Why tech investors value teams, not just tech

One of the main challenges facing entrepreneurs is being able to articulate and maintain perspective on the commercial relevance of their technology or innovation.

A technology’s potential can often distract entrepreneurs from efficiently progressing towards key business milestones and ultimately achieving success. We see it across all sectors and when I ask a founder what their business does, it is not uncommon to be bombarded with specific facts about the technology’s mechanisms and its ‘obvious’ brilliance rather than what value it brings to the consumer, how it will disrupt the market and why they as a business are confident they can make it happen.

Without a doubt, understanding your technology in respect to your consumer and current market can be deceptively simple and complicated all at once. There are so many variables and unknowns which make setting a realistic course, teasing out the right unique selling points and calling time on product improvements to get to market, a challenging affair.

Yet in addition to showing traction and thoroughly assessing your markets, I often find that the role of the team is underplayed. We know that investors consistently rate a robust (albeit not perfect) team underpinning the innovative technology. It still holds true that an ‘A star team with a B star idea’ is more likely to triumph over the ‘B star team with an A star idea’. Investors do invest holistically, and technology is an important factor, but always with people at the core. People with all their brilliance, curiosity, flaws, fears, passions and idiosyncrasies. Competency and pedigree are still key considerations but more and more, we see investors responding positively to teams with authenticity and a grounded sense of self-awareness.

The use of ‘authenticity’ is becoming as prevalent as ‘pivoting’ in the entrepreneurial vocabulary, which ironically, sometimes makes its true meaning hard to grasp. A very simple definition is being true and genuine to yourself and being true to what you do, but glimpses of an authentic identity can be construed differently from one person to the next and it also begs the question, can we manufacture authenticity? Having worked closely with investors and founders, my take on the keenly desired and elusive state of authenticity is that it is intrinsically linked to a team or individual’s motivations and their trust in their self and thus their ability to be successful. As Sebastian Junger wrote in ‘Tribe’, “Self-determination theory holds that human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others.”

An authentic ‘good’ team signals to investors that they are ripe for the opportunity, they are set up to negotiate the inevitable challenges and they are trustworthy people to work with. This suggests, to me, an open, assured and non-arrogant confidence in their voice. Confidence is often developed on the back of the relationships with those around you (team dynamics) but also that wider community which complements and nurtures the steadiness of self.

So where am I going with this? I work for the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), Innovate UK’s innovation network, which comprises of 15 technical communities and is primarily driven by individuals with both academic and industry expertise in technology. We help companies to innovate faster by embracing the opportunities, insight and value of connections within communities. We support companies in navigating the complex and often daunting innovation ecosystem and we understand the interplay of your technology with regards to the business needs and market expectations.

We have relationships with every university in the country to support Knowledge Transfer Partnerships building a community of over 38,000 organisations and over 100,000 individuals nationwide. Our reach and knowledge extend across the public and private sector.

We love technology, but it’s not all about the technology. It’s about understanding what’s relevant and useful for your business to succeed; an understanding that comes from knowledge exchange with the right people, and the right community.

Mairi Dillon is the Knowledge Transfer Manager at Access to Funding & Finance.

The Knowledge Transfer Network work with a wide range of businesses, all shapes and sizes, and it may be that you could benefit from joining their Next Generation Services workshops, trying their new 4manufacturing initiative or contributing to one of their 10 Special Interest Groups (SIGS). You can also sign up to their newsletter to receive updates on all the latest news and opportunities. For more information, visit https://ktn-uk.co.uk/