Investigating Entrepreneurial OpportunitiesWhy study entrepreneurship?ColinJulian Brower already had a colourful and entrepreneurial career. However, his life took yetanother interesting turn when he graduated recently from the Open University with a sciencedegree and alongside it a Distinction in the OU’s enterprise course – InvestigatingEntrepreneurial Opportunities. Julian decided to ‘reverse engineer’ his career. He landed ajob in a large prestigious science-based organisation that researches and develops newknowledge which later gives rise to science-based entrepreneurial opportunities. He’s close tobeing what some people now call an ‘intrapreneur’.Julian BrowerI had started off as er an officer in the Merchant Navy and then gone into engineering andthen gone into running my own business. And then found I needed to bring it all together withan understanding of business because Id been one of these people who’d had lots of ideasbut didn’t have any structure. So the entrepreneurial course was an ideal way to go forwardI needed some thing or somebody to show me a formalised way of deciding if an idea wasgood or bad. So many ideas I had sounded fantastic on paper but when you actually wentthrough the finances, when you went through the resources, when you went through thecompetition strategies, competition um analysis you find out that actually an idea is not goingto survive. But of course it would – it was really - a good idea for me to be able to havesomething on paper that I could actually follow so this is where this entrepreneurial course isidealProfessor Colin GrayAnd did it do the trick for you?Julian BrowerI think it did er because now I have a machine that I turn the handle and what pops out theend is an idea that I think is going to work or not. So I start off with ten ideas a week, and Iliterally do. I keep a book with me and if I see something that – that I like an idea I may betravelling on the Tube in London and something drops into my mind I then go back and Iapply sort of what I call an entrepreneurial strategic view based on some of the courseconcepts and what pops out the end is something I think is going to make a lot of money ornot. And it literally is as simple as that. And I realise now that a lot of business people do thatbecause everybody has ideas because ideas are actually quite cheap but making them intoinnovations and then making money out of them is a whole new world.Professor Colin GrayAnd did you in fact start up that idea?Julian BrowerNo. I didn’t.Professor Colin GrayCan you tell me why?Julian BrowerI because I think that the other thing I realised but the entrepreneurial course helped me to dowas to help me realise my own limitations. And when you look at the SWOT analysis therewere lots of weaknesses that I needed to overcome and I think having a business idea is onething but also you as a person as well to develop these big ideas, to be able to invest. Andyou have to look at your risk, the amount of risk you as a person. And the course talks about
that particular aspect of you as a person. Are you the right person to be an entrepreneur totake it from an invention to an innovation? So another are and I thought Im not quite readyfor this so I need to find support, I need to find finance, I maybe need to find a businesspartner. And all those things didn’t quite come together.Professor Colin GrayNow you didn’t actually start the business, which you – had already thought through withgreat detail – does that mean the course didn’t deliver the goods?Julian BrowerNo because I don’t think the course is about turning your specific idea into a – um aninnovation that’s going to sell. That’s not what its about for me. For me it was aboutdeveloping a tool kit. The toolkit gave me seven or eight different key um boxes in which Icould filter good ideas because as I say ideas are cheap. Theyre coming from all over theplace but you need to be able to apply some sort of structure to those ideas. So okay thiswas an idea but I had ten others I was going to apply to it as well. But one idea will drop outof the box one day and will be successful. Without such a course I would be sitting there likeleaves in the wind you know, deciding how to actually take it forwardProfessor Colin GrayIf you didn’t take it forward though what did you take forward – obviously youre not a personthat sits aroundJulian BrowerWell I yeah – I mean other factors were going on in my life at the time and I decided to go andwork in a research department er for the government um and within that department evennow I apply those skills all the time. It doesn’t matter. Im working as an engineer er in adepartment um running particle accelerators but this – the whole research council that I workfor is er coming up with new ideas all the time. So I sit in the coffee lounge with scientists andthey talk about great ideas and I just apply my toolkit. Is it reasonable? Are people going tobuy it? Its a great idea but are there any customers out there because at the end of the dayyouve got to make money out of it. So you know I look at this more as skills for life. I think itsan essential part of all learning, certainly in graduate studies, to have something like this inyour head because everybody will go in to an environment where they need to think aboutmaking money and if they can do that within a company they are going to add more value towhat they do. It doesn’t matter what youre doing – you could be a cleaner – but if you canadd value by looking at these sort of um factors involved you know you may be cleaning thefloors but you say well hold on a minute. It we start to look at um you know joining skillstogether and you could do a SWOT analysis on it and find out – hold on – where’s theweakness in this? Im wasting money. I could make more money if I do it this way.Professor Colin GrayOkay. Taking that a bit further forward what sort of advice in general would you have forstudents on courses like that about how they can successfully get something out of it which isgoing to be of benefit to them and to advance their own entrepreneur aspirationsJulian BrowerI think that these types of courses that you run are offering a very, very good insight into somekey business tools. These are skills for life. These are things that you will use forever in life.So learn the individual tools. Apply them and practice them on your ideas so that you canactually hone them into something useful. If you come away with six or seven key tools likeapplying STEEP analysis like applying SWOT analyses, like learning the concept ofcompetitive analysis. These are really, really useful strong tools that you can have on board.Another area that Id say is be very brave. You know don’t be afraid to use your creativity andsometimes you may look a fool but you will never be told that. You will just be directed backon line. I think often people don’t want to appear embarrassed. So just be brave and thinkreally, outside the box because we are all contained in the systems of school and the way welearned to think inside the box. Youve just got to be a completely blank white sheet of paper.And the other thing I think is certainly on courses like this is use it as a practice. Because its
great to throw ideas around and use your tutor. Make them work for a living because youknow you will get really good advice out of them.Professor Colin Gray?Julian BrowerI think what you need to do is practice by using the course interaction facilities like theassignments, anything on line, the opportunity to talk to other students and the opportunity totalk to the tutors. I think this gives you a chance to throw your ideas about and get - get reallygood advice coming back about what it means in the real world because you are living in yourown little brain, contained and your ideas are very limited by the way you think and usingother students often in my case with e-board came out with two or three key points thatchanged my whole direction. And I would never even have considered them – yeahProfessor Colin GraySuch as?Julian BrowerWell I think certainly the idea of table tops and using them in pubs was a brilliant idea andimmediately then kicked off – I was just thinking all the time village shops, village shops, and Ijust got caught in this little thinking cell. And then somebody mentioned pubs and I thought"great." I could then go to try and do a deal with the local um village mall – not supermarketbecause they would be contained but go to shopping centres. And there you go. Everybodyis going through shopping centres now. How about one on the in and one on the out board ofthe shopping centre? That came out of talking to other students. So its - use it as businesstools. Be brave. And use your colleague. Work them hard.Colinon the notion of idea theft – how would you advise students, if they do have an idea, er thatthey might sort of protect themselves during the course?Julian BrowerIts a very interesting point to talk about protecting your idea and immediately one spends alot of time many years developing an idea and then you come and present it in some formalenvironment. You might have the latest gadget er or the latest process innovation. And itworried me about e-board as well and it still worries me today. I think that it makes you thinkvery carefully when you start opening your idea on to the formal environment. You start tocome up with creative ideas of protecting it. Some of the ideas I used for instance was tokeep very very key elements missing out of it that never got shown. So I only used the factorsthat people already knew about and I kept out very clearly some key points that would preventpeople from actually utilising the idea. And of course they were associated with specificcompanies and specific people. So by not including them in my final um synopsis I could atleast keep some control over it. I think that sometimes as well you might necessarily justtweak an idea so its just off the centre line so youre not giving away all the details or youmight want to - of your ten ideas maybe choose an idea that’s not so close to your originalidea so it gives people an opportunity you can practice your tool kit without giving away all thedetails you know. But if you develop an idea that’s slightly off tack that utilises the sameconcepts, you can often run the whole process and get out of it what you want without givingtoo much away because as I said an idea is a very important thing. People are looking atideas, looking at easy way outs, by utilising other people’s ideas but you can protect them.