We are continuously inspired by stories that capture the drive, vision, resilience and growth of innovative companies at the Centre and we are proud to share our conversation with Tom Oakley, a director of Springboard, an engineering consultancy specialising in rapid, scientific development of device technologies.
We caught up with Tom at their impressive new office and in-house lab located in the heart of St John’s Innovation Park, Cambridge.
Tell us about your company
Springboard is a world-class engineering consultancy specialising in the development of products for safety-regulated markets. You can imagine that most of our work is medical devices.
What’s the focus of your organisation?
Perhaps more so than other industries, medical devices must work to a very high reliability and at the same time be intuitive and easy to use so that mistakes and problems are minimised. Also, they tend to be very valuable: for example, it is not unusual to have a multi-billion-dollar drug depending on the success of the drug delivery device. Therefore, multinational medical device and pharmaceutical companies search the world for the best teams to develop their devices and, for this reason, Springboard’s work is almost entirely for large multinationals.
What challenges you faced while growing your company and what you did to fix them?
Springboard has grown on plan from the original 3 founders in 2013 to the current 15 full time permanent people.
However, there are 3 main constraints on growth that any company must face:
1. Selling enough work
2. Recruiting enough of the right calibre people
3. Having enough space of the right quality in which people can work
Fortunately, selling has not been a major constraint because there is strong demand for the best engineers and scientists who can solve difficult development problems, and Springboard’s reputation is such that more than more than 80% of our work is repeat business from existing clients.
How do you hire your team? What traits do you look for while hiring?
We have an ethical policy which is very attractive to people who want to do genuine good in the work they do. For example, we won’t use our capability or knowledge to develop weapons or deliver nicotine. Already, we have politely turned down 4 projects in these areas.
We put a lot of effort into mentoring and training people. As examples, the directors spend a lot of time sharing experience and giving guidance, and each person has control of their own budget for external training.
We have put a lot of effort into ensuring that excellent engineers and scientist feel welcome from across society. Applications from the largest group of people that are underrepresented in engineering (women), have soared since we started our Women in Technical Consultancy scheme.
Tell us about your company culture
The company culture at Springboard is very collaborative. Most of our work is done in teams and everyone has responsibility within that team, but it is ultimately by playing to each other’s strengths that the projects are successful. To have an idea of what it’s like to work at Springboard, see recent articles by Thom Wyatt or Rob Udale.
What do you do to keep yourself on the growth path?
The last of the 3 hurdles to growth is space. We were very fortunate to be based at St John’s Innovation Centre in Cambridge UK for the first 4 years. This provided a high-quality space with professional reception staff and restaurant right in the heart of the so-called Silicon Fen. As we grew our company, St John’s Innovation Centre allowed us to take move to larger rooms and take additional rooms. This happened 4 times in 4 years! Most recently, we moved out of the Innovation Centre to the building next door because it is also owned by St John’s College and gives us the space to grow for the next 5 years or more.
Predict three trends to impact your industry in 2018
Looking forward through 2018 and beyond, we see several things changing across industry:
• Many large companies are streamlining their own departments to focus on their core competencies and outsourcing an increasing amount of work.
• Companies tend to be moving from a “customer-supplier” relationship, which can be short term, to a long-term partnership relationship. Indeed, Springboard already works as the de facto device development department for several large organisations.
• The emphasis on innovation is increasing due to competition from the Far East, and this must be done with high quality due to the risk of technical problems and recalls.
If you could offer an entrepreneur one piece of advice on scaling up
Sometimes we get asked to give advice to entrepreneurs who are starting their own companies. From a personal perspective, I would say to concentrate on something you both love doing and are world-class at. If those two things are in place, then company growth will be a symptom of success, not the aim.
What’s in store for Springboard?
Over the coming months and years, Springboard looks forward to helping improve lives in growing areas such as regenerative medicine, connected devices and diagnostics, and training the next generation of superb engineers and scientists.
For more information, contact Tom Oakley at www.springboard.pro