MInstP MIET ARAeS – Futureworx architect, The Marshall Group
by the p2i Network
Dr Daniel Gortat
Please give a snapshot of where you are now and what led you to pursuing a career in industry.
“I'm employed in Marshall Futureworx, which is in the Marshall Group. Marshall Aerospace employs over 6000 employees. It is predominantly an aircraft maintenance and design business, but it's diversified over the years into land systems and property market fleet solutions. Futureworx is a multidisciplinary team of highly entrepreneurial, creative and innovative people. The purpose of the company is accelerating ingenuity.
I obtained my PhD in precision engineering, specifically Industrial Photonics, at the University of Cambridge. Prior to Marshall Futureworx, I worked as a postdoc in Aerial Aquatic Drones at Imperial College London.
Whilst I was at Imperial, we had to pitch the technology that we had developed to industry contacts. It felt as though I already had my foot in the door, because of all I had learned through my entrepreneurial training at Cambridge (EPOC and p2i). And through this, I was fortunate enough to get noticed by Marshall Futureworx. Therefore, I don't even know if I chose industry… or if industry chose me. But I am very grateful I have come to be where I am now.
During the interview process for Marshall Futureworx, we had to pitch an invention. Nobody really told me how the presentation should be structured. I felt I had been trained really well to deliver presentations. I added the knowledge I learned in my p2i training; the business aspect. How to apply an invention and introduce it to market. So I tailored my presentation to these frameworks. And both aspects are skills I don’t think I would have been able to deliver as effectively without the p2i workshop.”
Can you describe what your role is in the company?
“My job title is Futureworx architect and my role involves identifying emerging global trends, technology and partnership opportunities. This helps develop next generation products and services, with the aim of launching new businesses to grow and diversify the Marshall Group portfolio.”
Is there a recent achievement you are especially proud of?
“Long story short, I’m just proud to be where I am right now. I am proud to be part of the Marshall family.”
In your experience, what are the similarities and differences between academia and industry?
“In terms of differences, I would say pace. In industry, time is money. You need to be able to explain your idea quickly and concisely. This is what I worked on in the p2i training. We had 3 minutes to deliver our idea the best we could. I’m still learning how to do that.
In terms of similarities, personally, I would say there are many. Funnily enough, as a PhD student I went to a talk tailored around ‘Academia vs Industry’ where it was explained how working in academia and industry is completely different. In my experience, that was not the case. I did research at Imperial, and now I’m doing research at Marshall Futureworx. I'm arguably doing more research and on a wider range of topics.
In industry there’s this constant influx of information. In my job I always have to be on alert for new technology trends, what’s happening in the market, and who’s developing what. I attend conferences to be aware of state of the art. For me, it’s a dream job. You’re always learning and there’s never a boring day.”
What were the skills you already had as a researcher that helped you with your current career and what skills did you need to learn?
“The skills I acquired in research were:
What to look for.
Where to look for it.
How to look for it.
I had my technical training from academia, and then my very first job was for a spinout company in the Aerospace Sector through the University of Cambridge. It was there that I first realised how business skills are important (in any profession, really!). Because at the end of the day, we needed to make money somehow. I had to take some courses on business skills. So I joined the Entrepreneurial postdocs of Cambridge society (EPOC), and that’s how I found the p2i Network.”
Can you list a few aspects (mindset, skills and competencies) you have observed in yourself after participating in the p2i event/online course opportunity, in terms of innovator/entrepreneurial mindset & skills?
“It taught me to ask the following questions:
1) Why are we bothered about this invention?
2) What does it really do?
3) Where can it take us?
I was then able to deliver what was asked of me, effectively, and straight to the point. For example, sometimes you find yourself in a room of experts in your field, and you get imposter syndrome. This can make you lose your nerve and almost sabotage yourself when presenting. The p2i training teaches you how to cope with this.”
What do you consider as key messages or takeaways from the p2i course/event that have stuck with you?
“After the training, I had to reflect deeply on my research. In the (p2i) workshop my idea was chosen to be turned into a marketable product, and it became apparent that my invention was very difficult to turn into a marketable product. After the training I had to sit down and ask myself whether my project was even relevant. I reflected: “Maybe if it’s not relevant today, it will be in 10 years" time. And if it’s relevant in 10 years’ time, then I have to market it accordingly.
So the training made me look at my research and invention with a fresh perspective. From that, I was able to come up with more applications for the product. I was able to develop many more spinout ideas. Before, it was as though I was looking at my research through a tiny microscope. I was able to step away from the microscope and notice the desk, and the area surrounding the desk. The surrounding environment my project was situated in.
The technology is not everything. You have to pitch where your project sits in the timescale and environment, and what other technology trends surround it. The bigger picture.
Another takeaway was communication skills.”
Would you recommend engaging in entrepreneurial activities to other early career researchers? Can you explain why?
“Yes. You need to know the trends of the market. Otherwise, you can come up with the most amazing thing, but nobody actually wants or needs it.
Despite all my technical knowledge and understanding, I was lacking entrepreneurial and business skills. In industry, these business soft skills are not just a requirement; they assume you already have them. It goes beyond a requirement.
Signing up to such training, I came across fear. Talking openly and honestly about your idea and dissecting it in this intimate environment can be scary. Every single area of your project and yourself is put into question. We are all human though – the people that were analysing my idea and probing my research probably went through this process themselves. So I would tell postdocs to put this fear to one side, and just try.”
What learning or skills did you feel were missing in your entrepreneurial training, and what (if anything) would you suggest we do differently or add to our offerings to support future postdocs?
“In academia you tend to think what is valued is only your brain, but there is a huge difference when you see someone presenting their idea, well-dressed and well-groomed, posing in a powerful way. It makes a world of difference. So perhaps there could be something on that added to the training.”
Is there anything you would have done differently in your career trajectory - in hindsight?
“The short answer? No. I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time. Science is actually largely about luck, but of course about working hard too!”
What advice would you give to postdocs who want to explore or pursue a non academic career path?
“Know yourself. If there’s something that looks appealing, don’t jump straight into it and commit yourself fully. First, probe the sector. When you’re working on a project in academia, if you don’t like it, you can start again. But in industry if you lose interest in what you’re doing, you’re working as part of a team and you cannot let people down. This is why it’s so important to do your research before you commit.
Even in my job interviews (and my interviewers have noticed this), I interview my interviewer panel more than they interview me. They try to work out if I’m a good candidate, and I try to work out if the company is a good fit for me. I try to ask as many questions as I can about the day to day tasks, etc.
Secondly, I would say, diversify yourself. Know about music, art, etc. That’s what employers look for too. Someone that isn’t boring around a dinner table! Remember, success is 70% soft skills. Just be a nice person to hang around with.
Finally, without the p2i entrepreneurial training, I don’t think I would be where I am now. So I would highly encourage researchers to take up the p2i network opportunities on offer.”
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