The spark of enterprise fuels future for business

These are exciting times for Enterprise Campus West and the companies it supports as it builds dynamic entrepreneurial prospects for cities

Click here to access article as a .pdf

Spark and Rocket could not be a more fitting name for a new company fuelled by entrepreneurial ambition and targeting the heights, having enjoyed a successful countdown and liftoff under the guidance of Enterprise Campus.

However, Spark and Rocket is not a typical enterprise project, as this is not a business with bio, technical or digital credentials. This “spark” was ignited by the creativity of founder and director Michael Tougher, a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, specialising in product design.

Yet the encouraging response to the Spark and Rocket product Dots, a musical educational toy for young children, is an important example of how Enterprise Campus is working so successfully.

Success for Enterprise Campus is multifaceted. Simply starting a business isn’t enough. The team has one eye on company formations, and the other on creating viable businesses. They’re looking for ideas that can scale, create future opportunities, and have a pronounced effect on the Scottish economy. All in, all they’re trying to bolster the opportunities that are available to Scotland’s future business leaders – and doing so while also encouraging cross university collaboration, and providing business support and start up funding.

Josh Sauter from the West Hub is cultivating relationships with other universities
Josh Sauter from the West Hub is cultivating relationships with other universities

Josh Sauter, the West Hub’s Enterprise Manager, says they have spent significant time cultivating relationships with their six partner universities – Strathclyde, Glasgow, Stirling, West of Scotland, Glasgow School of Art and Glasgow Caledonian – along with their key external stakeholders.

“What we are trying to do is to create entrepreneurial ecosystems and we’re doing this through two aspects, by looking at each university’s cultural approach to entrepreneurship and trying to bring forward best practices in helping to get students aware of the possibilities for enterprise, together with a dedicated business approach.”

For Tougher, initially buoyed by winning awards from Design Innovations in Plastic and Deutsche Bank Creative Enterprise, and Glasgow School of Art’s offer of a designer in residence role, his engagement with Enterprise Campus West was to prove crucial.

“Enterprise Campus has been supporting me from close to the beginning of my business,” he says. “Through Enterprise Campus I have had access to funding and advice as well as a network of experienced business people and other start-ups.

“Quite early on I received funding to help build a prototype which allowed me to test and successful validate my product. Combined with the funding to attend different industry events, it has put the business and the product in a very positive position. Without it Spark and Rocket would not be where it is now.

“Their support through this short space of time has resulted in the award of a Royal Society of Edinburgh Fellowship. The Fellowship provides a year of funding, both in wages and business expenses, and excellent training to commercialise my technology, and build a sustainable and growing business. It is an exciting time for Spark and Rocket.”

Clearly it’s also an exciting time for Enterprise Campus. Sauter believes their work with Tougher, and his business Spark and Rocket, has had an “active impact” on the supportive entrepreneurial culture at Glasgow School of Art, and with the creative sector generally.

Tougher agrees. “More creative people should consider this,” he says. “There are talented and creative people who would make excellent entrepreneurs, as creative skills are very transferable to entrepreneurship. There has been a little shift. I am the first Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellow from an art school and the Converge Challenge business competition now has a design category, however, I still think more could be done.”

The West Hub has also introduced a panel process for client intervention support, that helps to organise client demand for funding. Partner universities recommend postgraduate businesses to pitch in front of the panel of local experts, who can then endorse proposals, and also provide feedback. The candidates eligible for funding will be those businesses considered to be high growth opportunities, and that are committed to commercialising their idea.

In Tougher’s case, an introduction to Enterprise Campus gave him the opportunity to present his musical product plans to the panel, who unanimously endorsed it as a having high-growth potential.

“The opportunity for Michael to access funding from the Royal Society of Edinburgh Fellowship is important,” says Sauter. “The award provides significant funds that allow an individual to cover living costs while also resourcing the development of their business, essentially a year of support that allows them to focus solely on the business process. Michael, who is the first from the Glasgow School of Art to have been awarded the Fellowship, and who started work on developing his idea in April, would not have been able to access that opportunity without engaging with Enterprise Campus.

“There are a number of entrepreneurial engagements where the initial success stories, or the key outcomes, would not have happened without Enterprise Campus support. One of our in-house projects is the partnership with the University of Strathclyde’s Enterprise Pathway, a programme set up for students, to train and develop a business idea, through a series of workshops and competitions, up to post graduate researchers.”

Enterprise Campus West delivered a majority of the content for the 2016 Pathway Programme and has sponsored 20 postgraduate places to allow for partner university participation. This programme has proved successful in producing high-growth businesses from interdisciplinary teams, with the success of MindMate, formed in the 2014 Pathway programme, another excellent example.

“The MindMate team individually attended an event that they would not have been able to had it not been for Enterprise Campus,” stresses Sauter. “Without being able to access the Pathway Programme as part of Enterprise Campus’ West Hub they would not have met each other. That’s what this programme does – it makes connections and creates collaborations between the universities, and this demonstrates the kind of help we can give to entrepreneurs who would not necessarily be able to access this level of support at their own home university.”

MindMate was launched in March last year by four students from the University of Glasgow and University of Strathclyde, who where finishing their Masters degrees, but also starting a company. Susanne Mitschke (CEO), Patrick Renner (CFO), Rogelio Arellano (CTO), Gabriela Matic (CMO) created an app-based platform to assist people who live with dementia, their families and carers. MindMate is designed to help manage the condition, inspired by Arellano’s own experience of helping care for his grandfather, and makes people with dementia more independent, improves the caring process, and gives familymembers a greater peace of mind.

It’s interesting to note that all four had job offers – from Mercedes-Benz, Rewe AG, FiatChrysler and McKinsey – yet they still made the decision to put these opportunities aside for now, and take up the opportunity to become entrepreneurs. Within days of handing in their dissertations, the four co-founders were immersed in the development of their business, joining the ignite100 accelerator programme, and eventually taking on two more people to help deliver MindMate in time.

Despite some setbacks, particularly with the European community trademark process, the MindMate four have ploughed on, raising finance, forging links with dementia organisations, entering and winning start-up competitions, and hiring a developer, as their workload increased. This, of course, was an indication of their success, with an early landmark of gaining more than 10,000 active users for their iPad version within 10 weeks.

It’s a process MindMate admit they couldn’t have come through without the support of Enterprise Campus. “After successfully forming a first idea of MindMate in the Enterprise Pathway programme, Enterprise Campus West helped us to get a real business on the ground with useful mentoring and initial funding for prototyping and IP,” says Renner.

“Without the help of Enterprise Campus, MindMate wouldn’t have several ten thousands of users and as a result wouldn’t have been able to successfully raise funding for further growth. From a personal standpoint, Enterprise Campus is just one very good example that Scotland is on its way to become one of the best countries to start a business from.”

Sauter and the rest of the Enterprise Campus team believe the examples of Spark and Rocket, and MindMate, can only help build momentum for further spin-out successes.

“Our main objective remains making sure that all of the eligible and entrepreneur- minded students, who may be focused on following a more traditional career path, know about Enterprise Campus, and are aware of what we offer,” he adds.

“Our focus is on encouraging new high-growth business start-ups, but whatever the idea, we can help to guide businesses through from that first idea to setting up a successful company. We are focused on making sure entrepreneurial entrants can see the support we offer, and how we can be key in helping them to take their vital next steps.

Hitting the right notes

P7sub 1

Spark and Rocket, as described by founder and director Michael Tougher, “creates innovation”. A design and invention company, Spark and Rocket is working mainly in the toy and game industry, with the first product from this new business called Dots, a revolutionary music device for children.

The idea behind Dots grew from a recognition that traditional musical instruments can be hard to play for younger children, and also may not be particularly engaging or accessible.

However, this product encourages experimentation and exploration that can empower and enable younger children to play and to create music. Successful testing of Dots has already led to talks with potential partners, and Spark and Rocket has many other products under development and commercialisation. Some, such as the Stick Man bottle opener, an item of “functional sculpture”, is already available.

Spark and Rocket, says Tougher, “will continue to grow, providing the world with innovative new products”.

Mission to make a difference

MindMate, says the team, is “the ultimate platform for people with dementia, their families and caregivers”. The award-winning MindMate App engages people with Alzheimer’s and helps them to stay independent, with an intuitive and easy to use chat interface that makes communication simple and straightforward for the person with dementia.

P7 sub 2

Together with MindMate+, this can give caregivers and family members peace of mind by providing remote access, and useful tools that also offer a helping hand regardless of their location. Family and caregivers can benefit from the resulting happier and healthier environment, as MindMate helps to sustain better relationships.

“Our tools engage individuals at home, or care home residents with dementia, promoting conversations, and a sense of achievement. Our users love the brain games, the everyday-tools and the My Story picture feature. The “Getting to know me” tool has also proven to be very beneficial in especially the carehome setting. Recording a resident’s life history is easier than ever with MindMate.”

MindMate, now available in Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as the UK, is already offering the potential to make a difference in the lives of thousands of people.