Peter Dobson, founder of Oxonica, Oxford Biosensors, and Oxford NanoSystems


Peter was the Director of Oxford University’s Begbroke Science Park until 2013, when the University decided he was too old to continue! He was also the Strategic Advisor to RCUK on Nanotechnology. He now has affiliations to several universities: Bristol (Physics); UCL (Chemistry); Birmingham (Chair of the NERC Nano facility) Warwick Manufacturing Group (Principal Fellow). He is also on the Strategic Advisory Board of the EPSRC Quantum Technology programme. He founded three companies in Oxford: Oxonica, Oxford Biosensors and Oxford NanoSystems. He is also an advisor to a company in the US, Bikanta that sells nanodiamonds for biomedical applications, founded by a former student. He was also involved in helping another 7-8 companies form and grow locally in the Oxford region.

Q: What is your background?  Why are you doing this?
A: I originally trained as a physicist and was a lecturer in physics at Imperial College for 16 years but moved gradually to Philips where I was senior principal scientist for 4 years involved in semiconductor research. I then came to Oxford Engineering Science Dept in 1988. I became the Director of the Science Park in 2002. I am interested in the translation of scientific research into practical applications because I feel it is my duty. Too much resources are devoted to science for purely selfish reasons, there have to be outcomes and benefits to society in my view 

Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: It is doing something that adds some societal value to an activity in the most general terms.

Q: What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A:  Seeing the large amount of funding in science in the UK with few apparent beneficial outcomes in terms of the creation of new jobs, new business and so on. I was curious about why this happens and decided to try “to make a difference”.

Q: So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
A: Appreciation of the needs of a society or business or customers.(because this will determine the strategic direction of a company)
Figuring out a solution to satisfy those needs. I believe very strongly in a “solution driven” approach.
Treating people as equals in the whole innovation process. People are the most valuable resource!

Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A:  Figuring out what the problem or need is that has to be solved or satisfied.

Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A: Robert Langer at MIT. He seems to be a very modest person with a huge track record in several fields and he has founded many companies and is a brilliant scholarly academic.

Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: How did he balance the academic and entrepreneurial activities so effectively.

Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: Shortly after setting up the Begbroke Science Park and with my first two spin-offs growing fast it was the realization of how many people were benefiting from my activity.

Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A: 1. Not retaining enough control in some of the companies, and not having enough influence over important decisions.
2. In the role at Begbroke, allowing myself to be effectively sidelined by the decision-makers in the University.  I feel I should have been more assertive and challenging.

Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire?  Bad?
Good things: Access to many skills, peoeple and good facilities; central position in the UK with good road and rail and air access.
Bad Things: Terrible local traffic; expensive housing; Local LEP is not really in tune with Innovation to the extent that it should be.

Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship information or resources in Oxfordshire, where would you send them?
I would direct them to Begbroke! I would also give them a list of the networks and some individuals who I trust to give sound advice.

Q: Any last words of advice?
Never give up! Work hard and have fun.