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.


John Leach – An interview with Carter Corson

16/03/2015

John Leach, Chief Executive, Winning Pitch, describes how it is always important for entrepreneurs to consider the emotional as well as financial costs to growth.

Click here to the article and more from Carter Corson

In your work you talk about “profitable, sustainable high growth”. What does sustainable refer to?

One of the key things around growth is that it all starts at the top. When we talk about high-growth businesses and organisations, what we’re referring to are those that can sustain 20% growth each year. This level of growth usually pivots around an individual who has a high degree of energy and wants to take the business to places where other entrepreneurs don’t want to go.

It begins with a mind-set driven by a genuine intention and ambition toward growth. There are many individuals who state that they want to grow but there’s a lack of genuine commitment. There are many people who talk about growth who are actually hallucinating rather than visioning.

Sustainable growth starts with genuine, sustainable intent that is actually followed through with strong execution. Sustainable intent translates into building the right team, working out the business model, financing it in a feasible and taking calculated risks.

There is a common misconception that entrepreneurs are nutcases who play the lottery with the family jewels. In fact, successful entrepreneurs are very much about assessing risk rather than taking risk. This gives them clarity in deciding what mitigating actions are required to avoid doing something calamitous.

When we talk about entrepreneurship, do you think that we sometimes over-focus on the individual? Can we lose sight of how while individuals may be the driving force behind a company, it takes a team to build it?

It does indeed start with the individual. The founders who grow their businesses into something quite special are the ones who have a high degree of self-awareness. However, it is important to think about the DNA of a great team, which I call the Thinkers, Doers, Sellers and Controllers. When you first set up, the founder is all of those things but they typically have a natural orientation to one or two of them. Successful entrepreneurs build a finely tuned engine that has an even mix of all four. Self-awareness is such an important part of the growth equation. You can’t do it all yourself – the minute you try to, you have a serious problem. You really need to build a team around you that is significantly better than you in lots of different areas.

Often, entrepreneurs can suffer from an imposture syndrome. They end up sitting in the board room thinking “everyone in here is smarter than me”. In reality, they have got themselves that far by being clever enough to have the right people around them. That is such an important part of the mix. .

In the UK there are 4.8 million businesses. There are only 36,000 that employ over 50 people. Why? Because it is so difficult. To grow beyond 50 you have to really be good at managing and building, which means recruiting while retaining the right talent. When they have 25 or more people, many entrepreneurs give up, sell up or they choose to downsize. Ultimately, sustaining profitable growth is a leadership challenge and this is a big problem for the UK plc. It comes back to the issue of recognising what skills needs to fit around the top table and who needs to sit in the right seat.

In a recent report, the problem of ‘leadership capability’ was cited as the second most important reason for the failure of UK businesses to scale up…

Absolutely. What you do when you start-up on your kitchen table is very different to when you are running a business of 150+ people. You have to develop and change.

I explain it as the Mind-set Staircase. Your mind has to make various transactions across the staircase where you go from being a founder, to a social worker once you have more employees. Then you assume the role of a strategic manager once you have other layers in there that are dealing with the numerous aspects of managing a business. That is one of the main reasons people don’t grow. Entrepreneurs say “the more people I employ, the harder it gets”.

Again, finding the right talent to sit in the right seat is crucial. I am a non-exec on four fast-growing businesses. In each of these, the first challenge to address is the people/talent issue. Often we find we have the wrong people, so invariably we start to look at the team. In most instances it has grown and has a product and a market, but the team running it is not fit for purchase. In many instances, we work on team dynamics – getting the right people doing the right jobs while building a culture that is conducive to innovation and success. That is one of the hardest things to do in business.

For entrepreneurs, what do you see as the emotional costs to growth?

Growth is more than just a series of spreadsheets showing financial projections. There are a lot of decisions that need to be made that impact on people around the entrepreneurial team – family, kids, wives and husbands. When making an executive decision, very often there is a difficult conversation going on back at home: “I need £200,000. I am going to re-mortgage the house.” “What does that mean for us?”

These are emotional decisions and they start to weigh heavy. There is often not only a financial cost to growth, but very often there is a medical cost. I see so many health-related complaints with ambitious people – anxiety, high blood pressure and ulcers. We never read about this but within my own networks, I see the impact that running a business actually has. It ends up running your life. This means you have to be mentally resilient, being capable of switching off and or to cope with uncertainty. Because we are British, we don’t talk about these things.


John Leach – An interview with Global Innovation Magazine

03/02/2015

This interview with John Leach, Non-Executive Director of Trustech was published in the Global Innovation Magazine.

Click here to read the rest of the article ‘NHS Manchester – Global Healthare Innovation

John Leach is a non-executive director of Trustech and is a well-known speaker on business and innovation as well as being a lecturer of entrepreneurship.

Do you think that the NHS on the whole ignores the revenue it could bring in through innovation?

Yes. There’s more that we could extract from the NHS in terms of enterprise, knowledge and Intellectual Property and I think that’s also the case with surrounding universities. There could be and should be a better way for value extraction without taking away the quality of care that the individual receives. More could be done. The real challenge is cultures colliding.

Is part of the issue that NHS staff are measured on performance and not innovation?

That’s the point. There are a couple of Trustech innovations that have come from clinicians, consultants. That takes a very enlightened person. People join the medical professions with the aim to make sure that their patients leave the hospital fully intact. They’re not looking at value creation.
If we can find those role models and we can find those individuals that have done it, then we can expose those heroes that have been able to balance commercial with science, with healthcare. It then makes it real to others. You can do both. It’s not wrong to do both. We don’t celebrate the success enough.

What’s the solution?

One way you address this is to create communities of people that have done it. That have been successful in the innovation process. Create a community of people that have come-up with an idea and got it to market. A community that is willing to share experiences and talk to others. That for me is where the gap is.

Trustech started in 2001, where is healthcare innovation in the UK heading now?

We shouldn’t underestimate what has already been achieved. With initiatives like Citylabs and hopefully a move into other parts of the UK, we can start to bring it together by creating conversations with those that have already capitalized on their innovations. Growth essentially. You get entrepreneurial growth by pulling people together. A fast-track learning environment, a safe environment to share experiences and ideas. That’s where it’s at, that’s what Trustech offers.

How has Manchester become a global hotspot for healthcare innovation? It’s a combination of academia, access to Europe’s biggest hospital site, research, a readily-available skilled workforce and determination, all being pulled together by the innovative approach of Trustech; an NHS organization.

Find Trustech at http://www.trustech.org.uk


Our Hi-Tech Future

05/01/2012

This was the title of yesterday’s speech delivered by David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science. It was positive to hear that science and technology lies at the heart of economic growth policy, something which I passionately believe in. Even more encouraging was the recognition that science and the arts are truly complementary. My blog The Enlightened Company (20th February 2011) reflected on this very point, some of the global technology brands of today were formed by fusing the skills of arts and science graduates. It is diversity that drives innovation and hopefully this recommendation will stimulate debate between arts and science faculties, the resultant effect being new possibilities, innovations and products – maybe a Google or Twitter?

The speech also communicated the strength of the UK’s research on the global stage and the fact that we publish more articles per researcher than the US, China, Japan or Germany. Whist this maybe the case, I do seem to recall that we are not up there when it comes to commercialisation of this research. Enhanced entrepreneurial mindset and orientation lies at the core of economic growth fuelled by science and technology focus. Much to be learned from the West Coast of the States.

Science and technological excellence is fine but if the patents, know how and IP end up overseas or sitting on a shelf then it does no good for UK jobs and growth. Greater effort needs to be directed to getting HE to think more about the commercial impact of what they do. It’s not just about spinning out companies but…how do academic staff  gain a better balance of research and selling their knowledge as consultants, attaining greater utilisation of assets that sit idle…… encouraging entrepreneurial thinking of post grads – creating more ideas and mind to market.

The reality is many university professors and academics frown upon enterprising forays and suffocate new possibilities even before they see the light of day.

A greater entrepreneurial culture will be vital to the successful execution of David Willetts’ strategy.


Are the universities letting the next generation down?

13/09/2011

I am a firm believer that the UK has some of the best universities in the world. However, does a game plan to raise the bar of performance feature within their strategic plans, particularly in relation to what happens when they wave good bye to their graduates.  We turn out amazing talent, equipped with knowledge and expertise in writing highly intellectual theses and essays. But what happens when they try to get a job. As an employer and interviewer of graduate talent, what comes across my desk every day is CV’s that lack depth, an inability to articulate a point of differentiation and to be honest a document so generic it misses the point. The resultant effect is we send out piles of “no thank you” letters, this must be highly discouraging to those poor graduates who thought their degree was a passport to the world.

Well I think its time for a rethink of how we make the talent pool more ready for the work place – many universities have a careers advice service, but just how effective is it?  Employers are looking for a tailored CV, crisp and to the point, giving evidence led narrative, supported by an interview where the applicant is prepared and up for the pitch. Attitude is just as important as qualification.

So where does the responsibility lie for job readiness? Is it the employer or the university? My view it’s the latter. If it’s going to be the growth SMEs that create new jobs, I believe it’s the universities role to turn out more rounded graduates ready for the work place. Those who have been taught the importance of self motivation, the power of communication, researching employer needs and writing CVs that hit the spot. If we don’t get a grip of this we will end up with graduates whacking out hundreds of CVs and applications with many of them receiving the obvious replies – this will manifest into bright sparks becoming depressed and ultimately lacking self worth. A thought for policy makers.


Universities have much more to give

29/06/2011

As a Nation we should be extremely proud of the contribution our Universities have made to the progression of science and knowledge and our educational prowess is both respected and recognised throughout the world. Whist this maybe the case, there is no avoiding the need to cut costs, a fate that other public and private sector organisations have failed to escape. Plugging the budget shortfall and creating financial game plans to secure long-term sustainable futures have become of paramount importance to senior university managers

The one advantage which universities have that others don’t is the rich seam of potentially commercial propositions these span the spectrum of patents and licensing, through to revenue streams created through consultancy, R & D collaboration and spinouts. However commecialisation still remains a relatively low priority for university faculties. At the extreme some senior academics frown upon entrepreneurial forays with many sensible suggestions dismissed at infancy. A mindset change is needed and when costs are being cut plausible options of how to secure revenue from the commercial realisation should be investigated. For many academics seeing the application of their research in practice is a significant motivator, more needs to be done.

The Government has made it clear that transforming research into innovation is a priority and whilst UK universities have a strong record more needs to be done. This involves building stronger links between the UK’s science and research base and the business community, to create more spin-out companies, consultancy projects and research-funded programme

For this to happen a fundamental change is needed in promoting an entrepreneurial culture. In all fairness academics are not trained or prepared for the life of commerce. Very few have the unique mix of business and technical skills. Setting up a venture or selling knowledge and expertise is far more than creating a business plan – it requires attention to a broader set of softer skill which cant be taught, however they can be coached. Is it time for change?


Commercialisation – not just technology

23/06/2010

There is this ongoing debate around the need to be better at commercialisation of new technology from the universities in the UK. One thing that struck me this weekend when I was on a tour at Manchester University – departments of social sciences, humanities, theology and arts. We must not over look these areas as I beleive they have some real gems that have application in the outside world. There are some excellent examples of work going on in the areas of religion, social anthropology, philosophy that have a real application in the world of business and entrepreneuship – leadership, morality, ethics, reasoning, motivation, judgement, values – if they could be packaged up excellent commercial potential well and truly does exist. I recently used an innovation voucher to explore this stuff and the results where fantastic.

Commercial potential exists in areas outside of engineering and sciences but the strong argument from individuals within the university is that their purpose is to research and extend the boudaries of understanding – I can totally agree with this too!