Spin-out advanced technology company (SATCO)

Interim research and development director – Product enhancements and commercialisation

SATCO is a pioneering, early-stage cleantech company, spun out from the research department of a leading UK university in 2006, following a ground-breaking discovery.

Their technology is set to revolutionise the use of electric vehicles and renewable energy technologies; an area experiencing significant growth due to the ever-increasing demand for environmental sustainability.

Within just five years of trading, SATCO’s developmental progress had already been acknowledged by many prominent external sources. This included winning two Rushlight awards and being listed as one of the Global Guardian 100 Cleantech Companies.

SATCO appointed a high-profile chief executive in 2009, whose leadership further accelerated the company’s growth. In 2012, having already moved into their revenue generating

phase, and being appointed to an important £2million joint development contract, SATCO approached Intramezzo to help them bring on board an experienced interim research and development (R&D) director. This appointment was to play a pivotal role in driving the business through to the next stage.

The successful candidate would be required to lead the R&D team to deliver various innovative technologies that would ensure a step change in SATCO’s products. This included developing significant short-term product enhancements necessary for commercialisation in both consumer and commercial applications.

The new R&D director would need to inspire the generation of new materials and products through outstanding technological breakthroughs, while managing resources on time and to budget. Being able to develop a customer-focused, highly commercial culture within R&D was critical..

“Our chosen candidate has brought a wealth of experience, fitted in well and has already made a significant impact on the business.”
Director, SATCO

The venture’s rapid expansion meant that the COO needed to be appointed with some urgency so that Fuel3D could take full advantage of their market position and commercial opportunities. With that in mind, Intramezzo was retained to find both an interim COO who could make an immediate start and act as a safe pair of hands taking the role forward in the short/medium term, as well as a permanent candidate.

What we did

This was a challenging and exciting opportunity, requiring niche skills. Not only did SATCO require a very strong scientific, innovation and R&D background, the right individual also needed to have a commercial focus, exceptional leadership skills, outstanding project management abilities and the ability to clearly communicate a vision for the future.

Intramezzo produced a detailed written specification to form the ‘working document’ for all parties, covering strategic and operational requirements, role interdependencies, SATCO competencies and required high performance behaviours.

Our research team then set to work profiling the key markets most relevant to SATCO. Within just 14 days we presented them with a shortlist of four candidates, all of whom met the precise requirements outlined.

Following a rigorous interview process with all four candidates, SATCO appointed their preferred interim – whose impressive career to date provided the ideal background and experience. Having worked with both global giants and high-tech start ups to transform R&D advancements into commercially successful products, the new interim R&D director clearly understood the approach needed to achieve SATCO’s goals..

What Neil did

To develop a sound understanding of existing practices, processes and people, Neil spent his first week holding comprehensive one-to-one meetings with a full cross section of

the business. This confirmed the need to transform SATCO from a business with a largely academic mindset, to one with a commercial and results driven focus.

  • all R&D activities were mapped and grouped into logical phases with all R&D staff assigned roles within a specific phase, according to their individual skill set
  • a common work plan was implemented, covering all phases, with results and learnings shared amongst the entire R&D team and used to guide the subsequent set of experiments
  • weekly leadership meetings were held where progress was reviewed and priorities adjusted accordingly
  • to increase visibility of progress throughout the team, all R&D members prepared monthly progress reports covering their specific area of responsibility
  • regular ‘open house’ meetings were held to discuss individual aspects of the programme, in a relatively informal environment
  • an intranet based project plan was introduced, highlighting each item, its owner and status, with progress updated in real time

In addition, Neil played an extremely important role representing the R&D division on the board. This achieved SATCO’s CEO’s objectives of ensuring that:

  1. R&D had an appropriate plan of action
  2. The plan was being executed diligently
  3. R&D was able to demonstrate progress against challenging milestones

“Having worked with Intramezzo before, we had first-hand experience of the quality of candidates they can find. So when an urgent need arose for an interim R&D Director, due to our expansion plans, we chose to partner with them again. We needed a high calibre individual who not only had the specialist skills to deliver the project but who could also fit culturally within the team.
Intramezzo presented us with a strong short-list within two weeks and we were impressed by the process and the fact that they were able to provide an effective solution within such a short period of time.”

Director, SATCO

The results

The rigorous interview and selection process, resulted in Semafone welcoming David Sear as their new non-executive chairman. David was the divisional managing director of Travelex Global Business Payments and a former director of WorldPay. While at WorldPay, he was one of the pioneers of secure online payments – experiencing firsthand the challenges of maintaining consumer confidence in new channels for card payments.

A true industry ‘heavyweight’, David was ideally placed to keep Semafone at the vanguard of PCI DSS compliance and drive the new phase of growth they were seeking.

“We chose Intramezzo as our search partner to find our NEC because they demonstrated the most recent and relevant experience recruiting boards for high growth technology ventures. Intramezzo managed the search process very effectively, keeping us well informed at each stage and providing valuable advice which led to a highly successful outcome. This effective process has allowed us to secure a world class Chairman from a strong shortlist of candidates.

We were impressed by the calibre of each of the shortlisted Chairmen, particularly their fit to our business both from an experience and cultural perspective. We look forward to working with Intramezzo as we continue to build our team.”
Tim Critchley, CEO