In the latest of our guest blog series, we sat down with Dr Becky Sage, CEO of iSci, to discuss the challenges and rewards of creating your own industry due to cutting-edge innovation.

What people forget is that entering any market is challenging

In the tech world, you’re often essentially trying to sell a thing that doesn’t exist yet! That comes with a huge number of challenges, and the first is how to create a story that is visionary but achievable. Finding the right advocates, both in the market and external to it, ensures that you build a community with ideas and answers.

As a leader, whatever you dream in your head never appears in reality, and so as you battle with challenges to enter your market, you feel the constraints of time, money, acceptance, development, far more than anyone else. But sometimes that can be good: trying to do too much can overstretch you, and in hindsight I think I would prioritise things differently to ensure we built the community of team, funders, advocates, and partners who get the vision of what we’re about before the thing exists.

Sometimes you have to create your own business model

Becky Sage

With new services and new products come new models, but there aren’t that many role models in the area of innovators creating new industries. Our tool at iSci is applicable to science learning and science research which shouldn’t be a stretch – but it currently is. I’ve learnt never to accept defeat, though. If someone doesn’t buy into it, then they aren’t the people to work with or sell to right now. You may do further down the line, but right now all you can do is listen to them, and then continue to build your community that do buy into it.
That enables you to create your business model tailored to an audience that you know is your audience, so that when the intangibles become tangibles, you know that your target audience is ready to engage with you.

High tech companies don’t have any easy answer to “What do you do?”

Because we use VR as one of our tools, it’s easy to pigeonhole iSci as a VR company, when instead we consider ourselves a company enabling scientific discovery for all: whether it’s software, hardware, or community. But it’s fascinating to see how people view you as a company, how opinions are created through interactions with end users, media, partners. In the world of technology everything is moving all the time, nothing ever stands still, and that’s exciting but not the end goal of what we do. In my mind, tech is just a facilitator, and I’m more interested in impact, in building a strong business, in founding new eco-systems for the scientific community.

The biggest misconception about innovation is that it can only be in technology

Everyone wants to hook onto something tangible, something that they can see, touch, feel, but innovation is not Becky Sageabout gadgets but about doing things in a different way and making lives better. I’ve always felt out of place in a tech environment because my vision is for people, not technology, and so I’m focused on ensuring that conversations around innovation centre on the benefits we deliver and behaviours we enable, not just on the tool itself.

This type of misconception seeps into the tech industry to the extent that we all seem to have an idea of what tech innovation ‘looks like’; and I don’t fit that. We do not look like a traditional tech company, and I am not the traditional leader of a tech company, but I think it’s vital to have balance within our team. Yes, we have developers, but we also work closely with end users, creative people, visual people, business people. It’s ok to not consider yourself to be a techie and yet you can still thrive in a tech company if you are passionate about the mission.

The biggest cynic for a business is often its own leader – and that’s their role

There’s a necessity to question technology within a tech team, and as the CEO of iSci, it’s a big part of my role to be skeptical: if we achieve what we want to achieve, we’ve got to ensure that we’re considering the implications of our actions. What does that mean for implementation, for us, for our customers, for our board? We don’t just implement new functionality because a few people get excited by it, it has to add real, scalable value and we have to consider the ethical implications of what we create.

Technology ethics is having to move hand in hand with advancements in the industry, and that’s beneficial. We should never lose sight of the people that we want to impact, the end users who we are innovating for. Technology is enabling things, opening doors, but it’s just a tool. We want to fundamentally create a new way of driving forward scientific innovation as an inclusive community, not just tech for tech’s sake, and that’s what motivates me.

You can discover more about the creative work that iSci are doing to transform the way the world educates, innovates and makes new scientific discoveries.