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 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


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.


Universities – sort out your shop window

19/11/2012

Increasing pressure is being placed on universities to play a greater role in economic growth and development – quite right as well. A recent survey by the Insider magazine demonstrated that 67% of companies have no idea what HE  have to offer in terms of commercial help. However, the majority of those SMEs that had engaged HE on a business problem rated the service offer as excellent, I can vouch for this personally.

It amazes me that there is still a massive reluctance of academics to progress industry engagement strategies – my experience is that many will do everything they can to stop commercial and enterprising activities. Last week the FT reported a movement of some 60 high-profile academics actively campaigning Government to slow down the pressure on HE to become more involved in supporting business. This really is a mystery to me. Our universities are the envy of the world, however, more needs to be done to generate revenue from knowledge and the brain power that resides in every major City in the UK.

There are number of things that universities need to do:

1. Make it easier for the commercial world to connect – create a front door

2. Make faster decisions, it is sometimes painful, waiting ages for next steps

Very simply, HE needs to sort out their shop window, what is on the shelf?what is the offer? – consultancy, research, IP, graduates, facilities…the list goes on. Universities must define their propositions clearly and tell the world what they have to offer in words that industry understand. Why cant every HE faculty have a “shop” one where the expertise is clearly communicated to the outside world?


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.


Universities can do more!

29/11/2010

The amount of Government funding that has gone into funding research and development over the last number of years needs to pay for itself in the future – looking at the vast resource of talent and expertise that sits in our HE establishments leads me to believe that there must be potential to create new ventures that deliver new jobs and economic growth. Patents, brainpower and knowledge can be turned into revenue – we just need more “academic entrepreneurs” – those individuals that remain passionate about their subject area but see the commercial potential of their work. Such individuals could be vital contributors to the economy going forward – Manchester University has a number of them – we just need more!