Rebecca Gingell, a Magdalen College (MSc, 2012) alumna, is the Finance and Operations Director of Meshworks – the medical orthopaedic subsidiary of Alloyed Ltd, an advanced materials and 3D-printing company based in Oxford

With the help of leading surgeons, the team at Meshworks design and manufacture custom orthopaedic implants for a range of serious conditions. The team is also working on a new material for use in orthopaedic implants, which aims to mitigate the stress-shielding problems associated with currently used implants.

As the Finance and Operations Director, Rebecca’s role involves developing and overseeing the process and quality management systems. She is also focussed on devising new business plans and financial models to expand the products on offer.

What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
After university, I worked at a commodities trading house in New York and as a strategy consultant in London. I learnt a lot in these roles, particularly in consulting, which gave me a great insight into how different businesses are run and the challenges they can face at different stages of growth. In 2017, I got the opportunity to join Alloyed, which had just launched, as its business development manager. I would like to say that I assessed all the risks and rewards of this career change, but actually the prospect of growing a business from the ground up was too exciting for me to pass up.

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
You don’t need to necessarily have to start your own business yourself to be an entrepreneur; if in your role you are making business happen and are helping to decide on the direction of a company then you are an entrepreneur.

What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
The combination of adaptability and resilience is indispensable. You need to be able to react to the different business scenarios that you encounter and bounce back from the knocks you face along the way.

A hard work ethic is also essential – no business will progress unless the employees drive it to do so.

People skills are also key – in particular, not being afraid to ask for help. Whether you’re carrying out technical research or looking for a supplier, I’ve found that picking up the phone is much better than googling or sending out emails. This is something I learned as a consultant when cold-calling.

What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
My favourite part has been seeing how our implants, which were just a notion three years ago, have been developed into a key, real life product that can change patient’s lives for the better. A recent pinch-yourself moment was having the best surgeons in the UK come to tour our factory and learn about our state-of-the-art technology. That was brilliant.

What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
My favourite part has been seeing how our implants, which were just a notion three years ago, have been developed into a key, real life product that can change patient’s lives for the better. A recent pinch-yourself moment was having the best surgeons in the UK come to tour our factory and learn about our state-of-the-art technology. That was brilliant.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?

There are lots of very specific lessons that we gained during the first iteration of our business; identifying where to invest in extra capacity to avoid bottlenecks was one. We also struggled with outsourced production – we have strict quality requirements and work to tight deadlines, and getting reliable output from external providers was difficult. We now carry out almost every manufacturing step in-house, and it gives us excellent control over our processes.

More generally, I’ve found that sometimes it is hard not to get so wrapped up in a single project that you forget about a work/life balance. It is usually better to set a longer deadline than to rush to meet an unrealistic one.

How have you funded your ideas?
As Meshworks is a subsidiary of Alloyed Ltd, our initial funding came through the main company, which is privately owned. We were fortunate as this allowed us to focus on development without any initial sales pressure. Since then we have been awarded “Innovate UK” grants that have allowed us to further develop our technologies and capabilities.

Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
We have been awarded two “Innovate UK” grants which we’ve used to develop new materials and methods for additively manufacturing low-stiffness biocompatible titanium alloys.

What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Oxford is really good place to be, especially in science! There are many university spin-out companies, like us, who are able to maintain good relationships with the academic departments. The geographical proximity of the city to other entrepreneurial hotspots such as Birmingham and London is another advantage

If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
My first piece of advice would actually be to sit down with a group of people who you know really well, to talk through your ideas. You need help from so many people to start a business and so to get initial feedback from those you trust is a great way to start.

In terms of resources, I would point them in the direction of university networks such as “Oxford Women in Business”. I personally found it incredibly useful to make connections with people in similar situations.

Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
When I started work, I was surprised at the number of sexist comments I’d overhear, which usually went unchallenged. This was not my experience at university, so it was disappointing to find that it seemed to be okay in my workplaces, all of which have been male-dominated. To begin with I would call people out on these, although unfortunately, rather than institutional change, the main result was that I got a reputation as a political correctness warrior! I’ve since realised that these changes in company culture need to come from the top, and have also learnt to pick my battles and be smart about the way I attack them – getting involved in designing company policies and recruitment to help improve diversity has been a good start.

What resources would you recommend for other women?
I would definitely recommend mentoring networks, as it is important to learn from the people around you. These often don’t have to be long-term relationships – you could learn a lot by going for a quick coffee.

How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
The formal alumni network at Oxford is one of the best in the world; however, I feel like its visibility and access are still skewed towards those from privileged backgrounds. If the university were to make it more accessible for all, so that everyone could seek advice, funding, and investors, that would be great.

Any last words of advice?
Make time for yourself and for your friendships, and do what makes you happy.

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