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Why Universities are the New Start-up Hub in Scotland

Read our latest blog from Jane Kennedy, Product and Community Manager at start-up recruitment specialist, TalentSpark, on why universities are the ideal place to start a business.

The level of entrepreneurial activity in a country influences its global ranking in terms of innovation, competitiveness, and job creation, and guides its social and economic growth.  

As a result, governments of developed and developing nations alike have started making efforts to promote an entrepreneurial spirit, especially among students. At university level, academic entrepreneurship, which has been hailed as the new academic revolution by Etzkowitz, is being given the same importance as academic research. 89 percent of Scottish universities have now embedded enterprise and entrepreneurship in their curriculum.

The universities are helping the students to gain practical experience through business simulations, live projects, and real time employer engagement, thus encouraging them to fully develop and test their entrepreneurial ideas.

There are two ways in which educational institutions have emerged as the hotbed for successful startups;

  1. By providing the expertise and facilities to enable students to start spin-off firms from the academic research undertaken by them. In 2017, all Higher Education Institutes in Scotland agreed to the seven commitments in the statement on Spin-Out Company Formation which outlines the types of support Scottish HEIs invest in Spin-Out Companies.
  2. By providing incubator services to help graduates establish their startup companies. In fact, as of 2018, 83 percent of all Scottish universities have an on-campus incubator for graduate and staff start-ups.

These efforts are yielding positive results – the last few years have been a testament to the rise and success of student enterprise in Scotland with more spin-out companies created in Scotland than any other region in the UK, including London.

The number of student-led start-up companies in Scotland has grown by 53 percent since 2015. These spin-out companies have made significant contributions to the growth of the Scottish economy through job creation and attracting foreign investment. At TalentSpark we have worked closely with a number of spin-out companies and watched them achieve phenomenal growth, which would not have been possible without the support of the Universities.

Holly Knower, Chief executive officer at the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs, said in an interview with The Guardian that there is an increase in the trend of students moving away from traditional employment routes. She said, “We’ve found that recent postgraduates are looking for more creative and innovative ways to make their mark within their chosen disciplines, and this includes starting their own business.” She further pointed out, “The current labour marker is not what it once was and therefore we will see a reduced number of young people fulfilling long-term careers in one dedicated role; instead they’ll be making their own dream careers by starting up their own companies.”

The growing entrepreneurial tendencies amongst young students have mobilised the startup ecosystem in universities. They are now creating offerings to support students’ business ideas and transform them into fully functioning enterprises.

What Makes Universities the Best Platform for Startups?

There are three key factors which make universities an ideal place to start a business.

A Wide Network to make Connections and Contacts

Universities are not only a multi-disciplinary hub of knowledge – they also provide contacts, connections and a wide variety of networking opportunities for budding entrepreneurs. Since universities are often at the heart of local economies, they are constantly engaging with people who can possibly support or become major stakeholders in a student’s business venture. They also run innovation networks and work closely with Local Enterprise Partnerships in support of local economic growth, providing a link between startups and other business support networks. Scottish universities have been hosting at least six new business creation or support services since 2015.

Incubators for Startups

Universities provide incubation facilities to support the launch of a company. They extend access to common working space with other entrepreneurs, professional office space, seed funding and organise technical and business mentorship programs to oversee the operations and provide support. In the last three years, eight new incubators have been created in Scotland by universities either alone or in partnership.

Enterprise Initiatives

Universities initiate a variety of high impact enterprise initiatives for students to showcase and develop their skills. Business plan competitions, workshops on pitching, cross-campus collaborations and enterprise internships are some of the effective ways in which universities provide young student entrepreneurs with opportunities for funding, networking and publicity. 78 percent of Scotland’s universities deliver entrepreneur-led events.


The field of entrepreneurship is maturing and becoming more ingrained in local and national economies, which is why it has become relevant in the academic curriculum within the university setting.

Students are not just taught entrepreneurship courses and modules at educational institutions anymore; they are also exposed to the practical aspects. With universities going the extra mile to stimulate entrepreneurial spirit amongst students, it can be said that universities have become the ideal place for budding entrepreneurs to kick-start their venture and to test them with their peers, experts and professionals.