Plant, microbial & environment YES
I had the privilege of spending yesterday afternoon as a mentor for part of the annual Plant, microbial & environment YES competition. The Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) is designed to develop business awareness and an understanding of entrepreneurship in UK environmental postgraduate students and postdoctoral scientists, and this is achieved through a competition where teams prepare an oral business plan for a company based on a hypothetical but plausible idea, based on real markets. The teams then pitch their plan to a a panel comprised of business, financial and academic representatives taking the role of equity investors.
I worked with 5 fantastic teams from Manchester, Reading, Warwick and Heriot-Watt on ideas as diverse as a diagnostic for bovine TB, bacterial seed coatings, novel uses for coffee production waste, animal therapeutics derived from waste blood and thermal insulated paper products and I was really impressed with both their enthusiasm and how well they'd applied the training they'd been given during the workshop in areas including:
- the requirements of a business plan;
- intellectual property and patenting strategy;
- raising and managing finance;
- commercial and marketing strategies;
- regulatory affairs; and
- company case histories.
Today the teams will be delivering their pitches, so good luck to all my teams, and I hope their hard work is rewarded and they progress to the finals. More importantly, I hope all the participants enjoyed the experience, and learned that commercialisation is interesting, challenging but above all fun and rewarding.
Dr. Cait Murray
Time for Evolution
Strategic Scientific have hit a new milestone.
Not a strange one, not a major event, but a little stepping stone along the way of company evolvement.
We have had one of our significant, early on board, associates leave.
People lives change, different influences pull them in different directions. The same happens to companies, and so you find at some point nothing lines up the way it did before and the bond has to be broken so all parties can best pursue their needs.
From the company perspective this takes some anticipation of the event - being aware of the signs that the working relationship is under strain, that it's no longer meeting the company expectations. Indicators can be a reduction in the ease or frequency of communication with particular individuals. It could be a lack of flexibility in their approach to projects or willingness to accept new processes, changes, adaptations to what is required or hoped for. The signs are there and senior management need to be constantly vigilent.
Trying to address these issues doesn't always reach a solution - sometimes it can be hard for an individual to articulate the reason why things don't feel right and there can be unclear messages between what is said and what is done. But once the decision that a parting of the ways needs to happen has been reached, even if it is only on the management side, then the actuality needs to be planned for.
Knowledge is key. What does that individual know and what skills do they bring to the organisation. What imapct will their departure have on the day-2-day functioning of the business and also on the medium term plans.
How can you ensure that you capture all the knowledge that you need to keep the company moving forwards and who within your current team matches up on the skills side, or what skills do you need to recruit in as replacement.
It doesn't have to be a 1 for 1 swap. In SSC that hasn't happened. We have looked at the departing skill set and divided that up into 3 areas, one which is covered by a new recruit, one which will be brought in as an occasional resource and the final area will be covered by current team expanding their role and interests. It has taken a few months of preparation but it has gone smoothly.
And that preparation has made the actual departure easier for all sides.
No shock, no great upheaval, just a simple parting of the ways and best wishes for all involved for the future.
As it should be.
Protecting IP rights when staff leave
If your organisation employs staff, it’s a sure bet that at some point in the future they will choose to leave. When they do, how can you ensure that the company’s Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and other sensitive information are protected?
As with many things in life, prevention is preferable to cure, so plan for leavers early – in fact, plan for it at the appointment stage. Broadly speaking (under UK law) where an employee creates IP in the workplace in the course of their normal employment duties, the rights automatically vest in the employer. To maximise protection, IPR ownership should also be explicitly addressed in employment contracts, along with contractual obligations to not disclose confidential information and trade secrets both during and after employment. The employment contract can also be used to obtain the author’s waiver of any moral rights which may exist in Copyright works they create as part of their employment. Employment contracts should also include explicit requirements for employees to return and/or delete all confidential information on termination of their employment or at any time if requested by the company. This should include both the return of physical documents and anything stored electronically.
During the period of employment and as a matter of good practice to ensure there is no doubt over what information is confidential or a trade secret, employers should highlight such information by labelling it clearly.
Many companies use a leaver “check list” – ensure this specifically addresses IP, confidential information and trade secrets, and that all information identified is catalogued, and stored in an accessible form and manner. Categories include:
- Processes & production information, know-how & previously attempted, but flawed techniques or 'blind alleys' that did not achieve their intended results (“negative know-how”)
- Machines & manufacturing information
- Customer lists & confidential customer information, reports & analyses
- Operation & design manuals
- Designs, drawings, diagrams & artwork
- Ideas & plans
- Technology information
- Formulas & calculations
- Laboratory notebooks & experiments
- Experimental, analytical & design data
- Vendor & supplier information
- R&D information, reports, know-how & negative know-how
- Cost, price, profit, loss & margins data, reports & analyses
- Quality control information, procedures, manuals & records
- Maintenance know-how & negative know-how
- Sales & marketing information, reports, forecasts & plans, advertising materials
- Financial information, documents, budgets & forecasts
- Computer printouts, operating reports
- Administrative & managerial information, key decision makers, internal organisation
- Computer software & source code
- Creative individual works & collaborative works