[28/06/23] Bayes Centre News: Duncan Martin, Head of Entrepreneurship discusses how the University of Edinburgh facilitates entrepreneurship and the future of the EIE Investor Conference.
Dr Duncan Martin, Head of Entrepreneurship at the Bayes Centre, on the University of Edinburgh is meeting its entrepreneurial admissions, and the future of the renowned EIE conference.
The Bayes Centre launched in 2018 as the first of six Data Driven Innovation Hubs at the University of Edinburgh and has quickly become a focal point for entrepreneurial programmes at the University, as well as a key player in the Scottish entrepreneurial ecosystem.
It has a number of flagship programmes, including the Venture Builder Incubator and AI Accelerator and has become the home for EIE, the University of Edinburgh’s world renowned Investor Conference. EIE has been running since 2008 with an incredible track record of having had more than 540 tech start-ups and scale-ups take part in its investor readiness programme, who have gone on to raise over £1.2 billion in investment.
Dr Martin re-joined the University of Edinburgh in 2022 to take up the position of Director of Entrepreneurship and is a key part of the university’s entrepreneurial ambitions.
What has been your personal entrepreneurial journey?
My journey started, as happens with many students, while I was completing my PhD. It was partly funded by industry and so I naturally became interested in how to translate my new knowledge into meaningful real world impact.
When my PhD was complete, I moved into the commercial world to set up a new department within a global CRO, taking my academic skills and creating a for-profit scientific service. I enjoyed the entrepreneurial elements of this, such as ideation, planning, execution and scaling, but with particular focus on cost versus price and market assessment.
As the service grew I could spend more and more time on business development, which then expanded into delivering business development outputs for the whole company. In 2008 I decided to use this knowledge to move to a role at the University of Edinburgh, developing an “internal business” using medical imaging, initially a single MRI scanner, to support University research activity.
Over time I grew and expanded my role and it became more entrepreneurial, bridging academic, commercial and public sectors. While this job was highly enjoyable I was unexpectedly offered a role within a small (but rapidly growing) med tech company, working for a truly inspirational founder/CEO who embodies entrepreneurship and I decided to make the jump back into industry.
I spent a year working to help the company scale up, helping it go from less than 10 to more than 70 employees when I left the role after a rollercoaster year there. Taking this opportunity gave me greater understanding of the significant opportunities and challenges faced by entrepreneurs as well as real time exposure to the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Scotland, UK and International levels.
When the opportunity arose to return to the University and apply this knowledge to help others, it was an easy decision to return and join the Bayes Centre and put my knowledge and experience to work in helping others. Having moved between industry and academia several times, I feel well positioned to be a bridge between these worlds and see ways that they can more effectively work together.
Can you sum up what your role as Head of Entrepreneurship at the Bayes Centre involves in a few words?
This position has a wide range of interesting aspects, but for me, the primary focus is to help the University take a significant and leading role in the Scottish Entrepreneurial Ecosystem and the other wider ecosystems of which we are a part.
What advice can you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Seek out contacts with relevant experience and don’t be timid in asking for help and advice. Anyone who has spent time in an entrepreneurial environment will appreciate the great challenges that come with the great opportunities and will be happy to help where possible. At the same time, be brave and follow your own path, no one will have previously walked the same route you are undertaking.
Success in this arena depends on an interesting mix of strong self-belief but also knowing one’s own limitations and seeking help from those best placed to provide it.
What is the future for the Bayes Centre’s entrepreneurship programmes?
The Bayes Centre programs, such as the Venture Builder Incubator, AI Accelerator and EIE, already have an established track record of success, so the first plan is to enable them to continue on that path and look for ways to continue to build on the achievements that have been made so far.
To help our programmes build and grow we are firstly looking to increase the capacity of our programmes, so that more entrepreneurs have access to our resources. This needs to be done carefully so that we can maintain the level of quality which we are known for.
We are also looking to evolve the existing programmes to meet the needs of a post-pandemic world and the specific channels that are being faced today. Finally we’re looking to develop new programmes, as the ecosystem is ever changing and so we need to ensure that we are always at the cutting edge and meeting its needs.
We are a key part of helping the Scottish tech ecosystem surpass the tipping point, into self-sustainability, and our programmes are all working towards that goal.
The University is a key player in the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, what roles do the Bayes Centre’s programmes play in this relationship?
The University delivers for the City Region Deal via the Data Driven Innovation (DDI) initiative, which is described as “an innovation network helping organisations tackle challenges for industry and society by doing data right to support Edinburgh in its ambition to become the data capital of Europe”.
We help the University will deliver specified DDI KPIs as part of the realisation of this ambition and measurable outputs are grouped into Talent, Research, Adoption, Data, Entrepreneurship
As part of this, the Bayes Centre connects industry partners to academic and research expertise, so we are focussing on the facilitation of translational research and development. Our entrepreneurship programs will deliver “E” outputs from TRADE.
How do the Bayes Centre programmes contribute to the aim of Edinburgh becoming the Data Capital of Europe?
Creation and support of new start-ups is an important activity, but development of the overall ecosystem is dependent on growth and scale of small companies into big companies. So, the Bayes program portfolio ensures that the onward development of companies is supported alongside supporting startup activity.
Our programmes are also part of wider University activity in embedding the entrepreneurial mind-set into all our students and staff; overall upskilling in entrepreneurship is a key factor in achieving overall University goals.
What are the key success areas that should be at the forefront of the University’s delivery of tech entrepreneurship programmes?
There are various ways to measure success; e.g. number of companies created and number of companies supported. While the university’s programs score highly here, we think it is important to look beyond simple capacity-based metrics to more meaningful indicators.
One common metric is downstream fundraising post-program; funders and investors believe the company to be credible, so are willing to commit money to their ongoing growth. This can be seen in the more than £1.2 billion raised in investment by the more than 540 companies that have gone through EIE since 2008 or the more than £30 million raised by companies that have gone through the AI Accelerator in our first few cohorts.
As well as these impressive metrics of success, the Bayes Centre entrepreneurial programs have built an excellent reputation within the ecosystem. With so many incubators and accelerators for companies to choose from, word of mouth reputation from previous cohorts is a key indicator of successful programs
Why are entrepreneurship programmes, like the ones at the Bayes Centre, so important for supporting start-ups seeking investment?
Having spent time working in a company in a rapid growth phase, I have first-hand experience of the importance of ongoing finance to aid company growth. Companies must able to present themselves as a credible investment opportunity in order to secure required capital (for sustainability at least, ideally for growth and development). Participation in high quality and tailored program such as those delivered by the Bayes Centre help generate that credibility and trust with the investor community.
As a company transitions from a one or two person enterprise to an employer with a work force, it is important that founders start to engage with expertise with a focus on developing the business around the opportunity they have identified. This development will require a wide range of skills and knowledge that cannot come from one individual. Founders need to be able to spot the gaps in their own skills and expertise and know how/who can help fill them. Our programs help develop this awareness within the founding teams and also identify and provide connections to the relevant experts to help.
The Bayes Centre programs can also help with onwards connections for companies; as a global research institute with an excellent reputation in all fields, and particularly in Informatics, AI and data science, we have strong connections to investors and corporate partners. There are also opportunities for connection into our academic knowledge base to address issues or take advantage of opportunities. The University is also a potential source of future workforce as companies grow, as well as a route to accessing high value computational and analytical assets.
Why is EIE so important to the Scottish Entrepreneurial Ecosystem?
EIE has helped hundreds of young companies to gain crucial skills and make connections at a key moment in their growth. This has led to them being able to access investment and become entrepreneurial leaders and their companies to grow into global brand names.
So, since taking up my role and now having a connection to the delivery of this event, I have made a point of asking the people I meet for their opinion and feedback on EIE. The feedback has been incredibly positive and aligns with recommendations made in the STER aka “Logan” report, which highlighted its position and importance and we look to use this advice to grow EIE in its next phase.
The event is an important feature of the tech ecosystem, bringing opportunities to investors and companies. It is a unique chance for the Scottish tech ecosystem to demonstrate its worth to the world and I am excited to help evolve and deliver future EIEs.
What is future of EIE?
Like many things, the global Covid-19 pandemic impacted the delivery of EIE and it moved to online delivery for three years. The online format allowed us to continue serving the ecosystem and was hugely successful, but we are excited to now have the opportunity to review the event and evolve it again, to keep it fresh, current and aligned with the needs of the Scottish tech ecosystem it is designed to support.
As is described in STER, the Scottish ecosystem is pre-tipping point and work is required to shift the dial past this point and into self-sustainability. STER recommends an international investor conference as part of this work and our aim is to evolve EIE to become this event. The future of EIE is extremely exciting and we’re hoping to be able to release more information in the coming weeks and months as to what will happen next.