So Nigel, when did you start working for Sussex Innovation Centre?
Well I joined the board as a Non-executive Director in May 2015 and then I became Interim Chief Executive in May 2019.
How did you get to where you are now?
Just after the previous Executive Director left there was a gap and coincidentally I'd just finished a different project so the Board asked me if I'd come in and run the organisation on an interim basis while we renewed the strategy and put a long term solution in place.
You've been involved in lots of different projects in the past, Brighton Gin, Small Batch Coffee...can you tell us a bit about your journey?
I had a very traditional career initially. I went to university in Dublin, got a couple of business degrees in international corporate strategy and negotiating strategy, and then joined a number of large blue chip corporates, the likes of PepsiCo, Capita and Smurfit Packaging and worked my way up through different functions and departments within those. Around 2009 I decided I wanted to try doing my own thing so I left it all and gave myself a year to try and figure out how to make a living. I ended up buying and selling businesses, a lot of them artisan food businesses or hospitality. [I also do] lots of mentoring and Non-Executive work for a wide range of businesses including technology, retail, food and beverage and services sectors.
Would you say that hospitality, food and drink are your passions or is it just a coincidence that that's what you've mainly been involved in?
It is mainly a coincidence. I love technology, I love manufacturing, logistics and supply chain; but I think because I had a couple of early high profile wins in food and drink and hospitality, a lot more opportunities came my way in those sectors. However, I've worked across most sectors now and done lots of different things.
What advice would you give to someone who is at the pre-start stage?
Be really sure that it is what you want to do because it is never easy. It is a rollercoaster compared to working for somebody else; the highs are much higher the lows are much lower. You really have to dedicate yourself to get something new off the ground so it has to be a work of passion. Don't do it for the money because very few people end up making money out of businesses they start, but most people love it when they do it so it's about passion and desire. Make sure you go into it with your eyes wide open.
Can you explain a bit about your role here now? What does it entail?
We are trying to do a few different things really. Firstly, the university is our 100% shareholder and they have redeveloped their own strategic future in a document called Sussex 2025 so we're making sure that our own objectives and strategy are aligned with what the university wants to achieve. Then it's really looking at how we can help more entrepreneurs: give more business support, develop more services, get the right type of clients in the buildings and develop the community. Co-working is now a much more developed sector than ever before and we need to do a better job than anyone else out there. I think that what we do around business support is fantastic and I think we need to offer that to more people, get more organisations collaborating with university departments and create some ground-breaking organisations.
What's the hardest thing about your role?
It's just time management. We have over a hundred client companies, 25 staff, 2 buildings and one in development and a constant stream of great opportunities from within the University and the wider community, so there's certainly not enough hours in the day to do it all. Prioritisation is a constant challenge.
And the best thing?
We have a fantastic team here so working with them is invigorating and some of the businesses we support are just mind blowing the way they're developing. So it's working with the team and empowering them to work with the entrepreneurs to build successful businesses.
You were on the Board so you know about Sussex Innovation but is it very different coming in as Chief Executive?
Yes it definitely is. You get to see it on a much more granular level, the sort of support and assistance we can give, and also just the practical help we give to make businesses more successful. There are businesses here that survive because we help them and they certainly grow faster because of the assistance we give them so rolling that out is a fantastic thing to be able to contribute to.
What do you get up to at the weekend?
A whole host of stuff. Three teenage kids keep me pretty busy most of the time. I also love theatre and I love food and drink so I love trying new restaurants or bars. I've been doing triathlons for a couple of years so I do quite a bit of running, not so much cycling any more.
We'll have to get you on our half marathon relay team next year then!
You won't get me next year! I have run the Brighton half marathon for the last three years but next year it is the morning after my 50th birthday so I'm not running anywhere!