Academic achievement must go hand in hand with an entrepreneurial mindset

30/04/2015

The next three months will see universities churning out thousands of very proud new graduates – BA Hons, BSc’s the lot. A great education with brains packed full of new learning, knowledge and facts. But why do so many fail to find a job? How many of these bright new graduates have had their prospects limited by the conditioning of the external environment? These young adults have been supported in life skills and getting their head in shape for the next stage of their life. How many walk away with a personal growth plan that defines very clearly how to move their life on and make the best of their three years spent at university? How many have thought creatively about next steps… charity work, setting up their own business, free lancing using specialist skills they have acquired?

My view, is that we have some of the best academic institutions in the world and we create some of the finest talent, but so many never realise their potential and end up in jobs that fall way below their true capability – futures that lack direction, bouncing around from one job to another. It’s no use having a long list of qualifications if you don’t put them to best use. More effort and energy should be put into developing the creative and entrepreneurial mindsets that drive ambition and ultimately greater achievement. If you cant find a job why not create your own and set up in business? We need to see more graduate entrepreneurship.

I speak from experience, I left university in 1986 with a degree in Chemistry – great technical skills, but struggled having conversations, making presentations and generally selling myself to potential employers – no skills for life. I am not sure much has changed to be honest – I had to work it out for myself. We need to equip this next generation with a more rounded experience thereby allowing them to combine great academic qualifications with a mindset conducive to achievement and releasing personal potential. We must remember that we get what we think about. The universities are a rich seam of next generation entrepreneurs, work is needed to getting them started.

Are the cap and gown, the photograph that hangs on mum and dads wall and the handshake from the university chancellor the best send off we can give them? As well as the well-earned degree certificate, they should all leave with a “plan for life” or maybe a plan for their own business.


Spinouts – Scaling Up

26/01/2015

This blog was written for Spinouts UK Quarterly Journal 2015. You can join their distribution list by emailing research@ycf.co.uk

Most spinout companies from universities have the ambition to be companies of scale. If they are to win significant investment at an early stage, they will need to demonstrate that they have a ‘road map’ to enable them to establish a strong position in their chosen market.

However, this ‘road map’ passes through different stages, each of which places different demands on the company founders. Initially, the spinout founders will be immensely relieved to have completed the spinout process itself, with the knotty issues of IP ownership, and the relationship of the academic founders with the university. The next stage is generally one of spending (on prototypes, clinical trials, and other proofs of technology) rather than selling. As a very broad generalisation, academics in spinout companies are more comfortable with the ongoing research and development (which is in many ways similar to their academic work) than in market analysis, recruitment and team building, or the management of premises, financial records, and all the other administrative tasks which are essential to get a startup company on its feet.

The next stage is growth. For all young companies, whether spinouts or not, there are natural barriers to growth. Winning Pitch identifies the most important of these as the emotional cost and the financial cost.

The emotional cost to the individuals involved is usually manifested in self imposed pressure, and in the uncertainty that demands resilience and mental toughness to keep going when the inevitable road blocks are presented.

A scale up company is defined as one that grows its employee or turnover at a rate of 20 per cent per annum over a three-year period, and the financial costs of doing this can rack up very quickly – the cost of recruiting new talent, and of raising finance, professional fees, new premises, IT infrastructure and administrative costs can shoot through the roof. Costs must be controlled and the execution of a growth plan needs to be effectively choreographed – clear roles need to be defined, people need to be accountable for delivering on their tasks. Very rarely can growth be achieved without impacting on profitability.

This is why the majority of the 500,000 of last year’s new startups will never go on to employ one person never mind 10, and also why over 99% of UK firms employ fewer than 50 people. Very often it’s the financial cost of growth that holds individuals back.

What does this mean for academics spinning out a new company from a university?

The main point to recognise is that no one entrepreneur can build a business alone – it takes a team, combining the different skills needed to grow the business. The second point to recognise is that as the team grows, different leadership challenges emerge as the culture of the business evolves. At Winning Pitch we refer to the ‘growth staircase’, with different challenges as the number of staff increases. When the company reaches 7-12 people, the entrepreneur has become an ‘entrepreneurial social worker’. At 25 or more people, the business culture becomes ‘the team vs. the mob’. With 50 or more staff, the business needs to evolve towards a corporate culture, where processes need to be standardised and continually improved, with less scope for individual innovation. Individuals who can take a company through all these stages are rare indeed, and academic entrepreneurs do well to realise that at some stage in the company’s development, the business will be best served if the reins are handed over to others with practical experience of running a large and growing company.


High growth entrepreneurs have an innovation department

26/08/2014

Business incubators have become a common feature of public sector enterprise support in recent years; many of these establishments have proved to be highly effective in nurturing early stage entrepreneurs. They don’t just provide a desk and somewhere to turn up every morning, their added value comprises: a place to network, share ideas and collaborate. The really good ones offer mentoring and coaching, this is often what makes the real difference between success and me too performance. In many UK regions, incubators have become a hot bed of exciting new businesses, the potential employers of graduate talent – Autonomy in Cambridge is a fantastic example.

This concept of incubation needs to feature prominently in the culture and mindset of winning businesses – any ambitious entrepreneurial company should have a “department” or function responsible for building a pipeline of new thinking that delivers potential new revenue streams or adds value to existing customer experiences. I don’t mean a department literally – it’s about having an organisational process that brings together thinkers, doers, sellers and controllers, one that not only develops new ideas but also implements the commercially viable nuggets that emerge from the process of discovery. The concept of incubation delivers a major thrust for gaining an edge in the market place.

It is my opinion that creative intelligence is the ultimate source of competitive advantage – high growth companies tend to be disproportionately more innovative than the rest of the SME population. They explore, embrace diversity, live in their customer’s world, experiment with new possibilities and avoid complacency by making creative thought a habit, not something they do once a fortnight on a Friday afternoon. It must form part of an organisations “soul”. 


10 Principles for Growth

29/07/2012

I have touched on these before and updated them for individuals who want to build a high growth business – this stuff really does work. The insight has been built on studying what the best do – I have used them myself and supported/encouraged lots of ambitious entrepreneurs to use them. If you are up for it then embrace them and go for it: The 10 principles:

Principle 1 – An ability to climb the growth staircase

Embrace change and commit to personal development, this facilitates smooth transitions along the growth staircase.

Principle 2 – Effective leadership

Highly tuned leadership and management capability lies at the heart of strong profitable growth. An ability to enthuse others, set and execute strategy is paramount. Internal and external leadership must be displayed at all times.

Principle 3 – Be future focused

Shared clarity of vision and strategy is a must have. A practical game plan with clearly devolved roles and responsibilities is paramount –success is based on 20% thinking and 80% doing. Iteration is vital and let tactics dictate strategy.

Principle 4 – Build a great team

Thinkers, sellers, doers and controllers provide the balance needed to gather momentum – create a culture where values and behaviours are aligned to delivering great service both internally and externally

Principle 5 – Disciplined systems and processes

Innovation and entrepreneurial flair must be tempered with the implementation of a robust set of disciplined systems, processes and controls. The appropriate dials on the dashboard (KPIs)will provide a real time picture of the company state of health. Finance, sales, pipeline, customer service – be clear on the crucial dials for your business. (Disciplined Entrepreneurship)

Principle 6 – Gain an edge through innovation and creativity

Drive innovation into the processes and functions of your company and practice alternative thinking. Be clear on your points of difference and embed a culture of freshness. Fusion of ideas to create new ones helps to drive the “innovative edge”. Have a voice in your sector – be seen as the movers and shakers.

Principle 7 – Build differentiated propositions

Differentiated propositions that stand out from the crowd win the day, they must be memorable – demonstrating and evidencing the difference and impact products and services bring to customers is a job well done. Avoid competing on price, as this strategy is not sustainable; compete on difference – IP, brand and quality.

Principle 8 – Live in the “Customers World”

By living in the “Customer’s World” real product and service needs are captured. This fuels a sales approach based on an authentic sense of purpose – it’s selling what you believe in and not just a product or service. Embed effective customer connectivity strategies within the find, reach, win, keep framework.

Principle 9 – A winning mindset

Condition your mindset to one of infinite growth and potential – Clarity, mental toughness, passion, determination, endurance, faith, sense of purpose, resilience, confidence. A BYC mentality – Believe You Can, is vital to gazelle thinkers.

Principle 10 – Have a mentor

Find connectors who can provide answers to the challenges you face – experienced mentors will help to raise the bar of performance. Be part of a like-minded network, this eliminates the feeling of loneliness – they will point you in the right direction.

 


Entrepreneurship in the public sector

19/07/2012

This morning I experienced a great example of public sector entrepreneurship. We recently moved to Salford Quays next to Media City (new location of the BBC) – one of the key attractions was to be close to the digital expertise located in the area and indeed the Media department of Salford University. Why? can any business overlook the benefits this new digital age will bring?

All well and good, however business growth only takes place when conversations and personal relationships gather momentum, trust is built and mutual respect results. Critical non essentials such as courtesy, humility and just caring are so often overlooked in the teaching in business schools and the books they encourage us to read.

Back to the point, having been in our new office for only 1 week a call came into us from Salford City Council – Matthew Lynn, one of the Economic Development Officers. Can I come in and talk to you about how we can help? Firstly, I was astounded that they knew we were coming and secondly, today a meeting with Matthew clearly demonstrated:

– Customer focus

– An interest in what we do

– An explanation of what services the Council can offer

– The introductions they can make to partners

– Details of networking opportunities

– Opportunities to work together (win-win)

I was left with an overwhelming sense of entrepreneurial flair and what I call living in the “Customers World”. Top stuff, I was inspired to see that both an individual and the Council had a genuine interest in us. The start of a great relationship (I hope) – who said the public sector is not entrepreneurial!

 

 


Entrepreneurial Learning

29/06/2012

I spoke at the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship conference earlier this week. The theme was entrepreneurial learning in organisations. It was an extremely thought provoking session, that brought together fantastic academic minds on the theme of entrepreneurship.

As a keen observer of entrepreneurial learning and improvement, my view is that the UK economy will grow faster if more effective leaders are created and nurtured. Enterprise policy makers must recognise the importance of bigger thinking and greater ambition – a key component of leadership. Academic enterprise research needs to investigate in greater depth the emotional needs of entrepreneurs – the spirit and mindset. Setting up and growing a business can be extremely demanding. For entrepreneurial leaders balancing personal and commercial risk can be a debilitating experience – we must look at developing practical coping strategies to help leaders overcome the fear often associated with the stages of growth.

From my discussions with participants I was encouraged to hear that softer issues do appear to be attracting more academic interest. Topics such as developing an entrepreneurial mindset, coping, resilience, mental toughness, personal branding and faith must get on the agenda. These are all essential ingredients for leadership success. Practical tools to help entrepreneurs address these areas would be well received within the community – when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Entrepreneurs are courageous individuals who cope well with the lonely rollercoaster existence, helping them to live with high pressure moments would be a well-received antidote for those wanting to make a difference. I am extremely excited about the work ISBE is undertaking.


Faith is important for entrepreneurs

26/06/2012

The life of an entrepreneur is full of ups and downs. The high’s are fantastic and the feeling of jubilation when you move closer to your intentions provides a clear sense of accomplishment – it delivers the impetus to keep pushing on. It’s a great place to be because motivation and energy helps to build an important ingredient for success – momentum.

However, we all know, building a business can likened to a roller coaster ride, the journey very rarely proceeds along a smooth path. Obstacles are just part of the game, these force us to create diversions and look for alternative ways of getting to our destination.

Constantly being forced to deal with the need to explore alternative roads to the end point can have a wearing effect on  mindset. The danger is when it stimulates negative self talk – what’s the point in doing this? Is it really worth it?  Many entrepreneurs will have at some point internally deliberated these issues. Only you can answer these questions, only you can decide whether to keep going or not.

The power of autosuggestion brought to us many years ago is a vital antidote. Autosuggestion is a psychological technique  developed by  Emile Coue in the late 19th century. It’s an important tool in conditioning our mind to achieve our goals. It can be as destructive and constructive. At the heart of autosuggestion lies conditioning ourselves, through our senses to achieve what we want.

Through observational research, I have come up with other practical tools to help at critical points where emotional support is vital for the entrepreneur. The reality is, it can be easier to give up than to carry on – winners in all walks of life dig deep, maintain focus and continue with their mission, they accept setbacks are just part of the game.  The old adage when the going gets tough the tough get going is one you should reflect on when these feelings kick in.

Mental toughness differentiates winners from losers, your sense of purpose ebbs away when you listen to negative self talk, phrases such as why am I doing this? are symptomatic of the condition, in turn it weakens the endurance of the mind thereby resulting in I give up. Successful people have an insatiable desire and internalised motivation to succeed – you have really got to want it!

Having faith in what your are trying to achieve is a vital ingredient for success. If you dont believe then dont expect others to. It’s important to condition your mind to becoming resilient. Without faith and mental toughness the reality is, winning becomes more difficult. When things are not going your way, embrace the principles of R.A.F

Rewind – and go back to your vision, picture success and hold this image in your mind. Quiet contemplation is vital to aiding this process. This activity will move you out of the negative state and refresh your mind then get you back “on purpose”

Accept – that things will not always go your way. Avoid long drawn out dissections of why things turned out the way they did. Coming runner up is sometimes a wake up call for us. Accept the position and move on otherwise negative self talk will hinder progression.

Have Faith in yourself and your ability to achieve what you want out of your business. When you develop faith, bouncing back when things go wrong is far easier. By having faith you convince your mind that anything is possible

Practice, practice and practice this philosophy and see your success improve dramatically.

 


Entrepreneurial leaders – Create space for practical learning

06/06/2012

It is the leaders role to create and communicate a compelling vision and strategy to staff and stakeholders. When this is done with passion and authenticity, strong foundations are built for innovation and creativity; it sets the scene for personal progression and engages teams to fire on all cylinders. But how does the leader gain the inspiration, insight and knowledge to build such an environment. Well the answer may lie in the cliché – leaders are readers. Having worked with over 3,000 small businesses over the past 6 years, many of which would be termed gazelles (high growth innovative firms), the one ingredient that differentiates outstanding performance from mediocre is a leaders approach to learning. Winning Pitch’s work in this field indicates that organisations led by individuals who create space to acquire and apply knowledge go on to derive benefits of faster and sustained levels of growth.

The inability or lack of motivation to allow time for learning often results in leaders pursuing business as usual strategies. In the worst case this leads to disconnection from the market place and the needs of customers. The resultant impact is lack of competitive advantage and a spiral decline in margins, market share and revenue. Innovative high growth business leaders practice the philosophy of 20% thinking and learning along with 80% doing and reviewing. This mental framework facilitates an iterative approach to entrepreneurship, project implementation, idea generation and learning. It is a process commonly associated with scientific discovery. Iteration provides an effective route to positive progression and getting new ideas and projects off the ground more rapidly. It drives momentum, a characteristic commonly displayed by successful entrepreneurs.

Maintaining the healthy 20:80 split is extremely important as a slip in either direction can lead to either inertia, particularly if too much learning prevails or chaos if too much doing dominates the agenda. The latter gives rise to another popular cliché – not being able to see the wood for the trees. So what is the secret sauce to achieving an optimum return for the 20%? It is appropriate to point out that entrepreneurial leaders embrace different learning preferences and styles, however our experiences are summed up wonderfully in the Chinese Proverb:

I hear and I forget

I see and I remember

I do and I understand

The power of learning by seeing and doing charaterises many of the ambitious entrepreneurial leaders Winning Pitch has worked with. Several learning formats that have emerged from this school of thought, the most popular being peer to peer networking – informal environments where entrepreneurs’ get together to discuss and debate issues and challenges they face. This becomes an extremely powerful option to fast tracked learning, the reason being many problems associated with growth are common – very often they revolve around building teams, finance, access to markets and regulations.

An environment where entrepreneurs debate how they solved specific growth challenges can save others facing similar difficulties an enormous amount of time. Such edited highlights are proving to be an increasingly popular way of consuming new learning. This approach has given rise to numerous entrepreneurial networking organisations such as Entrepreneurs Circle, Supper Club, Tie and Winning Pitch’s High Growth Foundation. Entrepreneurs often make reference to living a lonely life and exposure to their peer group can deliver a whole range of learning benefits, firstly, they can help to alleviate and cope with those feelings of isolation and secondly, they can steer them to solutions only obvious to an external viewer.

Experience sharing is a valuable tool for entrepreneurial businesses and their leaders; more specifically it produces accelerated learning within organisations where training budgets are limited. Simple yet highly effective routes to achieving this can be done by:

Viewing what great looks like – strategy, raising finance, sales & marketing approaches implemented by non-competing organisations. This helps entrepreneurs to acquire knowledge of trusted advisers and expertise. All too often entrepreneurs end up on the receiving end of bad advice. By speaking to those deemed as exemplar this can fast track to effective support networks.

Speaking to other entrepreneurs – what went right what went wrong. There are excellent learning opportunities distilled from bad experiences and more often than not entrepreneurs are only too willing to help others avoid the mistakes they made themselves.

Studying biographies of success – we live in an age where the digital environment provides a content rich source of inspirational stories of the tactics and tools successful people have implemented to achieve great results. Many high performing entrepreneurs featured as part of Winning Pitch’s network regularly refer to the insights gained from studying these biographies as being – stimulus for change, acquiring new knowledge and delivering enhanced performance.

In early 2012, Winning Pitch via its High Growth Foundation accompanied 18 entrepreneurial leaders on a learning journey to Silicon Valley. Common to these UK entrepreneurs was their desire to build globally focused organisations. Through Winning Pitch’s contacts on the West Coast ambitious individuals were exposed to some of the largest brands on the planet including Google and LinkedIn. On return participants stated that the learning journey had acted as catalyst for both personal and company progression.  Participating entrepreneurs listened to the stories and methods used by global company leaders – how they go about their business, innovate, manage staff, build culture, access finance – not only what they do but more importantly how they think. The UK delegation were united in one key learning outcome – The mindset and the scale of thinking within Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is a quantum level greater than that seen in the UK. Entrepreneurial leaders – Create space for practical learning (See www.highgrowthfoundation.co.uk for more information)

 

The UK boasts internationally competitive and highly recognised educational institutions, ones equipped to teach strategy, management tools and techniques and associated frameworks and philosophies at the highest level. However, is there a missing link in the provision of assistance? Could more be done to help entrepreneurs embrace a mindset which raises the bar of performance in a big way? The UK economy needs more high growth businesses and new starts to deliver employment opportunities – NESTA’s Vital 6 per cent report clearly showed that a small minority of high-growth businesses hold the key to job creation and wider prosperity. This means we need UK entrepreneurs to learn how to think bigger, no better way of doing that than seeing it in action.


Gazelles – past and present (part 2)

02/05/2012

I wrote a blog a week ago that covered Harvey Goldsmith’s view of the Top 10 greatest entrepreneurs past and present (part 1). Here is the final listing from 6 – 10 and the insights I think are important for other ambitious people:

6. Harry Hyams (1928 – ) – a man who changed the face of commercial property. He built Centre Point in the 60’s and left it controversially empty for months. He was a man who got his timing right, stirred things up – a great example of success is often down to luck. Many would say he planned to be “lucky”

7.Bernie Ecclestone (1930-) – grasped the opportunity when he saw it. From selling cars to F1 supremo. The window of opportunity is presented to so many of us but how many grab it when it appears? It often only lasts for a short time. His vision and leadership is an inspiration to us all.

8.William Morris (1834-1896) – crafts and arts specialist who dreamed of improving the quality of life for British workers. He was a highly successful artist whose designs are still around today – the message is? Leaving a legacy and putting something back!

9.Lew Grade (1906 -1998) – a master entrepreneur in the entertainment business. Famous for pushing an idea across the finishing line – how many of us are guilty of losing faith in an idea when the first hurdle presents itself. Faith is such an important part of getting the idea into the market place. Sunday Night at the Palladium and Pink Panther were several of his major accomplishments.

10. Sir Martin Sorrell (1945-) Not had the best of press this week given the big salary. However, so many forget what this man has achieved. In the mid 80’s he bought a little company called Wire & Plastic Products – this became WPP. It emerged as a world-beating communications and advertising business. Annual revenues running into billions and profits approaching £1bn. How many others can say they have done that. Grit and determination are key ingredients of his success. So the press….get off his back, how short people’s memories are!


Lloyds TSB Enterprise Awards

01/03/2012

The banks have had a bit of a kicking over the past few years. However, let’s be fair and look at some of the great things they are doing. Earlier in the week I was fortunate enough to judge and speak at the Lloyds TSB Enterprise Awards – an initiative designed to seek out the best university students and graduate entrepreneurial talent. It was an inspiration to listen to young people with ideas and the motivation to build a business rather than go down the traditional route of trying to find a job.

Universities have an important role to play in preparing individuals for the next stage of their career, equipping them with the ability to write a 5,000 word dissertation is just not enough. Conditioning graduates to consider the option of setting up their own business is vital – is it any riskier than trying to find a job? probably not!

The young entrepreneurs I met, had ideas, put them on paper and then rolled them out – they were generating revenue and jobs. The winner of the Best Enterprise, Adam Soliman of Charbrew was a top lad, his head in the right place. The Best Start up – Peter Van Neste of Stagetex had a clear handle on his sector and the finances of his company.

The reality was, all of the finalists were high performers and an inspiration to other graduates, more specifically the finalists :

-had clarity of what they wanted to achieve

-were innovative and displayed an edge

-displayed the invisible forces of passion, hunger and determination

-lived in their customers world

-had a grip on the importance of finances

The finalists must be showcased – they are role models and an example of what can be achieved if you just get your head around the idea of being your own boss. Come on universities wake up – Lloyds TSB, great, you have clocked the potential of graduates and their ability to create and generate wealth!