Lesley Kirkpatrick, Techniquest’s Chief Executive, gives an insight in to her roles at the popular Cardiff science centre. She tells Business News Wales about plans for Techniquest and her views on the future of innovation in Wales.
Can you give our readers a little background into yourself and your role within Organisation?
Originally from Coleraine in Northern Ireland, I moved to Cardiff in 1985 to study a degree and postgraduate qualification in Town Planning. Wales has been my home ever since. I have worked in the fields of regeneration, economic development and planning in local authorities in both England and Wales, before becoming the Wales Director for The Prince’s Trust Cymru in 2013. Twelve months ago, I was appointed as Chief Executive Officer for Techniquest. Techniquest was one of the UK’s first science and discovery centres and has a key role to play in ensuring that Wales develops a scientifically literate society, whilst inspiring the principality’s next generation of scientists and engineers. Our mission is to embed science in Welsh culture through interactive engagement.
What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?
My plan is to ensure that Techniquest is regarded as an exemplar of innovative, interactive STEM engagement, playing a key role in positioning Wales as a leading nation in scientific and technological endeavour. Leading the charity through a period of sustained change, I am focusing on remodelling the business operation to create new opportunities for income generation, my priority being to secure the organisation’s long-term future.
We are keen to link with more corporate supporters in the STEM sector, who we hope will be able to help us achieve our mission, and develop a corporate event offering.
We also have ambitious plans to extend our audience from 0-90, providing additional exhibition space housing brand new, innovative content.
Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently?
No. Working in various local authorities across Wales, in both planning and regeneration, gave me experience of the importance of developing partnerships and working with multiple stakeholders. This has resulted in me being strongly committed to collaborative working. I am keen to develop robust partnerships amongst the public, private and voluntary sectors in order to achieve social and economic regeneration of communities.
What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?
Always put your customers first. Be creative. Don’t be afraid to challenge the norm. Be prepared to take risks and make bold decisions.
What are your top three tips for success?
Be resilient, tenacious and always think of others.
Are there any innovations within your sector that you believe should be adopted by the wider Welsh market?
There have been some stand-out social media fundraising campaigns within our sector over the last couple of years. Both the ‘no make-up selfie’ and ‘ALS ice bucket challenge’ went viral and in turn raised hundreds of thousands of pounds. These campaigns have worked because they have been creative, fun and ‘of the moment’. I think there is a lot that other sectors can learn from these, in terms of reaching and engaging with your target audience.
Do you foresee any issues that Welsh business will be facing in the short/medium/long term?
I can only speak on behalf of the third sector and the problem is funding. We are all chasing the same funding – from businesses in Wales, trusts and foundations. This issue isn’t going to go away. It’s imperative that as a sector, we think commercially and not lose sight of earned income. At Techniquest, we have expanded our shop and café to generate more income and we will be shortly offering up our space for corporates to hire for team building, conferences, dinners and award ceremonies.
Do you have any predictions in regards to the impact of Brexit on your sector?
Techniquest designs and manufactures exhibits from its workshop in Cardiff which are sold to clients across Europe and the world. We know this side of our business will be affected by Brexit but at the moment it’s too early to say to what extent.
Also, there are charities who are reliant on EU funding. Fortunately, we are not. But the loss of EU funding will be a huge blow to many and will leave many small charities struggling to survive.
What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?
Passion, entrepreneurial spirit, location to London are all great strengths, but as a small country, one of Wales’ greatest strengths is its networks. Forget, six degrees of separation in Wales, it’s more like two.
That being said, I believe there is more that can be done to collaborate with one another. If we were all more receptive to the idea of working together, rather than in our silos, as a country, we could have an even bigger impact.
What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?
Wales is already doing a lot to attract inward investment. However, there are still some barriers – superfast broadband, a skills shortage, accessibility, and infrastructure – that still need addressing.
What skills should the education system be promoting to the next generation?
We will need one million new scientists, engineers, technicians and mathematicians in the UK by 2020 so STEM based skills are crucial. Techniquest has an important role to play in supporting teachers to deliver STEM subjects, as well as inspiring young people to choose a career in science, technology, engineering and maths.
How important is it for there to be a close relationship between business and higher education in Wales?
It is vitally important that there’s a close relationship between business and the HE sector. To be competitive as a country going forward, we need these close collaborations to be at the forefront of innovation and research, as well as expanding our skills base. However, equally important is the role that business can play in working with schools to provide role models for young people to help them see the opportunities available through a STEM career.