Wendy is the CEO of Global Academy Jobs and director of The Global Academy. Global Academy Jobs advertises university jobs across the world helping universities to recruit from the global talent pool. Growing from this work, the Global Academy platform showcases research that contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I am a designer and designers are people who solve problems using limited resources. We all know that the other side of a problem is an opportunity, which is why so many designers become entrepreneurs. In my case designs became products which lead to businesses. Businesses, social enterprises and physical products require the same design thinking process; once you’ve defined a problem, you’ve often discovered an opportunity.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
It’s the next stage along when problem-solving reveals an opportunity. Limited resources create risk. Entrepreneurs are people who, for whatever reason, feel that they can manage a particular risk and it’s this tolerance of risk that makes the difference – in fact some entrepreneurs tolerate risks to a delusional level! I’m not quite at that point, but there are often days when you have to just ignore the uncertainties and keep going.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
Ideas are important, and I have a lot of them, but success depends on more than just ideas. Execution, resources, timing and context are equally important. You don’t truly know whether an idea is good enough until you are testing it in the market. We now know the Global Academy platform is successful, but some days progress has been painfully slow and it’s a journey rather than rather than a fixed goal. What prompts me to keep going is the team around me and the feedback from the clients and communities that we serve.
I’m driven by humanity’s need to achieve 17 Goals of the 2030 SDGs. To do that we have to create some new things and measure a whole lot of other things that we don’t yet know much about. Research is needed for us to achieve these critical goals and the Global Academy promotes that research.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Research skills are central. Research on markets, opportunities, markets and competitors is critical for success. People skills are also important. This is often ignored while everyone is searching for the next great tech idea but ideas rarely succeed without someone leading a focussed team. The third skill is finance. You don’t have to know everything about finance, you just need to speak the language. Accountancy is a series of terms for straightforward concepts. Once you understand the language you are well ahead as an entrepreneur.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
It’s never boring. It’s difficult; it’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s really exciting, but it’s never dull. There is always a new challenge to tackle and a new problem to solve.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Julia Cleverdon, then Chief Executive of Business in the Community said that ‘not all business people are drawn by the mating-call of the Porsche’. This was the first time I’d heard someone say that business does not all have to be about money. It really stuck in my mind. Amanda Mackenzie, was also very encouraging about The Global Academy. Among other things she asked why I wasn’t called ‘CEO’. I gave her the excuses that had been given to me . . . and she just looked at me. Eventually I said ‘yeah, I’ll go and fix it’, and I did. I also look to the clothing manufacturer Patagonia. They’re ahead within their industry and seem to be making a difference with the way they do business. The results look the same, but when you lift the bonnet there’s some different stuff powering their success.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would explain my next issue or problem, and ask who they could introduce me to who could help.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Every sale, every contact, every small achievement builds on the one that came before so that’s the one I’m really pleased about today or this week. I was hugely pleased, and relieved, when researchers began submitting their SDGs work to the Global Academy. Success and validation of this kind takes time to achieve, so it rarely feels like a ‘moment’ when it finally arrives. It often takes me a while to realise we have succeeded, and by then I’m working on the next thing. I’m always proud when younger people who have worked with us move on the next stage of their careers too. It’s good to have been part of their progression.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
I don’t always trust my guts enough and often don’t realise when I’m right. It’s good to find other views but sometimes, perhaps a year later, I realise I wasted a whole bunch of time when someone else did not support a project or direction. Age really does bring confidence and I’m getting better at this now.
How have you funded your ideas?
I didn’t set up the Global Academy Jobs board – I was initially recruited as a consultant to fix a series of problems. The company has backers who then trusted me enough to invest further in the first stages of The Global Academy platform. When I pitched the idea to them they were overwhelmingly positive. The idea is a straightforward pitch. Everyone says ‘surely somebody is doing that already’ but no one is! We have not found any other organisation working to align research with the sustainable development goals.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
Not yet! Awards, grants and competitions are hugely beneficial for the publicity and recognition they bring. Shiny badges for websites count too. We’re working on celebrating our own achievements more, which is perhaps more important. We have built 2 online social enterprises from scratch, both with global reach. Big achievements.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
You can reach the people you need here in Oxford, without incurring the costs of being in London, and then London is in easy reach when needed. There are also huge resources in the county that stretch well beyond academia because of all the start-ups and various specialist ecosystems. Oxford is a good place for networking.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Here in Oxfordshire, I would probably start them off with the Local Enterprise Partnership because they have network navigators to put you in touch with the right people in your sector. I’d also tell them to get on Twitter. After that, it would really depend on the sector and the scale for their idea. If they were trying to set up a mobile coffee shops (which is a good idea by the way) I would send them in a different direction than if they were trying to launch a new online service.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
Family concerns made a crater-sized hole in the middle of my career. This meant things have taken longer and I’ve needed stubborn determination to keep making progress. On the plus side time and grey hair bring authority and, again, confidence.
What resources would you recommend for other women?
It’s important to have your partner truly support your career and it has been hard for women to know whether they have that level of support. Blogs, local networks and LinkedIn are all brilliant. I would also say that education combines well with small children, possibly much better than you would expect. I did my MBA with a three-year-old and it was fine. Part-time study with small children is achievable and the two things can fit together well to keep your career moving forward while you enjoy a young family.
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
Getting women entrepreneurs in to act as resources and contacts is the best way. The challenge is that entrepreneurs are really busy and if they are women, they’re even busier!
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
The same advice as I’d give to everyone – do it! Test it your idea on a smaller scale and learn as you go. Formal business education is invaluable but not essential and you can learn the skills you’ll need in many places. Find experience in the area you want to explore and partner with people who have different skills to your own.
Any last words of advice?
If you’ve got an idea, get on and test it. Test it on a small scale. If it’s a product test it on eBay or Etsy. If you’re trying to create a new bank this will be harder, but in general, if you want to be a writer, get on with writing and if you want to work in tech get involved with tech projects. Ideas come from all over the place. If you’re solving your own problem, you may well be solving somebody else’s too. So get on and try things and test ideas. It’s important to talk about your ideas with other entrepreneurs too. It’s a dangerous myth that entrepreneurial ideas need to be kept secret – ideas need light and air to grow into strong businesses.