Venture Mentoring scheme launched to boost deep tech start-ups as part of RSC’s Change Makers initiative
Game-changing start-ups and scale-ups can now take advantage of free expert advice thanks to the Royal Society of Chemistry's new Venture Mentoring programme.
Our scheme will unite ambitious entrepreneurs with seasoned professionals who will share insights gleaned from their own business experiences. This offering is a core component of our Change Makers initiative, which we launched in February 2023.
Quarterly matching events will help identify perfect partnerships and then the two sides will typically meet monthly for up to one year. Four London-based events are already scheduled for 2023.
After the pairing process is complete, typically two mentors will work with each venture. Mentors will share the benefits of their experience to give the venture’s founders unconflicted advice and fresh perspectives.
Change Makers will support a myriad of deep tech chemistry start-ups tackling major societal and environmental issues. It marks the evolution of the EnterprisePlus programme that supported more than 600 SMEs over a decade. Other services available to Change Makers invitees include access to masterclasses and investment pitching events, supported by an ecosystem of individuals committed to driving profound change.
Our Venture Mentoring programme is inspired by similar schemes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Imperial College London. The 2,900 companies that have joined the MIT scheme, called VMS, have collectively raised $3.8 billion in funding since 2000. The team at Imperial have provided the Royal Society of Chemistry with a huge amount of insight to build this entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“Through Change Makers, we are trying to do something very specific for deep tech chemistry ventures,” said Richard Holliday (left), manager of the Entrepreneurship and Ecosystem Challenges team.
“We know from our research that these start-ups have unique needs. The commercialisation journey is often very long and they need specific resources including access to laboratories and finance.
“We are really trying to build a venture mentoring scheme that, while it is based on the established schemes at MIT and Imperial, is specific to what those chemistry ventures really need from it.”
The Royal Society of Chemistry has already 15 mentors and is looking for more. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, register your interest now.
Richard added: “The mentors themselves will be broadly from the chemical sciences, as an industry expert, a previous entrepreneur or experienced investor. We want to help provide specific market knowledge and insights and a real understanding of the challenges that deep tech chemistry ventures face.”
Case study: how venture mentoring supercharged one battery start-up’s growth journey
Solveteq is a start-up that has developed a new greener and cheaper way of recycling lead-acid batteries. These power sources are used in every single one of the 1.2 billion cars on the roads today. While 99% of these are recycled, the traditional process by which they are salvaged is very polluting – and can be deadly.
Imperial academics Dr Ola Hekselman (right) and Prof David Payne devised a sustainable technology that massively reduces recycling’s environmental impact. Their patented research generated interest but commercialising it was not going to be easy for two battery scientists with no previous entrepreneurial experience.
In stepped David Morgan and Paul Arwas, who volunteer with Imperial’s Venture Mentoring Service. They provided the real-world business savvy required to jump-start the battery start-up, which was incorporated in 2020.
The mentors heard a pitch at a matching event and were then paired up with Solveteq by a staff member at Imperial. David said: “You have these meetings and it’s never said who is interviewing who but for the most part, it tends to work well because there’s no conflict and the [Imperial] team knows what it’s looking for.”
The two sides met each month to discuss avenues forward for the business. Ola explained there were times when the mentors questioned her thought process in a constructive manner that helped her figure out the best course of action.
She said: “Those meetings once a month were the times when Paul and David created a safe space where I could say ‘I don’t know what that means’. Being a scientist and an academic, people like me, we tend to be speaking from a position of authority but when you change gears, there are a lot of things you don’t know.
“It was quite a vulnerable position to put yourself in and say this is my idea and they were the first line of people who challenged it. They did that in a constructive way and from a good place so that helped me find the blind spots and look at ways to fix them.”
David acknowledged that ‘the chemical industry does require a little bit more depth of knowledge than other start-ups’ while noting that the slower pace of growth and the capital-intensive nature of these types of businesses can put off some more generalist mentors - and investors.
He speaks from experience after working in a plethora of senior roles over the course of a 44-year career. As well as currently chairing another battery company, AMTE Power plc, he also spent 10 of his 20 years with global chemical and technology firm Johnson Matthey on the board as corporate development director and was previously the deputy chair of a German fuel cell company.
For him, the benefits of mentoring – as well as presently juggling three board-level roles – are simple. “I rather glibly say it’s because I don’t like golf much,” joked David (left), before adding: “Why do people volunteer for anything really? It’s rewarding and working with people like Ola is interesting. It keeps you thinking, it’s just stimulating, it’s fun.”
While David said he thinks Solveteq could have succeeded even without the guidance of mentors, he believes it likely would have taken a lot longer. Ola said she agreed with that sentiment - but also noted that, at some points along the way, she was tempted not to take that initial leap of faith.
“Learning from people who have seen it before, done it before and who have that experience, I was incredibly lucky and grateful,” she said. “They gave me honest and unbiased input; they told me what it might look like. If I did not have that input, I would probably not have changed my career but even if I had done that, I probably would have made a lot more mistakes along the way.”
Both mentor and mentee said the collaboration has made Solveteq a company better equipped to operate in the commercial world. Ola said she felt like she had ‘won the lottery’ and encouraged deep tech start-ups to take advantage of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s new service.
“The progress of Solveteq is thanks to the contributions of Paul and David – they really helped to shape the idea,” she said. “You should do it if you have an idea and have the option to go through something like mentorship where someone can advise and guide you. They can help verify some assumptions to see if that’s a way forward. In the UK, we have fantastic research facilities and amazing science is being created here – we definitely need more commercialisation.”
Contact RSC Industry
- send us an email
- +44 (0) 20 7440 3351
- Send us an email