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Why Start-ups need to take an active role in the Innovation Ecosystem

Dr Jenna Bowen, co-founder of Cotton Mouton Diagnostics, shares her insights on drivers for success

As a co-founder of an academic spin-out company, several key messages from CoInnovate 2015 resonated with me. Firstly, risk management, governance and compliance often serve to stifle innovation, secondly innovative research does not necessarily result in innovation and finally, the concept of ‘open innovation’ should be embraced by all sectors in order to most efficiently and effectively address real-world challenges.

Since setting up Cotton Mouton Diagnostics (CMD) in late 2014, the learning curve has been steep. Although the skill set we’d developed over the years of being a academic researchers provided a solid foundation for starting up a business, the commercial world is very different to that of academia. Often scientists become so engrossed in their research that they lose sight of the end goal. When we frst started pitching our technology, we were certainly guilty of that; by far the most important thing we wanted people to know was the ‘science’ behind our platform, we wanted them to understand the technology as we did and assumed that once they did they’d then come to the same conclusions as us about it’s potential. However we soon learned that the the most important message to get across is the “so what?” What need / market does this new idea address? How will it change the status quo? How is this better than what’s currenlty available? Why are you the best people to take this forward? How will a return on investment be realised? The audience does not need to know the intricacies of your product at this stage, there’s plenty of time for that later, you need to provide that spark of interest which makes them want to follow up with you. You have to deliver an exciting and memorable pitch, and you have to be able to do it under 5 minutes!

We have also learned that the most critical ‘ingredient’ in the innovation mix is the people; from the people you network with, the people who ‘have been there and done that’ and who you can learn from, the end-users and other stakeholders who often provide the spark for your innovation, through to the people on the ground involved in delivery. At CMD we strongly advocate transcending the “Ivory Tower”, working across both disciplines and sectors and engaging with end-users from the outset in order to achieve the best possible outcome. No one person has the requisite skills, insight or experience to make innovation happen; it takes a team of people, all working together towards a common goal. We have embraced the open innovation concept, setting up collaborative partnerships with leading academic groups and larger organisations to explore more ‘blue-sky’ ideas and alternative applications for our technology whilst we maintain a focus on product development in-house. There are a variety of funding sources available to support such projects, and although sometimes the difference in pace and decision-making processes between large organisations and a small start-up can be frustrating, it is most definitively worthwhile persevering.

My one piece of advice for any person considering starting up a business would be to get out there and talk to people who have done it before. The innovation ecosystem in wales is blossoming and there are no-end of people who are willing to help you on your journey. Events such as CoInnovate, that put you in the same room with investors, entrepreneurs, academics and private sector individuals, are the perfect place to start!

Dr Jenna Bowen

By Dr Jenna Bowen, co-founder Cotton Mouton Diagnostics (CMD)