Blog: Professor Julie Lydon OBE, Chair of Universities Wales says graduate start-ups have the potential to boost prosperity for decades to come

Across Wales, universities play a crucial role in supporting and driving the Welsh economy. An independent study found that Welsh universities in 2015/16 generated £5bn of output and nearly 50,000 jobs in Wales. The nature of that economic contribution is broad, from directly employing staff to research and innovation links with communities and employers.


Perhaps an area that isn’t always considered when examining the impact of our universities is the ways in which universities generate and support start-ups. This takes many forms, for example staff at universities will often start spin-out companies based on their research work. Another group of start-ups that universities support and nurture are those by students and graduates.


Entrepreneurship by students and graduates has been an important focus for Universities Wales over the past 12 months. We have worked to highlight the innovative and valuable contribution these businesses make to Wales and the ways in which universities support those students and graduates on their start-up journey.


Wales performs well on graduate start-ups. The annual Higher Education Business and Community Interaction survey consistently finds that Wales outperforms the rest of the UK on the number of graduate start-ups we have per capita and these start-ups are more likely to last three years or more than those elsewhere in the UK.


Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, Wales is often referred to as a country of small and medium enterprises – businesses with 0-9 employees account for 95% of enterprises in Wales. And, as such, student and graduate start-ups have the potential to be an important part of Wales’ future economic prosperity.


The support that universities offer these start-ups is broad including practical assistance on office space, bursaries to help with setup costs and support in identifying and securing investment opportunities. Students and graduates also benefit from mentoring and advice from tutors, lecturers and dedicated enterprise staff who offer support on every step of the start-journey.


The start-ups that we’ve engaged with throughout this work show us the breadth of the businesses generated by students and graduates. From videogame developers and augmented reality companies to designer homewear businesses and forestry education social enterprises. Everyone’s start-up journey is different, and although all were at different stages of that journey they shared an enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit that should be championed and celebrated.


As a sector there is always more we can do. There are opportunities for us to provide a more consistent offer, and to build further links with local businesses that can help start-ups further connect to their local communities. And similarly, there are opportunities for other stakeholders to think about how they can offer good working space for start-ups, and opportunities for start-ups to meet, network and collaborate. The ability to share learning and support each other was a key theme that emerged from our conversations with these businesses.


We would like to thank all those who have given their valuable time and engaged with us in this work and who have shared both how they have been supported in starting a business, and the things that could be done to help people like them in the future.