I am not an entrepreneur. I do not have a business idea. I’m not even sure I have what it takes to become an entrepreneur. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I headed to the Said Business School to attend the first lecture in a series of 9, entitled “Building a Business”. Me and 300 other aspiring entrepreneurs were about to embark on a journey to gain some insight into what it means to be an entrepreneur.
So why go to a set of lectures designed to help develop a business idea if you don’t have an idea? My first thought was, “Why not?” As my day job involves promoting and supporting entrepreneurship across the university, gaining some insight into why people do it and how they can achieve their goals seemed a good way to be able to aid them in their quest. And maybe, just maybe, I would be able to find the flicker of an idea hidden inside me!
The first lecture was delivered by Professor Constantin Coussios , who is an academic founder of two university spinouts, Organox and OxSonics. Coussios is a very charismatic speaker and was able to engage the capacity audience with interesting anecdotes and stories relating to his journey from idea to spinout and beyond. He talked about all the things that he wished someone had told him before starting an entrepreneurial venture, with a caveat: “Take everything I tell you with a pinch of salt”, he said, “I am still working on it.”
Under “Should I become an Entrepreneur?”, Coussios outlined his thoughts on questions anyone should ask themselves before committing to becoming an entrepreneur. “Do I have a Good Idea?”, “Can I Handle Uncertainty?”, “Am I Investable?” to name a few.
Coussios believes that an entrepreneur must have a good idea, be passionate and expert in their subject, and be someone others can believe in. On the topic of choosing co-founders, Coussios said, “Never go into business with anyone you wouldn’t give a kidney to.” Perfect for someone who has a director of the Oxford Transplant Centre (Professor Peter Friend) as his co-founder! “Know, trust and bond with the people in your team”, was the take home message.
Coussios went on to discuss licensing and spin outs, explaining how and why his companies were formed. Despite being advised to license the OrganOx technology, he and his partners decided it was more advantageous to spin out, and are subsequently creating their own successful product. But he was quick to point out that creating a successful product, especially in the health sector, can take a very long time. He showed a photo of himself. “Can anyone guess how old I am in this photo? 20 years old.” Then another photo. “And this one? 37 years old. Developing a company takes time, and more time.”
Some of the terms he felt were very important to discuss included “Addressable Market”, Inflection Points”, “Exit Strategy” and “Valuation”. He related each term to his own experiences working on his companies and stressed the importance of each. Understanding how inflection points compared to funding, and that valuation was simply, “what someone is willing to pay for your company”, showed how Coussios was able to pass on his experiences of entrepreneurship compared with “ideals”.
So has Coussios’ thoughts helped me in any way? I feel like I understand the journey a bit better now. I found him to be a very engaging speaker, with many interesting and useful points to take on board. The take home message that being an entrepreneur is something that takes time, dedication, expertise and more time, will definitely give me pause for thought.