Entrepreneurial academics are vital to growing the economy


This week has seen a positive commitment from Government to increase the level of funding for research and development; this came with the announcement that the Technology Strategy Board has increased its funding to support the growth and development of innovative ideas. Great news for entrepreneurial businesses that have the desire to compete on a global scale with groundbreaking technology, ones that will we typically see on the West Coast of the States, yes, Silicon Valley.

The TSB funding is great for the private sector, however can we ignore the potential impact universities, in their own right, could have on economic growth both locally and nationally? There is still a lot of work to be done in unlocking intellectual assets that lie within world class HE establishments. Vince Cable’s science, research and Innovation speech in late 2010 summed up the current position:

“The important point from a national economic perspective is that we continue to increase the level of economic interactions between business and the research base, including spin-outs, licensing, consultancy and commissioned research… This leads us on to the wider question of intellectual property and how we deal with it.  Universities make only 5% of their externally earned income from patents and licensing. There are some striking exceptions but more needs to be done”.

It’s fair to say that some universities have got financial problems, the only way forward for many of them is to think and act like a business – in other words customers should be at the heart of their strategy. Universities are the foundation of the knowledge economy and they must turn their expertise into revenue and job creation opportunities for both students and the wider population.  Universities are sat on a rich seam of expertise resource, capability and knowledge, so accelerated strategies to generate profitable revenues from this intellectual content must be found.

So what is holding HE from exploiting the vast array of opportunities presented to them?  I believe it’s the lack of customer focus, sense of urgency and appreciation of how important selling is to the commecialisation agenda. Thomas Edison said, Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success”. Can anyone disagree with one of the greatest innovators of time?

Cultures need to change and universities need to breed a new generation of academics, ones that think and behave like Thomas Edison – entrepreneurially and with sales, customers and markets at the soul of creation. In the academic world life seems to go on hold at the beginning of June when academic teaching and exams are completed. Well in the business world life goes on and deals continue to be struck. Again its an ingrained culture that is not in the least bit entrepreneurial.

It truly puzzles me why the term “selling” is ignored in any public business growth support service. Growth means selling loads of stuff we must get HE researchers to think more clearly as to how their work translates into a spin out, licence or some other form of revenue stream. A balance of academic success and commercial reality can be achieved. Please can we get more university managers to start thinking about how they encourage academics to develop “entrepreneurial selling skills”, its what makes the economy go round. A new breed of academics is what the UK economy needs, ones that fuse excellence in research with commercial application – selling skills are part of the answer.

I am delighted to have been appointed as Visiting Entrepreneur at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Manchester, one of the world’s finest academic establishments. My plan is to embed some of the Thomas Edison thinking and work with academics to create commercial value. An exciting 12 months ahead.

The extra mile – no traffic jam there


Putting in the minimum amount of effort to a task to achieve a satisfactory result is a behaviour associated with individuals who have little or no ambition. Successful entrepreneurs take nothing for granted, they realise that through hard work and loyal commitment to their personal intentions they may from time to time have to put in extra hours or do things that may feel punishing to either their mind or body – quite often both. I see lack of ambition in many businesses I meet, almost inertia. The economy needs more big/different thinkers.

My experience is that very few people are willing to push themselves physically and emotionally to over deliver- just doing enough to get by, does my head in. A clock on clock off mentality – delivers business as usual if you are lucky. A Just Do It attitude delivers a winning performance. This maybe working a weekend to complete an important project, staying late at the office to help colleagues complete a critical bid, or investing in a loss leading idea to get you noticed – winners do more.  Going the extra mile to please customers is an extremely important behaviour to exhibit, you become respected by your peer group and the opportunities for growth is enhanced because others become engaged by your level of commitment.

You will place yourself well ahead of the competition when you do more than what was expected of you. It is also extremely rewarding both professionally and personally. The mindset of going the extra mile helps when:

  • You want to make a great first impression with a customer (you only get one chance to do this)
  • You want to win an important contract
  • You have an ambition to exhibit the gazelle growth profile
  • You are operating in a crowded market place
  • You want to build value in your business not just a wage
  • You want to maintain the edge on competition

Think deeply about what you want to achieve and accept that by conditioning your mind to embrace the philosophy of doing more you will become evermore successful purely by outperforming others. This mental programming becomes an integral part of your behaviour and winning becomes a habit.

There is no traffic jam on the extra mile – a mindset more entrepreneurs needs to embrace.

Global Brands – Did they take part in recession?


The Autumn statement provided depressing news for many households and entrepreneurs trying to build a future. Running a business is hard enough without listening to Euro crisis problems, poor growth forecasts and a recovery in the dim and distant future. The resultant effect of the Chancellors statement for many will be – baton down the hatches and reduce investment in people development and new ideas. This becomes a self fulling prophecy and usually you get what you think about.

There are always different ways to view the world, we can be a builder or destroyer of our own future. Well my advice is life is too short for two years of life to evaporate, i.e sitting there and waiting for economic recovery to happen, we should embrace a mindset of not taking part in the recession. Scarcity is the mother of innovation and history tells us that some of the most successful brands on the planet started or thrived during recessionary times here are just a few examples:

General Electric – Not only did Thomas Edison set this Company up in the middle of a recession it thrived when the US economy faced collapse.

IBM – Set up in the middle of a US economy slump

General Motors – set up during the US financial crash of 1908 and went on a buying spree when the Federal Reserve was approaching melt down

Disney – really started to take off smack bang in the middle of the Great Depression

Burger King – started just after the Korean war, its founders philosophy being people still need to eat

Microsoft – Started by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in 1975 when the United States was mired in stagflation -the combination of rising unemployment and inflation combined with stagnant GDP

CNN – Started when the Federal Reserve made the decision to aggressively raise interest rates to curb inflation, it caused a “double dip” recession

Apple– Apple got its start in 1975, during another downturn and thrived just after the dot-com bubble burst!

So the message is…Its not all bad news, it’s about having a vision and mindset to create something special and different. Whilst we must avoid putting our head in the sand and thinking all is OK, we must find a balance – place one foot firmly on the accelerator and have the other hovering over the brake!