Tag Archives: Trigger

Growing Your Ecosystem

This post was contributed by Miranda Weston-Smith, who on 10 March was a guest speaker at an event hosted by the Transforming Institutions by Gendering contents and Gaining Equality in Research (TRIGGER) team – a research project in Birkbeck’s Department of Management.

biobeat-brandingAt a joint Birkbeck School of Science and TRIGGER event, Miranda Weston-Smith discussed her experiences in founding BioBeat together with opportunities for scientists and business graduates in bio-sciences. Miranda helps early stage biomedical businesses attract investment and develop their business strategies.

Miranda has worked with many entrepreneurs and is experienced in fundraising, business planning and technology transfer. She is a long standing Mentor for Cambridge Judge Business School’s Entrepreneurship Centre, contributes to the University of Cambridge Masters in Bioscience Enterprise course and is a member of the St John’s Innovation Centre Training Team.

Miranda studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge and has a Diploma from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.


She brings experience as a Technology Manager at Cambridge Enterprise, where she assessed and marketed life science technologies, negotiated licences and spun-out companies. She was responsible for technology transfer at the University of Cambridge for the Cambridge-MIT Institute. In her five years at the seed capital firm, Cambridge Research and Innovation, she invested in early stage technologies. Miranda co-founded Cambridge Network with Hermann Hauser.


As a result of working with researchers, Miranda founded and runs BioBeat, a programme to inspire the next wave of bio-entrepreneurs and business leaders. It is a way to engage with successful women entrepreneurs and she explained that in her experience women adopt different strategies to issues such as working in teams, risks, and raising finance. Doctor Helen Lee, Director of Research, Department of Haematology, University of Cambridge and Founder, Diagnostics for the Real World, and Dr Jane Osbourn, Vice President Research and Development, MedImmune and Head of Site MedImmune Cambridge were hugely important catalysts for BioBeat getting underway and for the first Bio Beat conference in 2013, with an all-female panel.

Introducing the Cambridge bio cluster

Miranda introduced the Cambridge bio cluster that involved a range of organisations involved in medicines, R&D Support, clinical diagnostics and consumer health. Many of the companies involved in these areas have connections with Cambridge University. Those involved in medicines may have direct intellectual property (IP) relationships with University. For others, the relationships may be more indirect through networking between individuals and groups.

Miranda discussed the differences between the Cambridge biocluster of 2010 and of 2015. Lines are much tighter and investment has significantly increased through a range of funders. For example, Axol Bioscience after setting out to obtain £600,000 through a crowdfunding campaign, managed to bring in £1 million.

On advice for entrepreneurs, Miranda stressed that it is Important to find out where strengths of a company lie. The company needs to find where it sits in the market – where its customers are – and then funding can speed-up. For example, one company set out to exploit exhalation technology through non-invasive equipment that was developed as a veterinary product for horses and other animals. However, having discovered that managing severe breathing attacks such as asthma costs the NHS over £1 billion per year, the company is now developing the technology for human patients. The approval procedure, finances and returns are completely different in these two sectors.

Another aspect stressed by Miranda is linking-up the product and the market with the financial details. Investors are really interested in the two aspects of market and finance as well as the product, so providing projections of three-year cash-flows can be very important. Investors will be seeking creativity in potential problem-solving from an early stage.


Miranda then took questions in a lively session during which most delegates to the seminar participated by asking specific questions or joining in the discussion that ensued.

The first question related to the institutional anchors that underpin the bio-science cluster. Miranda said that Cambridge University provided local industry links and was there as a strong, constant presence. The corporates that are present are a mainstay that can provide sponsorship as well as international connections and perspectives. BioBeat is also a way of opening up fresh energies and a way of encouraging people to do more.

In answer to later questions about the university’s role, Miranda confirmed that the institution does not usually seek absolute control of enterprises, but tries to support incubate, and accelerate ideas. Cambridge University’s IP policy is that of retention of the first right to file patent applications; but copyright rests with the researchers. This means that there are many ways to exploit the ideas and not just go through the University. In addition, Cambridge Enterprises puts in seed money, but this is generally done in a low key way. Generally the University sees itself as an enabler and incubator.

A series of questions and some discussion followed about how to get involved in networking from a student business perspective, rather than as a scientific researcher. Miranda suggested that the first thing to do is to just try it after scoping-out what events are going on. Miranda candidly admitted that when she first started, she didn’t really understand what networking was all about and that you have to learn on the job. Porosity and being interested in what others are doing are important. Also, if you go out with one or two colleagues, it is important not just to stand together; just go up to people and start talking to them.

In the discussion it was mentioned that potential entrepreneurs could attend interesting networking events. Such events are regularly attended by service providers, head-hunters, institutions and sometimes investors. In London, One Nucleus holds regular events. Miranda confirmed the value of attending them.

Asked about how the Cambridge bio-cluster compared with others in Europe, Miranda suggested that one of ways is to look at companies that are moving into the area, such as   Ilumina. Microsoft has its European R&D office in Cambridge. Astra Zeneca (AZ) already has various laboratories around Cambridge, but eventually some 1600 – 2000 people will move in to their new building. The impact on the cluster will be for example, there will be opportunities for sub-contracting work and for early stage collaborative projects.

Finally, on the subject of how Miranda saw the cluster evolving, she said she expected Cambridge University to continue to spin-out biotech companies, and with spin-outs from other companies, the cluster will grow further. Spin-outs will also come from Barbaham Institute and Addenbrookes Hospital and from companies such Illumina.

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Gender Equality in Entrepreneurship Policy: Looking to the Future

This post was contributed by members of the Transforming Institutions by Gendering contents and Gaining Equality in Research (TRIGGER) team – a research project in Birkbeck’s Department of Management – following a workshop which they led at Dundalk Institute of Technology, Dundalk, Ireland on Thursday, October 22

Women at conference (pic credit: Ignite New Zealand under CC via Flickr.com)

Women at conference (pic credit: Ignite New Zealand under CC via Flickr.com)

The international panel at Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT), Ireland, was asked to reflect on the differences in the challenges that women entrepreneurs face compared to their male counterparts. Their responses would then shape their views as to whether the panel thought that different policies are needed to support them.

Professor Colette Henry, a member of the TRIGGER team and Head of Department of Business at DKIT introduced the panel. Professor Helen Lawton Smith – as the Birkbeck lead of the TRIGGER project – chaired the session, and began by asking the panellists to share their own perspectives and experiences of women’s enterprise policy. The panel brought together perspectives from both research and practice.

The panellists were:

  • Ms Sarita Johnston, Enterprise Ireland
  • Professor Barbara Orser, University of Ottawa, Canada
  • Professor Bill O’Gorman, Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland
  • Professor Lene Foss, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway
  • Ms Roseann Kelly, Women in Business Northern Ireland

Structural and contextual challenges

In response to the question of the different challenges faced by men and women entrepreneurs, Lene Foss suggested that women face both structural and contextual challenges. Roseann Kelly identified these as a difference in the kinds of networks they have as well as the existence of fewer role models. Lene Foss further highlighted the dual role that women play as both mothers and entrepreneurs, as well as national differences in women’s propensity to become entrepreneurs. In Norway for example, immigrant women are more likely to be entrepreneurs than Norwegian women.

On the question of whether support for improved networking opportunities for women was an appropriate policy response, Bill O’Gorman cited his recent experiences of women’s attitudes towards women-only networks. He gave an example from his own work where his team at Waterford had set up three networks in Ireland and Wales: male only, mixed and female only. Surprisingly, while women initially were reluctant to join women only-networks because they realised that gender diversity is important and a women-only network would segregate them from men, the women-only network appeared to perform best. While the other two networks folded, the women-only one continued and still exists.

Sarita Johnson, Manager of Female Entrepreneurship for Enterprise Ireland, cited research that has led to Enterprise Ireland to support women-only programmes including networks. This demonstrated that the challenges facing women entrepreneurs are different, specifically with regard to attitude towards risk-taking and raising finance. For example, Enterprise Ireland invests in 100 high potential start-ups (HPSUs) per year. The specific targeting of women has meant that the number of women entrepreneurs in this category being awarded grants has risen from 7% to 18%. She also found that women-only networks tend to perform best – for example, in raising export sales.

Need for better understanding of gender differences

Dundalk Institute of Technology (pic credit banlon1964 under CC via Flickr.com)

Dundalk Institute of Technology (pic credit banlon1964 under CC via Flickr.com)

Barbara Orser highlighted that it is not just social capital that contributes to women only-networks performing better – it is also technology adoption and financial capital. There needs to be better understanding of gender differences, for example, with regard to levels of confidence, in order to develop better policy. Three aspects were identified as important: women’s social circles; social capital in the form of information gathering networks, and fear of failure.

Roseann Kelly suggested that women are sometimes reluctant to benefit from women-only initiatives and prefer not to be labelled as ‘women entrepreneurs.’ This is a marketing issue – exemplar women are there by right and should celebrate their success. They should play by their own rules and not those set by men. Moreover, women should not have the equivalent of ‘old boys’ networks, because women are better at inclusivity than men.

When the Panel were asked how a hypothetical one million euros might be best spent to support women’s entrepreneurship, Sarita Johnston from Enterprise Ireland said that a programme which would give financial support to women entrepreneurs would offer the quickest and most tangible benefits. Blended support in the form of networking, accelerator programmes and role models is the best approach for supporting start-ups. Access to capital pulls through the development of other skills. Bill O’Gorman thought the money being spent on Ireland’s action plan for jobs is effective, and an emphasis on female entrepreneurship would yield benefits.

Roseann Kelly pointed out that Women in Business Northern Ireland has no public funding for enterprise support and has to be self-sustaining. Public funding would give a boost to their programmes. Barbara Orser suggested that public monies in Canada could be spent on encouraging more women to become entrepreneurs. A specific population that might benefit from funding is women university students; these are under-represented in Ireland’s women entrepreneurs.

Impacting on the entrepreneurial culture

The challenge for the TRIGGER team at Birkbeck is to build on the insights gained from academics’ and practitioners’ experiences to make an impact on the entrepreneurial culture within the college. This means encouraging more female students, as well as professional and academic staff, to share the lessons of the differences in challenges they face with other communities. This panel event shows that there is much to be gained by sharing perspectives from within different institutional and national contexts.

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Adapting to changing career priorities

This post was contributed by Birkbeck student, Emma Curry, who recently attended a networking event hosted by the Transforming Institutions by Gendering contents and Gaining Equality in Research (TRIGGER) team – a research project in Birkbeck’s Department of Management

CareerOn 10 July, the TRIGGER team was delighted to welcome Dr Carol Small (a former senior lecturer at Birkbeck who has worked in a variety of industries) to discuss her experiences of working within computing, and to share some advice on how to adapt to roles within different kinds of organisations. The event also sought to provide a networking opportunity for Birkbeck staff, students and alumni, many of whom were interested in pursuing a career in IT.

In search of career ‘flow’

Dr Small opened proceedings by asking the audience: what are the constituents of a good career? Rather than money, power, or academic prestige, Dr Small suggested one goal that might be worth striving for is that which psychologists define as ‘flow’. A position of ‘flow’ in your career is one in which a high level of skill meets a high level of challenge, meaning that you are constantly excited by your work and do not notice the time passing.

Dr Small then took us through the various roles she had worked in over the course of her career, and the challenges and opportunities that each role afforded. Her career began as a commodity broker (a job in which she was the computer) before moving on to becoming a programmer in the civil service. She then moved into academia, completing an MSc and PhD at Birkbeck and taking on a lecturing role.

Career steps: Academic and banking

In an academic job the role is split into three components: teaching, research, and administration, which, as Small highlighted, can be challenging if your interest lies in only one of these aspects. A lengthy academic career can also be a problem for moving back into industry, unless you have a specialism that is particularly sought after. However, as Small emphasised, such a move is possible, provided you plan ahead, and move in incremental steps, perhaps by moving into an interim role in order to gain some experience.

Following a move away from academia, Dr Small worked on encryption for a small software company before moving on to become a freelance programmer at Deutsche Bank.

Dr Small emphasised that the banking industry has incredibly high IT demands, so this can be an excellent route in to industry, but she warned that it is important to tailor your CV to the company you’re applying for, by making sure you ‘tick the boxes’ in terms of programming languages etc.

Often large companies are looking for a background of jobs in industry, so it is important to emphasise where your strengths lie if you have had a more varied career path. A freelancing role can be incredibly rewarding, as it forces you to do your best work for your customer, but it can also be stressful in terms of job security.

Career progression

ComputingDr Small also suggested that networking was a very important skill to develop in building your career. She advised that it is very important to overcome shyness and make as many connections as you can across the course of your career, as often companies will invite candidates they are already aware of to apply for roles. Being vocal was also an important way of rising within the ranks once you have entered a company: as Small suggested, being active and asking about promotional opportunities was a very valuable way of receiving feedback on your work.

Dr Small also emphasised the difficulties of remaining a computer programmer throughout your life: in such an incredibly fast-moving industry, it can be difficult to keep up to date with constantly-changing programming languages, and she suggested that it is often necessary to plan a move from a technical role to a managerial one relatively quickly. Managerial roles can be tricky, as they involve delegating and being less involved in the ‘nuts and bolts’ work, but also incredibly rewarding in terms of influence and variety.


The discussion then turned to issues of gender. Dr Small emphasised that often large companies such as Deutsche Bank have specific policies related to discriminatory issues, and are very interested in hiring and promoting people in protected groups. However, often these policies are not always enacted.

Small suggested remaining observant and proactive, and thinking about how you can effect change within an organisation. She also emphasised the importance of having the right sort of mentoring, from people who know the organisation well and can provide you with a checklist of ways to progress, and of finding someone equally ambitious that you can team up with.

During the Q&A portion of the event, there was also some discussion about the relationship between family and career, especially for women. In such a fast-moving industry it can be very easy during times of leave to fall behind with the latest developments. However, the importance of finding a way of keeping in touch with your organisation was stressed, even by working just a few hours a week.

In response to the final question of the event, of how you achieve ‘flow’ in a managerial role, Dr Small suggested that one of the most rewarding elements was having the power to make a difference within an organisation. With gender issues becoming ever more part of the conversation in both industry and academia, this power to bring about institutional change will be a very valuable one in the future.

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Career paths, gender and early stage careers: Learning from others and maximising potential

This post was contributed by members of the Transforming Institutions by Gendering contents and Gaining Equality in Research (TRIGGER) team – a research project in Birkbeck’s Department of Management – following a workshop which they led at Dundalk Institute of Technology, Dundalk, Ireland on Thursday, May 21

Trigger-blogThe Birkbeck team brought TRIGGER to the Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT) to discuss the persistence of gender inequality in career opportunities and in women’s expectations of their future careers. How institutional specific environments as well as general patterns of discrimination influence career paths formed the context to the discussions.

Professor Colette Henry, a member of the TRIGGER team and Head of Department of Business Studies at DKIT as Chair, asked the panellists to reflect on their own experiences. The panel unusually combined perspectives from high-level diplomacy with those of academia – Birkbeck, DKIT and Queen’s University Belfast.

The panellists were:

Three main issues stood out:

1) Should women have a plan for their career at the outset in order to succeed?

However, this is not straightforward. It was repeatedly said by the audience of academic and professional staff inside and outside DKIT that women very often lack the confidence to put themselves forward.

Junior staff are sometimes satisfied to get to middle levels of management, rather than aim for the top. They often do not apply for posts if they do not fulfil all the criteria, whereas the pattern is that men tend not to be so inhibited. Moreover, at DKIT, mature women students often do not have the same confidence in their abilities compared with those who have recently left school.

However, Nola Hewitt-Dundas suggested that a career is only one aspect of life. It describes who we are not what we are. Women role models have a powerful influence on women’s perceptions of what is possible. As Viviana Meschitti advised the women in the audience, be a mentor and be a role model. Women should be encouraged to take a challenge – be brave!

2) The uniqueness of the challenges to women in returning after maternity leave.

The diplomatic service like academia requires staff to travel but for much longer periods of time. An academic career is an international career – how do women balance a family with travelling even for short periods of time?

Balancing home and career is challenging. But a male voice in the audience suggested that women have more of a choice than men, who do not get the same opportunities for paternity leave, even under the new EU equalities legislation on parental leave.

3) The effectiveness of intervention.

Professor Nola Hewitt-Dundas demonstrated that of the 100 academic women who had been mentored since 2000, half of them had been promoted. This radically improved the gender balance at senior positions in Queen’s University – and overcoming some of the problems with the gendering of careers.

Dundalk has no formal mentoring system. A lesson from the previous workshop in March at Birkbeck was that there should be systematic attempts to identify why people have not been promoted. As a senior woman executive at Cisco on the lack of women in senior posts, was quoted in the Evening Standard in April this year, ‘Find the women’. International Women’s Day is a great way to promote women.

In addition – what this workshop did throw up was that there are some policies and actions in DKIT on gender equality but that there was a lack of general awareness of them. Indeed the institute was described as being ‘child hostile’. An outcome of the workshop may be that it will seed grassroots initiatives for gender equality, which the Institute will find hard to ignore.

The challenge for Birkbeck is to make sure both that there is better awareness of the range of actions designed to support diversity to ensure that more women take part. Moves to institutionalise gender and diversity issues into college-wide decision making processes are steps in the right direction.

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