Summer internship: the first week

It feels like yesterday I was searching for internships for summer. I wonder what it was that captivated me about Rapid Innovation Group- perhaps it was the use of “entrepreneurial” in requirements. Knowing me, it was probably “keen sense of humour”. Both haven proven to be true of the working atmosphere.

It’s the beginning of day 5 at the office and here I am, writing a blog about my first week here. Truthfully, it already feels as if I’ve been here much longer than that. Upon reflection, I’ve realised just how comfortable I’ve felt in the office; there was no “settling in” period- completely contrasting with my experience of living in London for the first time, where I think my settling in period may last indefinitely!

Since day 1, I’ve been completely integrated into the team. Peter spent a couple of hours giving me an overview of the work Rapid Innovation Group does and introducing me to an Agtech company I’ll be working on with him. Immediately, I was invited into meeting calls. On meeting calls this week, I must admit I’ve been happily surprised when referred to as a “colleague”, not simply an intern. This week I’ve mostly done market validation work in the agricultural sector: it turns out that a love of mine, spinach, may not be so good for you after all as it’s especially prone to absorbing carcinogenic heavy metals from the soil. Bad news for salad lovers out there.

However, alongside this I’ve experienced a very steep learning curve and an ever-increasing workload. On my first day, it felt like I was learning a completely new language: acronyms, business-style talk and the specific vocabulary of the sector I was working in. This is where I feel I fit in well to the small-business entrepreneurial culture: whereas plenty of people would feel intimidated or overwhelmed by this, I’m finding the challenge thrilling. The ambitious and driven side of my personality has been fully grasped by working here. What is very interesting and unique about Rapid Innovation Group is that, in a team of generalists, each person will also develop a detailed knowledge of a specific industry for a client not afar from expert level. We must learn to adapt very quickly to new situations. With my next task being market validation of the baby food global market, perhaps I will be the office expert on baby food. Not quite as exciting as renewable energy solutions, but important.

Studying Biochemistry at university gave me a good background for the AgTech/ Biotech work, however when Simon introduced a FinTech company in the field of Instant Payments, I found myself thrown into the deep end of banking, CSMs, RT1 and investment. I knew very little about investment, however Simon taught me a solid background in the field and now I know about pre- and post-money valuations and the golden “10x” figure that investors chase after. Here I feel I’ve got to introduce a slightly corny link- my mentors here have invested in me a lot this week (though they assure me it’s for their own future gain).

 

I’m looking forward to getting to know the team members more and find out about what they’re working on, as well as learning more about a wide range of industries. They’ve got the balance right here: smart and knowledgeable but ready to seek advice, hardworking but can still have a laugh throughout the day. Let’s see what the next 7 weeks brings…

Now for your first task, I want you to…

Hi, I’m Sheikh, RIG’s shiny, new intern. Here’s my story:

It all started with a late-night, prospective email from a sleepy undergrad, no doubt tired from all the procrastinating he did that day. Not 12 hours had passed and I was sitting across from David, still baffled he had caught the first train from London to come and interview me. Though if you ask him, he’ll have you believe he happened to have important business in my engineering department that day anyway. In any case, I did well to convince him, and Shields on a subsequent interview, of my many transferable skills. Perhaps too well…

 

On my first day, I was deployed to Canterbury. With only David and Sam (the Commercial Director) assisting me, I was tasked with exploring a partnership with an accomplished, Soviet scientist with a (potentially) dark matter detecting nanotechnology. It was decided that I would be in charge of the most important part: taking minutes. David and Sam handled the simpler things like talking the company through the variety of exciting things we could do together to commercialise the technology, showcasing parallels with successful, previous partners and exuding an aura of confident competence. After the meeting, Sam informed me of the corner office and pair of PAs that awaited my arrival back at the office. Two weeks in and still unable to find my office, I have settled for one of the hot-seating desks next to everyone else.

 

However, in all seriousness, my first two weeks have far exceeded my expectations. My first day was the perfect introduction to RIG. I got to see two very experienced Directors explain to a prospective partner company exactly how RIG adds value and accelerates the growth of innovative technology. I also had two train journeys worth of time to interrogate them on all the exciting things the firm is working on. On my second day, I was allocated a laptop and instructed to do a SWOT analysis on all the high-tech companies we’re working with. This quickly got me up to speed on how RIG was helping each partner and got me talking to all the people at RIG who were in charge of the various relationships. The remainder of my first week consisted of identifying state-side venture capital firms for an advanced materials company and trawling through research reports and elusive patents. Coincidentally, I had already done some work with this company through a student society a few summers ago. The week was rounded off with the chance to work with the CEO (and veteran chemical engineer) of one of our exciting partner companies on a corporate restructuring and brand narrative project.

 

I expressed an early desire to do more work on business development and Shields happily obliged. My second week involved pairing up with an intern two-weeks my senior to present approach proposals for two prospective partner organisations. The confidence and responsibility afforded to us by Shields was empowering and indicative of how encouraging the flat-hierarchy at RIG can be. Other symptoms of the meritocratic culture are the opportunities to work closely with the firm’s management on things like internal corporate strategy and colleagues keen to share their accumulated wisdom at any sign of struggle or curiosity.

 

A two-week dose of acronyms, World Cup speculation and metal-organic frameworks later and I’m still standing strong. Next week, to make space for a brand-new intern, I’ll be shipped off to Aberdeen!

 

Industrial waste, CEOs, and air-con politics: 2 weeks at RIG

RIG summer intern, Alex Crichton-Miller, tells us about his first 2 weeks with us:

Come Monday, I will no longer be the only intern in the office. I feel rather like an only child who, on finding out they will have a younger sibling, cannot help but feel a tinge of regret that it will no longer be simply me. The team at RIG is a very close-knit unit, reminiscing about antics on away days more than a decade ago as often as they argue about the most appropriate way to approach a client. I have been exhilaratingly swept up in it all from day one, meeting with clients and being asked to contribute right away. So these first weeks have flown by in a haze of acronyms, action registers and Gantt charts, cups of tea and arguments over the air-con (a divisive issue in the office to say the least).

As well as sitting in on meetings to get an insight into the breadth of work RIG does, I’ve been working on two things that couldn’t be more different: one, an ongoing piece of market validation for Ffion on industrial waste streams (which has promoted LinkedIn and EU legislation to the top of my ‘most visited’) and the other a piece of management structure work with a new client. In our two 4-hour kick-off meetings with the latter’s CEO, I managed to simultaneously type a Word doc longer than my thesis and catch an aircon-induced cold. It was certainly an experience, made still more intriguing by the chance to really let him talk about the organisation he runs, and then go away and brainstorm how we could solve his challenges.

RIG’s business model means that we have to wear a lot of different hats, which can be confusing when you’re trying to pin down at least one of the tasks you’ve got to do. The best thing about being here so far has been that, even though it’s tough, everyone that works here treats the world like an opportunity for deeper learning: I’ve been given tips on organisation, presentation, recycling, and even punctuality (for my sins!) by partners, helping me better navigate the choppy waters of small company culture. Some of that was put to the test yesterday when I attended the Rushlight Summer Showcase – where a huge array of Cleantech companies put themselves on show – and was required to go out and try and make contacts, get business cards, and talk persuasively about RIG. The jury is still out on where I did a good job, but being plunged into the deeper end of things is what makes it such a pleasure to intern here.

Helping to commercialise early stage technologies means that you can be doing one thing on one day, and something completely different the next. That might make an intern feel unnerved, but luckily the people around me have the ability, experience and (crucially) warmth to make that a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Bring on the next 6 weeks!

A conversation with Ffion Rolph, Rapid Innovation Group Project Director

RIG’s summer intern, Nadya Kelly, sat down for lunch with Ffion Rolph, RIG’s project director. Over some pizza and coffee, they discussed Ffion’s time at RIG, technology interests, and gender issues.

NK: How did you end up working for RIG?

FR: Honestly, I came out of university, and like most people, didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I had a couple of ideas. I’ve always been into politics – I studied it at university and had been working at the Welsh Assembly for a while before I came across RIG. A friend knew someone who worked here. I decided it looked interesting and after meeting Shields a few times, it seemed like the right fit.

NK: What did you want to do as a kid, and how does working at RIG square up to your first aspirations?

FR: When I was younger, I was (and still am) really into sports. I wanted to be the first female Formula One champion. I’m a bit of a speed freak. As I got older, I wanted to be a barrister for a while, but I’ve always had a strong interest in science and technology. I feel like at RIG, I’m really engaging the geekier side of my personality and getting to indulge that.

NK: What do you say when you meet someone new and they ask you what you do?

FR: I tend to tell people about the tech and the specific challenges that I’m working on at the time. I find giving examples really helps. Most of the time people find those technologies interesting so it’s a great starting point!

NK: Do you enjoy having a broad scope of work at RIG or would you like to delve further into specific companies that really interest you?

FR: Deep down, I am probably a generalist. I really like variety but sometimes it can be rewarding or even essential for RIG to develop an intimate understanding of molecular level science. We have to get to know the industries in which we work, inside out. I enjoy new challenges, learning about new technologies, and maintaining the possibility of getting involved in many different fields.

NK: The natural next question is what are your specific interests in technology, and what do you think is particularly interesting right now?

FR: At risk of sounding cliché, energy is a huge challenge facing the world right now. There’s an emphasis on finding solutions for energy generation but that really is only half of the puzzle. Now we have a variety of renewable energy sources generating intermittent energy, there will be challenges to do with ensuring supply if we are to successfully transition to a renewable grid.

The automotive industry is really what is driving things forward in terms of battery storage but I think there’s also space for other solutions that might be more geared towards grid-scale storage; things like Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES). I think that the energy storage challenge definitely needs a bit more attention and funding over the next decade or two. Once we match storage with generation, we will have a complete solution.

The other thing I think is probably water. I’m going for the big themes! We’re always told that the world has enough food to feed itself two or three times over but that we just can’t distribute it. With water, we will have to address increasing shortages otherwise we face significant political and humanitarian consequences.

I think people are starting to become aware of the issues around meat and how much energy it takes to create one serving of beef, for example. People are starting to think about sustainable farming, how we distribute food to the areas of the world that need that food. We might be looking back at subsistence farming, which is how agriculture started. So I don’t think food is so much of a problem, but water, especially with climate change, is going to become a very scarce resource, so making the most of the water that we have, being able to reuse it, treat it efficiently, to use less energy when treating it, is going to become very important. So, what’s interesting today is working with the technologies that address the treatment of water and the energy required to use it.

NK: Do you enjoy a particular part of the process of helping companies to grow the most?

FR: I think because I like learning a lot about new things, the first few months – which are all about having conversations with experts in the market, learning about why or why not a technology might be interesting, becoming an expert in that sort of space – is always very satisfying. If you have any intellectual curiosity, you’d love doing that kind of thing. Once you’ve got enough knowledge of the market to understand how the technology might succeed, it’s very exciting to put together significant commercial deals either with a large internationally recognised partner – the Veolias of the world – or to get involved in direct sales. There is a certain excitement involved in sales and a sense of achievement in completing any deal, so I think that’s probably where I would look to focus in the future. I’ll still retain the intellectual curiosity but I think putting together relationships to deliver technologies that make a sustainable and meaningful difference to people’s lives is fairly exciting.

NK: Given a good idea, do you think your experience at RIG means you would now be excellently placed now to become an entrepreneur?

FR: Definitely, and I’d like to think if I came up with an idea for a company and there was an opportunity to do something then maybe I could build that within RIG. I wouldn’t want to hand it over to anyone else. If I started a company tomorrow, I would grow it by following everything that I already do at RIG to the same principles. I would love to be able to do that one day. I mostly want to own a restaurant which is still being an entrepreneur but a bit more on your feet!

NK: Do you think there is a gender issue at RIG? Is it problematic?

FR: I think when you look at the company, yes, it is easy to think that there’s a gender problem because there aren’t many women, and all the equity partners and directors are male. I don’t think, however, that there’s any lack of desire to hire more women. We would really like to have more women on the team; we’d like it to look 50:50 at least.

While RIG has its part to play, there is also a societal challenge around getting women into STEM subjects and careers. We still want to do everything we can to change that. I play an active role in recruitment: I place vacancies for grads and interns, and the ratio of applications that we get is really five-to-one male to female. So, while we want to hire more women, when the pool is so biased, it can be difficult. That isn’t to say that we don’t make a concerted effort to hire women but it does highlight part of the challenge faced by RIG and companies like it.

So yes, there is a challenge around gender at RIG but the company undoubtedly has several feminists, including men. Everyone, including women, can be guilty of internalised sexism but RIG is definitely an atmosphere where those notions can be challenged. People are very open to new ideas.

NK: What’s been the most challenging thing for you at RIG?

FR: Learning to understand that not every company we work with will succeed. Obviously, what we are interested in is building companies that solve macro-challenges, global challenges. Some of those companies may grow to be very big but Shields has always said we’re quite good at keeping companies going or maintaining a reasonable rate of growth, but that’s not why we or any of the entrepreneurs we work with are doing this. It’s a cliché but it comes with the idealism of entrepreneurs: they want to either ‘change the world’ or build huge financially successful companies. I still do and will always find it difficult when we stop working with a company. There are many reasons why: the company stops being successful; we discover that there is no market for its technology; or there is a technical issue which cannot be resolved. Regardless, it always feels a bit like a break-up.

I’ve worked with a few technologies which, on paper, sounded great. There was one which had a great story… We were setting up conversations with global players across a number of industries. Things were progressing well but once we started testing programmes with some of these potential partners, the technology did not perform as expected. That was sad and it’s fair to say I found it tough.

NK: How do you address the subtle diplomacy involved in dealing with clients?

FR: I think you have to be fairly emotionally intelligent and have a good deal of empathy. I think you have to remind yourself that even though it may be clear that the market is saying one thing (i.e. it challenges the entrepreneur’s views), you have to imagine that if you had developed the technology over 3, 5, 10 years like some of our clients, it would be like your child. If someone tells a parent their child is naughty or does something wrong, the parent doesn’t take kindly to it. It might be a weird analogy but I think you know what I mean.

All of us want to see the technologies that we work with succeed, but it’s all about how you deliver messages. We’re all on the same team at the end of the day. We have the same objectives but the honest feedback is not always what people want to hear.

It is important to appreciate they (our clients) are experts in what they do; visionaries who’ve developed something entirely novel. They’ve seen an opportunity, they’ve developed a great idea, they’ve built a technology. That requires a great deal of capability so you have to be conscious that some of their objections are quite valid. It doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes frustrating!

First impressions of life at RIG

It’s the end of week two working here for me at RIG (well, it was at the time of writing) and it’s time for me to give a little bit of detail to what I’ve been up to, what I’ve learnt, and first impressions of the company.

It’s started as a little bit of acronym bombardment, full of TAMs, IPPs, OEMs and IPOs and a healthy dosage of blockchain chat from David. Slowly, I feel like I’m getting accustomed to how things work in the office, small company culture and RIG’s careful line between scrupulous professionalism and the informality fostered by the no rules, less job titles and meritocratic culture. A session on RIG’s unique business model went a long way for helping me to get my feet, and, along with sitting in on a few calls and process meetings I’ve been well informed by all on the overarching picture of how exactly RIG executes their whole range of varied tasks for clients; as Ffion described it- how RIG gets to be the commercial branch of start-ups in practice. Besides from gaining better insights into what everyone else does (including, importantly, what James has been doing as a member of the jury on a murder trial), I’ve been given my own overarching projects to carry out- a client project and an internal project. It certainly hasn’t been a slow acclimatisation to the task- I’ve certainly been flung into a market validation task for the client project just like everyone else does regularly, which involves a lot of intense googling, Linkedin (and Viadeo (?)) searching, and occasionally translating into French, but it’s pretty great to be given the freedom and responsibility to take charge of what I’m doing here and (hopefully!) create a valuable piece of work by the end of it, where I’ve had a chance to really get to grips with all aspects of the tasks execution.

What’s struck me quite a lot is both the breadth and depth in RIG’s remit- Simon may develop a very in depth understanding of banking regulation system in Romania for one client; but as well as the variety that comes with swapping to different subject matters, such as suddenly becoming an expert on non-invasive diabetes diagnostics technologies, he also gets to dictate and execute a varied range of different tasks for each client: whether it be closing client acquisition deals, deciding routes to market in a new geography or applying for grant applications- which are just a few of the tasks I’ve seen people working on this week.

After this fast-paced start, I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in to my project over the next six weeks, and learning more about the business and tech people at RIG are excited by- hopefully picking up some more acronyms on the way!

Know thyself

The ancient Greeks had it right, no doubt on a number of things, but surely none more fundamentally than as encompassed in the Delphic maxim – ‘know thyself’.

While at a RIG strategy meeting recently, we analysed in some gory detail our myriad individual strengths and weaknesses. I was told  (very generously I thought) by Mr. Shields Russell, RIG’s illustrious leader, that my strengths were strong enough that I should give myself the headspace to ensure I could bring these to bear, and to look to those around me to make up deficiencies. I’ve since come to the realisation that in fact the master social engineer was inviting me to look more closely at the team around me, for there lyeth all of the experience, character traits, and perspectives that if utilised intelligently could more than make up for my own personal inadequacies.

RIG is made up of a diverse bunch that, as well as getting along fairly well with each other some of the time, are all the friends a lonely technology entrepreneur could need or want. Despite being an outfit built by design around commercialising technology, none of us on our own has all the skills. If and when you come to the realisation that you are a jack of a particular trade, for the sake of everyone around you, get the hell out of the way and call for the support of a master – no-one will thank you for doing anything else. In any case complex, multi-faceted industrialisation requires more traits than any one ancient Greek or modern CEO could possibly hope to personify.

The advice of course was as sage as the Greeks themselves, and I firmly believe that had they had the forethought to dream up management speak, the aphorism would surely have read know thy team.

A conversation with RIG’s founder

RIG Engagement Manager, Ffion Rolph, sat down and interviewed Founder and Managing Partner, Shields Russell, over a series of face-to-face meetings. Here, Shields shares his thoughts on RIG’s history, its evolution, and its future.

 

FR: Is it fair to say that RIG’s market focus has evolved significantly in the last few years?

SR: I think that ‘evolved’ is the key word. We have certainly increased our focus on energy, natural resources, and major industry. This was deliberate and we now have some portfolio companies with terrific technologies in this area.

 

FR: But you didn’t just stumble into these areas?

SR: No. In part, it has been a decade long evolutionary process of reflecting on where we have had most success and greatest impact.

 

FR: I assume that the emphasis around IP rich technologies emerged out of this process?

SR: Very much so. There are several sources of competitive advantage that are defensible to varying degrees: brand, business momentum and market dominance, business model, and intellectual property (IP). We strongly bias IP for the simple reason that proprietary technology is the most defensible advantage a company can possess. It reduces, if not eliminates, the threat of replication. Unburdened by the threat of commoditisation, it less susceptible to pricing pressure. In a B2B context, it is an asset that can be exploited exclusively by the ‘creating company’ or through that company granting rights to other organisations.

I would say that while we are attracted to IP rich technologies for these reasons, I am conscious that the technology must be decisively better than what it replaces. It must do a much better job. You can make money though delivering marginal improvement but you can make a whole lot more if your product is in a different class.

 

FR: What other factors have informed the current focus?

SR: In my case at least, getting older has also played its part. It’s the big, global, long run challenges that most engage me. These challenges have really important social and environmental dimensions. They really matter. And, of course, addressing massive challenges can offer huge economic opportunity.

I am never oblivious to the mission and political aspects of these challenges. My second job was as a teacher in Botswana. I earned about the same in a month as I had in a half a day in my first business in New York but the mission was more important. More meaningful. For me, commercialising a technology that directly contributes to sustainability is simply more motivating than building a sales operation for a B2B SaaS application that delivers greater efficiencies. Mission driven challenges have a great ‘why’ and I love that.

 

FR: The largest group of companies in RIG’s portfolio is focused on energy challenges. What has driven that particular angle?

SR: Energy is such a critical space as it lies at the heart of the climate change challenge. I cannot see any other way of tackling the acute energy challenges the world faces other than through adopting new, more efficient technologies. You cannot dispute the need but that is not the same as saying that new energy technologies can just turn up and the world will be their oyster. I think that is where a lot of the first wave of cleantech companies were wrong-footed. There was a lot of vision and a lot of big numbers but finding that market that could give the company traction often proved a bridge too far.

 

FR: So market discovery is a critical element of the process?

SR: That is the essence of the challenge and perhaps no less challenging than creating the technology in the first place. Finding high momentum applications and engineering adoption is a huge, often quite complex, challenge and that is where we can play a pathfinding or scouting role. In terms of building a market, innovators need to think small to get big. They need to identify and then offer a superior solution to a specific energy challenge. That is very much what we do. It is where we fit.

 

FR: Is it accurate to say that RIG’s more focused approach also reflects a broader trend in the venture space?

SR: Yes, that is a good observation. When I was first involved in what you might call the ‘start-up’ scene, entrepreneurial ventures where generally lumped together. Many start-up events reflected this. Now, of course, you have events for different tribes – those involved in FinTech, EdTech, or CleanTech for example. Many VC firms used to have partners focusing on investments in a several fields and, of course, many still do. But now you see much more focus which makes a lot of sense. I imagine that several VCs all with a focus on a single area, let’s say consumer internet, makes for a much better conversation and investment decision than a group of VCs each with a different specialisms. I think it is a reasonable assumption to say that the most successful Series A investors are the ones with the most focus and the most evolved investment theses. So in our way we are very much aligned to this trend.

That said, as a firm focused on innovative technologies, I think we must remain open to possibilities that lie outside our declared areas of focus. Those areas of interest we call our ‘column’. That ‘column’ is permeable with purposely ill-defined parameters. It is in many ways a tool that drives our internal discussion. What’s in? What’s out?  What’s happening out there? What’s emerging? What are the grand challenge that engage us? We have to remain alive to the non-linear developments and the emergence of new challenges that cannot be addressed simply by improving on the thinking and technology that can rise to them in the first place.

For example, we are working on a fascinating and important cyber-security project. It does not lie within ‘our column’ but we are totally committed. It ticks the interest box of one of our partners and that is always an important factor for me. You get the best from an individual when their ‘desire’ coincides with ‘opportunity’. So our focus will always in a sense be negotiated. We are that type of firm. We attract people to come and work for because of what we do and the areas we work in. Equally, we are influenced by how their interests develop. What interests people drives their development and when we work on things that interest us that gives us passion. There is nothing harder than doing a job that commands zero interest. It is like the class you hated at school.

 

FR: Does a more focused RIG mean the firm is becoming more specialised?

SR: We have made some choices that undoubtedly makes us not only a more focused outfit but also a more specialist one. Our future is very much centred on building out market practices where we can combine specialist knowledge and relationship capital with our more generalist ‘how-to’ knowledge. That combination packs a powerful punch. It is an approach that enables to us to codify our knowledge and utilise our contact network much more effectively. In terms of how we allocate our time, engineering licensing deals, building out networks of distribution partners, finding solution partners, or executing high value – and by value I don’t just mean revenue here – direct sales, consumes most of our time. Over the last ten years we have done a lot of business building. We will do a lot less of this type of work going forward.

 

FR: Why put the brakes on what is a valuable activity?

SR: We have accumulated a great deal of business building expertise over the last decade. This widened the scope of our operations to the extent that we had specific experience vested in individuals rather in a shared company-based capability. But the big question for me now is where we best apply this expertise. Helping a company find some product-market fit and achieve some early traction is without question valuable. It is the first staging post on the way to building a valuable business. Building organisational capabilities to take advantage of this is also undoubtedly valuable. There are lots of managers that are well qualified to grow an organisation. The know-how and experience required to build a revenue-generative organisational capability from its early evangelist stage to something that is more repeatable and scalable is fairly hard-to-come-by competence. As it often the case, companies with the beginnings of organisational capability believe that hiring a manager from a larger company in their space will help them navigate this stage. They are nearly always wrong. They have hired that individual too early. Building something from scratch is not what they do.

But for us the problem with this type of work has been one of value perception. Clients place a different order of value on securing first revenues and consequently we have the opportunity to make a healthy return on our efforts here. The same cannot be said for business building work which is time consuming and less glamourous. It is ‘airline’ work – it takes a lot of planning and organisation, creates a lot of value but is rarely profitable. But while we will do less of this type for clients, we shall look to apply this expertise in building more of our own ventures.

 

FR: Where does starting new ventures fit into the picture?

SR: I am agnostic as to whether we are working for companies that are client partners in the traditional sense or companies that we co-founded and part own. What is certain is that in the next five years we will increase the number of companies in our portfolio that we have co-founded and are significant shareholders in. To date, we have been opportunistic. Going forward, we will be much more systematic and objective driven about it. We have learnt from the ventures that we have started not least from our failures. Where we can make things happen is on the commercial side, in mitigating market risk, in introducing the customer into the product development process, and in establishing distribution channels as early as possible in the commercialisation process. In contrast, our natural co-founders are the product-centric CEO or technologist with a prototype operating in our areas of interest.

 

FR: What has prevented RIG from starting more ventures?

SR: The lazy answer would be time. I think we have huge potential as an entrepreneurial platform but in truth we have been reactive rather than working out a more systematic and proactive approach to identifying opportunity. One key element of this is resolving the funding challenge. If you are starting from scratch with each venture, then securing seed funding can be a drawn out process and take an ordinate amount of time. One of our goals in the next 12 months is to develop ‘a bench of investors’ that can fund not only new ventures but can take advantage of opportunities within our client base. I am interested in creating a tight knit group that become intimate with and confident in the work we do, that share our approach and values, and are interested in markets and technologies we are engaged with. We have started talking to some HNWIs and we shall also look to some family offices. I am most interested in investors that will place value on social and environmental benefits alongside financial return.

 

FR: What is RIG offering this investor group??

SR: What we will offer our investor bench has a few dimensions. If we take opportunities within our client portfolio then I think we can offer fantastic dealflow with our involvement acting as a form of due diligence. We know our best clients inside-out and we know the size and nature of their market opportunity. There are two scenarios we will bring opportunities to the table. The first is essentially ‘follow-on’ investment opportunities where the investment is made on the back of substantial market traction and the where the business model has been defined. The second scenario is less straightforward and is best characterised as addressing a short term funding need. Even those companies that are well established and firmly on the path to success are not immune from a variety of problems that can result in funding challenges. Few if any emerging companies can get all their ducks in a row. But if the core product and market fundamentals are in place then there is a great opportunity. The critical thing is to be able to move quickly, to ensure a problem does not become a serious distraction, and to preserve or re-establish goodwill.

With regard to new ventures these may attract a different type of investor. What we want to here is to establish a very structured, gated approach whereby we chunk the commercialisation process in a fairly granular and transparent way and then align funding to each specific stage. I believe that by engaging with the market early, by co-developing solutions to high value problems with industry partners, and by confirming, prioritising and sequencing demand, we can accelerate the time to revenue while reducing both business risk and a new venture’s early funding requirement.

 

FR: What still surprises you after running RIG for more than 10 years?

SR: I suppose I thought that as I got older my curiosity might wane but it hasn’t. I thought I might become more conservative with age but if anything I feel more adventurous. We play in such interesting spaces. There is so much to learn and engage with. I spent a little bit of time on my summer vacation doing a deep dive on the ‘circular economy. It is so relevant a concept that it must become part of our internal discussions as to which companies and technologies we work with.

 

FR: Are you ahead or behind where you might have imagined you would be when you started?

SR: Definitely behind. I am impatient person who has had to learn patience. What I have learnt is that developing talent takes time, sometimes much longer than first imagined. But I have stuck with people. I made the decision early on to hire young people and to try and give them the type of challenges that could drive their development. I think you have to commit to talent and be prepared to wait. It probably takes six years or so to get really good at what we do.

 

FR: Last question: Why are all RIG’s partners male?

SR: It is a fair question and it is something that I would like to see change. I started with four male graduates; one is now the CTO of a crowdfunding platform, another left to join Roland Berger, and the other two are senior partners at RIG. So we started off with an imbalance which was compounded by an early failure to attract a sufficient number of female candidates. Foolishly on our part, and mistakenly on theirs, we were viewed as being overtly ‘techie’ which is a mile from the truth. But we are well past that now and so the situation should rectify itself over time. I think that will have a very positive impact on our culture.

Sink or swim: The Saga Continues

Here I am, back at RIG, 18 months after my original foray into the world of acronyms and I am continuing the irony of working with engineers when my father tirelessly worked to make me into one. We have not had a chance to discuss wind turbines yet, but I am sure that he will be interested in his engineer way and ask me questions that only an engineer can answer.

RIG stands out in terms of the experience you gain as an intern or recent graduate; you get thrown into the deep end from the first minute. This can be overwhelming but when the dust settles, you can be thankful for the experience. For exposure to client meetings and boardrooms from day one, for being given significant levels of responsibility and for doing work that is important and meaningful.

Plus, I was at a dinner party on Saturday and I think I impressed my engineer friends with my newfound knowledge of wind turbines and renewable energy. I also surprised myself by downloading their knowledge and storing it for when it will inevitably become useful at some stage in this project delivery.

I was greeted by a surprising amount of familiarity on my return to RIG. Taking photos of sleeping co-workers on public (or private) transport is still fully acceptable and my first two weeks have still been a period of intense information overload (but thankfully a lot less acronyms).

For now though, I will do as Dory advised and just keep swimming.

First impressions

So after many hints, nudges and threats from our editor-in-chief, I am excited to put the proverbial pen-to-paper for my inaugural blog here at RIG.

They say that first impressions are important and, for me, it was that first impression that RIG made on me that set me on the path to joining the firm.  Having come across the firm at an event on strategy for start-ups (one which I was ultimately unable to attend), I was greatly impressed by their value proposition; shared risk model (a rarity among advisory firms) and their track record of positively impacting their clients’ businesses. Furthermore, with a focus on strategy and execution, an approach to managing risk, and a hands-on approach to working with their clients, they addressed some of the flaws that I had experienced advising major corporates.

In my experience, corporate clients are inherently risk averse when it comes to implementing new strategies, adopting new business models, or commercialising new technologies. Big companies are rarely built with the ability to innovate and to address evolving macro needs as it implies sacrificing today’s revenue/profit – with management measured and rewarded on the past, not the future, there is no motivation to be bold and daring. But here was a firm working to enable those entrepreneurs who were striving to address major global needs, who had high growth potential, to do so in a de-risked manner all the while linking its success to that of its clients. I wanted to be a part of this.

The client that I am currently supporting is a perfect example of how RIG delivers value and helps its clients to have a positive impact on the world. Our client has developed a world’s best disruptive technology in the wind turbine market that works where competitors cannot, and which enlarges the addressable market by many multiples. The key for this client is to develop distribution and revenue models that enhance their competitive positioning and makes it even more difficult for prospective competitors to enter their space. Working hand-in-hand with our client’s management team, we are helping to devise and implement these final two elements of their business model. A very exciting challenge with immense responsibility.

Investing in your time

One of my internship tasks was to speak to a client’s investors and find out who they know that might be interested in that client’s services. The great thing about talking to investors is that they are keen to help out, as they have a financial interest in the development of the company. The difficulty is that they don’t have a lot of time. This is my advice for making the most of both their willingness as well as their precious time:

1.       See them face to face

Although often difficult to attain, if you can arrange a meeting in person this clears a space in their diary that (usually) won’t be shuffled around. I’ve sat down to speak on the phone at least three times with one investor, and every time it’s had to be moved at the last minute. Seeing them in person guarantees you’ll see them, and you’ll get so much more out of it than any other kind of contact.

2.       Set your scene

Surroundings set the scene for a meeting, literally. For this kind of meeting, it was important for it to be light-hearted, so meeting in a casual place helped.  I met with one investor in a cool, quirky restaurant in Shoreditch with excellent chips. Another I met at a café in Mayfair at 11 in the morning, and while I waited I had the pleasure of watching a man wearing a dapper suit sitting alone smoking a cigar alongside his espresso.

3.       Prepare well

It makes such a difference to have done lots of research beforehand and arrive with plenty of ideas to guide them towards your goals. They want to help, and any lifelines you can throw them are welcomed. I raided their LinkedIn profiles in advance and came up with a long list of potential contacts that they could instantly eliminate or accept. This also got their cogs whirring for other similar contacts to the ones I had chosen. Similarly useful was a list of current clients, which helped investors to get a better idea of who I was looking for and further jogged their memory.

4.       Interested and interesting

I also took the opportunity to find out what they’re all about. Many of them are involved in pretty exciting projects, and finding out more about them not only gives you something fun and easy-going to chat about, but also gives you a better picture of how their network could fit with the company. Likewise, they took a friendly interest in me and my work, which takes the edge off the professional agenda.

5.       Get to the point

Be clear about what it is that you’re looking for. No need to bark orders at them, but they appreciate explicit instructions. In fact, many of them started the conversation with direct orders for me to give them direct orders.

They haven’t got oodles of time, but they want to help. Be straightforward and friendly. If all goes well, then both sides will leave happy.

By Leonie Nicks, Summer 2014 Intern