Building incubation pipelines

Written by Alison Price


At the International Entrepreneurship Educators Conference (September 2019) delegates were brought together by EEUK Director, Neil Coles to explore how institutions are engaging with the new Start Up and Innovator Visas.

These new routes replaced the ‘Graduate Entrepreneur’ Visa and now require students to establish the UK’s need for the business idea into their process. Neil’s workshop confirmed the Member need to offer clear avenues of support to all students, driven by a strong duty of care and sense of responsibility to deliver equally upon the entrepreneurial ambitions of international students. You can find the summary of the workshop here.

The potential is clearly understood by the UK Home Office who are supportive of UK HEIs exploring whether to become an endorsing body for the (longer term commitment of the) Innovator visa.  Recognition of this potential is evidenced by a recent report from The Entrepreneurs Network which analyses Britain’s 100 fastest growing companies revealing:

  • 49% of the UK’s fastest-growing startups have at least one immigrant co-founder.
  • 9 of the UK’s 14 startup unicorns have at least one foreign-born co-founder.
  • The fast-growing immigrant founded companies of the Top 100 have attracted a combined £3.7bn in investment.

EEUK is supporting the ongoing Home Office process reviews, having recently attended their national focus-groups, whilst others are calling for further action, such as within the recommendations of the Scaleup Review Nov 2019 which calls for an additional ‘Scaleup Visa’ to be made available in communities where there are 100+ scaleup companies to enable scaleup leaders to recruit the staff they need to increase their capacity to grow. This recommendation is rooted in their belief that the Government should make the international skills needs of scaling businesses a priority by engaging local authorities, education establishments, advisory and finance companies as sponsors.

So as the UK position in the global marketplace continues to shift, EEUK will continue to engage in this discussion to support member institutions that wish to deliver enterprise pathways for their entire student body, as well as those who are seeking evidence for their approach to incubation and accelerating start-up (who might enjoy this recent Government report on incubators and accelerators)

So if you are looking to scale-up your incubation and ensure that you are supporting your international students, what do you need to ask yourself? 

Are you visa-clear?

With new visa options and new providers in landscape, it pays to think ahead when opening routes for international students.  Ensure you know the difference between Start-up visas, Innovator and the Exceptional Talent visas so that you can build capacity ready for the next stage of the process and help them be ‘visa ready’ for their next stage. Building your understanding of the visa pathways can create a solid basis for your offer and ensure your international student businesses are future proofed.

Know why you offer what you offer

By understanding your student demographic, the need, your region and the sectors that your students are interested in, you can determine whether to plan to offer the option of innovator visas. This will create additional costs for you, so it makes sense to know the eligibility/requirements and understand the role of endorsing bodies in order to make sure you are the right fit or when to draw upon others. 

Are you structured appropriately?

With many HEIs focused upon student starts and graduate businesses, how well structured are you for the innovator (longer term business growth) visa?  Currently many UK HEIs are able to incorporate the start-up visa requirements by housing their activities in a start-up centre, but don’t feel ready to support the growth dimension of innovator visas.

Alison Price

Head of Policy, Enterprise Educators UK