You joined us in April, and somehow it’s already August! How have your first 4-5 months in the Centre been? Any highlights?
It has definitely been a whirlwind of activity, but I’m really starting to feel at home in the Centre now. I’ve had a wonderful welcome from my new colleagues, both in the Centre and in the wider Oxford Innovation Space team, and from our customers. The Centre is such a vibrant, fun place to work and my main highlight has been getting to know everyone. We have such a great mix of different businesses, and I love seeing the passion of the founders and helping them to take their ideas to the next level.
Your role is to provide growth support and coaching to our resident business owners, how do you go about this and what kinds of issues do you help the founders with?
I sometimes think of myself as a personal trainer for your business. My support is included in the standard license fee all of our customers pay, whether they have an office, a single desk, or virtual membership. It can be a big saving for our customers, or provide them with growth support they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access.
I always start with an informal chat with each founder, to get to know their business priorities and where I can help them. From there, I like to get a regular slot booked into diaries, usually once a month or once a fortnight if there’s a major business priority. This gives the entrepreneurs a point of accountability to work on their own business, something which can be so difficult to prioritise when you have customers and staff clamouring for your attention!
With each founder, we work out a few core areas of development, that we then work through over structured sessions, with a little bit of ‘homework’ to do in between. Around this, I also help with any ad hoc issues, questions and challenges, or sometimes just acting as a sounding board (running a company can be a lonely business!). When necessary, I’ll also facilitate team training sessions, or carry out GROWTHmapper review sessions to help with alignment across leadership teams.
The most common topics I work with customers on are:
• Developing a strategic roadmap
• Balancing work priorities and managing change
• Understanding the target market and ensuring product – market fit
But I’m happy to help with any question, and I get a huge variety. If I don’t know the answer, I can tap into the wider pool of Business Support working across Oxford Innovation’s network of 30 centres!
We’ve also seen some new business support events popping up, what events have happened so far, and what can we expect in the coming months?
Some new events have included the ‘Failure Fiesta!’, where three speakers (including myself) donned sombreros and shared our ‘failure’ stories, in order to destigmatise failure and show what an important learning opportunity it can be. These are open to anyone and will become a regular feature on our events calendar.
We also collaborated with Essex Business School to put on an event to introduce the MBA students to our businesses, to match them up for delivering consulting projects.
Coming up, we’re starting to hold more ad hoc workshops to focus on particular problem areas, such as communication skills, and this month we have our first ‘Lunch and Learn’ session, where one of our businesses shares their specialist expertise. This time it will be led by Arma Karma, who are revolutionising insurance for the younger market. Arma Karma have a company-wide focus on sustainability and are registered as a B Corp, an independent certification to show a business is serious about caring for people, communities and the planet. They will be sharing their journey to B Corp, talking about the benefits and challenges, and helping other businesses start their own journey to certification.
We also have a more intensive business skills training programme in the works, but more about that later in the year…
You’ve had quite a varied career, working across many areas of innovation. Can you give us a quick overview of your background and how it helps you support business growth?
I’ve spent pretty much my whole career working in innovation of some sort or another. I started out in corporate innovation in the financial services, which eventually saw me sent out to Silicon Valley for three years to scout for new ideas and companies for ‘Open Innovation’ projects. My time in Silicon Valley helped me find my real passion for building ‘Innovation Ecosystems’, and after moving on from my bank role, I took a year to travel around the world researching different innovation ecosystems, mostly in emerging markets.
After 8 months and 20 countries, I wrote up my research into an ‘Ecosystem Development Framework’, which formed part of my Masters in Business Innovation (MBI) from Deusto Business School. Armed with a new understanding of how to support entrepreneurship, I headed back to the UK and took a role as Innovation Manager for the Environmental Futures & Big Data Impact Lab, working for University of Exeter. The Impact Lab helped Devon-based SMEs to innovate with big data and on environmentally beneficial projects, and was a partnership of seven leading research institutions, including the Met Office.
I loved working with the wide variety of businesses who came to the Impact Lab, and ended up taking a role as Chief Operating Officer in a HealthTech business called Spatial Quotient Ltd. We were trying to use Real-Time Location Systems and data analytics to optimise processes in hospitals and reduce wait times. It was a wonderful experience but after a couple of years it was time for me to move on, and to leave Devon and head back to the East Coast where I grew up. And now here I am in Colchester!
I’ve spent my career seeking out knowledge and interesting experiences, and it’s wonderful to be able to use all of that learning to help people with their own business journeys.
What are the top three pieces of advice you would give to entrepreneurs?
Every business journey is different, but most entrepreneurs face similar challenges, and the best three pieces of advice I can offer are:
1. Getting a good ‘product – market fit’ is essential. To do this you need to really understand your target customer and the problem you’re trying to solve for them. Get feedback fast and often, and don’t get stuck on an idea that you like, without making sure other people will like it too!
2. Don’t be afraid to fail – fail fast and learn from your mistakes. Innovation and entrepreneurship is a high risk game with potentially high rewards. You have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone to get them. You also need to get comfortable with getting things wrong, a lot! It won’t feel great at the time, but learning from those mistakes is what will make you a great business leader.
3. Don’t go it alone – sometimes it takes a village! It’s easy to feel isolated when you’re running a business, but you don’t have to be. Surround yourself with a community of peers and advisors to share the burden and share their insights. That’s what we offer to our businesses at ICKG: a friendly environment with like-minded business owners, a regular schedule of community events, and on site business support.