- Chris Blackwell; Scale-up Lead at Birmingham Tech
- Rich Westman; Founder and CEO of Kaido
- Gaynor Matthews; Co-Founder & Innovation Director at myNexus
- Jagvir Purewal; Senior Associate Patent Attorney, Forresters
- Jon Swinbourne; CEO B13 Technology
The session was about helping tech-focused entrepreneurs to formulate a strategy and tactics to enable their business to grow and succeed. The panel included two entrepreneurs that had scaled their businesses and two advisors. And the thread was to explore the essentials of building a successful business and the support that is available.
The discussion kicked off with a question to the panel about what they see is the number one growth and success factor. The points made were to focus on what makes your business unique and keeping that front and centre. And also, crucial to focus on funding from day one, and to be innovative in your approach to it. The other point was about people and culture, that as a business you must make the time people spend with you engaging. And finally, the importance of timing to create a real need for your product and service. That, for a successful business there is a huge element of timing and a bit of luck.
The chair turned to the audience for questions and suggestions for themes. The first topic discussed was around failure, and what lessons had the panel learnt from it. To start it was suggested not to see it as failure, but as experience. Then even in the event you do fail, the hindsight you develop is a powerful skill. And to have a structure in place to discuss what will happen in case of failure. Also, to understand that failure is important, and entrepreneurs must be prepared to fail. Having faith in yourself to get where you need to be, but to start small and iterate. There is no textbook on how to build the perfect businesses, it is a process of trial and error. So not failing but learning from your mistakes and continuing to evolve. From an IP perspective, 80% of a business’s value is intangible, and protecting your assets helps to de-risk. And IP will mature as your business matures, so think carefully about what IP is there to do and use it as a business tool.
The next topic was if there is a formula or steps to follow for success. There was an agreement that there isn’t a formula, but it is important to balance looking at the bigger picture and focusing on the little things, and taking little steps, one thing at a time. And that in the end it’s up to you as an entrepreneur to make the decisions, which might not always be the right ones, so perseverance is important. Another point was the importance of working with the right people, partners, and professionals. And a suggestion that the best education is to learn from not only your own mistakes but also from those of other entrepreneurs. And to seek people that are honest enough to tell you there is no magic formula, that you have to be prepared to adapt and change.
Then discussion moved on to ecosystems and experiences of accessing support. There was recognition of the value of communities like Birmingham Tech for founders with little tech expertise, and the importance of embracing the ecosystem. However, it was recognised that while Birmingham is great for start-ups there is not enough support available for scale-ups. Also, because it can be lonely life for an entrepreneur, it’s important to be part of a community, and to get all support that is out there. Even if it is hard to find time to get out there and access support. In addition, Birmingham is a friendly place with great support, networks, and a strong community. So do ask for help and you will most likely get good recommendations.
The last theme was on underrepresented founders and talent. One issue the panel brought up was on education, and that there are not enough skilled people to support all the entrepreneurs out there. There is the need to start giving people different growth paths, and to get mentorship at a young age. Continuing on the question of a skills gap, there was a point raised about entrepreneurship being a career that doesn’t necessarily need to go down the traditional education routes. So, we should look beyond the traditional training and reach into the communities and give people the skills and the confidence they need to take the next step. Furthermore, it is important to get out to the communities, not only to stay in the city centre.
The chair moved back to the audience, and a question was asked about where would a business that was new to the ecosystem go for support, and what would be the first port of call. The panel agreed that it is not easy, that as an outsider there is so much information out there that it is overwhelming. Which raised the issue of a need for a resource, or tool to get all information together in one place. However, there was a reminder not to forget that the Growth Hubs are well connected and a good place to start.
Next question was about how to support people after the early stage. Views were that risk appetite from investors in the region is very low. And starting a business is hard, so there should be more responsibilities for building the support networks. While it is valuable to tell people to get started, there must be support for the journey. And there is not only the problem of access to funding but also of access to experience. So, it is necessary to encourage entrepreneurs to give back to system.
And building on the previous question, the panel was asked what was the possibility of influencing Government policy to increase survival rates of start-ups. One position was that entrepreneurs might not have the will, time, and connections for this. So it would be better to spend time focusing on addressing regional problems.
The final question was what advice the panel would give to entrepreneurs who were looking at recruitment. The suggestions were to understand your teams’ skills and capabilities and then match to fill the gaps. Also, not to recruit inexperienced first as they take a lot of time to upskill, and to look for intrinsic personality traits that fit with your business’s journey and culture.
Author, Simon Spink
Business Support for Innovation Coordinator; Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands