Meet Mentor – Colin Graham
Meet Colin Graham
Works with startups, SMEs and corporates to grow their businesses through innovation - Director of Causeway Innovation
At the Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast we are so privileged to have a diverse group of mentors to help our members. Whilst you can already read their professional bios via our mentors page we will be sitting down more often with our mentors in 2019 to gather their insights and sharing across socials and here, our blog. So, if you are an entrepreneur, small business owner or work within a startup and looking to be more strategic grab yourself a coffee and enjoy this read to learn more about Colin.
"build a network and very productive connections"
How did you get to where you are today?
In my early twenties - during my final year at university - a friend and I made a pact. We decided to get three years experience working for big companies and then leave and set up our own business. Less than 3 years later we started Yellowbrick in Glasgow.
That got me started on my entrepreneurial journey - my managers at Dulux asked "Is it not a big risk to leave?" I answered 'No, it is a bigger risk to stay.'
In the 25 years following I have enjoyed working in startups and helping others to get a good start. My focus now is on developing innovation in businesses and regions.
How long have you been mentoring businesses? What areas do you specialise in? And, what do you learn from the process of mentoring?
20 years. I have worked with 300+ businesses in consulting and advisory roles and experience with startups, growth oriented SMEs and corporates. I have learnt a lot about patterns of success.
Areas include marketing, HR, recruitment, strategy and innovation - as well as being able to help entrepreneurs to focus on the big picture of what is needed to make their business a success.
How do you approach risk?
You have to take some risks. The scale of the risk can be reduced by good research, talking with customers, learning from others and just getting out there and trying things and seeing what works.
It is a myth that entrepreneurs are big risk takers, many are really calculated risk takers. It is important to be comfortable with uncertainty - which is part of risk - and believe in yourself.
Was there a time you messed up and felt like you’d failed? How did you bounce back?
Many times. For example, in starting Yellowbrick we initially tried to promote 10 one or two day training courses - this was far too many and we eventually figured it could take us 150 days in course design; days we did not have.
We learnt and focused in on the 3 most differentiated with the best customer reaction. That worked. Lesson is to try things, but focus on rapid learning and what works.
Who mentored you, early in your career? And, what impact has it had since?
I have been fortunate to have people who believed in me and supported me. This included managers at my first big job who took time to mentor me in marketing.
Later in startups, I recall one particular semi retired executive who saw potential and helped me to understand how to build a network and very productive connections.
What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learnt and how is it valuable?
I learnt a lot in my student days from my involvement with AIESEC - the worlds largest student society where I was President at my University and then worked for a year as Deputy President of the UK organisation.
Lessons learnt then - and later - to focus on communication, building a distinctive and professional culture and to hold people accountable.
What benefit/s can mentoring have on a business looking to scale?
A lot of benefits, including ability to tap into a different external perspective - not so close to the day to day - experience and network connections.
Exposure to a different skill set. Fairly low risk - a chance to think aloud and talk through some issues.
Finally, it can be a motivating experience and a chance for reflective learning.
Looking for more business insights or inspiration?
How do you manage risk? Who is mentoring you and supporting your businesses journey? We are always on the lookout to support our members, share mentor insights to support our growing community.
Community is everything to the Innovation Centre, as human beings, we need a sense of belonging, and that sense of belonging is what connects us to the many relationships we develop. Join the Innovation Centre community and let us help your startup grow!
If you find yourself looking for a passionate community of startup founders and employees and want to know more about the Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast, join us for one of our upcoming events, or apply for a membership here.