Melinda Kenneway is the founder and CEO of Kudos, a platform which enables researchers to share their research outside of the academic sphere. The platform is now used by around 375000 researchers worldwide, with organisational customers that include leading publishers and universities. She additionally was a founder of the marketing and consulting firm TIB communications. With a wealth of experience in the world of academia and research from her initial grounding in the industry at Oxford University Press, Melinda’s decision to venture into the world of setting up her own companies enabled her to find greater creative freedom, as well as tackle the gap in the market between the world of academia and how such knowledge is conveyed to the wider world. The work which Kudos does not only provides products and services but also seeks to readdresses the process of reward and recognition in academia, creating generational, long term change.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
After graduating I got a job working in sales for Mercantile Credit Financing, which was Oxford -based – a key criteria as I’d come to love the city after three years of study here. Over three years this role taught me some invaluable commercial and influencing skills, but the financial world in the early 90s was challenging and I was eventually made redundant. A friend suggested publishing to me, and after a few interviews, I landed a marketing role at Oxford University Press – a side of selling which I was becoming ever-more interested in, in a positive way – how good marketing could be used to inspire customers and influence people in ways that could be beneficial for them and the company. I quickly advanced my career at OUP, but after 13 years of working in one company I decided that I wanted the opportunity to gain broader experience, and without the constraints of working for an established company with established ways of doing things. I set up TBI communications, a marketing and consulting company which worked with publishers, universities and others in the research sector, helping me get a rounded understanding of the many parties with a stake in how academia works. One critical gap I kept seeing was how research is communicated to audiences outside of academia – there seemed a huge gap between the technical documents that served academic readership so well, and those that could put that knowledge into practice – policy makers, educators, industry, the media and public. After many years of talking about this I decided to do something about it, so Kudos was launched, with the help of my two co-founders – Charlie Rapple and David Sommer.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
For me entrepreneurship is about successful problem solving. It is about encountering a problem and finding a solution which gets used – it may or may not be a commercial success, but individuals and society more generally benefit.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
There were clear ways of measuring this! Initially we pitched the idea for Kudos to four or five publishers, who provided us with money to run a prototype site which we then invited researchers to use by creating profiles of their publications explaining the relevance and importance of their research. In this initial stage, we had around 5000 researchers participate. This was an amazing moment, and led to us getting further investment afterwards.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Vision- because entrepreneurship is not just about creating a solution, it is about taking people with you and persuading others that your vision will work.
Resilience, because starting up your own business is harder than you ever expect. And also persistence, because you don’t get instant rewards and are not always immediately successful, you have to keep trying and trying.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Creativity and having the freedom and opportunity to make something of value that was not there before.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
My mother, who was the first in her family over many generations to go to university, achieving a first at Reading University in Landscape Design and Horticulture. She had a deep and natural belief in the abilities of women and what could be achieved if you tried hard enough. She was my guiding light in the early and most difficult days of founding Kudos, with her motto: “just keeping putting one foot in front of the other” something I think about every day and for every challenge I face.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
Whilst she is no longer with me today, I still keep in my mind the advice which she would give to me in my head; she would tell me to keep believing in myself and keep doing my best.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
When Kudos won the ALPSP (Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers) award for publishing innovation. This was a long but rewarding process: we had to apply, give a competitive pitch, undergo peer evaluation and undergo comparison against every other new idea within the sector. When our company was announced as winner, it felt amazing, because this was real acknowledgement of our achievements from our peers.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
There have been lots of mistakes and lessons learned along the way! The nature of my career has meant I have had to learn on the job, making mistakes as I go. I have learned that mistakes themselves are not generally a problem – they can help you learn really fast. The trick is not to repeat them or ignore them by
How have you funded your ideas?
Unusually, our initial funding came from customers! After our initial success however, the company has been on an investment journey: we have done several rounds of angel investment: with OION in Oxford and the Enterprise 100 angel at London Business School. More recently we have received more substantial investment from a London-based growth investment fund.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
Not sector specific, but we have taken advantage of the Innovate UK government funding.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Oxford is an inspiring place: a seat of international research, progress and thinking. It is a strong base to create international links.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
OION can help you tap into the angel network, and I know there is a wealth of resources for start-ups at the Said Business School.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
In the early days of Kudos, I remember going to an entrepreneurship event which was almost exclusively male. I attended with my two other founders, one of whom is male, and it seemed that everyone wanted to talk to him. I think the way I overcome things like this is by not letting it bother me, asserting myself and just doing my best, challenging the culture by doing rather than saying.
What resources would you recommend for other women?
Not a specific resource, but I would definitely say don’t let other people’s attitudes be an obstacle for you. Believe in yourself and build a network for support and advice.
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
Oxford sends people into the world with many of the skills they need to be successful entrepreneurs. That in itself is a gift. More peer networking and mentoring support might be helpful.
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
Be ready to adapt you style, using your skills to influence, even if you feel like you do not have the natural confidence, through suggestion and inspiration you have the capacity to move things forward.
Any last words of advice?
Don’t overthink things: if you have an idea, just try it, you succeed and learn by making mistakes. Many people have ideas but most don’t act on them. Take that first step.