Where do you call home?
I live in the Scottish Borders in a wee village called Gordon. It’s a bit of a commute to Edinburgh but I actually quite enjoy it because it takes me an hour to get in in the morning and an hour to get back, which is good for processing your day and thinking about what your priorities for the week are.
I’ve been trying to save the planet a bit more by taking the train from Tweedbank on Wednesdays because the hub is in the city centre so it’s only a 10-minute walk from the train station.
What does a typical working day usually involve?
A typical day for me is all about the team and just making sure that everybody’s happy and that they get the best out of their job. I have a fantastic depute, Dora Handrea, who supports the operational side of things.
We are currently working on new programmes of support for female entrepreneurship. It’s very varied, but I have to say the team do all the work and I’m just a bit of a helicopter.
I work Monday to Thursday, mainly because I’ve got caring responsibilities for elderly parents and it’s great to work for an organisation that supports you like that. I usually work two days from home and two days in the office, but it just depends on what’s required.
How did you get your job?
I started my career at Strathclyde University working in student recruitment and alumni relations. When I left Strathclyde I went into economic development and regeneration and worked at Inverclyde Council and I was involved in placemaking marketing. I then set up my own consultancy business which I ran for 12 years. I really enjoyed it and liked the flexibility.
After that my husband and I moved from the West Coast to the East Coast, and I started working for a startup social enterprise called My Enterprise which supports people with learning difficulties to set up their own small businesses. I did that for a year and realised that I really loved supporting businesses. I then became the first Social Enterprise Advisor with Business Gateway and worked for Edinburgh Council for three years.
I then moved to Social Investment Scotland and I managed a £1 million loan fund for startup social enterprises, as well as an academy for supporting businesses who want their products to be sold in supermarkets.
In 2018 a post came up at the University which was about supporting students to set up social enterprises, and I was keen to apply for that because I was interested in how you can scale social enterprises up.
Peter Mathieson, the University’s Principal, joined around the same time as me and he had a goal of improving student experience and having global impact as well as local impact. There was also a reorganisation within Edinburgh Innovations and a new service was created called Enterprise Services which brought teams together such as staff enterprise, student enterprise, the technology transfer team, as well as investment.
In 2019 Alison Gee, the Student Enterprise Manager decided to retire early and I applied for the job and got it.
What are your main responsibilities?
When I became Student Enterprise Manager, we set a goal of helping 100 social enterprises and during that time we’ve gone from 40 to 115. We did that through engagement and inspiring our students and getting them excited about the possibilities of setting up a business that could have environmental, social, financial and economic impact.
Our next target is 200 student startups and we’re hoping to try to get enterprise embedded into the curriculum at an earlier stage so that all our students get the benefit of that mindset.
How do you identify the right student ideas to support and then develop them successfully?
There are lots of different touch points depending on where the students are at in their journey. The first contact we have with them is usually an event of some sort.
We’ve got something called Startup Basics where we work with people who are excited about entrepreneurship but might not have an idea yet. We have a Find Your Startup Idea workshop that then progresses into finding out if there’s a market in that area. We have some online tools that help people with that, but we also encourage them to go and speak to potential customers.
We then work with them to develop their pitching skills and help them develop a prototype or an app or website. When they’ve got that idea, we will then connect them with a business advisor who will then help them navigate all the other resources that are available. We’re very lucky in Scotland because there’s a business support ecosystem within the universities.
We support our students for two years after graduation – or sometimes longer if they’ve engaged with us earlier in their student career and they need that extra support to get them investment ready.
What is your favourite part of the job?
I absolutely love the fact that I can support individuals who want to have a social or an environmental impact and support them to grow those ideas and take them forward.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Making sure that there’s the right number of resources available can be challenging because not everybody has rich families who can invest in their businesses.
We have money for business ideas, competitions, enterprise initiative grants and IP funds. We collaborate with others in order to leverage money and resources. Our business ideas competitions are sponsored by Engineering, Edinburgh Earth Initiative and MasterCard Scholars. These partnerships are really important because they’re putting money behind what we’re trying to do.
What’s your most memorable career moment so far?
In March this year, the Chancellor, Princess Anne, hosted a dinner for Student Enterprise and our clients. Our students spoke at the dinner and I was so proud of them. It was lovely to get the recognition, but also to show off our student entrepreneurs and what they can do.
How do you unwind after work?
I drive home and reflect on the day and then my husband and I will take our two labradoodles, Honey and Lola, out on a walk.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a Student Enterprise Manager?
I think I would have continued as an advisor of some sort because I do love that aspect of it, and I miss it.