Jessica Leitch is the founder of Run3D, a company that has developed a powerful and scientifically accurate way to analyse and then prevent running injuries. The 3D gait analysis system has been transformed from technology that was used strictly for academic purposes, into a tool which can be used by clinicians in everyday practice. By identifying the underlying causes of an injury, the technology used by Run3D has impacted the lives of thousands of people.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
It was during my time at Oxford doing a PHD, that I began to question why the technology that I was utilising in my research wasn’t accessible to real people. I was working in gait analysis, working with injured runners and specifically analysing the Biomechanics of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome in Runners. The university had amazing technology that I was able to utilise, but the only way that runners could access this type of tech was, essentially, to be a subject for a research project. I had the idea to really open this up and make it accessible to the people that needed it. So, for me, the process of deciding to become an entrepreneur really started with the idea. It was having passion and faith in the fact that this could be something great that drove me to become an entrepreneur.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
I believe it is all about someone who has an idea and then the aspiration to make that idea into reality. It’s important to realise that it is not just the idea but how you actively take steps to further your vision.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop?
I was actively involved in the Oxford cross-country club and still am a keen runner, so I very much am the target market. This gave me the necessary confidence as I knew the demand was there. I know, and very much continue to know, the market in which I operate, and this is vital.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Having a passion for what you do is crucial. You really have to love it. This then comes across when talking to customers and investors and really becomes the driving force. Secondly, when an idea is yours have to have staying power. The highs are very high but there are significant lows that you have to survive. I would also say you need a vision, as this grounds you and keeps you going. All three are very interlinked as, obviously, when you have vision and passion this makes people want to invest in you, and ultimately, you are the face of your business.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
I love the variety in what I do and the feeling you get when things go really well. Every year, we have a user group meeting and for me this is such a high point. This meeting brings together all our clinical and academic users and is a place to share findings. You can see the university’s sharing their academic research findings with clinicians who are actually putting this into practice and helping real patients. Ultimately, this is always what it has been about for me.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures, or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
I think trying to do too much yourself. This probably occurs as when you start, it is just you and you get used to doing everything. I think it is important to realise that as you grow as a company, there are some things that you are not as good at and that would be better suited to the talents of other people. There needs to be a willingness to realise that actually, you can’t do everything on your own anymore and see the success in this.
How have you funded your ideas?
My PHD was done with the life sciences interface doctoral training centre. It was an amazing PHD programme that was fully funded and gave me the opportunity to do any research I was interested in. So, flexibility to do a DPhil in an area that really interested and excited me was a huge step forward. Then I got a KTS which is a Knowledge Transfer Secondment and a stock funding with which I managed to set up a service within a NHS Hospital. That in itself was a huge learning curve as I had to present business cases to the board at Nuffield Orthopaedic Center and gave me real insight into what it was to be an entrepreneur. Aswell as that, Oxford Innovation very much helped me in finding investors. These Investments were then crucial in navigating the really difficult process of expanding my business further.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
I would definitely send them to Oxford Innovation, certainly if it is an Oxford University spin out. They have the support network in place to really help you. There are a variety of incredible resources to look out for even if you are not necessarily affiliated with the university. I benefitted from two grants from Innovate UK. The first was called a Smart grant and the second one was a Woman in Business Innovation award. They are a fantastic organisation as they support knowledge transfer and are always willing to talk to you.
What is especially good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire?
Many universities are aware that they have great ideas and are looking to help support and further these in any way they can. However, the power of the Oxford brand should never be underestimated and has been invaluable to my work, especially overseas.
Have you faced any challenges as a female entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
Being an entrepreneur will always be difficult, especially to start with, as there are certain risks in not being financially stable, that make some unwilling to take the necessary plunge. However, I do not know that I have faced any challenges specifically due to being a female entrepreneur. I will say that having two young children, especially during this pandemic, when schools and other services were closed, has made balancing everything far more challenging. However, I believe that there are times when being a woman in this sector may have benefitted me as, due to the scarcity of other female STEM entrepreneurs present at some investor events, it makes me more memorable.
What resources would you recommend for other women?
I previously mentioned the Women in Business award that is run every two years by Innovate UK and this is definitely something to look into. Not only did we receive a cash grant but we were able to benefit from an incredible package of support, in terms of mentoring and access to other resources. There are also investor networks that are specifically looking to invest in female tech and increase the amount of funding going to women, particularly women in STEM.
Any last words of advice?
Talk to anybody. Sometimes it really is the strangest of events that can further your business. I have definitely found in the past that, the things you don’t expect to get anything out of can help you the most.