore we feel this re-structuring has been a useful change to the provision at Edinburgh and we will maintain this format.
Overall, the provision of commercialisation training and support at the University is based on the concept of a 'friendly-face' to help people through what can be a difficult process, and the training provision for students is an integral part of this concept.
The main aim is increased confidence amongst the students about entrepreneurship and about business awareness in general. We recognise not all participants will want to establish a company, but many of our students feel a better understanding of business will help them stand out in the job market. In addition, the programme aims to feed students in to the support provided by the University, as well as the support provided by the Scottish Executive and Scottish Enterprise.
Are there any pre-requisites for engagement, e.g. levels of skill, years of experience, essential pre-activities?
How many participate in each 'activity'?
None for the workshop programme, we welcome participants from across the University.
We offer 20 spaces per workshop, and these usually fill very quickly. We also run waiting lists for places, and are strict about cancelling bookings of students who do not attend. A size of 20-25 is ideal as it allows the students to work in small groups on activities during the workshops. It also allows each student to ask questions and talk to the presenter, training manager, or commercialisation adviser during the break. We have a significant number of international students on our programme and find larger group sizes make it harder for these students to participate fully.
The mentoring sessions and residential course require participants to apply for places. Participants must also have a business idea.
Evaluation: benefits, challenges and next steps
How do you monitor effectiveness?
Who do you seek feedback from?
Do you have benchmarks?
The benefits are increased confidence amongst the participants about their own abilities. As a guide we track the people who move on to establish companies. The programme is worthwhile as it offers participants the opportunity to explore a skills base and improves their confidence about their ability to either be entrepreneurs or move on to a career after their PhD or research work. With some participants it reinforces their belief that their future lies in academia. We believe this is valuable as it means students are making positive, informed choices about their future. Feedback from the participants and presenters is positive. The programme is also viewed positively by Schools in the University and is an integral part of the University's commercialisation strategy.
The confidence level amongst the students and research staff can be low as business and enterprise are new areas for the majority - it is therefore vital to find presenters who can help build confidence as well as impart knowledge. We overcome this by constantly reviewing the feedback from the students to ensure they are relating to the presenters in a positive manner. In addition, the training manager works with the presenters to ensure the workshops contain a mixture of presentations and appropriate group activites to encourage discussion.
We have been able to exapnd the provision out from Science and Engineering to the whole University, and we now include research staff in our provision. Future goals are to develop more provision in the area of social enterprise, and expand our portfolio of residential courses.