Archives for category: Innovation

Our Intern at University of Strathclyde, Stephanie Warne recently caught up with SIE Entrepreneur, Victoria Hamilton for an insight into the life of a young entrepreneur. 

Victoria is the founder of VH Innovation Ltd. and the product Recoil Protective Kneepads   Since meeting SIE back in 2013, the business has gone from strength to strength, and Victoria has just won the New Entrepreneur of The Year award at the 2016 Business Woman Scotland Awards.


What have you been up to since we last spoke to you in summer 2015?

When we last spoke I was just about to place the order with our local manufacturer in Edinburgh. It took about 6-7months to actually get the moulds ready for production – there was a lot of trial and error there because one of the moulds was pretty complicated to manufacture. We finally managed to get them ready in March 2016 and I gave the OK to print off a batch of 500. We got the website updated and finally launched on the 15th of June this year. Then Toolstop, which is a Glasgow based distributor, came on board in mid-August and started retailing Recoil through their online website. We are now also on amazon and currently negotiating with a DIY chain so fingers crossed that takes off!

Having just recently launched Recoil Kneepads officially, what has changed in the day-to-day work that you do?

The biggest thing I would say is responding to customer emails -I try to reply as soon as possible. That’s what I tend to use my mornings for. Another thing as well, which is actually quite funny: McLaren Plastics is the manufacturer that did our first 500 sets but then being a start-up, I decided that I would assemble the full 500 sets myself because I didn’t properly trust anyone else. I wanted to make sure they were perfect and that I fully understood the process myself. So I got 500 sets sent to my mum and dads garage and I’ve spent a good couple of week assembling them! I do now fully understand how they are assembled and I make sure the quality of each and every one single one sent out is spot on so if something goes wrong I know it’s not down to an assembly mistake.

Product Designer Vicky Hamilton from Gourock, Inverclyde who has revolutionised kneepads with her patent pending double-layer shock absorbing kneepad 'Recoil'. Hamilton is pictured at her Dad's workshop with the prototype kneepads. Photography by Julie Howden

What has been the highlight over your past 3-year journey with Recoil Kneepads?

It’s a really difficult question to pin down to just one particular event. See when everything is so new you just think “oh wow that’s amazing!” for everything. Like when I did all the testing right back at the start I was like “oh wow that’s amazing it actually worked!”, and then seeing the moulds ready for production I was again like “wow that’s actually my product” and again getting the first sample off the tool. It’s so difficult to pin down to one moment but I’d probably say getting the first product off the mould was extremely cool.

What’s the best thing about running your own business?

I love the fact that everything in the business is a direct output of you so whether your business succeeds or fails really comes down to your own determination and drive. It is hard work and not for everybody but you just have to push on and what you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it. So if you don’t put a lot in, you’re not going to get much out. If you put everything into it then you’ll get a fantastic amount of achievement and self -worth and it’s just a really good feeling when things work and you know it’s worked purely because of you. I did a summer placement once in a corporate firm and you wouldn’t get that same feeling if something worked well– yes it’s a good feeling but it’s not just down to you, it’s down to loads of other people, a process and people above you whereas in a start-up if something works well it’s all down to you.

Final Question, what does the future hold for VH Innovation?

The plan at the moment is to continue to increase distribution networks in the UK. Then we’re also looking into starting to sell in the US and Australia, hopefully next year!

If you want to find out more about VH Innovation or get your hands on a pair of Recoil Kneepads, visit Victoria’s website.



The SIE Interns are an ambitious lot! Not content to slack off during summer,  many spend their time running their own business ventures or getting involved with other internships. This week, we have a special guest blog from Monika Gopal, our 2015  University of Stirling intern, who has just completed an internship with the Saltire Foundation in Dubai.


This summer I spent eight weeks working in Dubai as a Marketing and Communications Intern for OPITO International.

During my internship I was given ownership of three projects in different areas of marketing and encouraged to contribute to strategic-level meetings with the team. High expectations were set from the start as I was given real responsibility and tight deadlines. This was challenging and equally rewarding; exactly what I expected from an internship through The Saltire Foundation.

Living in Dubai for eight weeks gave me the opportunity to engage with people of different nationalities from different cultures. At work it was great understanding how an international business operates, a concept that I couldn’t fully grasp until I worked and experienced a new culture. The vibrant and social side to Dubai made it the perfect place to explore outside of work and I had great company to do this with as over the summer I was lucky enough to form friendships with people from across the world.


Top of the Burj Khalifa!

With a friend already living in Dubai, and great support network at work, I settled in quickly and found the transition from Scotland very easy. This was helped as OPITO International is a Scottish company with many people in the office hailing from Aberdeen. Inside and outside of work, the people were so friendly and I think this is because as expats, they remember what it was like for them when they moved to Dubai.

My internship has allowed me to grow personally and professionally, and develop a global outlook. Moreover, the skills that I have gained in using creative software, market research, planning and communication, and the industry knowledge that I have accumulated, have ensured that I will leave university as a well-rounded marketing graduate. This is why gaining an internship through The Saltire Foundation was my highest priority for the summer of my penultimate year and it has exceeded every expectation that I set.

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Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Dubai is just one location you could end up if you apply for The Saltire Foundation’s internship programme and wherever you go, you know you will be entrusted with real responsibility and your opinion will be valued. Also your connection to The Saltire Foundation doesn’t end after the summer as after this you become part of its Alumni Network filled with inspiring students, graduates and future leaders. If this isn’t a good enough reason to consider applying then I don’t know what is!

If anyone is considering applying and has any questions or queries then please get in touch, I would love to help!

Thank you, Monika!

Want more information on the Saltire Foundation Scholar programme?  Visit the website.


The winners of SIE’s ‘I’m an Innovator’ competition gathered at Loch Lomond last weekend for the Winners Bootcamp to take their innovation ideas from concept to reality.

Over 100 entries were received back in April, with entrants completing an application, attending an innovation workshop and submitting a challenging video pitch before reaching the final. 14 ideas were represented in this final stage of the competition, ranging from new products and services to improve social inclusion, education and innovative products to improve general health & fitness or manage medical conditions.

Kicking things off on Saturday morning was Mel Sherwood, Director of Grow Your Potential, who delivered a talk covering a wide range of relevant topics, from taking ownership of your idea to presentation skills, and vocal warm up exercises.

The afternoon session was led by Xpand founder, Juergen Kast, and focussed on developing entrepreneurial skills and strengths to drive your idea forward, which roused some further questions from the captive audience of winners.

The finalists worked on their ideas over the weekend, before making their final pitches to a panel of young social entrepreneurs (and SIE alumni!); Fergus Moore & Scott Kennedy co-founders of Revive Eco and Stephen Spiers co-founder of Studio2080 and Power a Life.


 CEO Fiona Godsman with Scott Kennedy (left), Stephen Spiers (center) and Fergus Moore (right.)

 The final winners of the ‘I’m an Innovator’ Competition are:

1st prize: £1000, Alex Rollings & Alison Cunningham, University of Strathclyde

Winning entry: Innobox, which uses storytelling and problem solving to encourage a child’s interest in STEM subjects.

 2nd Prize: £750, Glen McMurchy, University of Strathclyde

Winning entry: A new modular design for wind towers.

3rd Prize: £500, Liam McMorrow, University of Aberdeen,

Winning entry: A new device to help diabetics manage insulin dosages.

Highly Commended: £250, Simon Griffiths, Edinburgh College

Idea: A support package to help young people cope with renal dialysis.

Highly Commended: £250, Heather Guyan, University of Strathclyde

Idea: An innovative ‘ear defender’ to support learning in special needs environments.

Highly Commended: £250, David White, University of Strathclyde

Idea: A new bodyweight fitness training product.


The competition finalists who pitched to judges were:

  •  Alice Kettle, Edinburgh College of Art
  • Susan Drummond & Kirsty Johnson, University of Strathclyde
  • Robin Irvine and Ciorstaidh MacGillivray, University of St Andrews
  • Thomas Reid, University of the West of Scotland
  • Karthik Ramesh, Glasgow School of Art
  • Jonny Ingledew & Kate MacDonald, Heriot-Watt University
  • Hui Chi Yan, University of Edinburgh
  • Alina Mikhailova, University of Edinburgh.

Well done everyone – we can’t wait to see how your winning ideas progress!

Last weekend, the 5th year of World Whisky Day took place with thousands of people around the globe celebrating including David Beckham and Nicola Sturgeon. You may be surprised to hear that back in 2012, World Whisky Day was founded by a student! Founder, Blair Bowman, was studying at the University of Aberdeen when he first had the idea for World Whisky Day and went on to grow it into a hugely successful business. He won SIE’s New Ventures competition in 2012 and the Young Innovators Challenge in 2013. Find out the full story in his video below.

Since we filmed, Blair sold World Whisky Day to Hot Rum Cow in 2015. Blair remains in place as the founder and as a consultant but has gone on to work on new projects. Here at SIE, we’re really proud of what he achieved and are delighted to call him alumni. He is a great example of what students can do whilst they’re still studying!


For more on Blair’s story, see the full case study on the SIE website. To get started with your big idea, get in touch with our Business Advisors.

This week, we caught up with Revive Eco; a team of three University of Strathclyde graduates who are finding new innovative ways to recycle coffee grounds and save the planet in the process. They are full of brilliant ideas, the latest involving their local community. We spoke to Co-founder Rebecca Richardson to find out the full story!

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Our team of three; Fergus, Scott and I are a waste rejuvenation eco-prise called Revive, providing a unique waste recycling service and a range of environmentally-friendly products, derived from used coffee grounds.

We have worked continuously with SIE since winning the Young Innovators Challenge in 2014 and during this time I’m sure even our SIE pals are slightly sick of hearing us go on about the amount of coffee waste going to landfill! SO… we figured the time for discussion was over and that we’d try a new idea which showcases the great social and environmental benefits that Revive creates on the smallest of scales.

We started a new project in our local community; the wee village of Bridge of Weir. It’s a pretty special place for us, not only did Fergus give me chicken pox there at the age of three, it’s also where Revive was born! Over the last few months, we’ve been busy collecting and recycling every gram of coffee waste from the local businesses to create our bio-fertiliser product. This bio-fertiliser is then passed on to the locals schools; Gryffe High, Bridge of Weir Primary and Houston Primary; to be used by their gardening clubs.

In three weeks we have not only recycled over 60 kilos of waste coffee but we have received cheers and rapturous applause from the local business owners and a nod from the kings of the council! Our goal is to create the first of many coffee-neutral communities. ‘WHY?’ I hear you ask. Our answer is simple – social and environmental responsibility has always, and will always be at the forefront of decisions made at Revive. We are building more than a company; we are building a brand and an organisation that creates a positive impact to all stakeholders, the environment and the wider society.

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In only a few weeks we have diverted a huge amount of waste from reaching landfill and instead created a great product, to be used within our even greater community. Whilst this is only a small scale project right now, we are showing the benefits Revive provides and will provide once we grow to a larger scale; something we know we will achieve!

If you’d like to find out more, or get your hands on Revive’s environmentally-friendly bio-fertiliser, visit their website. To support their crowdfunding campaign, visit their VOOM pageYou can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.


If you want to know more about how they started out, see their video case study here.

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According to our 2015 student survey, almost 50% of students say that innovative thinking is the most important skill that they would like to develop! We decided we needed to find out a bit more about this key skill; is it just useful for aspiring entrepreneurs or should everyone learn how to think innovatively? Thankfully, our Business & Innovation Advisor for the north, Dawn Shand, has stepped in to give us the details!


The advisory team often has students commenting that they would love to be in business but just can’t think of an idea.  In reality many of our successful student businesses are not reinventing the wheel but rather tweaking something which is already out there or applying existing technology in a way which hasn’t been done before (see Trtl and Recoil Knnepads).  When you start to put the customer first and think about how you might make their life better in some way then the ideas start to flow.  Just taking the time to look at the environment around you is a great place to start.

We also find that employers are constantly asking for evidence of innovative thinking.  Getting involved in developing a new business idea is a great way to demonstrate this.  We have some great examples of students who have done just that and who seem to leap-frog over others if they decide to take the employment route later.  They have so much more to say at interview and the employer is reassured that they will be recruiting someone who is motivated and will add value to the company.

So, turns out innovative thinking is a great skill for everyone to have, no matter what they plan to do after university or college. The good news is, SIE can help! There are lots of SIE activities that can challenge you and help you to think innovatively like our competitions, masterclasses and workshops. If you’d like to attend one of these events, keep an eye on our website.

If you’d like to get in touch with Dawn or one of our other Business and Innovation Advisors, you can email them directly using this form.

Business Advisors

Dawn originally contributed to Ignite Magazine, Issue 10.


In February, our Enterprise Programme Director, Ann Davidson, opened the LEVEL-UP! Conference at the University of Aberdeen. She challenged attendees to think about future proofing their degrees and what skills they would need to impress employers. Ann also facilitated an afternoon workshop looking at “what innovation will look like in the future?”. 
We asked Berit Braun, a 1st year IR and Spanish Student and part of the conference team, to give us an insight to what happened at the event.

Initially set up to supplement the professional and personal development services in place at the University of Aberdeen already, LEVEL-UP! soon evolved into an intense two-day practical skills boot camp with talks, workshops, networking activities and a panel discussion.

About 120 delegates attended the event and benefited from the expertise that our speakers from all over the UK and Europe shared with them. Specific workshops with a lot of direct interaction between speakers and the participants allowed the conference to provide everyone attending with functional tools and hands-on techniques rather than generic advice.

The perfect start was given on the Saturday morning with a talk by SIE’s own Ann Davidson, who provided some answers to a seemingly insoluble dilemma: If the jobs we will have one day don’t even exist yet, how can we prepare for them? It turns out, simply being ‘adaptable’ is not enough anymore – it is all about being ‘agile’, prepared and ready for everything. With this in mind, delegates went into the first workshops, which included the Benefits and Practicalities of Mentoring, Mindfulness and its Role in Everyday Life, How to Develop Confidence and Establishing a Business. Further guidance and inspiration on how to motivate oneself and set goals was given after lunch by amputee mountaineer Jamie Andrew – a talk that a great number of delegates mentioned to be a highlight of the conference. For the second workshop session, delegates chose from the following topics: Pitching, Written Communication, Preparing a Winning CV, Intercultural Communication and finally Future Proofing your Degree/Skills held by Ann Davidson.


The second day began with an interactive talk on body language and voice management by Mike Carter, one of the UK’s leading experts on the topic, after which delegates felt prepared to attend their third and final workshop – on offer was Improvised Speech, Pitching, Problem Solving, Personal Branding through Social Media and Career Development. Rounding off a successful weekend, the panel discussion featured three young entrepreneurs who tackled the issue of how to be successful and execute ideas. Panelists shared their personal experiences and it became clear that two things are needed: courage to actually act on ideas and a humbling willingness to fail. Encouraged and with a strengthened set of skills, delegates re-entered ‘the real world’.

Someone labelled LEVEL-UP! as the “most useful weekend of my life”, but the success of the conference made another thing clear: PEOPLE ARE AWESOME! – And when they get together, share ideas and collaborate, magic happens!

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For more on the SIE Innovation and Education programme, visit our website.

It was a real privilege to take part in RNIB’s Techshare, a European-wide conference around the topic of technology and accessibility. The event was held at the Science Centre and attracted big brand names such as Apple, Google and Samsung. SIE’s brief was to challenge student innovators from Scottish colleges and universities to create new products and services that would enhance the lives of blind and partially-sighted people.


The eight groups of students started their allocated two days by speaking to event volunteers from RNIB and receiving advice from Google and Apple representatives. They also took part in focus groups with potential customers to immerse themselves in their customers’ worlds. The groups then defined a challenge, generated ideas and produced a rough prototype. At the end of the conference, the student teams pitched their ideas on-stage to conference delegates.

Our innovators have the opportunity to continue to work on their ideas with support from the SIE Business advisors. Here’s their advice for budding entrepreneurs and those interested in similar events:

Immerse yourself in customers’ shoes


“Before you start, spend a day or two simulating whatever challenge your customers have. I can guarantee your assumptions will differ greatly from the reality of the situation.”

“Speaking to users is something I had never done before and it was a great experience, to get quality insight into these people’s lives.”

“Learn how to facilitate a focus group without leading them to the answer you want to hear.”  

Don’t get fixated on one idea


“Have an open mind and be prepared to explore areas you hadn’t thought of before.”

“The toughest part was to make sure the idea was something our target market would buy.”

“Be prepared to let go of ideas if they’re not viable.”

Remember the impact you can have


And the final word goes to

“I was genuinely surprised when my team was approached after our pitch by someone who absolutely loved our idea and wanted to buy the product as soon as possible. It showed me that a small innovation can impact someone else’s life tremendously.

You find more about more about the participants experience on our Storify Board

If you’d like to take part in a future SIE event, contact us via our website.


Christopher McCann (snap40), winner of New Ventures 2015 and the Young Innovators Challenge 2014 has taken over our blog below to talk about his entrepreneurial journey and gives some great tips for others thinking of starting out.

It’s been a year since we were selected as a winner of the SIE Young Innovators Challenge and we were incorporated as snap40 not long afterwards. We’ve since went onto win SIE New Ventures competition as well as the Converge Challenge Kickstart and Scottish EDGE.

It has been an exhilarating and humbling year of highs and lows. We’ve faced some major setbacks but we’ve also strongly moved forward. I’ve personally had to face the fact I was completely out of my depth and to both quickly learn and surround myself with great people who can help me build snap40 and take it to where I believe it can go.

Here are a fewthings I’ve learned this year:

Have a mentor

I’ve got an outstanding mentor and friend in David Bowie. David has been helping me and challenging me since way back in October. In my view, that’s absolutely key to the success of a start-up – you need someone with significant experience who can push back, isn’t afraid to tell you they don’t agree or that something in the plan doesn’t seem right. You also need someone with whom you can frankly share challenges and options with.

Find a great mentor, someone who can help you and someone you trust. I have that in David and it has enormously paid off.

Focus on building a great team

I made the error of not having a co-founder from the start and taking too long to start really building the day to day team. We’re now excited to have Stewart Whiting, our Lead Data Scientist, on board and we’ll be announcing some more additions shortly. A great, passionate and motivated team is everything and the only way that we’ll successfully execute our plan and achieve our vision.

Finding great people should be something you do from the very start, from day one. No successful business is built by one person – in my view the real job of a start-up founder is to bring fantastic people together to achieve their vision.

Product is what really matters

Just as you need to make finding a team a priority, there is no business without a product. Your product is a hypothesis, it’s something you believe someone else will find valuable but to take the business forward you need to find as many ways to prove that hypothesis as possible, as fast as possible.

Whatever your business, find a way to get something together as fast as you can, something you can test out your hypothesis with, with as many customers as you can. If it’s a software product, knock together something (even if it’s awful and doesn’t work properly) over a week and then test it out. Testing out your hypothesis can be as simple as putting up a holding page describing your product and the fact it’s coming soon, spreading the word and seeing how many people sign up to the waiting list.

For us, it’s not possible to get actual prototypes onto patients to test out because of the heavily regulated nature of medical technology. Instead we tested it out on family and friends and heavily exposed the proposition to our customers, the health services, from the very beginning.

Relationships are everything

In my opinion, relationships are crucial to any success. It’s also important to remember that it’s not just about that one person; it’s about who they know. Use your personal and extended networks to get to the people you need to get to. Don’t underestimate the importance of people ‘joining the dots.’ Once you spread the word enough about what you are doing, it’s a small enough world that you’ll start to really raise your profile.

People will help you. I have yet to find anyone who isn’t willing to give a young start-up some help or make introductions. Share your vision with them, excite them and, generally, they will do anything they can to help.

I love every minute of building snap40, even the painful lows and the challenges. It’s hard, it’s rarely ever easy, and you have to be completely willing to put your heart and soul in. Responsibility with taking it forward lies with you, no-one will do it for you, but you have the power and ability to make your own success. Resilience and the drive to do that, the ability to take the hits and keep pushing, is what makes the difference.

For more on Christopher’s story, visit his Start Up Interview.


The thirty eight winners of the Young Innovators Challenge 2015 were announced in May following a detailed application, an inspiring Innovation Weekend and a challenging video pitch. The winners gathered in Dundee last week for the Winners Bootcamp to take their social innovation ideas from concept to reality.

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The three day residential Bootcamp started with some yoga breathing techniques and a round of speed networking to get everyone in the right mind frame for the busy day ahead. The opening session was led by two of SIE’s Business and Innovation Advisors, Dawn Shand and Jonathan Tait who highlighted the importance of continually scanning and adapting to the external environment. Historical examples of Amazon and Tesco were used to bring some life into the well-used PESTLE analysis which was aptly followed by Jane Ambrose, from Inspiring Futures, who delivered a comprehensive session on finance.

Next up was a speaker that the budding entrepreneurs could easily identify with. Christopher McCann, of snap40, was in the same position as each of them this time last year after winning the Young Innovators Challenge 2014. Christopher now works on his business full time, employs several staff members and has secured £160,000 worth of funding. He talked about his journey and the importance of resilience when trying to implement social change, and there was a queue of students waiting to ask questions at the end.

A special appearance was made by STV Dundee who interviewed some of the local YIC 2015 winners and BBC Scotland arrived to broadcast a radio segment with SIE CEO, Fiona Godsman.

For the rest of the day, Lesley Hetherington supported the winners as they reviewed their Business Model Canvas with a flurry of post-it notes and animated discussions before the winners headed off to distil their ideas over dinner.

The SIE team kicked off day two with a CreAction session to underline the benefits of working in diverse groups for effective problem solving. Maryanne Johnston followed to share her expertise on pitching, which is an invaluable skill for start-ups looking for funding.

A flurry of questions and lively debate from the group was sparked by a talk from another inspiring young entrepreneur, Mason Holden (co-founder of Bike Vault), as he introduced his revolutionary bicycle storage bundle.

Alastair Blake and Cameron Walker from Marks and Clerk delivered a critical session for the winners who have already begun the process of protecting the commercial value of their idea while the rest of the day was devoted to honing the Value Proposition Canvas in preparation for pitching the next day. The winners then had a well-deserved opportunity to relax and enjoy the hotel spa facilities.

The third morning started with each student delivering a 60 second pitch to a panel of SIE Senior Business and Innovation Advisors who will become the student’s key SIE contacts over the coming months. The quality of pitches was exceptional and each one was delivered with passion and confidence in their idea.

With the pitches out the way, Tom McGuire led a session to encourage the winners to devise the next steps to take their ideas forward over the coming months.

Dr Paul Nelson, Founder and CEO of Phrisk – a public health consultancy, delivered a talk that covered a wide range of relevant topics, from mindset to team building which roused some further questions from the captive audience of winners.

Last in the line-up was Norma Collete, who dazzled the students with an interactive session on building and tapping into your networks which capped off a fantastic Bootcamp experience for the YIC 2015 winners.

The final act of the day was to present the winners with their prizes of up to £2000 each. The prize money will allow each student to continue to develop their socially innovative business ideas over the summer with the dedicated support of the Senior Business &Innovation Advisors, and two further workshops.

There will be an opportunity to pitch for further funding of up to £5000 in August, and we can’t wait to see how the winning ideas develop till then!

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