After a year of Sapphire & Steel and Omnigenix working together, under the name BoardPack, launched their innovative research, In the maelstrom – the role of the startup chair at Bristol Technology Festival 2022. Last week, on the final day of Bristol Technology Festival 2023, they released an update on the work done over past the year and a proposal for how to fill the early stage ‘governance gap’.

Anna-Lisa Wesley, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at SETsquared Bristol, and Nick Sturge, a portfolio Chartered Director, worked together to explore how best to support early-stage tech businesses from a governance point of view.

They discovered, through a series of interviews and ‘Voices’ dinners with founders and advisors, that issues around control, use of language, behaviour, lack of support structures and clarity on the role have become barriers – both for founders and advisors – to building effective governance around early stage businesses together. 

Identifying the issues

The Founders Voices and Chairs’ Voices dinners, kindly sponsored by SETsquared Bristol in Brunel’s original boardroom in Engine Shed, surfaced a plethora of important insights that built on the original research and sharpened some of the thinking about how best to support businesses.

Gems such as, “the word ‘Governance’ suggests compliance and I don’t want someone to check my homework” and “build relationships, not hierarchy” emerged from the discussion. Advisors highlighted that “chairs are often recruited from a small network on a tight, or wrong, criteria” and that there was a “lack of support for each other amongst the Chair community”.

Most clear was that early-stage governance best operates as a pathway with attendees calling for “mentor, advisor, NED then Chair pathways” each with their own distinct value proposition, as being the right way forward.

Calling on solutions

The team has updated the body of research with these new insights. They have also shared, as a first community asset, a Charter Toolkit, to structure discussion between Founders and their Lead Advisors (who may become Chairs) in order to establish a common understanding of how they can together “build an amazing business – rather than focussing on building an amazing board”. 

The updated research, the original research and the Charter Toolkit are now published and interested parties are encouraged to contribute to the development of the Toolkit so that it remains fit for purpose and evolves with increased and more diverse understanding of the challenges.

The BoardPack team also launched their concept for a Governance Accelerator, as a mechanism to accelerate a diverse cohort of founders and lead advisors (Chairs) along the governance pathway with a shared mission of sustainable growth, whilst also evolving our community understanding of best practice. The team is seeking partners to help fund, develop and pilot this innovative new accelerator programme.

The BoardPack team remains committed to lowering the barriers to the right support and governance for early-stage businesses and for there to be a richly diverse pool of candidates to be highly effective Lead Advisors and Chairs and believe that by launching these assets we will move along this journey as a community together. Sincere thanks are extended to all contributors to date. 

There’s a lot to do. Join us:

  • Anna-Lisa@sapphiresteel.co
  • Nick.Sturge@omnigenix.co.uk

The public repository is here.

Shona Wright

Shona covers all things editorial at TechSPARK. She publishes news articles, interviews and features about our fantastic tech and digital ecosystem, working with startups and scaleups to spread the word about the cool things they're up to. She also oversees TechSPARK's social media, sharing the latest updates on everything from investment news to green tech meetups and inspirational stories.