Commercial awareness – the first thing, for me, is that it’s vital for anyone I employ to have a commercial mindset. I need people who can understand the market application of what we are doing. I need someone who can identify opportunities and act on them in a timely way.
We have a saying: “you waste a day, it’ll cost you a week; you waste a week, it’ll cost you a month”. When dealing with clients or partners, especially in an SME, you need to be responsive and quick. I would say the smaller the company, the more commercially minded you have to be.
I want people who want to get our products out there and who are excited by our products being used in a range of new ways. For example, we are currently working on a joint venture which may see our products being used in new diagnostics for Covid-19. This is exciting!
Secondly, I’d say that initiative is key – doing what you need to do without being told to do it. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission. I’d rather someone make their own decision and make a mistake than need to be told what to do.
Of course, we provide direction and support, but not the kind of regular supervision and processes that you would find in a larger organisation. In this way, you might compare working in an SME to a research group environment.
Finally, we do need natural research scientists, we need people with curious minds and the ability to pursue questions and find those answers, all of those skills that a postdoctoral researcher may already have, but tempered with that commercial bent and keeping in mind the importance of initiative.