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.

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.

Come join us at The Meat Conference 31 May

We’re sponsoring The Meat Conference in Aberdeen on 31 May 2014. You’ll hear from a number of interesting speakers about the usefulness of your ‘side project’ as a designer and developer. We’ll be there to help explain to you how we can help you level up your skills with us so that your side project becomes your main project.

The Meat Conference

We want to help people realise their potential. We understand that launching a startup is not an easy step, and are here to help. We also know that all of the skills you need in founding a startup are also extremely useful in any career path and will enable you to become a valued intrapreneur within any large firm too. So if you’re at The Meat Conference, then look for us and have a chat about where you want to be this time next year.

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.


Another Weekend of Fun with Global Service Jam

The weekend of 7-9 March saw us running the Aberdeen leg of the Global Service Jam with about 14 people. We had three teams ideating three main ideas over the weekend to good effect, and everyone had a good time and learned new prototyping and ideation skills. This time we had one team pushing out a possible deck of cards that can be used by teachers with pupils in schools. While we also hoped to run the the local edition of  National Hack the Government event too, we had too few people turn up for that, and those two people who did, decided to stay working on their GSJ project.

All of our teams did many iterations prototyping their ideas on paper, with models, and with Lego bricks as you can see in the evolution of their ideas taken down via video commentary over the weekend. If you start on the last page and work forward, then you’ll see the ideas evolve. Sauron’s Box became One Box and Mad Box became EduPod. By constantly pushing the ideas further and refining them again and again over the weekend the ideas became better.

Teams used a number of tools and processes to improve their ideas. Many used journey maps, service blueprints and the Happy Startup Canvas as well as the Strikingly Idea Chain cards and Constraints cards too and prototyping ideas with Lego and other tools to hand. Most of these tools are familiar to us, and others were new ones to try and explore their potential.

Several things stand out for this year. First, we couldn’t do this without our great sponsors. The University of Aberdeen, and the Robert Gordon University for hosting our event. Fifth Ring and Neo for providing funding to feed our participants. And lastly, Stattys for providing us with their wonderful sliding products to use. Thanks to all of you, who help make this happen.

Secondly, the teams formed automagically on the Friday as people gravitated towards the ideas that appealed to them and didn’t need any encouragement to coalesce. Third, you can form a team based on a random group of people, who don’t know each other. This works perfectly fine, and as one regular said “[he’d] formed businesses with family and friends, and they didn’t work so great, so why not strangers?”. Fourth, the new Idea Chain cards were useful, and fun for ideation and we’ll need to build a better deck or two of those. Lastly, Skype chats work great as long as people focus on the key issues as time can be a factor, but it works real well to get feedback when you can’t otherwise reach your target audience.

All of these are lessons to bring back to the classroom and show that the random mix of people you find at these events  shows that a change of pace and people is a good way to get out of your comfort zone and learn something new. We’ll definitely be organising this again next year.

You can also find another write up of the event by the co-organiser Steve Milne, and collection of links at http://stevenmilne.com/blog/global-service-jam-14.

University graduate startups increasing

According to a recent press release from the  Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), there were just over 3500 graduate startups in 2012-13, which is the year for the latest results. These employed over 15,500 staff, or about 4-5 members per startup. These are for across the UK. and show that startups can help with employment, but not always in large numbers. If we look at Scotland on its own, then we see that were only 152 graduate startups in the same period employing 730 people, so again employing about 4-5 people per startup. Again, much the same as for the UK as a whole.

Ideally, startups should employ more people, and it can be done. Look at how many people firms like Skyscanner and Freeagent are employing these days. It just shows that the growth comes later, and that a firm needs to persevere in order to become successful. As Biz Stone, a co-founder of Twitter says in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, “…perseverance and 10 years of really hard work will eventually make you look like an overnight success.” The other interesting part of his interview was the confession that they built something, and then looked for a business model. They didn’t start with a business plan. They first determined that they had a problem worth solving.

The startup is just the beginning. The real hard work follows. For all of this there is help at hand, but you need to take the first step.

Your Spin Out becomes Startups Explained

We began this blog in order to help people get their business started. At the time we were eager to start doing something. We picked the name yourspinout.com and ran with it. We could see the logic of the name for what we wanted to do; helping people spin out their ideas into something that is tangible and real. Stop talking and start doing. We also realised that whatever we do is an ongoing process and that we’d need to stop, think and realign our approach as we learned more about what we’re doing and where we wanted to be working. It’s an ongoing adventure as a startup of our own and we need to eat our own dog food as the saying goes: live what we preach, use our example to teach others. The upshot is that we made a small mistake. The name isn’t quite right for what we want to do and the brand we want to promote.

It all goes back to Deming and the PDCA cycle: plan, do, check, act and repeat… Continuous improvement would be another way to look at it. As long as we make regular checks on what we’re doing, then that’s fine. As long as we do small increments, then we’ll never make big mistakes and it will all be ok.

Presenting ideas at Play4Agile

A mistake is ok. Woohoo! It’s a learning opportunity. We realised belatedly that in order to fit in with other parts of our organisation so that we can use this as an umbrella concept for all of us, that we’d have to do too much ‘translating’ between what people expect from the phrase ‘your spin out’ and how we use the phrase. This would not be good, and would lead to confusion with mixed messages. So goodbye ‘yourspinout.com’ and hello ‘startupsexplained.com’ (and startupexplained.com too).

The new name ’startupsexplained.com’ will work well as a place for people to learn about startups. We’ll be providing information about startups as well as more specifically those startups based around software. As you can see from our pinterest pages our main emphasis is on personal development for founders and others in startups, service design tools and processes, agile software development and general start up tools useful to any new business.

So come follow us on the journey as we explain startups. Even better, feel free to join the conversation we’re offering.

GSJ and NHTG event in March

Two events we like to support are both happening on the weekend of 7-9 March. Both of these events centre on helping people envision apps and services, which they’d like to see. Both events are there to inspire participants by what they learn and see happening at the events. These are events to explore and rapidly prototype ideas to see what’s possible and to put ideas out there to get feedback from people. These are places to come and hang out and try things with people. Yes, you might get an idea for a startup, and you might be able to spin out an idea trailed at the events into a real business, but that is not the goal of the weekend. The goal is to have creative fun with like-minded folks and explore the possibilities. It’s training for innovation.

GSJ Aberdeen 2013

This is the second time we’re running the Global Service Jam, and the third time it’s been held in Aberdeen. The goal of this event is to have people come together to share their skills and rapidly prototype new services. The event theme is revealed on Friday evening, and after brainstorming service ideas we’ll form teams around this theme to develop services over the Saturday and Sunday. These ideas should be rapidly prototyped and taken to the streets to show to people and then revised based on what you learn. This is all about learning front of house skills as it were. If you’re normally someone who works in the back office and never meets customers, then this is your chance to get out there and see what the others do. This is your chance to better understand what they do and to help develop new ideas and try them out with people.
Aberdeen Culture Hack 2013

The National Hack the Government events run by Rewired State are efforts to help the people build a better government by coming together with others to inspire and build the apps they’d like to see using government open data sources. You can get an idea of what others have done in the past by looking at the projects that came out of previous NHTG events. We had a small version of this in Aberdeen in 2011 when it was a one-day event. This year it will run over the Saturday and Sunday with us offering remote teams who can report back to the main group of folks in London. We’re hoping that some of the ideas gathered from the GSJ folks on Friday night will lend themselves to app ideas for the Saturday and Sunday.
This event will be a good mixture of service design, some agile development and a hack event where the focus is on ‘seeing what works’
Go signup and follow @GSJAberdeen for updates