Dr Graeme Malcolm OBE’s academic pedigree runs through his innovation as an entrepreneur. He is the CEO of M Squared, an engineering company that brings laser solutions to academic and commercial applications.
Dr Graeme’s story and success also led to a successful night at the Royal Bank of Scotland Great British Entrepreneur Awards ceremony in Edinburgh, where he scooped the ‘Innovation Entrepreneur of the Year’ award, as well as the national ‘Innovation’ award at the National Winners’ Evening held at Coutts in London.
Winning the overall award for Scotland and Northern Ireland topped off another great year for the distinguished scientist and his firm that’s pioneering laser and photonics systems at a global level.
How does it feel to be the ‘Innovation Entrepreneur of the Year’ and ‘Great British Entrepreneur of the Year’ for Scotland and Northern Ireland?
It’s an honour, and a real testament to the power of innovation in business and its ability to drive growth, not to mention societal impact. The most innovative companies are the ones that will create the most jobs and value to our economy, so it’s fantastic recognition for both me and the M Squared team on a national level.
How important is it to see an entrepreneurial-focused award giving recognition to entrepreneurs because of their story, not their balance sheet?
We’ve experienced considerable growth since we started M Squared in 2006, roughly doubling in size every two years. It has been a phenomenal journey though, so it’s fantastic to see this recognised. We set out to transform photonics technology for scientific researchers, and we did, now we’re also building revolutionary new light-based technologies in areas such as quantum applications and life sciences. Today, we’re working and collaborating with Nobel Prize-winning scientists, leading universities and the world’s most innovative businesses. We’re responsible for some UK and global ‘firsts’, and it still feels like just the start of our story.
There’s a great deal of inventiveness in your line of work. Where does your inventive spirit come from?
I have always been fascinated by science, since school, and knew I wanted to use technology to make an impact on the world, and that’s what I’m doing today. One of the most exciting parts of my job is meeting scientists across the globe and developing ideas. I take abstract scientific concepts and look at how they could be useful in the everyday world. One example is our Aurora technology that is having a huge impact on brain research that could lead to breakthroughs in how we diagnose diseases like Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
Who inspires you in your work?
My interest in science was sparked by my physics teacher at school – the late Mr Caughey. He was hugely formative in igniting my passion for how the physical world works. His enthusiasm was infectious and life-changing.
You mentioned meeting scientists around the world. Do you have any role models in business?
We work with some brilliant minds and I always try to learn more about the details of each application. I am curious, so I travel the world to learn more from each of our customers and innovation partners. I take inspiration from what they do, and I hope I help encourage them to take their ideas to the next level.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Our first laser, SolsTiS, was a significant breakthrough in terms of scientific laser product design, using novel physics to create continuous-wave and tunable laser light on an unparalleled ‘small’ scale.
This laser platform has led to some amazing breakthroughs across many scientific fields, notably quantum mechanics. It is behind the world’s most accurate clocks, the first demonstration of teleportation of information, single pixel cameras, and antimatter experimentation.
This innovation alone helped us win a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation in 2016 – one of the biggest achievements to date.
I’m also proud of M Squared’s role in the establishment of the National Quantum Technologies programme, a £350m government investment into developing new quantum technologies and it’s been great to see the progress this is making and it is pushing the UK forward as a leader in this area.
Your scientific and entrepreneurial career has spanned nearly 30 years. What lessons have you learned as an entrepreneur in that time?
I believe that it is imperative that we push forward the academic field of physics to create more breakthrough science and resultant technologies in the years to come. Finding applications for new technologies such as quantum, bringing products to the marketplace and making differences across numerous and varied sectors keep me driven and focused.
Seeing that the lasers we create can be used to monitor the quality of whisky and food items, be used to keep our country safe, and even save lives in the medical profession, is what inspires me to make bold decisions over the direction of travel for M Squared.
Looking to the future, what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in the scientific space?
My advice to budding entrepreneurs who have an idea is to take your chance early and grab it with both hands – the younger you are the easier it is, plenty of people are around to help you. Always be ready to take a risk, but equally be patient and always learn from those around you who have gone through different business experiences – both successes and challenges.
You’re working in a global industry, but why is Britain a great place to do business?
Britain has strong scientific foundations, and we’re renowned globally for the quality of our higher education institutions and the companies spinning out of them. The levels of funding for Britain’s quantum industry, provided by the government, means that Britain has much of what it needs to secure its position as an undisputed world leader in the knowledge economy. But the initiative and momentum must continue at pace – navigating Brexit is a real challenge for business in the UK – particularly in fields that are international and rely on highly-educated and skilled talent.
What would it mean to win the overall winner of the Great British Entrepreneur Awards for 2017?
It would be a great achievement, and would be a badge of honour for the efforts that the team puts into not only making the business grow, but trying to improve all our futures. When innovative businesses are recognised for their entrepreneurship, it’s a victory for science in the business community as a whole.
And lastly, what are your hopes for M Squared in the future?
I hope that M Squared will change the world for good, it’s certainly our aim. I firmly believe that photonics will play a critical role in the future technologies that will improve our world and the way we live; I want to make sure we achieve that. The newly emerging quantum industry is a great example because we’re in an incredibly exciting period at the moment. We are turning technologies that were first theorised around 100 years ago by Einstein into reality; it’s genuinely cutting-edge work. With the UK quantum industry rapidly growing, I hope M Squared remains a key player in its success.
Applications for the 2018 NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards open in March. You can register your interest here.