Being an entrepreneurial student

This post on Medium that offers ‘A Guide to University for Student Entrepreneurs’ is rather good.

It covers university/not university as well as what to do while there, or not there to build a successful path to entrepreneurship.

It boils down to the following:

  • “A revolution in entrepreneurship is underway. Student entrepreneurs involved in technological innovation can reach a global audience with their new product or service
  • Go to university if you have the opportunity and there’s no obvious reason why you should not go
  • Include a technical degree in your studies or at least start with a software engineering subject
  • Make an effort: Meet new people, go to events and join clubs and societies
  • ‘Meander in your walk’ while at university and early in your career — try doing things you wouldn’t normally consider
  • Create an open network. Learn to be comfortable meeting people and develop into a network expert, be authentic and genuine in your interactions with others”

Go read and apply as best you can, as we’re all still learning as we move through life.

Tools for digital marking from folks

The nice folks at have posted a good review of what works for them in digital marketing on Medium.

Five essential tools for small digital marketing  teams

I like the piece as it provides the basics from which you can quickly find your feet and then move on to other things as you grow. It’s also nice as Kate was a speaker at our Northern Lights conference last October, and has also spoken at TechMeetup Aberdeen for us a long time ago too.

Easy ways to make a million

There is an interesting discussion in Quora about ‘What are some easy ways to make a million dollars?‘ The best answer, I think, is the one pointing out that you can do this by setting up a service you offer to others for $83/month. As soon as you hit 1000 customers you have your million. Sure, this isn’t your money to do with as you please, as you’ll need to pay expenses and overheads, but it does show that it’s achievable. More importantanly, it shows that it is repeatable. This million will keep coming each year as long as you keep your customers, and will also increase as you grow your customer base too.

Discussing ideas at Northern Lights 2013, University of AberdeenHappily in the digital era this is not too hard to do. You just need to find a service you can provide, which people are willing to pay for at a reasonable sum, and to set it up to look after itself. You probably have the tech skills, so just need some help with finding and developing your idea, and there are lots of places where you can find help with that. What are you waiting for?

Why are charities struggling to build and launch digital products?


Good discuss of startups and getting to revenue is important for both charities and others.

Originally posted on Mary McKenna's Blog:

NESTA audience NESTA audience

This week I was privileged to keynote at the NESTA Impact Investment team’s Going Digital launch with NESTA’s Katie Mountain and Isabel Newman. Katie & Isabel asked me to speak because of my fairly unusual perspective – a tech entrepreneur who’s actually worked recently on a revenue generating digital project launched by an established charity. Earlier this year I was lucky to spend 4 happy months at vInspired, working with Sam Sparrow, Hannah Mitchell & Damien Austin-Walker getting awesome microworking platform Task Squad finessed and launched.

This blog covers the key elements of my NESTA talk without the personal anecdotes and side stories I included on the night. I should also just add a point of clarification here. This blog is about charities/CICs/social enterprises launching revenue generating digital products and services; it isn’t about making charity core business more digital. You won’t be surprised to hear that I…

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The start of the entrepreneurship degree

We have now started the MSc Software Entrepreneurship degree in Aberdeen and are pursuing a business idea with the team to see if it is sustainable. We brainstormed five business ideas the first week and then followed them up with some online research to see if there might be any opportunities with each of them. Some proved to have markets dominated by several players, others had a low barrier to entry so we’d be swamped and find lots of competition rather quickly. Another idea would only work if we found a way to establish some sort of credentials, which seemed important in the area. We were left with one idea, which is now being pushed further as we confirm our assumptions about the nature of the idea and determine the best approach to monetise the idea. One useful tool we used in this process was to blend ‘apps and technology’ with ‘themes and issues’ in order to find possible ‘mashups’ ideas. These could prove to be supplemental apps or benefits of the main service. Apps and tech plus themes and issues gives you mash up ideas We got the idea of this mashup from our fun friends at Snook, who have been recently posting about it with their ‘Whose Round‘ campaign in Glasgow. The ideas here pushed our ideas further and opened up possibilities of what can come later. Mostly at the moment we’re checking up assumptions that we have about who this would appeal to, and whether this is a sustainable idea using the Happy Startup Canvas and lots of paper and pens to write down assumption trees (following up the assumptions behind assumptions) in order to see what we’re really asking, and drawing out lots of diagrams in order to better understand the ideas and check that everyone understands them in the same way. It’s been a great time. If this sounds like something you’d like to do: spend time working out your possible business idea, while earning your MSc, then go sign up for the MSc Software Entrepreneurship degree and you too can join the fun.

Software Entrepreneurship for Companies and Employees

The MSc Software Entrepreneurship programme offers a number of benefits to companies. It can help train staff, and also help provide space to try new ideas. In either case the results will help the participating firm by developing the potential of staff, who can bring new ideas and skills into the firm.  Staff bringing back what they learn for themselves and others in the organisation helps develop the firm’s capabilities.

By releasing staff to take part in classes during the two days classes usually meet enables the staff to gain new skills, which can be applied to projects at work immediately as the materials are usually based around practical work. The person can work either on their own, or collaborate with others on a common project. If two members from a firm worked together, then they would be able to build upon their understanding of the skills and processes learned in the programme more quickly. The person or pair could work on a company project while working from the office and bring parts of this into the classroom as needed. As everything discussed in the classroom will need to be handled under an NDA agreement  in order to enable full discussion about ideas and projects, and not discussed with others outside the class, there is no need to fear lack of confidentiality for what is being developed here. In principle, the staff members never need reveal who they are working for to their fellow students. They can just say the work ‘for a local company’, and maybe even spot for talent to recruit if more staff are needed. Let’s explore this in more detail.

Cost to the firm

First, we’ll work out the cost of attendance, and the fees for the staff to see whether this makes economic sense for the firm.  Two staff attend classes twice a week for the whole day. This means they are not doing other work during this time. If they are paid £100/day on a £35k salary, this will cost the firm £150/day after the company’s contribution for pension and taxes are included too. This is £600 for two staff members to attend classes twice a week. We assume that the other three days they are taking what they learn in classes and applying it to their daily work on a project. On top of this we need to add the £150/week course fees for the pair, assuming they are about £3400 for the year. So we’re at £750/week in total for two staff members to attend the programme.

Working on the task board

The ‘classes’ are mainly seminar and workshop format, which means that as staff work through the materials they can quickly learn how the programme’s ideas and concepts can be applied to their own projects. As this is a ‘learning by doing’ programme, all of their coursework will be directed back towards an application of the ideas to their own project. They will be introduced to a concept, given an example, and then asked to apply it to their own work so that they can start reaping its benefits as soon as possible in order to grow their project. For example, one of the topics, which will be covered is the use of business model canvases, and in particular the ‘Happy Startup Canvas’, which helps anyone clarify ‘why’ they are doing what they do, as well as to explore the organisational values and how the firm explains its ‘story’ of what they do to others. This is something many organisations and projects in general struggle to do, and once it is clear, then ideas and concepts flow more easily. This applies as much as it does to startups as it does to established organisations, who sometimes lose sight of ‘why’ they are doing what they do and in how they explain this to others. Other topics discussed can be found in the course details on the StartupsExplained website.

Benefits for the firm

Second, we need to work out the benefits for the firm. Using the same example, we could assume that the clarity of gaining a better perspective on the ‘why’ and the values of the firm would need to translate into more than £750 of added value that week to cover the cost of attendance by the two staff. This would be done in the other three days of the week, and could include revised and amended publicity materials, which become more tightly focused on specific customer segments as derived from working out who is interested in the values of the firm and its ‘why’ statement.

In later weeks the £750/week is covered by improved understating of which problems the firm is solving for who by refining the customer more tightly, and by improvements in the software development process so that the firm builds what is needed as it is needed in a sustainable manner. Each of these weeks will both refine what is done by the firm, as well as help it to improve the throughput of what it does so that  its cash-flow increases by the end of the term.

Each week something brought back from the classroom by these two student staff members would reduce costs, improve cash-flow, or help move an idea to launch sooner. We want to help the firm raise income sooner than otherwise would be expected in development where costs are incurred before an income is derived from the project. We aim to make sure your project digs less deep and thus rises sooner so that your overall cash-flow is improved.

Any and all of the ideas, tools and processes learned here can also be used in other projects too, so the two trained members could roll out what they learn to the rest of the firm. This would eventually raise the whole organisation to higher levels of productivity. This expansion of the skills beyond the original staff would be the multiplier effect of this investment as your organisation eventually can all benefit from the initial investment of two staff members for the year.

The skunkworks option

This training could also be used to create a space under the programme umbrella  knowing that your ideas belong to you, and within which new ideas can be safely explored and developed in a confidential space with mentors and staff able to help you. This becomes a space for a skunkworks, which is off-site and full of the support a company needs to develop innovative services.  As with the two staff members outlined above, this programme could provide a worthwhile return for a reasonable cost. This space in the programme  enables ideas to be floated, modified and pivoted until they are ready for a wider launch. As noted above, staff don’t need to reveal their employer, so this becomes a skunkworks hiding in plain sight as ‘students’ on the programme. Here a team can explore ideas, work out their viability and launch them as well as spread the skills and ideas back into the company as well.

We provided a half-way house version of this approach once already. Under the umbrella of the Aberdeen Software Factory we helped Equibuddy explore a horse profiling application for their work in the Riding for the Disabled Association as part of our MSc IT summer group projects. When this proved viable it was pushed further by several students using an innovation voucher, and then funded towards a production ready application with a grant from Rank Foundation. The resulting application, Equibuddy Exchange,  now provides a healthy new income stream for the organisation.

We can help your organisation to leverage your staff to develop suitable applications to help your business grow. Get in touch to discuss how this might work specifically for your firm through our contact details, or email the programme director  to arrange a meeting to discuss any questions you may have.

Aberdeen University Offers Software Entrepreneurship Programme


We got a nice write up from Scottish Games Network on our programme and how it could be used to launch a games business.

Originally posted on Scottish Games Network:


Guest editorial from Dr Bruce Scharlau, University of Aberdeen…

Games developers wanting to start a games business should look at the MSc Software Entrepreneurship programme at the University of Aberdeen. The programme aims to have student teams launch businesses while studying for their degree. Any IP the students create belongs to them and their team. This is a year of learning the games business while developing a games business. This is a year of developing your business within the safety net of the university environment. Here you can try one idea after another, and leave with a degree. We are here to help you grow yourself and your abilities in an incubator-like environment.

This MSc Software Entrepreneurship programme focuses on building software businesses, which could include anything from business applications to games businesses. The goal of the ideation phase of the programme is a starting point for developing a sustainable businesses…

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The startup is the classroom

Some entrepreneurship and business courses don’t provide the space for you to try your ideas in practice. That’s not our style. We believe the best learning comes through experience.

We pursue a learn by doing approach so that you spend your full-time working on your business ideas knowing that your whatever you build belongs to you and your team and that you’ll be supported by the staff with the help of guest speakers. This is what we offer for your year on the MSc Software Entrepreneurship programme.

You learn about startups while developing your own startup. We want you to understand how to integrate the right mix of ideation, innovation and implementation to successfully deploy your ideas in your future career. This applies as much to whether you launch your startup, or work for someone in a startup, as it does if you work in a team in a large organisation. You will learn skills you can take with you wherever you go, and prove useful in any career path you might develop. Learning by doing helps you to see the joins between the different parts of a startup, which you’d otherwise miss if you took a class on service design, another on finance, and a third on marketing. As you’ll be looking at all of these issues with respect to your team’s idea, you’ll see how finance influences marketing and service design enables you to innovate on your approach to create desire for your offering in your customers.

Teams working on the  startup

We facilitate this startup learning by placing you in teams each term. Each team is based around startup ideas, which you pursue as far as possible using lean-startup and service design approaches so that you co-create testable prototypes with people to ensure you create learning opportunities to confirm your assumptions about the ideas while developing your potential customer base. This is the approach we use when we run hack events as well as the Aberdeen branch of the Global Service Jam, and it works very well over a weekend. Just think how effective this will be when you apply it to a full year. We expect a number of teams to launch their businesses before they graduate.

By moving beyond ideation you will be challenged and aided to develop your skills in software development building larger applications that benefit from suitable agile skills based on lean development approaches. You will also learn to understand why you need to co-create ideas with your potential customers so that you ensure you don’t build too much of something no one wants. You will learn how and why agile development mixes with the lean startup and service design approaches to build business ideas that people want to pay to use.

While we expect most teams to develop service based businesses, we also expect that there might be some games based business ideas too. We would help you think beyond the current game your team might be developing to the whole service around the game, and future games you would want to create. All that we require is that it is something scalable as a software based business.

You might be a team of one. You might prefer to work on your own, or maybe no one else believes in your idea to the same extent you do. If this is the case, then we’ll help you both develop the viability of your idea the same as any other team, and also help you develop a way to work with others so that your idea can scale with more employees in a way that satisfies you. All companies work with other people, even the small single person ones, so we’ll help all teams to find ways to work in the context of their developing idea.

All of the courses on the programme are all driven by coursework that aligns with your startup ideas so you don’t need to worry about taking time away from developing your business to complete coursework. The same is true for exam revision as there are no exams. The courses are based around seminars and workshops so that you can spend time learning what you need for your idea in a practical environment.

Half of the coursework is based on what you do yourself, and half on teamwork due to the nature of the work. However, if you’re a team of one, than we’ll work something out for that too. But, the caveat is that a large business can’t succeed with just one person. At some point you need the help of others in order to succeed.

As the university is developing its entrepreneurship programme in the coming year you’ll be well-placed to take advantage of competitions and other events to help push your idea further and gather funding to let you play out ideas further. There is even a chance the university incubator will be launched by then too so that you can continue under the university umbrella that bit longer.

All of the IP in your idea belongs to you and your team. You can walk away with everything and the university has no claim on your business. The university, if it decides to invest in your idea, will do so in a funding round the same as any other potential investor when you hopefully pitch your ideas at events such as EIE in Edinburgh, which has hundreds of investors in the audience.

This is your chance to join a team and create your future. We have teams starting in September and January so you don’t have to wait long to meet your fellow students. With two starting sessions from January 2015 you also benefit from the wisdom of your fellow students as there will always be students one stage ahead of you.

Communication and critical thinking skills

There is an interesting post on Forbes, which talks about the two key traits graduates need to exemplify to future employers. These are soft skills you’re supposed to pick up along the way during your degree:

  • Effective communications skills so that you can work with the people on your team and others and be able to provide clear and concise messages tailored to the audience you’re addressing, while also using suitable communication channels in the appropriate context.
  • Real world critical thinking skills based on experience so that you are effective in your time management and situational analysis and know how to develop suitable creative solutions, which can be followed through with appropriate action plans.

All of this can be picked up through summer placements, as well as other work during your degree as well as volunteering if that option is open to you too. This is not hard, but is often overlooked by students.

GSJ Aberdeen 2014

These skills are also ones that you pick up while ideating and developing a startup business. You need to critically evaluate creative solutions to problems faced by potential customers. You also need to communicate your ideas to different audiences using suitable communication channels. You also need to determine appropriate action plans based on your limited time and money and follow through on them so that you can start the next iteration of the idea as you keep moving forward, or pivoting your idea as you uncover new informtion.


The Scottish Design Summit 2014

The Scottish Design Summit last week In Dundee organised by Design in Action was less useful than I thought it would be. We had many stories during the day, and some short workshops too. However, it was mostly a chance for us to hear what others wanted to tell us about their experience and not enough space for us to meet new people and exchange our experiences with each other.

I like the idea of Design in Action and how it pulls together the Scottish design schools in order to help businesses through academic work and participation. It’s a good example of creative enterprise and showing how design can help business. It was odd though that we never heard from one of the businesses who’ve received help in one of the talks during the day. That would’ve been useful.

The biggest surprise was that for a ‘design summit’ and speakers repeatedly extolling the value of design in business we had the usual round of presentations that present ‘facts’ as uninspiring lists with no application of design to improve the message delivery. I had looked forward to seeing inspiring ‘designedly’ infographics and diagrams explaining the lessons learned by the different organisations presenting their stories of using design to improve their business. This did not happen. We saw powerpointy slides. But don’t just take my word for it, see what others talked about at #scotdesign14.

Scottish Design Summit

Only a handful offered designerly presentations. Stanley Wood from Spotify presented a smoothly integrated presentation with movies and stills seamlessly telling the Spotity story of integrating design into their app. Richard Hewitt from Taylor Haig offered stories around the slides he presented and Mark Hogart from Harris Tweed Hebrides mixed slides and movies together to support the story of their transformation. These were memorable presentations illustrating the power of stories and how images support the stories more importantly than lists of statements as bulletpoints.

And the workshops were too short. We barely got started working on an idea and it was time to move onto the next workshop. A better solution would’ve been to either offer us only one workshop, or to cut down the speakers so that we could still have two workshops. The later would’ve been better as workshops offer chances to talk to people and learn new skills while hearing what others are doing and telling your story too.

My biggest take-away from the day was that I can keep following my current practice of focusing on where I’m currently at, and don’t always need to keep looking for what others have to offer. I have experience and skills in this area gained from reading, going to other workshops, and through organising service design events, and practicing what I learned with students. I already deploy this knowledge and skills in what I teach my students and in workshops I run. There was nothing new there except for stories to illustrate examples; the Spotify, Taylor Haig and Harris Tweed stories. The workshops offered interesting ways to present things I already did, so that was reassuring.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in this space in the future, as it was a useful day and I did learn things, but less useful than I hoped it would be. Maybe I’ve been going to too many agile events where open space is provided for participants to air their ideas too, and missed that opportunity too. Maybe next time.

Needless to say, it is also very useful to reconnect with friends at these events, which was an extra surprise.