Alex Van Someren advises Girl Geeks on success

HE started his working life by helping to develop the BBC Microcomputer, and went on to offer advanced cryptography for major banks and governments.

Alex Van Someren

HE started his working life by helping to develop the BBC Microcomputer, and went on to offer advanced cryptography for major banks and governments.

So it’s pretty probable that Alex Van Someren knows technology, and has a bit of experience with entrepreneurism too.

The ANT and nCipher founder said: “As a country we’ve become more receptive to the idea that you can become an entrepreneur.

“It’s important to see it as part of society, but it also has risks and it’s not necessarily true that everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur.”

Van Someren turned up at the Girl Geeks event on Tuesday to share what investors are looking for and pointing out a few of the pitfalls in building your own business, some of which he’s plunged into himself.

Girl Geeks offers support programmes and events to its members, with the aim of inspiring future generations of women to succeed.

It snapped up Cambridge-based Van Someren as part of its speaker series, which was hosted this time around by RMT accountants and business advisers.

The event supported Technology 4 StartUp Britain Week, part of the StartUp Britain initiative.

Van Someren shared experiences of his career in business so far, which saw him join Acorn Computers at 17, set up ANT plc to develop products such as web browser software, and establish nCipher with venture capital backing to create internet security products using advanced cryptography.

He has operated four different ICT businesses and is an entrepreneur in residence at the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School.

During the afternoon, he was also available to hear pitches from companies in his role as partner in VC firm Amadeus Capital Partners. He says he always looks for three key traits in companies looking for funding.

“They’ve got to have a really strong team, have good potential for growth, and provide an interesting technological innovation that’s either not been done before or is being done in a more efficient way,” he said.

“There’s an old cliche that a strong team can make a business succeed, and a poor team can ruin a good business. People can overcome some amazing obstacles if they’re really strong as a group.”

Companies which have received investment from Amadeus include networking, software, life sciences and cleantech firms. His experience with nCipher – which was sold to Thales SA in 2008 – means he’s also clued up on cyber security, but Van Someren is also particularly interested in healthcare IT at present.

“There’s no infinite pot of money to pay for the rising costs of healthcare. The reality is that demand for improved efficiency in the sector is exploding.

“I have an interest in companies using IT in health applications to make treatment more widely available, and improve efficiency and the quality of care a patient gets.”

One key piece of advice he offers is to go into talks with potential funders with your eyes open.

He said: “You’ve got to do your research about the investor you’re talking to, find out what sectors they’re interested in and get an idea of their geography. If you don’t do this, you could end up wasting a lot of time.”

Van Someren describes himself as quite hands-on as an investor, and also a big believer in the importance of mentorship and support as well as funding.

He said: “It’s very important the combination is there. You’re going to need capital in almost every business for growth, but the quality of support can make a big difference.”

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