Kevin Arthur is the CEO and co-founder of Oxford Photovoltaics, a spinout company from the University of Oxford based at the Begbroke Science Park near Oxford. Kevin has been involved with spinouts from three universities now, with technologies such as solar cells, and silicon lasers, and has over 30 years experience in the semiconductor industry. He was brought in by Isis Innovation in 2009 to work with Prof Henry Snaith from the Physics Department to commercialise his photovoltaics work.
Q: So what would you say are the top skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
A: The most important skill is salesmanship. You must be able to sell, whether it’s selling your idea to potential investors, potential employees, or potential customers. But even before that you must to ensure that what you are selling is something that customers will want. Talking to potential customers early, and qualifying what will generate business is very important.
Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: Team building. I have been at each and every interview for employees of OPV (currently 30 employees), and really enjoy being involved in making the match and watching the team grow.
Q: Where has your funding come from?
A: Our initial funding of £100k came from a 2 minute pitch to what was the Technology Strategy Board (TSB – now Innovate UK). We have raised at least £15 million through 4 rounds of funding, including an £8 million B round at the beginning of March 2015.
Q: What is your biggest success to date, and what have you learned from it?
A: Back in June 2013, we made the momentous decision to completely change from dye sensitized solar cell technology to perovskite, literally overnight! It was a unanimous decision, and a huge risk, especially as we had 10-15 employees at that point. It was an extremely brave decision and had the full support of our board and employees taking the risk and backing this new technology before anyone else has allowed us to now be around 18 months ahead of our nearest competitors.
Q: What is your biggest mistake so far, and what have you learned from it?
A: I wish we had spent more time finding “soft money” (grants). It’s a great way to build a business, and of course it’s free! It is very time consuming, and a lot of hassle, but now we employ a person specifically to find grant funding.
Q: Do you use Twitter, and if so, who do you follow?
A: Twitter is a great source of information, particularly to find out what our competitors are doing. I have a fine tuned feed which includes EPIA (European Photovoltaic Industry Association), Greentech Media, PV Tech, and Innovate UK. Personally, I am into Formula 1, so follow my favourite team, McLaren.
Q: What do you like about being an entrepreneur in Oxford?
A: The depth of support in Oxford is fantastic. There are lots of networks and people willing to help. Begbroke (Science Park) in particular has been amazing. We have been here since day 1 and they continue to help us find more space as we grow. It’s a great place to work and build a team. And of course, there’s plenty of parking!
Q: What suggestions would you give to someone who wanted to get involved in entrepreneurship in Oxford?
A: Go and work for a startup, do whatever you can to help out, be an intern or even get paid. They will be your best way to find out what it is really like. And they will also be able to help you get networked in.