Mike Herd, Executive Director, Sussex Innovation.
Running an innovation centre, you’ll often hear the following words when you meet frustrated entrepreneurs: “I’ve worked with business coaches and consultants before, and it hasn’t made any difference to my business”.
Most entrepreneurs are extremely driven and are on a very personal journey, which means we get very close to the ones we work with. They start with an innovative idea and great passion, and they’re usually very aware of both their talents and their limitations.
The mistake many coaches make is to try and teach additional skills that the entrepreneur doesn’t need to learn. Successful entrepreneurship involves knowing when to delegate – the last thing a founder needs to do is start giving themselves more responsibilities on top of running the business. A much better way of facilitating growth is to help ‘plug the gaps’, or help identify someone who can.
If you look at the breadth of start-ups that we work with, whilst the businesses may be very different in their style or ambition, you can see a number of generic issues. Individually, it can be hard for growing companies to tackle these issues, because they lack the resources or knowledge to access the right kind of help.
Bringing start-ups together in clusters helps create a critical mass of demand and it becomes easier to access the kind of specialist help they might need. That’s the whole logic behind the incubator/innovation centre model.
At Sussex Innovation, we provide exactly this. We are not here to tell people how to run their business, but we are able to offer a point of view, the chance for entrepreneurs to find answers and bring examples of how others have tackled similar problems.
Yes, we sometimes impart knowledge through a mix of traditional coaching and mentoring. But an equally vital part of the relationship that goes on behind the scenes is how we help to source professional skills, appropriate investors, partners and co-founders. We’ll introduce potential corporate clients to help shape a proposition, or academic insight to challenge one. Ultimately, the business of innovation is about bringing the right people together.
Sussex Innovation is an incubation network for start-ups and scale-ups in the ‘coast to capital’ region, wholly owned by the University of Sussex. Find out more about Sussex Innovation here: www.sinc.co.uk