Simon Cutler (Episode 22), Business Relationship Manager | Simon is making friends and sparking opportunities
For this episode of the Research Adjacent podcast Sarah is talking to Simon Cutler, Business Relationship Manager at University of Reading. With intriguing job title of Prosperity and Resilience Lead, Simon’s helps researchers engage with other organisations, promoting knowledge exchange and commercialisation.
Poacher turned gamekeeper (and back again)
Simon was once an aspiring GP and originally studied medicine. But when the realities of medical school became apparent he switched tracks to biological sciences. This led a PhD in fungal molecular biology and postdocs in collaboration with agrochemical companies. The experience of seeing research applied in the real world turned his head again and in his own words the “poacher turned gamekeeper”. He switched from applying for funding as a researcher to awarding it as a programme manager at research council BBSRC.
Simon then stayed at the Research Councils for 16 years, although he took on a number of roles during that time. These included being an assistant to the Chief Executive (affectionately known as a ‘bag carrier’), working in business innovation and ultimately developing some of the first doctoral training programmes.
From STEM to SHAPE
Looking for a shorter commute, gamekeeper turned poacher again, and Simon moved to the University of Reading and into facilitating university-business partnerships. This also included moving from STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) to work more with the social sciences, humanities and arts (SHAPE) subjects.
A self-confessed extrovert he loves talking to people and his current role draws extensively on his network of contacts built up over the years at companies, funders and researchers.
“Everybody’s is a potential friend and a contact and they will benefit from talking to you and you can benefit from talking to them.”
Although he says he is “not somebody who goes looking for change” he clearly has an eye for opportunities. He particularly finds that getting involved in the life of the university and wider community leads to new friends, new ideas and new opportunities. He explains how even under 18s football coaching led to new research ideas;
“Even that sort of activity has been useful. We pulled together an application for an ESRC centre, which was focusing on football. It wasn’t supported ultimately, but what was really nice was the chance to pull all the players together from the FA to local footballing associations to ones associated with mental health and connect them to the research that was going on in our prosperity and resilience theme.”
Creating space for ideas and opportunities
Simon’s career highs have often involved supporting the development of younger people. For example the Young Entrepreneurs Scheme which he has been involved with for over 20 years creates a safe environment for researchers to dip their toe into the commercial world. His relationship with the programme started when he funded it at the research councils and now he takes teams through it – including the 2022 winners!
“It really is one of the favorite parts of the job because the individuals are sponges and they’re not cynical and untrusting and they just dive in. You learn a lot from, from those energy filled individuals.”
He is also proud of his contribution to helping launch the Aspect Angel Network which helps provide investment to commercialise social sciences, arts and humanities research.
That support for young people on their career journey includes raising awareness of all the opportunities out there for graduates with research skills. With his signature opportunistic optimism his advice to everyone is this;
“When you’re looking at career paths you can take a detour at any point. But you do have to drive it yourself. Somebody won’t always lay out a big red welcome mat and say this is the way to your next career opportunity But I’ve always found there are opportunities to shape new roles, to take on different responsibilities, to get involved.“
Find out more
- Connect with Simon on LinkedIn
- Find out more about the Aspect Angels Investment Network and how Reading is involved
- Learn about the Young Entrepreneurs Scheme which encourages commercialisation of research and watch the 2022 finalists from Reading talking about their winning projects
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