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50 Years of Warwick Enterprise: Phil O'Donovan advises would-be entrepreneurs

6 April 2015

Phil O'Donovan3.mp4 from WEP on Vimeo.

Phil O’Donovan, Warwick alumnus and co-founder of Cambridge Silicon Radio advises would-be entrepreneurs how to build a $billion company. Phil told his entrepreneurial story as part of the University’s 50 Years of Warwick Enterprise programme. If you’d like to help Warwick’s young entrepreneurs by telling your story, donating some time, or contributing to the Student Enterprise Fund, we’d love to hear from you.

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Building a global company: Phil O’Donovan

Warwick graduate Phil O’Donovan became a global entrepreneur after co-founding Cambridge Silicon Radio in 1999. He is now Chairman of Twelve Winds, where he works with emerging companies as well as with Universities and other organisations wishing to exploit their intellectual property.

In its first five years of operation, Cambridge Silicon Radio became the largest global market supplier of Bluetooth chips, it was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2004 and became a FTSE 250 company in the same year. As a technology intensive start-up, CSR is one of the UK’s great commercial success stories of the past decade. CSR grew from nine employees in 1999 into a highly successful global market-leading publicly listed company.

CSR manufactures more than 400 million chips per year and has shipped a total of more than 3 billion chips which have been embedded by its customers in high-volume consumer products including phones, headsets, PCs, cameras and cars. Phil helped grow the company from a start-up with nine employees into a highly successful publicly listed company, employing over 1,000 staff and generating $154m in pre-tax profit by 2006.

At that point, Phil left the company to become an angel investor, setting up the consultancy firm Twelve Winds where his focus is on emerging, technology-intensive companies, in both England and Ireland, with the potential to become global market leaders.

After graduating from the University of Warwick in 1971, Phil gained an MSc from the University of Birmingham and a PhD in optical character recognition from the University of Essex. He is a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and a Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Gold Medal winner.

Speaking at a seminar at Warwick University back in 2006, Phil emphasised the value of staying focused on goals. When designing a business plan, it’s not necessary to focus too much on the venture’s exit plan. “I often see business plans that say a lot about the exit,” says Phil. “But plan a good company, with early revenue and a strong growth trajectory, and then the exit will take care of itself.”

“Building a $billion company is not rocket science but rather it is simply that a large number of company components need to be effective and to work efficiently as a whole in order for the venture to be successful. The recognition of what those components are, building them well, and operating them efficiently is what VCs call execution. Enabling technology is paramount but, for a product company, the sales, marketing and manufacturing functions are just as important.“

“Effective execution requires focus and the ability to stay on track whilst ignoring the many diverting opportunities that do not contribute to the primary goal of hitting the market with the right product at the right time. Stick to the knitting and remember that Davos is for those who have made it rather than those who are in the process of making it. ”

Quentin Compton-Bishop, CEO of Warwick Ventures, said, “Phil has been a great supporter of the University and a Warwick Venture Mentor. He is part of the advisory team for one of our new spin-outs, helping it define its strategic focus and specify its first product. His experience and mentoring are immensely valuable.”