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Pathfinder – An Accelerator for life sciences and technology

Are you a Life Sciences or technology company looking to grow in the Highlands of Scotland? Dr Andrea McColl, Senior Development Manager – Life Sciences at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, blogs about Pathfinder Accelerator, a 12-week intensive business programme that is going from strength to strength.

Eight new companies started the Pathfinder Accelerator programme last week in Inverness. They’re setting off on an exciting 12-week journey. This is the fourth group of businesses, social enterprises and entrepreneurs to challenge themselves and their business idea.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) created Pathfinder for small companies who offer products and services in life sciences and health, but also technology and engineering.

Pathfinder goes beyond offering isolated training on sales or business planning. It is an intense process that helps companies make difficult decisions fast, saving themselves time and money.

I think the difference lies in its personalised, mentored approach and deeper contact.

Pathfinder is just one of the tailored ways in which HIE supports life sciences and technology companies – both start-ups and established businesses who are looking to explore a new market.

It’s a challenge…

I have seen a lot of tough questions being asked of the participants on Pathfinder. Pathfinder is very good at challenging assumptions which in turn leads to ‘Ah-ha’ moments – key decisions which really impact on the businesses.

It is tough to make fundamental decisions as a start -up, for example which customer to go after first. Because they need to make a decision quickly, without huge amounts of market research, there is some risk involved! But sitting in a dark room, perfecting their technology, will not sell their product.

I think one of the most challenging things we ask companies on the programme is taking the product in front of a (potential) customer and run the risk of being told ‘their baby is ugly’. But this is an opportunity to assess early on if the product will scale, needs adapted or will fail.

There are also other reality checks: will they be able to run the business themselves and do they have the skills? Who else do they need in their team? And will they need to partner with other organisations to make it to market?

Being investment ready is the ultimate aim – although that looks very different for each participant: raising angel investment or asking for a bank loan. But they all need to be clear on their business strategy, business model and what they want to use the money for.

Which brings me to the culmination of the pathfinder programme – a pitch in front of a panel of ‘dragons’. This is always nerve wrecking for the companies (and us), but the process of preparing teaches them a lot about their business – and highlights the things they haven’t researched yet or decided upon.

As Danny Meaney, one of our coaches from UP Ventures, always says: Stop thinking, start doing – action is everything!

…with benefits

And once they start doing, it is great to see the Pathfinder participants moving forward.

Seeing the participants grow in confidence is a really rewarding experience.

For example, Karrie leads a respected community interest company but she was looking for a very personalised programme to help change her mind set about money and business. Pathfinder helped her become more confident in the commercial offering that she has – and she came away with a focus on scaling her work, a new limited company and having secured £45,000 in grants and sales.

I see our mentors from The Leadership Factory and UP Ventures as one of the key reasons for the success of Pathfinder – their knowledge and contacts benefit the companies in so many ways. Introductions to potential partners or investors, and preparing them for these conversations, is crucial.

They ensure that all participants take out time and think of their longer-term strategic goals. It’s easy to get wrapped up in day-to-day work and time is a challenge, but the more they put in, the more they get out.

For one of our participants, Michael, one of the best things about Pathfinder were the other people on the course – it was a supportive and collaborative environment. He said that Pathfinder helped them understand their customers better and what’s important to them.

Going forward

Pathfinder is funded through the Inverness Highland City Region Deal and the European Regional Development Fund, which gives us the opportunity to run the programme in locations across the Highlands until 2023.

The next group will start their journey in spring 2019 – so if you want a focussed and friendly environment to move your business or product forward then please register your interest online:

I look forward to hearing from you.

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