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AI & Blockchain Accelerator on a mission to make UK and Edinburgh the “go-to” place for new businesses

Wayra UK, The University of Edinburgh’s Data-Driven Innovation Initiative, Scottish Enterprise and Cisco

Can Do Collective speak with Charlotte Waugh, Enterprise and Innovation Programme Lead for Edinburgh Innovations (The University of Edinburgh) to find out more about why collective impact was so important for the success of the AI & Blockchain Accelerator.

Based at the Bayes Centre, The AI & Blockchain Accelerator is a collaboration between Wayra UK, Telefónica’s open innovation arm and the University of Edinburgh’s Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) Programme. It is also supported by Scottish Enterprise and sponsored by Cisco.

Collective

Launched in October 2018 and headquartered in the Bayes Centre, The AI & Blockchain Accelerator is run in partnership with The University of Edinburgh (UoE) and Wayra, combining the technical & research expertise of UoE and Wayra’s commercial connectedness to London’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The programme is also supported by Scottish Enterprise who offer Scotland wide businesses support.

The accelerator selects 10 companies per cohort, which range in their maturity from early-stage angel investment to securing initial seed investment. Through a combination of technical expertise and commercial mentorship and introductions, the 6-month programme works with successful candidates to articulate their fundamental proposition and strengthen their business foundations, develop and communicate their core product or service to a range of business audiences, facilitate introductions to companies and investors and provide access to University digital talent.

Throughout the programme, start-ups have benefited from access to a series of high-profile visitors and workshops, including Brock Pierce, who is credited as a digital currency pioneer and has raised over $5B for crypto and blockchain companies. Pierce is also the Chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation and Co-Founder of EOS Alliance, Block.one, Blockchain Capital, Tether and Mastercoin.

Each of the participants on the programme receives desk space for 2-3 employees, a £7,500 stipend to cover travel costs and direct engagement with Telefónica’s networks through Wayra, resulting in new contacts, new avenues for investment, world-class expertise, access to data talent and international reach. In addition to this, they also benefit from the infrastructure offered through their placement at Bayes which hosts the Data-lab and the EPCC Supercomputer. Startups also benefit from direct access to other AI and Blockchain focused companies operating from Bayes as well as accessing academic sector expertise in AI and Blockchain

Impact

The Accelerator launched with a mission to make the UK and Edinburgh the “go-to” place for new AI and or Blockchain businesses with high growth potential. To date, 30 start-ups have been accelerated through the programme.

The impact is measured by assessing each start-up when they join the accelerator, conducting a review half-way through and then a full assessment at the end. The first cohort (October 2018 – April 2019) attracted £3.3m worth of investment while participating on the programme and following the accelerator, the 10 start-ups went on to raise a combined investment of £8.9m to date (50% of their overall funding targets). During the programme the participating companies also generated £2.2m worth of revenue and combined, they currently employ 69 people.

The University of Edinburgh is number one in the world for machine learning research, so this collaboration provides an invaluable opportunity for Edinburgh to continue innovating and building on its reputation in this space. Following participation from several EU applicants in cohort one, it is hoped that the programme will go on to attract global talent from across the globe, which will further result in job creation and increased positive recognition for Scotland as a country, and for our Universities innovating in the tech space.

Many of the startups are also driven towards finding solutions that are either business or society focused. Successful businesses supported to date include a technology-driven approach to dementia and a mental health app, connecting those in need with the most appropriate resources. The Accelerator also affords many participating startups with the opportunity to scale their companies much quicker and demonstrate what they can give back to Scotland and beyond.

Sagecity (Cohort 2) commented,

“We’ve really enjoyed the Programme and met some great people and
made friends for life within the cohort, Charlotte and Fabrizio have been good and pushing for the best for us the whole time.”

NetOp (Cohort 2) commented,

“Wayra accelerates all the challenges you are facing as a startup in a small period of time. So it steepens the learning curve and gives you the experience and the tools to overcome them.”

Travamigos,

“Great experience that has helped shape Travamigos, we wouldn’t be in the same position without all the help from Wayra.”

About Bayes Centre

The Bayes Centre is the University of Edinburgh’s innovation hub for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence. Located on Potterrow at the heart of the University’s Central campus, it encompasses a community of over four hundred scientists, PhD students, industry experts and innovation support professionals, working together across disciplines and sectors to advance data technology and apply it to real-world applications.

With over 30 organisations who share the award-winning £40m building as a base, it also acts as a one-stop-shop for technical data science and AI expertise facilitating data-driven innovation by partnering with a wide range of private and public collaborating organisations.

Bayes is part of the Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) Programme within the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal and collaborates closely with other DDI hubs across Edinburgh.

Social Media Handles​

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BayesCentre
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/bayes-centre

About Edinburgh Innovations

Edinburgh Innovations helps commercial organisations to build innovative ideas using the right technologies, expertise and facilities at the University. For students and staff, they lead the University’s activities in industry engagement and business development, enterprise support and the identification, management and commercialisation of University intellectual property. They seek opportunities, build partnerships for mutual benefit, make the journey easy, and add value at every stage.

Edinburgh Innovations sustainability statement: Edinburgh Innovations is committed to contributing to social responsibility and sustainability at the University of Edinburgh. This includes supporting the University’s Climate Strategy through our working practices. We are participating in the University’s Sustainably Awards programme. We are currently working towards a Silver Award. The Climate Strategy commits the University to become zero carbon by 2040.

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Living in Unprecedented Times

A message from Rachael Brown, Convener, Can Do Collective

“We have brilliant minds, innovations, impacts and most of all, kindness.”

It feels like the last week has brought home how much of a defining moment in our history this is, the world has changed.

It’s times like these that entrepreneurial thinking shows it’s true value, yes we are in troubling times, very troubling, but we also choose how to behave and can create the next steps ourselves. We have brilliant minds, innovations, impacts and most of all, kindness.

We, as humans, are defined by what we do in difficult times, I have read many stories over the last few days about local businesses cooking meals, creating food packs, sharing resources and taking time to support the most vulnerable in our society. 

This is leadership, this is community

The Can Do Collective is a community of enterprise support organisations from across Scotland, who represent each sector and are committed to building a world-leading entrepreneurial, innovative and creative society. 

We are focused on enabling entrepreneurs to flourish. We believe that innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship are key to the economic, social and environmental success of Scotland. We are committed to Collective Impact, collaborations and collective communications. We work in an environment that is supportive, challenging, honest and trustworthy. We believe that by sharing good work, high standards of engagement and continuously measuring for improvement we can and we do contribute to Scotland being the most entrepreneurial, innovative and creative society in the world.

We take seriously our responsibility, our place in the world. 

Over the coming weeks and months we will be visable and proactive in our efforts to support businesses and enable good work to happen. This will not be in traditional ways but we are not in traditional times.

Please stay safe,

Rachael Brown,

Convener, Can Do Collective 2019 & 2020

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Five things learnt at inaugural Scotland Can Do Scale Summer School

Five things learnt at Scotland Can Do SCALE

Scotland Can Do SCALE hosted its first summer school in 2015, bringing in top experts from the world’s entrepreneurial hotspots to teach and mentor business leaders of scalable businesses. The summer school was a huge success, teaching key lessons to entrepreneurs and business growers across Scotland.

Here are just five of the many lessons for scaling a business learnt in 2015 by business leaders who are determined to grow their enterprises and become major employers, earners and contributors to the Scottish economy:

1) It is not easy!

Scaling a business isn’t easy – otherwise everyone would be doing it – but how you deal with the challenges is what counts. A positive mental attitude, and a willingness to keep trying despite the many setbacks that will be encountered, it key.

Craig Lemmon, managing director of IT firm 2e-volve UK, said: “Some days it’s like I can float on air – on others it feels like I am pushing a tank up a hill… with the hand brake on. Either way, I always remember that we are still out there trying our best.”

2)  You need to know that the dog will eat the dog food.

They say it’s a dog eat dog world in business, but your customers don’t care about that. They are the most important people to your business, and you have to give them what they want. Whoever else you listen to, make sure you listen to the customer above all and ensure that you understand them and know they will “eat the dog food” as early into your venture as possible.

Callum Murray of mediation service Murray & Duncan said: “since attending SCALE, we’ve focussed on building products which deliver actual value to our customers. Given the process advice we’ve taken a concept through minimum viable product onto market ready stage and are now generating revenue.”

3) Planning and discipline are vital

To build a business of scale, you will have to plan carefully, consider the series of steps that each part of the growing process requires… and follow them with discipline.

Outdoor clothing designer Kristine Moody, of Team Magnus, said: “Planning a big marketing drive and product expansion means we’ve just started the process of fund-raising. Planning expanded operations has been hugely helped by Bill Aulet’s concrete advice on hiring, product management and market analysis. We employ his 24 steps on a weekly basis.”

4) Noam Wasserman’s topic “The Founder’s Dilemma” is critical – cash is king

There’s no way around it, scaling a business usually costs money. You’ll need to think carefully about your funding needs, have a plan of how you can justify and afford it, and find some willing investors. Decisions you make at this early stage of business growth will shape the entire future of your business, so careful planning around equity and ownership decisions can save huge issues further down the line.

Jim Law, founder of multi-platform app Find a Player, said: “Funding has allowed us to build a product which will be scalable to a massive audience. SCALE helped us to understand the mechanics of fundraising and make sure it was presented in the right way.. especially around the valuation.”

5)  Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Yes, you will want and need a strategy, but you also need your organisation to be enterprising, driven, and share common goals. That way, when your plans hit obstacles, there will always be people to find new ways around them.

Michelle Ferguson, managing director of St Andrew’s First Aid Training and Supplies, said: “We are much more entrepreneurial and ambitious now, and a have a more planned strategic approach to large scale growth.”

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Scotland Launches World Class Entrepreneurship Programme

A first of its kind programme is being launched today to help Scottish entrepreneurs with potential to scale-up to grow their businesses with world class training from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard Business School.

Scotland Can Do SCALE has two strands, an online course which explores putting customers at the heart of a business and a residential summer school. The programme offers something for every entrepreneur in Scotland, with the most promising scale-ups being eligible to attend the summer school delivered by world leading educators in entrepreneurship. Everyone taking part will be supported by Scotland’s exceptional entrepreneurial ecosystem to develop and grow their business.

Funded and delivered by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Funding Council, and sitting under the Scotland Can Do banner, the programme will involve participants following a free online MIT training course called Entrepreneurship 101 – Who is Your Customer? which is the first step for securing additional support opportunities including qualifying for the summer school.

The online course has been developed by Bill Aulet, Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT entrepreneurship, and author of 24 Steps to Disciplined Entrepreneurship, who is also a visiting professor in entrepreneurship at Strathclyde University.

The objective of the programme is to build a community of entrepreneurs leading scalable businesses across Scotland, with ongoing support provided to those with ambition and potential for growth.

Luke Johnston, CEO of innovative oil & gas software firm Cognitive Geology, took part in the pilot programme and has achieved great traction since August last year. He said:

“Scotland Can Do SCALE really helped me to step back and shape the future of the business, using Bill Aulet’s 24 steps as a framework. In recent months we have hired two new developers, two geoscientists and are currently recruiting to continue building our team. We have secured £100K in grant funding, been selected for the London Stock Exchange ELITE programme and secured a funded place at the MIT Entrepreneurial Development Program. We’re meeting with some of the world’s largest oil companies this year in Houston and experiencing tremendous growth.”

Michelle Ferguson, managing director of social enterprise St Andrew’s First Aid Training and Supplies, attended the course as part of a team, with colleague Stuart Callison, CEO of the parent charity. She commented:

“The SCALE programme was all I hoped it would be and more. The training was world class and I found the cohort to be supportive and often facing the same challenges I do as we work to scale internationally. We are now much more entrepreneurial and ambitious as a team and have a more planned strategic approach to large scale growth. We are exploring new markets and will shortly be announcing some exciting news regarding a major business deal in the Far East.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said:

“This Government has always been focused on helping Scotland become a world leading innovative and entrepreneurial nation – a CAN DO place to do business and never more so than in 2016 – the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.

“Scotland CAN DO Scale is here to take our nation’s entrepreneurial ambition to the next level. This programme offers businessmen and women in Scotland an world-class opportunity to refine their ideas and develop their skillsets by participating in a course designed by an international leader in entrepreneurship.”