What was your career path?
I spent ten years as a scientific researcher in gene regulation in the UK and US and then, wanting a more people-facing role, moved into knowledge transfer. Commercial positions and an MBA helped build my business experience and I became a technology scout for a global medtech company. In a second change of direction, I joined a creative and digital agency as Business Development Director, introducing a science and healthcare focus to the company and promoting collaboration with universities and the healthcare industry.
I have had a portfolio career, but an underlying theme has been bringing people together on innovative projects that are designed to have an impact. Since 2015 my work has been centred on growing the digital economy in Barnsley and Sheffield, largely in relation to digital adoption in the NHS and manufacturing.
What attracted you to the Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR) scheme?
Throughout my career I have seen the value of how university collaborations can provide knowledge and expertise to improve businesses and society. The EiR scheme offers a platform to explore and develop activities at this interface which is hugely interesting to me.
What are you enjoying about the residency?
Mainly the opportunity it presents to connect with a wide cross-section of people across the University of Sheffield, build new links and make things happen. The Royal Society award provides you with a budget that you can choose to invest in projects. It is normally hard to get buy-in from the beginning of an initiative, but this enables you to support projects that you perceive have potential from the outset, develop them to a stage to engage people further, and take them to the next level.
What project are you developing as EiR?
My “Digital Accelerator” project has three strands: Digital Health, Digital Manufacturing and Digital Science.
Broadly speaking, the project introduces STEM staff and students to cutting-edge industrial R&D, digital entrepreneurs and businesses, and industrial challenges in healthcare and manufacturing. In particular, I aim to build cross-faculty and external collaborations and explore commercial opportunities.
Mainly I am working with students and staff from the Sheffield Engineering Leadership Academy (SELA) to develop Industry 4.0 leaders of the future, and with the Centre for Assistive Technology and Connected Healthcare (CATCH) on new collaborations and innovation in the area of assistive technology.
What was the motivation behind the project?
We will need to rely increasingly on digitalisation, data and emerging technologies to ensure future resilience in industry and society as a whole. The challenge is to develop a university ecosystem that can keep up with the pace of change and empowers staff and students to develop, test and progress their ideas. The prospect of scientists and engineers exploring new digital technologies to accelerate their research and careers is exciting!
Four months in, how is the project going?
Work with SELA has made good progress. I have been a mentor on the first-year boot camp and am leading a second-year project on digital manufacturing in the Sheffield City Region.
With CATCH, I have supported two projects via the EiR award. For example, I have funded a marketing expert for “Hackcessible 2018”: a hackathon designed to develop technology solutions for people with disabilities.
What are the challenges of the role?
The hierarchical structure of universities is very different to small businesses and start-ups, so there are more layers of complexity than I’ve been used to recently. I would like to see a more flexible and risk-taking approach to ecosystem development to enable an innovation and start-up culture.
The wider university is going through a period of strategic change in some areas, so I am focusing my energies on where I can have an impact.
How did you apply to the scheme?
Dr Sue Smith, a Business Manager at the university, was aware of my previous company role, collaboration with CATCH, and current projects, and approached me when she heard about the EiR scheme.
The application was collaborative: I conceived and wrote the project plan based on my knowledge of SELA and CATCH and the university helped put it in the context of their priorities, internal professional support and external funding streams. The university was very open to my suggestions and placed no constraints on my plans.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
Being embedded in both academia and industry provides me with an awareness of university and commercial capabilities and the mutual benefits that collaboration can bring. I hope to build a sustainable programme by strengthening links between the University of Sheffield and businesses that are open to innovation – bringing new relationships, experience and funding.