A Start-up company supported by the University of Stirling has won £50,000 from the Scottish Government to develop its business.
Talking Mats - which is based at the University’s Innovation Park - scooped the cash in the Scottish EDGE awards: a “Dragon’s Den” style competition, aimed at supporting entrepreneurial activity in Scotland.
The company has developed a communication framework called Talking Mats. The framework uses mats and symbols to help people with communication difficulties express themselves. The award win will be used to market new digital mats (to be launched this summer), produce new communication symbols and to develop training courses for people using its products.
Dr John Rogers, Director of Research and Enterprise at the University of Stirling, said: “The idea for Talking Mats came from a research project conducted by Joan Murphy at the University in 1998. She was studying the interactions of people with cerebral palsy using high-tech communication aids. She found that users didn’t have the vocabulary needed and so began drawing and cutting up symbols.
“Talking Mats developed from this simple idea and was spun out into a social enterprise, now working out of the Beta Centre at our Innovation Park.
“We’re delighted that a great idea, sparked by University research, has created a successful business that wins awards – and is helping people with communication problems.
“The £50,000 prize from the EDGE awards is a great endorsement for the business and we wish Talking Mats every success in the future.”
The spin-out company was formally launched by co-directors Joan Murphy and Lois Cameron – both speech and language therapists - in 2011. It now has a team of seven people. The firm was named Start Up Social Enterprise of the Year at the Scottish Social Enterprise Awards last year.
Lois said the latest win was a “great boost”. “We’re delighted to win this award, particularly given the strong competition and the challenging process to get to the finals,” she said. “Winning something like this gives you a level of confidence to take the business forward and go to the next level.”
The Scottish Government said the EDGE awards – aimed at supporting Scotland’s “brightest and most innovative start-ups” - attracted 235 entries. One hundred firms were shortlisted to pitch their ideas to an Investment Panel, composed of Scotland’s leading business people. The panel then selected the 20 finalists to go on to pitch for the prize money.
The Scottish Government worked closely with its enterprise agencies, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and business hothouse Entrepreneurial Spark, to develop the new fund and run the competition.
Finance Secretary John Swinney said: "We are focused on maintaining Scotland’s position as the most supportive environment for business in the UK. The EDGE has awarded 17 ambitious entrepreneurs with funds to establish or grow their business and contribute to Scotland’s economic success.
“I would like to congratulate the winners and the runners-up in this first round of funding.”
Sir Tom Hunter joined Sir Willie Haughey (City Refrigeration), Julie Grieve (PSYBT), Alex Paterson (Highlands and Islands Enterprise, HIE) and Gordon Merrylees (RBS) on the judging panel.
Sir Tom said: “The Scottish EDGE fund is a fantastic boost for entrepreneurs in Scotland aiming for true high growth. Thanks to John Swinney, who doubled the fund, £2 million is available to businesses who really do have the determination to build substantive entrepreneurial businesses here in Scotland.”
He said the top entrants provided a “true inspiration” – giving him “real heart” that they can help re-build Scotland’s economy.
RBS Business Banking in Scotland Managing Director Gordon Merrylees said: "The finalists of the awards were of such high calibre, it was a tough choice deciding the winners. We were delighted to work in partnership with the Scottish Government to develop the EDGE fund and RBS will continue to breathe oxygen into entrepreneurship across Scotland by supporting the winners through mentoring, providing essential business security advice and two years’ free banking."
Eleanor Mitchell, Scottish Enterprise’s Direction of Commercialisation passed on her congratulations to the winners. She said: “The quality of all the finalists was very strong and the judges were particularly impressed with the consistently high standards of innovation and business performance that each of the candidates demonstrated.
“By investing in ambitious entrepreneurs with ideas that can be transformed into globally successful businesses, we can help deliver long term growth for the Scottish economy, building on Scotland's reputation as the ideal partner of choice in major international projects."
Talking Mats is a social enterprise led by former speech and language therapists. They have combined work in the NHS with research at the University to set up the company, which helps children and adults with communication difficulties express themselves. Find out more at www.talkingmats.com or talk to the team on 01786 479511.