Students at the University of Edinburgh have created the ‘highest’ number of startups ever for a leading UK university.

Data for 2020/2021 shows the university created 100 startups or spinouts during the lockdown year – which is the higher than any of the 24 Russell Group universities have previously recorded.

Figures from the University of Edinburgh appear to point to a new milestone although data from other universities across the UK has yet to be published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

The achievement is yet more remarkable for the fact that most students have been forced to operate off campus and using remote tech platforms owing to the effects of the pandemic.

Of the 100 start-ups, 43 were founded by women, and 21 of the businesses define themselves as social enterprises, meaning they exist to benefit society.

Forty-five of the companies were launched by current or recent undergraduate students, while 55 were founded by postgraduates. 

Student entrepreneurs have launched businesses at the university in 2020-21 including an AI-based virtual-reality software for tennis players and coaches, a health-research app that tracks people’s mood, a robotic system to sort waste for recycling and a grip-assist glove to help people live independently.

Professor Peter Mathieson, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said: “Reaching this impressive milestone of 100 student start-ups in a year of lockdown and restrictions truly demonstrates the entrepreneurial spirit of our students.

“I know peer support is a big feature among these company founders, which is doubly impressive in these difficult times. I wish all our entrepreneurs every success with their enterprises, many of which are aiming to tackle important societal needs.”

Entrepreneurial students and staff at the University of Edinburgh receive free support from Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialisation service. Support includes one-to-one business advice, access to mentoring networks, accelerator programmes and a busy calendar of enterprise events and competitions. 

Lorna Baird, student enterprise manager at Edinburgh Innovations, said: “The rising number of young people turning their creative ideas into new products and services gives us all grounds for hope for the future.

“At Edinburgh Innovations we’re proud of all our company founders and proud to support them as they begin what we hope will be a long and fruitful journey.”

The 100 milestone was marked at a Covid-safe celebration at the University’s Student Enterprise Hub.

Collin Powers, founder of startup company Ellyra, demonstrated his virtual reality tennis training software. Ellyra is developing VR sports engagement technology, allowing anyone to access coaching, competitions and a sports community regardless of their location, income or disability. 

He launched his company in 2020 shortly after graduating in business with enterprise and innovation from the University of Edinburgh Business School.

Collin was supported by Edinburgh Innovations while a student and after graduation, taking part in the Startup Summer Accelerator, and reaching the final of Edinburgh Innovations’ Inspire Launch Grow competition. As a US citizen, he has also received visa support to remain in the UK as an entrepreneur.

Collin said: “Edinburgh Innovations has been instrumental in helping me on my entrepreneurial journey. Being accepted into EI’s Startup Summer Accelerator gave me the confidence to pursue my vision full-time. 

“The Student Enterprise Hub has been critical in growing my business as I can brainstorm with other entrepreneurs, be part of a community and get instant feedback on what I and my company are doing in a constructive way.” 

Startups in this year’s cohort received funds from schemes including Unlocking Ambition and Smart:Scotland, and won awards at Converge Challenge, Scottish EDGE and other national competitions. Companies launched by the University’s students and staff have an enviable record of long-term success, supported by venture capital and other investors.

Companies launched by the University’s students and staff have an enviable record of long-term success, supported by venture capital and other investors. In the year to 31 July 2021, provisional figures show that £47.5 million was invested in University of Edinburgh start-ups and spin-outs.

Since the University of Edinburgh launched its first spinout company, Reynolds Medical Ltd, in 1967, staff and students at the University have founded more than 800 companies.

The number of student start-ups launched has been growing consistently in recent years, more than doubling over the past three years from 50 in 2017-18.