On November 14th 2018, Brunel was host to 5 successful entrepreneurs, all alumni of the university. We tagged along to hear more about their successes, and find out how they do it.
The event was hosted by Mat Hunter, Managing Director at the Central Research Laboratory (a home for the ‘mobile’ small businesses and start-ups), who was also the founder of the Design Councils SPARK accelerator program.
Mat specialises in hardware and manufacturing, and works in a co-working space that offers prototyping facilities and specialist peer support for people trying to develop their product ideas to be viable and feasible. According to Mat, the average start-up has only got a 50% survival rate after 2 years of setting up, whereas start-ups that have left the CRL have an 80% survival rate.
“Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but let’s have everyone decide that for themselves.” – Mat Hunter
The first guest of the evening was a financial technology developer, Dave Nicholson, who had help set up Zopa.com, Axial Tilt, and Yoyo, to name just a few of his ventures.
His advice to budding entrepreneurs was to consider the megatrends. A relatively recent megatrend has been the adoption of smartphones, which we now use to run our lives. Spot the megatrends early and start coming up with potential ideas that would work with them.
Dave has a novel approach for how he comes up with his new ideas; he would imagine realigning an existing company. For example, what is going to be the Netflix of education? Or the eBay of financing? Dave’s companies were formed by adopting this contextual design approach to innovation.
He had some more advice to give. Always take on board negative feedback. Develop a thick skin. Don’t fear people stealing you ideas, just tell them about yours. Learn from the negatives and prepare to hear the same critiques again and again.
If you are ready to start a business venture, he says, the most important part is choosing the right team. You want to have an assortment of skills between you. After you have your team, then you should try to spot the opportunities. Analyse the market. Idea development shouldn’t be hard if the team and the analysis is done right.
Next up was Harriet Kelsall. Harriet is an award winning jewellery designer with her own bespoke jewellery company. Her success was down to her ability to spot the gap in the market.
Harriet first spotted a gap in the market whist pursuing her hobby of making jewellery. She had been fascinated with jewellery ever since she made her first ring with the help of her father at the age of 4. She continued to make bespoke jewellery for friends and family as a passion project, but after a while realised that the majority of her customers where not actually just friends and family. People were coming to Harriet for bespoke jewellery because this was something that the market was not offering them. It was her customers who helped her see it.
“You don’t need to know anything to start a business” – Harreit Kelsall
In Harriets perspective, what is key to your success is passion, belief in your idea, creativity, and risk taking. A lot of people don’t make the jump because they are alluded by the idea that you must be a business whizz.
Harriet describes innovation as the connection of two unrelated factors. In her case, she innovated by combining jewellery with the new big thing; the internet. Now, her company offers jewellery designed for a specific individual, retailed at a competitive price (They also have a design to wear collection). Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery is driven to redefine what it means to be a high street jewellers, with a coffee shop, social spaces, a themed garden, and a design led business model that requires no sales representatives.
Philip Scotcher set up Grand Central, a creative advertising solutions company. Grand Central does everything from branding, to social media, to content creation. It even runs its own incubator program. More companies are recognising the benefits of incubators as they benefit from equity whilst the start-up benefits from the experience and initial investment.
Philip gave shared his experiences and gave advice for anyone who is a budding entrepreneur. First and foremost, he reaffirmed Harriets point; it’s okay not to know what you want to do next. Take the jump, and see where you go.
Experience is everything, so experience everything. You should aim to do all of those things that make you uncomfortable too. That might be public speaking, sales pitches, management positions. You can only get better by doing it all.
Be pro-active. You won’t win from sitting around. Think about your dreams and start aiming for them. Don’t fear failure. Philip even mentioned how he’s actually grateful that he has been fired twice before. It only made him stronger, and gave him lessons that he has now learnt from. Plus, what might have felt like a bad thing can actually be the best thing to have happened to you. Without being fired, he might never have set up his company in the first place.
Get a mentor. It doesn’t have to be an industry big-wig. It just has to be anyone who can listen and advise based on their own experiences. They don’t make your decisions though, they just help you make your own.
Don’t burn bridges. Industry is tiny, and you will inevitably meet people from your past again and again. Falling out with someone may just come back to haunt you, but that said, positive relationships will also be around for a while too. Philip is still in touch with many of his old course-mates from university and is even doing business with some of them now.
And finally, he said, understand what you are after. What is your definition of success? Control? Ownership? It is vital that you know what you are aiming for.
Naimish Gohil is the founder of Satchell Education, and designed his first program ‘Show My Homework’ which aimed to be an easy-to-use homework planning and submission tool that was an alternative to the intimidating and complex options currently being used. Naimish delivered a fast paced motivational presentation to the crowd.
“Everyone can start, but not everyone can finish.” – Naimish Gohil
To get anywhere with an idea, one requires discipline and perseverance. He couldn’t emphasise perseverance enough. There will be a lot of tough time and hard days that make you doubt yourself, but you must push through. Don’t get distracted, and don’t settle for second best.
Naimish told us that passion was his main motivational force. He loved what he was doing and believed in it. The money he makes is just a product of his passion.
“When you go though the downs, that is when passion has to kick in.” – Naimish Gohil
Surround yourself with positive people. Negativity is as infectious as positivity. Find other people who are passionate about what you’re doing. Don’t let people shoot you down.
Naimish has found that by far the hardest part of a business is managing people. The easiest way to get better at this is through experience; know what it is like to be in each of the different roles. Meet different types of people. Work in multi-sector teams at every opportunity you get.
Carlton is one of Brunel University’s poster children. This CTO of the company Aceleron was ranked as one of Forbes 30 under 30 in 2017. Whilst at Brunel he studied for an MSc in Sustainability, Entrepreneurship, and Design, and his idea for a process that extracts used lithium from batteries helped him win a number of high profile awards including the Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award, and second place in the Mayor Of London’s Low Carbon Challenge.
Carltons message was very human centric. For him, it was his people skills that got him where he is today, it’s not just about innovation. He says that you can’t tell people what to do, you have to inspire them. Whether that be your customers or your employees, the principle is the same. An innovator needs to be able to empathise with the users; know what they need, what they want, and understand them well enough to predict their behaviour and their attitudes.
To finish off, he told us that being an entrepreneur, running a business, the good days are about 20% of the days. But it’s on the bad days and the other days that you learn the most important lessons. That’s how you can achieve your successes. The bad days are why the good days exist.