Ahead of the game

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The University’s commercialisation arm, Edinburgh Innovations (EI), helps numerous staff and students each year turn their ideas and research into profitable services and companies. Based at the King’s Buildings, the team works closely with the University community and external business partners to match up ideas with opportunities.

Ross McLennan, Enterprise Executive in the Student Enterprise Team, works closely with our students to guide them through the process: “I work one-to-one with student entrepreneurs, helping them develop their ideas and turn them into exciting businesses, making a positive impact in the world.

“It’s a very varied role, working with different types of businesses, at different stages, overcoming different challenges.”

EI offers a whole host of services from the beginning of the commercialisation process through to launch and support afterwards. Ross explains: “Students can choose the support that’s most relevant to them and their own particular background, expertise and needs.

“We have workshops to help students find their start-up idea, an enterprise foundation program to get the basics right, comprehensive online resources, an online start-up community platform, student enterprise hub, expert workshops and focused programs, advisor one-to-one support, competitions and grants.

“We are also very well connected into the entrepreneurial ecosystem and help our entrepreneurs tap into the appropriate support at the appropriate time.”

Yaldi Games

One recent project that Ross worked on is Yaldi Games, a start-up company launched by Edinburgh alumna Elena Höge, which has its sights set on having a wholly positive impact on the lives of its players.

The team at Yaldi Games is building fully immersive experiences that will combine adventure and education with sustainability. Their focus is to offer a 360-degree approach, that encourages players to use what they learn within the game, in real life.

Elena chose the word ‘yaldi’, which is Scottish slang for excitement or joy, when it came to naming her company. The name is in tribute to Edinburgh where she moved to complete her MSc in Design & Digital Media. She also hopes that the games Yaldi builds will ultimately inspire those same sorts of positive feelings in their players.

EI expertise

EI worked closely with Elena last year to grow her dream into a start-up company.

Ross explains how they were able to help: “Elena already had a clear idea of what she wanted to do when she engaged with us, so I helped her with market research to validate and better understand the opportunity, as well as helping her identify a clear route to take the start-up forward, including relevant support programs, awards and funding opportunities. On an ongoing basis I’ve continued to help her identify suitable opportunities to help grow Yaldi Games.”

Elena took part in the Start-up Summer Accelerator programme which supports students to get their ideas ready for investors. Delegates receive one-to-one coaching and benefit from themed peer-to-peer sessions. The programme also offers workshops on pitching and financial forecasting as well as hearing from other entrepreneurs about how they raised investment.

At the end of the programme, Elena was able to pitch to investors and won a grant as one of the finalists.

With the continued support of Edinburgh Innovations, Yaldi Games has won multiple awards, including the creative prize in Scotland’s Converge Challenge competition, and an Innovate UK Young Innovators Award.

Elena shares what it was like to be recognised in this way: “It was truly amazing, and such a relief. As a start-up, there are a lot of doubts, so getting recognition through grants meant that the potential of my idea didn’t just exist in my own mind. Of course I did not win every grant I applied for – but what I learnt from each rejection improved my other applications.”

Ross adds: “Getting external validation is a key part of building a start-up, so it is very satisfying and motivating to have played a part in helping Yaldi Games achieve this recognition.

“Of course, winning awards is only one part of building a start-up, but it helps make the journey more enjoyable!”

Future plans

Since their launch in 2020, the Yaldi Games team has been working on their first title, Wholesome. Within it, players are invited to explore picturesque outdoor scenes and learn more about nature. Players can take part in foraging, cooking and crafting, and then download these instructions, encouraging them to try these activities in real life too.

A year after launching Yaldi Games, Elena has big plans: “I want to grow Yaldi Games into a successful and sustainable company that creates meaningful entertainment – not just video games.

“With Wholesome, we are laying the foundation for a global, gamified wiki that can preserve and share knowledge from people and cultures all over the world. It is my hope that we will, through studies and research, prove that Wholesome increases outdoor or analogue activities on a public scale.”

The ambition and success of Yaldi Games is what Ross particularly enjoys about his role at EI: “Seeing students turn into entrepreneurs and in turn develop their part-formed ideas into high-growth, innovative companies that make the world a better place is incredibly satisfying.”

Support for staff

Yaldi Games is just one of many projects EI supported last year. And just as students have ideas for start-ups, many entrepreneurial staff members choose to commercialise their research, often through the launch of new companies. EI can help support colleagues to promote the commercial potential of any new ideas, discoveries or inventions arising from research and has an established commercialisation process for transferring them to the marketplace.

Dr Kate Cameron studied at Edinburgh as as an undergraduate and then again for her PhD in bone biology. After working as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University’s Centre for Regenerative Medicine,  EI helped her launch Cytochroma in 2017. The start-up company sources ethnically diverse stem-cell-derived products and tests and has recently won the the MedTech and Science prize in the prestigious AccelerateHER Awards 2021.

In 2018, EI assisted Dr Andy Herbert in the School of Chemistry to launch Invizius, based on his team’s research into treatments to suppress the immune responses caused during dialysis. Since then the spinout company has raised more than £8.5 million from investors including the University’s investment fund, Old College Capital, which is managed by EI. Next year they will begin their first human trials.

Last year EI also helped Resolution Therapeutics, a spinout company co-founded by Professor Stephen Forbes in the Centre for Regenerative Medicine, which is developing cell treatments to repair organ damage, including end-stage chronic liver disease. EI has supported the whole spinout process, including helping with the collaboration agreement between Professor Forbes and Syncona, a specialist healthcare investment company which invested £26.6 million in the company.

If you have an idea, research, or invention you would like to commercialise, you can find out more on the staff section of the EI website.

If you have any students who might be interested in entrepreneurship you can find out more on the student section of the EI website.

If you would like to explore opportunities to include enterprise in the curriculum, you can contact Lorna Baird, Student Enterprise Manager: lorna.baird@ei.ed.ac.uk