Race Ahead With Small Businesses

Quick Update: 5th November
Hear Chris Leigh of Real Time Race interviewed on the Chris Evans radio show tonight (BBC Radio 2, 5-7pm). Don’t know who’ll be more enthusiastic, Chris or Chris (they’re two of a kind!). If you miss it today, I’m sure it will be on iPlayer for the next week.

Want to see what can be achieved with a lot of entrepreneurial passion, some very smart technology, plus a few added PhDs working part-time for the sheer love of it (and the possibility of future stock options)?

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Real Time Race was featured this week on “Click“, the BBC news technology programme. They’re demo-ing a platform which has the potential to let you race a virtual F1 car alongside real F1 racing drivers – as a real F1 race happens. Instead of using CGI to recreate the track, they use video footage, laser positioning, GPS and real-time telemetry from the other cars (I think – hey, it’s complicated!). The programme is available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer until Monday 9th November and features Real Time Race as the first item.

The company behind all this is based at Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus near Warrington, which I visited a few weeks ago. I got the chance to talk to the CEO of Real Time Race, Chris Leigh, and as well as enthusing us all with his company, I felt he epitomised the challenges and excitment of setting up your own small (but with potential to be huge) hi-tech venture.

The company finance was (at that stage) Chris’s mortgage, so recruiting expensive postgrads wasn’t an option. However, he had 3 PhDs working with him, including someone who was working as a full-time consultant, whilst working on Chris’s project part time, and another PhD working part-time from a distance – Adelaide in Australia. They weren’t getting a salary, but working for share options, partly because they could see where this company could go, but also, I’d guess, because they were excited about working on the application of cutting edge technology.

Want to have a play with their technology yourself? You can download a demo from their website.

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We saw several other hi-tech small businesses and I was encouraged to hear most of them talking about needing postgraduates – one business had 17 employees, 14 of whom had PhDs (Perceptive Engineering, working on process control, energy efficiency and pharmaceutical manufacturing).

However, what they really needed, in addition to smart brains, were people who were entrepreneurial, dynamic, could think for themselves and move at the lightning speed at which small companies operate, and ideally who were confident enough to be able to interact professionally with the senior managers who were the customers or backers of the business.

It was this last skill which they struggled to find, so if you can spend some of your time as a postgrad improving your commercial “nous” (more about understanding how businesses tick than management theory) and improving your confidence and business etiquette, you’ll be particularly sought after.

For more ideas of up and coming employers, have a look at some of the other Daresbury Campus tenants including Link Information Technology, Probio Healthcare, Web Comms, Applied Computing and Engineering, Calon Associates and Slainte Technologies, all of whom spent time talking to us about the jobs they have to offer and the skills they need. There’s more info about the event we attended and the skills these companies need in a recent Daresbury blog post (yes, they blog, and tweet too).

Small businesses are definitely a great source of new jobs and those based on Science or Innovation Parks are likely to need the higher order skills which postgrads can bring. They’re normally cash strapped in the early days, so with most, you won’t get rich quick – but you might get very rich long term.

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