Niraj Saraf has joined the Briteyellow team as our Director of Growth at an exceptionally exciting time for the company. You can get to know Niraj, his story so far, and what he's looking forward to in his new role with the company. We've asked Niraj a few questions aimed at finding out what makes him tick.
What excites you most about joining the team at Briteyellow?
I'm joining at a pivotal time. We have brilliant technologies which have now been demonstrated in use; the applications for them are far and wide, and the team is growing. It's a fantastic time to help shape the future by realising the potential of the company.
As Director of Growth where would you like Briteyellow to be in 12 months' time?
A rapidly growing client base across the solution set, anchored by a couple of key client relationships, along with the beginnings of some international commercial activity. I want to see us a recognised leader in smart solutions for the indoors, and supported by an investor who doesn't just provide funding but also access to opportunities.
Which of Briteyellow's solutions would you most like to tell the world about?
All of them! Though for me what's key is really understanding clients' challenges and then working with them to solve them. You don't need to talk about individual solutions to do that, you just need to be able to give clients the confidence that we can make the difference.
Describe your career journey so far?
In a word: varied. I've never been comfortable in silos so I've explored a lot. I started out as a policy wonk in the Civil Service then via an MBA went into banking for a few years. After that I spent a year working as a strategy adviser to a charity in Bosnia before going into consulting back in the UK. In 2014, I joined Innovate UK and have just joined Briteyellow from there.
What was your previous role?
My first 4.5 years at Innovate UK were spent working on the Urban Living programme. In the last 2.5 I worked on the Newton Fund, one of programmes funded through the Aid budget which was designed to build innovation partnerships between the UK and a range of emerging economies, specifically looking at how innovation can be applied to development challenges.
What did you see about Briteyellow that attracted you to the company?
As well as what I mentioned earlier, there's the passion, commitment and vision of the founder, Fredi Nonyelu. Also the fact that I get on with him; in a small tight team, that's critical. I only learned on my first day that he's a fellow Liverpool fan - that has to be a good omen!
Where do you see the UK in terms of its innovation offer to the world?
The UK has long been a world leader in innovation. When the Global Innovation Index was launched in 2007 (the same year as the Technology Strategy Board, co-incidentally), we were No.3 in the world and we've been in that bracket ever since (we're currently No.4). The innovation ecosystem continues to evolve; witness the creation of the centres that have emerged from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund; the formation of UKRI; and now, the establishment of ARIA. Whilst Brexit might have dimmed our star a bit, I'm confident it will soon be shining again. I've experienced first hand, for example, the strength of interest in other countries of the Catapult model, SBRI (which we ourselves could make much better use of), and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.
How would you improve the environment for innovators and innovative companies?
I could write an essay here! I think one of the key challenges for start-ups is getting discovered. Cash is tight so they don't have massive marketing budgets, but they need to get noticed by and build relationships with large organisations in both public and private sectors. The public sector has SBRI, and I think one thing that would help is greater incentives for corporates to procure from innovative SMEs.
What makes you tick as an individual - what motives you to get up in the morning?
The ability to connect people, concepts and technologies to solve challenges and make a difference.
Tell us a little about yourself
I live in Woking, Surrey, with my wife, Rebecca who runs a Citizens Advice service, and our two daughters who are 12 and 9.
What is your favourite hobby?
If I have to choose one, it's skiing, although over-exuberance over the years means I have two damaged knees so I need to stick to less challenging slopes these days. I also really enjoy baking bread.
If you had the chance to invite any four people to a dinner party, who would they be?
i. Her Majesty the Queen. She's met more world leaders than probably anyone else alive and is said to have a wicked sense of humour so I imagine she has some fantastic stories to tell
ii. Barack Obama. The most eloquent US President in my lifetime, who got there against the odds. I'd love to get his take on the state of US and global politics.
iii. David Bowie. An innovator in more ways than one (he even launched an ISP in the late 90s) he was fizzing with ideas right until the end
iv. Melanie Rashford (Marcus' mum). The personification of perseverance in the face of adversity, and what a son she's raised! I'd like to meet her to hear her story and to thank her.
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