Celebrating National Science Week| Q&A with Dr Elaine Saunders

Celebrating National Science Week| Q&A with Dr Elaine Saunders

In celebration of National Science Week 2020, Solubility is supporting the #InspiringAustraliaInitiative by profiling five dynamic scientific careers.

Last, but by no means least, in our daily interview series is Dr Elaine Saunders.

How would you describe your role?

My history is of building companies or internal initiatives in large organisations, having co-founded, and exited, two companies in the hearing aid sector, Dynamic Hearing and BlameySaundersHears.

My current focus is to help build companies in Australia, preferably based on research outcomes. I work with companies that have strong purpose, and preferably a developed service.  I facilitate the introduction of other expertise from a selected network.

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here? – Alice (in Wonderland)
What is the best piece of advice you have for aspiring founders, and what is the one thing you would do differently??

Be clear about your vision and stick to it.

The one thing I would have done differently is to have acted with more confidence in my vision and judgement, even though it may have gone against traditional business norms.

Reality is a sliding door. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
What is the best career decision you have ever made?

To be flexible about what I did when my four children were young, and not staying in a salaried career job.

What are the most significant challenges for start-up companies?

Defining their vision and the problem they are solving.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison
Who has most inspired you and why?  What leadership qualities do you share with that person and how do you use those qualities to motivate your team?

Herb Brooks (head coach of the gold medal-winning U.S. hockey team at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics).  He knew how to build and coach a team, so that both the individuals and the team succeeded.

Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result. – Oscar Wilde
What does “success” in your role look like?

Sustainable companies, job creation and another brick in the wall of building a better world

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. – Henry Ford
How important is collaboration to commercialising IP in your sector and why?

Collaboration is vital, but often it comes from unexpected places.  I encourage people to look at “the people” they work with, and to not necessarily follow traditional concepts.

Grace under pressure, that’s what the old man said. – Paul Kelly
How do you handle pressure?

Most people work well with some pressure-related stress, but if it turns into distress, then it impairs effectiveness.  I am probably the same.  I love a goal and can tolerate a lot to get there.  But ”life” events and circumstances can shift the gauge.

What are the most significant challenges in commercialising IP in your sector?

The word “commercialising”.  Academics are suspicious of it, and it doesn’t convey a problem solving approach to a business.

For fast-acting relief, try slowing down. – Lily Tomlin
How do you maintain balance in your life?

I don’t.  I work best when I am fully absorbed and can work like that for several years at a time.  Then I need a break.   At the moment, we are in lock-down, so I am going gently crazy(?).

Ch, ch, changes. – David Bowie
What has been the most significant change in your sector during your career?

The internet – it is the biggest challenge to traditional ways of thinking about medicine for more than 2000 years.

Elegance is not standing out, but being remembered. – Giorgio Armani
How do you distinguish yourself/your brand from your competitors?

Well, I’m not very elegant.  I think about doing the best for the customer (the end user).  Referring back to my last company, most of the hearing aid industry is focusing on the wrong customer (the audiologist/dispenser/retailer).

It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks. – Johnny Cash
When have you gone against the flow to achieve your goal?

Always I think.  Since I wouldn’t wear my school beret, because I couldn’t understand the reason to wear it.  My first “business” initiative was in my first real job, where I launched an initiative in the National Health Service that was totally against the flow.  You don’t win, or solve big problems by “same-old”.  One of my favourite quotes (keeping to the “flow” theme) is

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore” Andre Gide.

The important thing is the diversity available on the Web. – Tim Berners-Lee
Is diversity important for a successful company?

I think this is a complicated question which can’t be addressed in isolation, and the answer is yes and no.  Diversity is a benefit, but not at the expense of having a functional team, or indeed no team at all.  I think it’s important to be thoughtful about diversity and its advantages as you build.  I look for skills and commitment to the vision, which encompasses diversity.  Sometimes as an early stage founder, you just bring in people who you can.

The perfect is the enemy of the good. – Voltaire
Have you ever applied this aphorism?

I don’t think I’d say I have applied it.  I partially agree, but your product has to work.  It’s knowing the difference between viability and an abstract perfectionism.

Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. – unknown
Is failure a pre-requisite to success?

Definitely not.  I think “having failed” (which has many different reasons) should be a learning experience.  I don’t tolerate personal failure well, and can think of several examples where various of my ventures could have failed, but I didn’t let them.