In the second of a series of startup advice features with our Entrepreneurs in Residence (EiRs), we had a chat with Stewart Noakes to hear his top tips for startups.
Our EiRs work with our members to provide support, advice and recommendations drawn from their own entrepreneurial backgrounds and specialist experience.
In what ways does your own professional background help you to advise companies?
In the past I have started, built and exited several companies as well as being involved in setting up incubation and mentoring programmes in countries including India, USA, Portugal and the UK. Through this experience, the MBA I completed at Exeter, and the lecturing I undertake at Falmouth University, I bring a mixture of perspectives and proven approaches to solving problems.
What characteristics make a great business leader?
I like to work with business leaders who are good listeners and effective at executing on ideas. I believe the strongest leaders build businesses through empathy and consensus and create the appropriate space for their teams to thrive.
What are the most important skills that a startup founder should learn?
Firstly, resilience. To hear “No” a lot and from that to gain energy and inspiration. Then, as the startup becomes more of a business, to be resilient to the amount of change they as a person may have to go through to be the right fit leader and contributor.
Could you share your top piece of advice for entrepreneurs?
Recognise from the start that your contribution to a startup is likely to be a for a finite period – not a role for life. Approach the journey with a plan and an energy around your own stage to contribute, and clearly mark out the point where you are best to step out / step off / adjust your role to let others take things forward more successfully.
How can entrepreneurs avoid burnout?
Burnout and mental health issues have been evident within every startup ecosystem I have worked. For me, great strength has been found through community and meaningful connections with other entrepreneurs where we can share openly and support each other along the way. Also, having an experienced mentor – someone who is one to two years ahead of you on the journey – is an amazing pillar to solving problems quickly and efficiently that might otherwise bring you towards burnout as you try to overcome them.
Why should startups consider joining a business incubator?
Community is #1 for me. Talk with as many people in the incubator as possible before you even apply. Get a feel for the culture and how it will fit with your own values and energy. When the match is right this will be an incredible asset for you. Look to give to this community and proactively do so. That is where the value becomes multiplied for everyone.
Then look to your journey and see what you need to do that you can’t get 100% right first time without help. Raising funds is often a challenge, but hiring people and building effective teams are ones that regularly trip founders up. Look to the incubator for how they help people solve these problems already. You may feel like you are “inventing a new wheel”, in a unique context and situation, but a great deal of the ground you are trying to cover has been done many times before. Efficient and effective answers are already there inside a great incubator for you to pick up, leverage and make your own.
What tech trends can we expect to see in the next five years?
The tech trends I am watching with interest are around the innovation in climate change technologies; this is where global funding is flowing over the next five to ten years.
I am also watching decentralized technologies, social tokens, DAOs and crypto currencies, which combined have a potential to really disrupt how we view nation states, democracy, taxes and infrastructure. I’m on a steep learning curve with this one and regularly feel like I ‘don’t yet get it’ but I keep at it!
EiR sessions with Stewart are available for SETsquared Bristol members. Find out about joining us.