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https://innovateuk.blog.gov.uk/2020/11/12/future-leader-fellowships-success-stories-in-business-meet-rachel/

Future Leaders Fellowships: Success Stories in Business - Meet Rachel

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The Future Leaders Fellowships (FLF) is the flagship UKRI wide scheme aimed at attracting rising stars from business and academia. 

Funding early career researchers and innovators across all disciplines, the scheme supports ambitious programmes and long-term career goals, accelerating the Fellow to become a world class research and innovation leader of tomorrow.

In this blog series, we will be talking to some of the successfully awarded business-based fellows to find out more about what they have planned for their fellowships over the next four years.

This week we’ll hear from Rachel Carey, Chief Scientist at Zinc, who leads on research and innovation activities with mission-driven, science-rich start-ups.

Hi Rachel, thank you for taking the time to speak to us about your fellowship. Please could you give us an overview of the work you will be doing over the next four years? 

The programme of work I’m leading through the FLF is not a traditional research project. It’s a programme of research and innovation activities that represent a new approach to social science-led innovation.

This will involve creating opportunities for early career researchers to work in and with new start-ups, facilitating collaborations and research partnerships, providing a roadmap for entrepreneurs to help them maximise the R&D opportunities their ventures create, and sharing our learning and progress - with the aim of having broader impact beyond our immediate networks.

How will the work you are doing impact Zinc as a business, and beyond? 

Zinc is entering a new growth phase, and is about to scale up its programmes and activities, so this fellowship will provide me with the opportunity and resources to scale up our research and innovation activities in parallel.

Without the fellowship we wouldn’t be in a position to undertake this ambitious programme of work.

My goal is to lead a new model of commercial innovation for the social sciences, producing products and services that are scalable and sustainable, and that also have a meaningful impact on important problems.

This is partly about better joining the dots between the academic social sciences and the world of commercial tech innovation (which I think is a gap that needs bridging), but it’s also about using and producing science in ventures (through, for example, in-house roles for early career researchers).

How were you able to personally shape the project to encompass business objectives and your own development?  

In the fast-paced environment I work in, it’s easy to get absorbed in business priorities and day to day activities.

The FLF application process was a really good opportunity to take a step back, and set ambitious goals for where I’m headed and how that ties in with Zinc’s plans and priorities.

Shaping the project involved working closely with Zinc’s CEO and General Manager, to define a programme that aligns with Zinc.

That that also allows me to do things I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do - leveraging Zinc’s programmes and activities as a platform to have broader impact.

How will your organisation support you? 

One expression that’s often used in the start-up world is that ideas are mostly pretty worthless - it's all about implementation and execution.

So, having support from Zinc to execute the programme of work I have set out is incredibly important.

It’s partly about giving me freedom and autonomy to lead the project, but also supporting me and my team as we grow and scale. Because we are a small organisation, that support mainly comes in the form of mentorship and personal support from individual members of the Zinc team.

Have you faced any challenges in your fellowship?  

The overall objectives are ambitious, and achieving them will require pretty big cultural changes from a few different groups.

For example, changes in the way entrepreneurs approach the innovation process, in the way investors assess the scientific credibility of start-ups, and also changes in the way that social scientists work in and with the private sector.

None of this will happen overnight and it also won’t be achieved by one organisation or one individual alone.

So, the key will be to work collaboratively with a range of different organisations to understand what their priorities and incentives are, and work from there - rather than trying to impose a ‘one world’ view.

What advice would you offer to FLF candidates? 

Use this as an opportunity to think about your own personal and professional goals. Be clear on what success would look like (for you and for the project), and communicate that in a way that is realistic but compelling.

Secondly, don’t be afraid to think ambitiously and set a big agenda to work towards.

Finally, for non-academic applicants, don’t try to fit into the traditional academic research project mould - FLF provides a unique opportunity to propose work that looks different to a traditional research project, provided you can make a case for why its impactful.

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