Be a creative thinker for job security

We need to explore ways of bringing all students closer to the world of work while they are still students so that they better understand the context of why they are learning what we are teaching during their degree. The world is in a constant state of change and the world they enter after graduation will be different from the one they knew at the start of their degree. We need to help them learn to navigate this ever-changing landscape so that they remain in suitable employment throughout their career.

A number of recent reports show that more jobs are likely to be lost due to automation. Happily, more jobs are being created than disappear, but the types of jobs being created are not always as professional as the ones lost. The BBC even has a simple app, which will tell you the likelihood of your job being automated out of existence. The main jobs at risk are those which contain routine, repetitive work. This means an ever growing list of work is at risk of being lost to automation, as today’s algorithms become more complex and adaptable. This means more traditional managerial and administrative jobs are at risk than might’ve been previously thought as software moves into the legal field, and also other areas. Automation is found in more places that than factories now.

The key to future job security is to be working in an area requiring creative knowledge management based on human judgement. Yes, this can be in the creative industries in the widest sense to include ‘design careers‘ such software development as well as traditional fields found in art and design schools as well as the games industry too. This also includes education and those areas where processes are based around those work flows where each item is different and thus requires a judgement call.

Your job now is to consider where you are now and see what options you have to acquire the skills you need in order to develop your career in a direction that aligns along creative knowledge management. It might be that you need to form a portfolio of work to suit the career you desire, and not rely upon one specific option. While being more complicated, it also provides greater resilience for you and your career.
A good starting point for exploring where you are now, and where you might be able to transition yourself too is to work through the Business Model You worksheet. Ideally you should work through this with a friend or two, so that you each have someone to contribute to the discussion and remind you of aspects about yourself, which you’ll probably overlook.

Our role as educators is to see how we can bring in more opportunities for students to be ‘in the world of work’ while still students. This can be done through placements, students working with live clients on projects either individually, or as part of a group, and also interacting with professionals in events alongside their studies.

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.

The 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.

What is the value of a year?

A lot can happen in a year. You could start your career, or pursue a postgraduate degree before starting your career. Our MSc Software Entrepreneurship offers you the opportunity to develop a number of personal skills, while pursuing the real possibility of developing a startup business. This could be a year to change your career, or even your life in exchange for a year of your time. These are possible options. You take the programme, and have the option to pursue the business ideas you work on during the year. However, you are not committed to them for life, unless you choose to do so. You can walk away from them knowing that you are a different person now with more skills and a different mindset from the person who started the programme. You could successfully walk into any number of jobs after taking this programme. You could even go back to an enhanced role with your old firm. Let’s see what some of the options look like for this programme.

You could use this year for personal goals such as, according to Daniel Pink, video summary of Drive, developing the three factors that influence personal satisfaction through internal motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. We’d argue that our degree enables you to pursue goals that let you provide you with a platform for this motivation. We provide you with the skills to create your own business by developing several potential businesses. We also guide you and mentor your development of these skills so that at the end you walk away with understanding of what autonomy could be for you, enough practical experience to master the skills you need for the roles you’ve created, and by having a business you’ll also have a purpose.

ideating business ideas

You could be in a startup for the money. The potential is there to make millions at some point. Realistically, this is unlikely to happen within a year though. It usually takes longer, but maybe you and your team will have an idea that takes off miraculously fast. It could happen, and it would all belong to you and your team. The university has no claim on the IP of your idea. The university would only come on board the idea during a funding round as any other investor would. Most people, however, are motivated by the idea and seeing the idea grow and develop. Most people in startups are not in it for the money. Most do it for the chance to be in charge of their own future as part of a team of founders.

You could do it for personal development and growing your skills. If you’re straight from university as an undergraduate, or if you’ve done another masters already, then this could be a year of developing your skills in a real way working on developing startup ideas to see which one(s) gain traction and seeing where they take you during the year. This is an ideal time to do this. You have little or no income, so you have nothing to give up while you pursue the MSc and your business ideas. Anything you can develop by way of a business and income during the year is a bonus.

If you’ve been working for some time and are thinking of a change, then you’ll be giving up your salary for the year. This is a bigger commitment, but is worth considering due to the potential return for your time on the programme. You bring your experience and understanding of the working world to the work you’ll do in your teams. This will help you provide a good understanding of the problems and issues businesses face, as well as a greater awareness of life after university. This provides more sensitivity to potential commercial ideas, which could be turned into businesses. You give up more to be a part of the programme, but you also have more to take away too when it is over. The more you put in, then the more you potentially take away.

If you’ve been working and decide to go back to your old firm after the degree, maybe you can convince your employer to offer you a sabbatical (maybe even with pay), then you come back to the firm with many new skills to be an ‘intrepreneur’ and help develop new ideas within the firm. You’ll be the perfect person to help oversee the development of new ideas and mini-businesses within the larger firm. You can deploy the same skills we work on to develop new stand-alone business ideas to develop business ideas within your firm. This could be a good way to help develop your career, and therefore pay you back your time away from the office rather well. If you need help brainstorming reasons why your employer, should help you with this, then get in touch. We’re happy to help.

To summarize, the return on your investment for the year on the programme looks something like this:

Background Downside Upside
Student (either UG or PG) a year away from starting your traditional career you start your ‘career’ immediately and possibly walk away with a business and any associated income
Employed and changing career lose your salary for a year and interrupt your career everything from ‘student’, plus you are more aware of your future career potential
Employed and staying with firm possibly lose your salary everything from above, plus you have a means and time to plan how to develop your future career with the firm

In each case the upside outweighs the downside as this programme will help you plan what you do after the degree. We want to leave you with transferable skills so that you are aware of your potential and with the knowledge of how to develop this further. We want you to succeed and are here to help you.  Join the conversation and tell us how we can help you achieve your dreams.


Tech Startup survey in the Economist

The Economist magazine issue of 18 January 2014 has a good review of the tech startup scene. Go get a copy, or read the online version. There are useful info graphics and articles on why this is a good time to launch your startup, and overviews of incubators, investors, and the business eco-systems that sustain startups. It was very focused on the big places for the most part, with a few mentions of smaller startups coming for smaller scenes.

Scottish Startup Christmas Party

The main emphasis of the survey of articles is that this time is different from the bubble of 1999/2000 because you there is a better eco-system of tools and support for startups. This means the threshold for entry is lower and with the many APIs as well as cloud computing platforms available, it is easier to launch your idea. This is no guarantee of success, but it is easier to try and make it work.

A growing part of that ecosystem to sustain tech startups in Scotland can be found at the Scottish Entrepreneurial Support Network, an online tool to explore the different nodes of support in Scotland. You’ll find about incubators, finance, education, and networking events and other types of resources you can use.

The article supports what we’re doing in that we are there to help provide support in a safe environment with our programme. According to the survey article, 90% of startups fail. We aim to help you be successful by looking for validated ideas until you find one that works for you and your team and then pursue that further and launch the idea. During this time we’re there to support you, and if you end up staying in and around Aberdeen after you graduate, then you will have the community around you still too with our growing Aberdeen tech scene.

Build a happy startup

We’ve been thinking a lot about startups lately and how you pull the ideas for a business model together in a simple format that says what’s important in to interested people. We’ve had long hard looks at both the Happy Startup Canvas and the Lean Canvas as both of these looked like what we’ll need to use. The HSC would provide the ‘why’ and the key problems being solved along with potential solutions, the key ‘story’ and ‘values’ of the business, while the LC would focus on the hard to replicate unique proposition being offered by the business.

the happy startup canvas

We also like how the HSC starts with how the employees are treated along with the idea that if you treat yourself and the staff as well as you do your customers, then the rest will fall into place. This is what Deming argues in his work. Few firms seem to follow this, but it makes good sense, and seems to work for the small businesses we know more closely too.

The HSC is a nice way to bring together a number of  ideas in a one-page summary. You can use Simon Sinek’s ideas to formulate your ‘why’ and you can use the elevator pitch game to craft your ‘story’, and then polish it with ideas  from the Heath brothers’ Made to Stick book. All of this helps you to build the idea and work on validating your assumptions in a fast and furious manner so that you build a sustainable business.

In addition, we can also add Umair Haque’s ideas from his Betterness book. In there he suggests that as business has changed since the financial crisis, and we need to focus on ‘betterness instead of business’ in order to increase the Common Wealth, we should focus the following: First, ‘ambition’ of what our business aims to do for its customers. This answer why are we here? Why does our organisation exist? This maps to Sinek’s why too. Second, ‘intention’ of how we’ll help customers improve their lives. This answers the ‘what are we here to do on a daily basis? How will we make our customers more capable in their daily lives? This is ‘constraints’, of what your business will never do. What’s a step too far for you? What are your limits, and how will these help make your customer’s lives better? Fourth, what ‘imperatives’ do you have as universal rules to live by for your business? How can you translate this into something your customers will benefit from?  All together these turn the business into ‘how we benefit’ into a firm that works with others to lift everyone up and build a better society and through that gain a profit. This follows in the footsteps of Apple, Whole Foods and others.

This will work once we have an idea of what to do after we’ve gone through an ideation session to generate some possible business ideas.

Mentors Wanted

We are looking for mentors to help each team with their business idea. We believe that mentors will help student teams in a number of ways. First, they’ll help evaluate what the team is doing and how it is doing this with regular monthly meetings. These sessions are an opportunity for the team to explain the business idea to a supportive person, who can evaluate their processes to validate their business idea and what they are doing. Second, the mentor will be able to offer suggestions about who they should speak to, and what they should be considering doing to validate their business assumptions. Mentors are people who know people and can offer introductions and understanding of different businesses so have useful knowledge to help our teams.

mentors wanted
Third, the mentor will be there to offer wisdom based on their own experience. Our mentors will be business owners and entrepreneurs from a variety of relevant backgrounds. Mentors will have lots of experience following similar paths growing their businesses to those our students will also need to travel, and the mentors will be there to help them along the way and watch the business idea grow together.

If this sounds like you, and you believe in helping others get their business started, then this is your chance to help. All we ask is a meeting a month at your convenience, plus the chance to participate in a few other event during the year as and when you can. If you would like to be a mentor on the programme, or just want to know more, then please email us at to start the conversation. We look forward to hearing from you.

Foreign students staying on after the masters degree

Applying to the MSc Software Entrepreneurship programme as a foreign student is fine. We want foreign students as they bring diversity of ideas and concepts to the programme. Foreign students bring different perspectives and approaches and mix with others to create novel solutions. This is useful for startups.

If you’re an EU resident, then there is no problem involved and you are treated the same as if you were applying to do a degree in your home country. If you’re a non-EU resident, then this is more challenging, but not impossible and you’ll find all of the help and advice you need to apply in the university pages for international students.

The more interesting part what happens after you start the degree and your business. At this point you have a deadline and a target. You want to be eligible to stay on after the official finish of the degree in August until at least graduation in November. The ‘graduate entrepreneur visa’ for international students offers 1000 visas a year. Not many apply for these according to a report in the Times Higher Education, so it should be possible to manage this for our international students as a goal. This has now been raised to 2000 places according to the UKBA site.

business ideas

Unlike most students applying for this status, you’ll not have to ‘do your studies’ AND ‘work on your business’, because with the MSc Software Entrepreneurship your ‘business is your study’. While here on a student visa you’re not allowed to work, or start a business. However, you will be part of a team, and we’ll aim to set up teams so that there is always someone on the team, who can start the business. We are also exploring ways to ensure that student’s ideas are held in a suitable manner so that you don’t lose out while the rest of the team proceed with the idea. We want you to come here and help you develop your big idea and start your future.

We can help you reach the required points as part of your business development process so that you can apply in plenty of time for this visa and extend your stay to see your business grow. We can not guarantee that you will qualify, but we will help you to reach the goals required as best we can so that you have the best possible chances to qualify and extend your stay and grow your business while here.

Note: This post was updated 20 December 2013 following discussions with staff familiar with UKBA requirements and will be updated again further when we know more about this situation. If you have any specific questions, then please get in touch with us via the ‘About‘ page.