Dr Alexander Reip is CEO of Oxford nanoSystems (OnS), an innovative nanotechnology business developing coatings to improve heat transfer in two phase systems. The company is based at the Harwell Science Park and started out with seed funding and an ESA Business Incubation Grant. It is now five years old, has three full time employees and is looking for a funding round to commercialise the technology.
Q: What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A: I’m a chemist and materials scientist by background. Whilst writing up my PhD I joined OnS as CSO to develop the companies coating technology. I loved the idea of working on something really innovative at the same time as taking it to commercialisation.
Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: For me entrepreneurship is the ability to take a vision or idea and turn it into a workable solution to improve society
Q: How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
A: After speaking to many industries we found there was a great need for new technologies in the markets we chose. Once we then started development we had many other potential customers including large multinational companies coming to us to start conversations.
Q: So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
A: Patience, perseverance and flexibility are the main skills I think you need to be successful. There are always issues and problems that need to be worked on and things always seem to take much longer than you expect, especially when dealing with large organisations! Both of these traits lead to being flexible to change and modify the business and yourself to make sure you can succeed.
Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: The ability to spend each day doing different tasks from technology development, marketing, finance to sales and seeing the company grow and change from it.
Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A: I was very impressed with Pebble Technology Corporation, seeing how the used Kickstarter to develop and market their product line as well as being one of the first smart watch companies.
Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: I would love to discuss the reasons they turned down a $740million buy out from Citizen in 2015 only to then file for insolvency 12 months later.
Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: The first time we received results from a customer and they were so impressed they sent a group to come and see us in person to give us the news was one of the proudest and satisfying moments we have so far had!
Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A: The main lessons I have learned is to always make sure you plan for things to take longer than you would think and that talking with as many people as you can opens up interesting avenues of development.
Q: How have you funded your ideas? Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
A: The company could not have got as far as we have without the support from institutions like Innovate UK, STFC and ESA. The government’s technology competitions helped us look into markets and applications which we wouldn’t have been able to pursue on our own due to the involved risk and this in turn helped us develop products specifically for these sectors which are slowly taking off.
Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
A: Being at the Harwell Campus gives us access to a facilities and world class expertise which a start-up wouldn’t normally have access to without a large funding round! The entrepreneurial community around here is also very good with networking events and pitching competitions throughout the whole year. The only major obstacle I have found in Oxfordshire is the A34!
Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
A: There are lots of resources around Oxfordshire which are really useful for a blossoming start up or entrepreneur. For start-up tech businesses the science parks like Harwell and Begbroke have a lot of companies who have previously gone through the process and who are always seem happy to give advice. For young entrepreneurs joining organisations like the IoD99 can give access to great networking and support resources.
Q: Any last words of advice?
A: Don’t give up and keep looking into new ideas