Case study: Dr Charles King

Dr Charles King is Entrepreneur in Residence in the School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics at Oxford Brookes University (OBU). Charles is CEO and co-founder of the tech start-up Wizdish and a consultant in his company CEAKING Solutions, having worked in technology, technology management and commerce roles. He was awarded the residency in 2018.

What was your career path?

My first degree was in physics, then a PhD in metallurgy and the science of materials and postdoc in chemical engineering, so I appreciate the value of cross-disciplinary work. As Principal Scientist for Cookson Research I worked closely with many universities, while through my consultancy I worked as a Technology Translator for the Government, frequently solving challenges through university introductions.

I’ve been involved with five spin-out companies; the first was Capteur Sensors, a spin-out from Harwell. I’ve worked in two University spin-outs, YASA out of Oxford and P2i with technology from Durham. Now, I’m CEO of the tech start-up Wizdish and continue to consult for YASA.

What attracted you to the Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR) scheme?

In 2003, 60% of the UK workforce worked in large businesses of more than 250 people and 40% for SMEs. Today, the percentages are reversed and many people work for micro-companies of 9 people or less or are self-employed. It’s important universities recognise this and support students who are self-starters, and the EiR scheme allows me to contribute meaningfully to this goal.

How did you connect with Oxford Brookes University?

I first contacted OBU through my work with Siemens Magnet Technology and then later through YASA where we gained the ‘Best of the Best’ Knowledge Transfer Partnership Award in 2014. These were really positive interactions and I have great respect for the teams involved and the quality of graduates and postgrads they turn out. They approached me to apply for the EiR scheme.

What project are you developing as EiR and what was the motivation behind it?

OBU is keen to provide students and staff with the abilities and facilities to be enterprising and has initiated an Innovation Hub that links teaching, research and enterprise. The concept will be manifested by a start-up incubator, ‘ICE Cube’ (Innovation Creativity and Entrepreneurship, Enterprise, Employability).  My project is assisting ICE Cube’s initiation, encouraging research and cross-faculty companies to form and building an entrepreneurial ecosystem where idea holders can partner with like-minded co-founders to build strong teams.

Six months in, how is the project going?

We have a great name and physical space for the incubator and plan to have first occupancy this year. Importantly OBU has included it in the build plans for the new Engineering, Computing and Mathematics campus, which I see as success. Senior management like the idea and I plan to continue building internal support to help develop a long-term working relationship and a thriving incubator.

How do you hope the University will benefit from your residency?

Having worked in several start-ups, I can manage expectations and mentor staff and students. Success usually means persistent hard work often over many years. I hope to emphasise the importance of teaching soft skills: any company and particularly a start-up must work as a team, and this aspect is sometimes missed in teaching entrepreneurship. 

I’m already working closely with the Research & Business Development Office and its amazing Enterprise Support team, but it’s the research base where many universities are challenged not for lack of ideas, but finding people to take them forward. I’m hopeful the new incubator will help allow OBU to share through enterprise its latest science and technology.

What do you hope your legacy will be?

It would be good to see ICE Cube set up and steadily running, creating a new structure where external groups can invest money and the incubator is self-sustaining. The project has mentors, university funding, external interest and salaried positions, and the incubator can fund these positions after I leave.

It would be great for OBU to gain the kudos and be known as a university that encourages enterprise, and where successful alumni look to support their alma mater and enterprising students are attracted to come and study.