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.

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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.