Dr Jason Mellad, Founder of Start Codon, shares key insights on fostering innovation and how to build the right team, ahead of Enterprise Tuesday on 4 February 2020.
The University of Cambridge is renowned for fostering innovation and entrepreneurship. What makes it such a successful environment for entrepreneurs?
It has been said that the University of Cambridge works in practice, but not in theory! Largely this is due to the autonomy that students, researchers, colleges and departments have historically enjoyed. This strong spirit of independence is fundamental to the University’s culture and at the heart of our entrepreneurial drive – the desire to take charge of your own destiny. The University has also generated more Nobel Prize winners than any other institution for a reason – intense curiosity and an insatiable desire to solve complex problems and explore new frontiers via both blue-sky and translational research. Such a pioneering attitude generates ground-breaking innovations daily and nurtures future founders and leaders. Fortunately, there are several programmes to support entrepreneurs and facilitate networking with experienced key opinion leaders.
What are your top tips for building the right team?
The first step to building an amazing team is introspection. Often, self-awareness is overlooked in an effort to build a team that looks great on paper. Start with a personal gap analysis, which can be facilitated by personality and skills tests like Myers Briggs. Are you a leader or supporter? A starter, maintainer or finisher? What is your management style? Be honest about your strengths and the skills that you can acquire over time or through training, then build your team to complement what you already bring to the table. Now you’re ready to start building a team to help build and drive your business. In the early days of your startup, everyone will need to wear multiple hats and take on additional responsibilities. Please note that some people are better suited to this start-up phase than others and take that into account as you build your team. Importantly, at any given time in the development of your company, your team needs will change including even the most senior positions. Being self-aware and always putting the needs of the business first means that you may one day even need to step aside to allow someone more qualified for the next phase of growth or new strategic direction to take over. Recruitment agents are an effective way for scale-ups to build their teams but start-ups often rely on friends, word-of-mouth, free online advertising and personal introductions. As you expand, be sure to “let the right one in” and hire based on personality and potential, not just track-record. You can usually train someone to perform a specific task, but it’s much harder to teach them how to contribute to positive work culture.
How do you think CJBS Entrepreneurship Centre contributes to the Cambridge ecosystem and how can we move forward?
I consider the CJBS Entrepreneurship Centre to be my second home after Start Codon. I’ve lived in Cambridge since 2004 but until fairly recently, I never engaged with the Judge or indeed even stepped into the building. Now, I’ve become a regular in the cafe or catching up with friends, colleagues and potential cohort companies in the Entrepreneurship Centre. The quirky architecture of the old Addenbrooke’s Hospital and warm welcome from your staff always lifts my spirits and reinvigorates me. I highly recommend that founders and new entrepreneurs drop-in periodically to recharge and network with their peers. The Centre also offers a wide range of programmes to support both aspiring and seasoned business owners. For example, venture creation weekends foster new ideas and teams; Enterprise Tuesday invites industry experts to share war stories and practical tips that supplement more theoretical learning; and EnterpriseTECH is a ground breaking programme that further provides practical, hands-on entrepreneurial learning for students and helps new ventures refine their go-to-market strategies, a win-win scenario. All of these activities, and other initiatives like EnterpriseWOMEN designed to break the glass ceiling, are inspiring the next generation of leaders.
What key advice would you give to aspiring innovators & entrepreneurs?
Many years ago when I was suffering from a lack of self-confidence, I was given a copy of Susan Jeffers’ book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, which forever changed my life. It helped me realise the mistake I had been making all along, trying to suppress two of my greatest fears – failure and disappointing others – that were preventing me from achieving my full potential both personally and professionally. Once I confronted and overcame those fears, I felt empowered to start pursuing my aspirations. I would also say that it’s important to surround yourself with constructive critics who you trust to challenge you and also offer their help.
How do you see the collaboration with CJBS Entrepreneurship Centre and Cambridge Judge developing in the future?
I view Start Codon’s collaboration with the Centre and the Cambridge Judge in phases. During the first phase, we will work together to design and offer more courses and networking opportunities to the ‘early adopter’ students and local entrepreneurs who are naturally keen. I believe this will lead to more spin-outs and job opportunities. For phase 2, my dream is formal incorporation of entrepreneurial learning into all aspects of University life – every student, department, college and staff member should have formal training on how these principles can and should be incorporated into everything task they perform. I can’t wait to do amazing things together!
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