Relevant Conversations with Nigel
On my last trip to Lancaster, I had the opportunity to hang out with Professor Nigel Locket. Nigel is a Professor of Entrepreneurship in Lancaster University, an author (he has a book on entrepreneurship) and an entrepreneur. My first encounter with Nigel was at Lancaster University, Ghana in February. I have been drawn to his interesting career path from an entrepreneur to academic ever since. In this episode, we talk about his career path and his take on entrepreneurship.
To Nigel, entrepreneurship goes beyond just starting a business. Entrepreneurship is about having a whole set of skills, meaning being an entrepreneur in a bigger organization is different from a smaller one but requires the same skills set, be it a network, company or government. His entrepreneurial journey started with a business built with his brother which was responsible for supplying healthcare to communities. Traditionally, healthcare in the UK is the responsibility of hospitals, access however to this is rather expensive. In order to make healthcare more accessible there are the creation of facilities such as nursing homes, community homes and shelters usually private owned.
The idea to start his business came up when Nigel was made in charge of one of such facilities. He saw a demand in consumables for these facilities such as medical supply, cleaning materials, paper supply etc. He had a conversation with his brother one Christmas and they ‘did something about it’.
Between getting a bank loan, selling of houses and running multiple jobs they raised enough to start their business. Nevertheless, there was the usual entrepreneur challenge, always having a lot of ambition more than money which did not deter them from growing the employee size to about 100 over a period of 8 years. They grew into different areas with an annual turnover of about 24Million pounds a year after 10years. Their company was eventually acquired by another company which led Nigel to academia.
As an academic, Nigel uses the same skills as an entrepreneur, taking up leadership roles, mobilizing people, enacting visions; the regular lifestyle of an entrepreneur just in a different context. He calls what he does, an enterprise more than entrepreneurship since entrepreneurship usually is associated with startups but enterprise applies these entrepreneurship skills set in hospitals, government etc .
Nigel shares his passion to share knowledge on how enterprises can change the world for good; changing the world with entrepreneurial skills. Amidst the chase of great wealth and the fast pace of life, he believes the application of entrepreneurial skills in the process will simply enrich people’s lives.
For Nigel, getting into academia was a mere accident. After the selling of his business, Nigel felt he wasn’t employable, since he was once was an MD, ‘who will employ an MD’. Midway starting his second business, he took the decision to take a Master’s program in Information Technology considering how vital technology had become to business. He got the opportunity to take up a sponsored PHD course, which he embraced after some hesitation just to try and discover exactly what he wanted to do (which he still is figuring out)
Nigel’s PhD targeted the use of information systems i.e. Ebusiness in small businesses. He had come to a realization that even with the growth of internet, Europe in the 2000s had most of its local businesses using no complexity applications such as emails instead of the much complex technologies like ERP and CRM. He focused on eAggregation which looked at what had to happen for SMEs that traditionally were not on these applications and the groups that were and what could inform a move.
Findings suggested that Software houses were unable to build applications to sell to small businesses who simply could not afford it. The way forward was to adopt business models that were cost effective predicated to about 15% to 10% the price of having to buy the software but instead renting out these applications manually. Business model for delivery was on a one to many basis meaning, having one software and renting it out to many businesses.
The sales approach adopted was the one to one approach, where software houses made softwares which were purchased by intermediaries such as colleges and associations who then sold to SMEs.
Nigel suffers from dyslexia (word blindness), a condition that makes ones brain unable to process words seen or heard. He’s actually suffered this whiles growing up and had been labelled ‘stupid’ in school. When Nigel got a better understanding of his situation, he developed coping strategies that helped him from getting a degree, Master’s to Ph.D. with no one noticing.
Dyslexic Professor, Nigel’s blog was to be a one-time thing talking about Nigel’s secret. The blog was centered on being an academic and dyslexic: story of a dyslexic surviving in a field filled with reading and writing. His blog has so far received good feedback and he plans on launching a social enterprise that is looking at supporting dyslexia, headed by dyslexic to project dyslexia not as a disability but a superpower.
Coping mechanisms as an entrepreneur: Nigel shares mechanisms which keep him afloat. He emphasized that realizing that dyslexia is a learning difference gives you a superpower. He uses assistive technologies like softwares that predict words with his writing tasks, which means it takes a relatively longer time to get work done.
His nightmare however, is, meeting someone new with a name for the first time since words take a long while to register with him.
Superpowers: he is resilient, uses humor mostly because it deflects attention from him, quick thinking, empathy (easily recognizes sadness) , as an entrepreneur, this gives him the ability to feel the needs of his clients leading to better reconfiguring to help meet needs of these clients.
As a professor with dyslexia, Nigel grades his students by giving them two assignments, one submitted to a video page and the other an essay… (How smart is that?)
Day to day Activities: Contrary to popular opinion that being an academic just involves lecturing and writing and making sure people don’t talk to you, Nigel loves to teach which led to the writing of his book ‘Exploring Entrepreneurship’, a step by step manual on entrepreneurship suited for the university environment. His motivation for writing this book was because he could not find a book that could help him personally. This book employs a type of teaching called critical incidence, linking each chapter with an entrepreneur and a challenge they faced at a point in time on their journey.
Currently, Nigel is involved in research work with Recirculate on how universities in Africa contribute to economic and social development particularly in the area of water and also their collaborations with SMEs and small businesses to solve big problems.
Tips to Startup businesses:
- Value proposition: pregnant with an idea and ready to build a business out of it, consider the value your idea presents to your potential client. Rather than assume, find ways to determine how your customer sees value in this idea.
Nigel shared a quick way to do this, ‘use your company name, add 7 words to it that should tell me what your company does and how it adds value’ – Nigel. E.g. Magic cups (company name), putting your brands in your customer’s hand (that is a sweet summaryJ)
- Market: Consider your target. You should be able to give details of your very first customer (what they do, age, even what they are wearing etc.)
- Key Processes: figure out what already exists and decide on what you are going to be good at
- Essential value: find a way to measure profit by returns periodically.
‘You have a great idea, but your market will demand change, be ready to flow with it. Ask yourself why it is a good idea now and capitalize on it. Lastly, have deep knowledge of your market and you can be a driver, there may arise changes outside your control but make the opportunity right now in volume.’ – Nigel Lockett