Five things attending Researcher to Innovator did for me
1) It taught me that throwing caution to the wind can be a good thing
Yes, I was one of the ones who during the ‘squares’ exercises, was so determined to find the perfect strategy, rather than just getting out there to get real feedback. The idea of early contact with the problem as ‘hypothesis testing’ has changed my way of thinking about being unprepared. I’m now more confident to show my imperfect work to others or ask questions without researching most of the answers beforehand to save face. This has really helped speed up my research output.
2) It opened my eyes to the commercial value of my research
I am so focused on my research, it never occurred to me that what I did had value beyond the ivory towers of academia. I now feel more confident positioning my findings in a way that show its potential impact – something that could help with funding proposals as well as entrepreneurial ideas.
3) It showed me that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things
The speakers did not have all the answers, privileged backgrounds, or special experience – they just made use of the people and opportunities around them and had the passion to follow through. It made me think that innovation is not for the special few but for anyone willing to persist.
4) It helped me communicate my research in a way that was clear, concise and relevant
When I started it could take me 10 minutes to explain my research to what quickly became glazed eyes – I have now learnt less is more, and to focus on the benefit – something that has already helped with research posters, public engagement and discussing my work across disciplines.
5) I forged friendships and professional networks I would never have been exposed to otherwise
At the start, it felt a bit like we were all sizing each other up in terms of our academic progress or entrepreneurial experience – by the end we were sharing our plans (and back up plans) with genuine feelings of trust, as well as the odd drink and joke. The exposure to advice givers and people who are out there doing it has provided lots of fuel for my own research, as well as bumped up my LinkedIn contacts.
But... where are the women?
One thing that struck me after seeing the handful of females attending the course, was the complete lack of female entrepreneur role models. Something that mirrors the academic landscape for top jobs in science and engineering. I wonder if some of the motivations communicated via the Researcher to Innovator course (monetising, seeing your own product in the shops) have a better match to men in their 20’s & 30’s - a time where woman have to make stark choices about career, relationships and family life. In many of the case studies, the entrepreneur sang the praises of their ‘understanding wives’ who helped make it all possible, as there was no work-life balance for them.
Having been an understanding wife myself, when my husband set up his own successful company, I felt there has to be more to woman’s roles in entrepreneurism than this (either that, or I had to find an understanding wife of my own).
Then it struck me that my own mother co-founded a charity when I was 13, which has grown in success and size to become one of the largest development education centres in the region. She has been a great role model of what it is possible to achieve when you passionately believe in something even though she was a single mum with three kids in tow. Two of the entrepreneurs talked of philanthropic motivation – designing technology to solve social problems in Africa - or giving 10% of all profits to charity. The idea that you can innovate your research for good as well as gain, has a much greater draw, especially if sacrifices may need to be made to family life. And whilst you might not have standard working hours in your own start-up, you will be the one defining when and how you spread you time, not necessarily the case in an academic career.
Do you think it’s possible to innovate whilst you domesticate?