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QMU: Where Education and Enterprise Go Hand in Hand

In our latest blog, Miriam Smith, Business Development Manager at Queen Margaret University (QMU) explains how QMU’s strategic focus on entrepreneurship is helping to create a new wave of innovative student and graduate businesses with solutions that will benefit us all.

What is your role at QMU?

QMU has a proud history dating back to 1875 relating to diet, nutrition and health and I was initially brought in to develop the University’s industry engagement with the food and drink sector. In my first few years of work I helped develop QMU’s commercial focus in this area, and in 2014, we launched the University’s Scottish Centre for Food Development and Innovation. My role has now expanded to support industry engagement across all areas of the University including health and rehabilitation, business and creative industries.

One of the areas that I’ve really enjoyed developing in recent years is our programme of entrepreneurial activities within our Business Innovation Zone. We are proud to be the first and only university to have a Business Gateway (BG) office on campus and my role involves supporting this unique partnership with the East Lothian Council BG team.  With the University’s new strategic focus on entrepreneurship, we are now supporting over 40 student and graduate start ups. It’s been extremely rewarding to drive forward this important area for the University, and to witness the progression of our students as they develop their fledgling companies. 

What is QMU’s vision for entrepreneurship?

QMU’s work has always been responsive to the needs of society, and we believe that promoting a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism will help build an economy for the 21st century that benefits all. That’s why we actively build entrepreneurship into the framework of many of our courses, and encourage students, graduate and staff to take every opportunity to develop entrepreneurial skills. In doing so, we are supporting Scotland’s ambition to become a world-class entrepreneurial and innovative nation.

QMU is a small but ambitious university and we aim to create an ecosystem that nurtures the creative, innovative and entrepreneurial ideas and ambitions of our community. A focus on health innovation, creative entrepreneurship and social enterprise reflects QMU’s reputation for excellence in these fields.

Our university has always had a strong social conscience – we were initially established to respond to the increasing demand for better educational and career opportunities for women and to help improve the diet of the urban poor. I feel proud that we remain committed to the same values today – that of social responsibility and equality. Through our entrepreneurial work we have a strong focus on social innovation and social enterprise and it’s heart-warming to see how our students and graduates have incorporated these values into their businesses. Many of the businesses are very socially responsive and have a focus on improving our environment and quality of life.

What is the value of being part of a national entrepreneurship programme like Converge?

Converge’s national programme provides our students and graduates with outstanding opportunities to develop their entrepreneurial skills and knowledge. Many of them start with an idea, but sometimes they don’t have the knowledge or confidence to turn it into a real business.  By engaging with the Converge team they get support, encouragement to think ‘out of the box’, and the opportunity to explore avenues for commercialisation. By taking part in the competition, and going through the application process, they learn how to commercialise their ideas and pitch them to external judges. If they are lucky enough to get through to the semi-finals, the enterprise training that they get is superb and the connections they make are invaluable.  Peer-to-peer learning and networks are established and the whole process is encouraging, supportive and nurturing.

In my role I have supported students and graduates to participate in a wide range of entrepreneurial UK wide competitions. However, the quality and experience of the Converge programme is second to none!

What role has Converge played in your own enterprise agenda?

At QMU, we are delighted to have a strong relationship with Converge. The team has provided excellent support, both in terms of delivering workshops and offering 1:1 support and encouragement for students/graduates/staff. This has enabled us to not only achieve our entrepreneurial ambitions, but to champion and raise the profile of entrepreneurship at the University. 

As a small institution, we have limited resource, and so we really value the expertise and input of Converge team in helping us deliver our programme of activity.  

We are proud to have several very talented students and staff who have made it through to the semi-finals and finals of Converge over recent years. This success has been pivotal in helping us drive forward our entrepreneurial activity and achieving our aspirations and goals.

What are your plans for enterprise and innovation going forward?

Currently, we support an interesting mix of over 40 start-up businesses in our Business Innovation Zone. These range from theatre and film production companies to healthcare and food and drink businesses. It’s our ambition to grow this number, and to help them become sustainable and eventually scale up. In the future, we aim to develop a rolling programme of entrepreneurial activities which will both educate and inspire our students and graduates. We hope to continue building the confidence and skills of our young entrepreneurs so that they can take full advantage of everything that Converge has to offer.