Edinburgh University transforms data driven entrepreneurship

Economic Transformation in our Nation

Universities have a strong culture of delivery which aligns closely with the Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation. We’ve curated a set of 19 stories to show how universities support people, businesses, industries and Scotland’s regions towards economic transformation.

Joined-up enterprise pathway leads to startup success

The University of Edinburgh has seen a surge in the success of its student and graduate start-ups over the last year, with the University’s new Data Driven Entrepreneurship programme a factor behind the transformative impact on entrepreneurship.

Student startups from the University have secured over £30 million in combined investment over the last year, nearly triple the amount compared to the previous year. At the same time, the University’s commercialisation service, Edinburgh Innovations (EI), is celebrating another 100 student startups formed over the same period.

The Data-Driven Entrepreneurship programme launched in 2021 to create a joined-up entrepreneurial pathway for founders, or would-be company founders, within the University of Edinburgh. The programme supports the University of Edinburgh and EI to commercialise research for the greater good, advance data-driven entrepreneurship and create data-driven solutions to real-world problems. The programme also provides the chance for founders to meet like-minded peers, experts and investors who can support their journey.  Since its creation, the programme has received close to 1,000 applications and has supported 469 entrepreneurs across the range of DDE programmes including the Venture Builder Incubator which supports PHD created start-ups. It has also supported 27 ScaleUp companies working in artificial intelligence.

Maggie Hicks and Florentina Winkleman are both students at the University and are thriving as part of the growing culture of entrepreneurship. The pair realised they could commercialise Maggie’s PhD in synthetic biology and founded SynSense. They have attracted the attention of the US Navy with their skin patch that uses sweat to detect potentially problematic body states, enabling eventual diagnosis.

Synthetic biologist Maggie said:

We’ve gained so much knowledge and confidence this past year through Edinburgh Innovations, from being directed to award schemes, to support with the legal side of our intellectual property, to coaching and training through the Startup Accelerator. Our aim is to keep the patch as low cost and accessible as possible, for it to be used as a universal, non-invasive medical device. ”


Biotechnology company Carcinotech, began as an idea that Ishani Malhotra had during her masters in regenerative medicine at the University. She’d seen that it takes about 10 to 15 years for a drug to get from lab to market, far too long for someone waiting for innovative cancer treatments.

Now, Ishani and the team are creating 3D-printed tumours using patient biopsies to provide a platform for rapid, ethical, sustainable and accurate drug testing. They isolate the cells that are responsible for maintaining those tumours, while also replicating the immune system environments for a more accurate model.

They aim to support pharmaceutical companies with drug discovery and testing and, in the long term, want to have an impact on patients directly by offering treatment tailored to them.

“The AI scale up Accelerator came at the right time for us because we were looking to scale up. The pitching sessions allowed us to tailor our pitches for investors, but also for other audiences. And all the sessions on topics such as sales and marketing commercialisation gave us the knowledge that we needed to get there.”

The Data Driven Entrepreneurship initiative offers enterprise support beyond the student community, helping new businesses to grow to scale.

DDE has demonstrated a strong return on investment for the University and Edinburgh region and has had significant success in building a strong pipeline for Edinburgh and Scotland’s exciting and expanding tech ecosystem.

Key Points:

National Strategy for Economic Transformation themeEntrepreneurial people and culture

Institution: University of Edinburgh

Location: Edinburgh

  • Student startups from the University have secured over £30 million in combined investment over the last year.
  • Since its creation, the programme has received close to 1,000 applications and has supported 469 entrepreneurs.