Our Innovation Director’s inside tips for science & tech start-ups

We caught up with Wendy Tindsley, our talented Innovation Director, for a quick Q&A to give us an insight into how she’s currently working with and advising The Oxford Trust’s occupiers in our two Oxford innovation centres: The Oxford Centre for Innovation next to Oxford Castle and The Wood Centre for Innovation in Headington’s Health and Life Sciences District.

What are the top three things that businesses are focussing on right now?
People issues, questions around scaling up, and keeping steady during the pandemic.

On which areas have you been spending most time?
Some companies have experienced enormous growth during lockdown and have had to scale-up really fast. They’ve had to do this virtually and sometimes without all the necessary knowledge and skills. I’ve been guiding several companies through the recruitment processes so that they can make the necessary steps to grow to the next stage quickly but also ensuring they are bringing on board the best people and following the right procedures.

It is sometimes the people issues that are the most challenging for small companies. This includes the recruitment of new staff as well as managing existing staff, which these days has to be done remotely.

Start-ups don’t have the budgets for HR so often need help with recruitment practices as well as training new management to enable them to work effectively in their new role.

It has also been challenging for small companies to manage their teams online – while there have been downsides there have been upsides such as better work-life balance, reduced time and expense needed for travel and reduced absence.

What trends have you seen?
Many companies’ weak or pinch points have come to the surface under COVID-19. I have been helping to strengthen their foundations by looking at value propositions and cash flows, which can often shine the spotlight on other more intrinsic issues that need sorting out.

What have been the issues you have seen in the last six months?
Many companies are missing the ‘water cooler moment’ or informal exchange of information that comes with working in a tight community of start-ups and grow-on companies in our innovation centres. As people start to return to the workplace, such interactions are returning and in turn, people can share experiences and support one another.

There is also a huge issue around funding – there are simply less investors with the available capital and the competition for grant funding is now fierce. Therefore, businesses need to make sure they properly address the grant requirements, look for clues in the description of the grant and make it easy reading for the assessor by being clear about the problem that is being solved to meet the criteria and secure such funding.

What are your top tips for small businesses as we head towards the end of 2020?
Firstly, the real lesson from this period is contingency planning. Even small start-ups need to think about the pressure points and look at how they can be mitigated.

My mantra is ‘race, don’t chase’ so that you are ahead of the curve, not behind it.

Secondly, I also advise companies to have a clear vision so that directors have a secure basis for decision-making. While this might change and flex in response to micro and macro drivers, by putting together your vision and values from the outset means that you can plan and return to these foundations to support and challenge your decision making, especially when you’re forced to make changes fast.

I’m seeing companies address issues that they had swept under the carpet due to previous time pressures and come out from this much stronger, nimbler and more efficient. It’s great to see and be a small part in their innovation and discovery journey.

Thirdly, remembering that this period will pass, reaching out to ask for help takes courage and that there is always support out there.

To get in touch with Wendy, please email [email protected] or call 07540 736915.