We speak to Peter Birkett, CEO of the Southampton Science Park, and Catalyst Centre judge, about what transforms a great idea, into a great business.

What matters most, a good idea, or a good business brain?

A really good idea doesn’t necessarily make a good business. A person with commercial flair can often make a good business out of a mediocre idea, but rarely can a great idea achieve success without a solid base of commercial expertise. What makes the difference between a good idea and a good business is the ability to identify a market, set a price point that people are prepared to pay, and market the idea well.

What examples spring to mind when you think about great business ideas that didn’t really benefit the originator of the idea but made a fortune for someone else? 

Dr Erno Rubik (the inventor of the Rubik’s Cube). He had a brilliant idea, but didn’t patent the intellectual property, which allowed someone else to turn the concept into a fantastically successful business. Furthermore, you can have great idea, work really hard to create a market – but be unable to make the price-point right, ultimately creating a market for someone else to exploit.

Timing is also key. In the wake of a major global event, many people come up with innovative and effective solutions to resolve all the issues arising, but take far too long to develop the concept, allowing someone else with a solution that is not as good to nip in and capture the market.

What advice would you give someone who is an innovator, not a business person?

Get a business coach. Find someone who understands the business world, listen carefully to the advice they give, and never be too proud to take advice. Sometimes, it may not be what you want to hear, but if you have identified that you have areas of weakness, or lack commercial experience – you need to learn, sometimes painfully, from someone with solid experience, and the ability to communicate their wisdom.

Work hard at building a network of people who can help you. If you base yourself in an environment with a deep pool of expertise, take full advantage of the opportunities that this gives you to learn from people who have already achieved success.

What excites you about the progression of the ideas that are currently turning into great businesses in the Catalyst Centre?

I get a deep sense of satisfaction from watching the Catalyst Centre tenants start to see a real businesses growing from what has often been the seed of an idea, mainly worked on in their spare time, and often in their spare bedroom. To share their journey, watching them realise that investors are taking them seriously, and that they are on the brink of achieving something fantastic – that’s what makes it worth while for me. It’s been interesting to see how their business plans have developed, and how those changes have allowed their ideas to swiftly become successful business propositions.