Blackford Analysis: Academic Success in Switch from Bench to Boardroom

Blackford-AnalysisThe transition from academic to entrepreneur by Dr Ben Panter, the CEO of Blackford Analysis, is a prime example of the success that can be achieved through the University of Edinburgh’s spin-out process.

Blackford Analysis is a supplier of software products that speed up the comparison of medical images, saving the time of healthcare professionals and increasing their productivity.

The company was spun out from the University in 2010 by Dr Panter, after receiving funding from Scottish Enterprise and US-based Angel Investors. Four years later and with a second round of funding completed, the company has grown significantly, with a presence in both the UK and the US.

Dr Panter is positive about the spin-out process that enabled him to start the company:

“It was tough, but invigorating. In becoming an entrepreneur you are empowered to do what you think is right, and you have to try to not get too bogged down with the details.”

One of the main differences between being an academic and an entrepreneur is the focus on the product rather than the technology. Dr Panter said:

“In business there’s a relentless focus on the product proposition and its fit to the customers’ needs, which is of far higher importance than perfecting the technology. In making the transition from academic to entrepreneur, there’s a whole new set of skills to learn. Professional networking, effective delegation, recruitment and management are all essential for a business, but not necessarily what you might know from an academic background.”

Edinburgh Research and Innovation at the University of Edinburgh offers assistance to spin-out companies in a variety of forms, which were very important to Blackford Analysis in its early days.

“The University of Edinburgh has an excellent framework for start-up and spin-out companies in helping them get the assistance that they need. I found that they had huge resources for giving advice to young businesses, and a comprehensive external network of people who could help me, such as investors and mentors.”

Dr Panter also speaks highly of Informatics Ventures and Scottish Enterprise, who have both contributed to his success:

“I received world-class expertise from Informatics Ventures, who understand the process of starting and running a company, and were able to give me comprehensive training on this. Additionally, the High Growth Start-Up Unit at Scottish Enterprise gave me useful pre-company and post spin-out support and advice.”

With sales offices now in the UK and the US and plans to further expand their product range over the healthcare sector, it looks to be an exciting few years ahead for Blackford Analysis. So would Dr Panter recommend that other aspiring academics follow the same path as him?

“If you’re willing to leave academia and have massive drive, energy and ambition then yes, I think it’s a great route to follow. If you don’t want to commit 100% (in life as well as in your career) then I’d suggest finding an alternative route.”

Finally, Dr Panter has some words of wisdom for entrepreneurial academics looking to form spin-outs:

“Just remember that it’s a marathon not a sprint, and you’re in it for the long haul.”

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