I had the honour of kicking off this year’s UK Tech Track 100 Awards at Wembley Stadium this week (the executive conference suite there, not 80,000 fans cheering the emerging tech titans of Britain that is). One of the keynote speakers was Lord Paul Drayson who was himself a successful entrepreneur as founder of PowderJect. Most of his talk covered the early days of that enterprise with its ups and downs. In particular, he centred on what ended up becoming part of the company’s corporate folklore – ‘the Alza moment’.
The ‘Alza’ moment refers to a vital visit to a Bay Area company called Alza at a critical juncture in the company’s emergence. Alza investigated the budding technology of this start up, but when Drayson arrived they told him that they simply didn’t think that the technology would work. This set back hit the already stretched and vulnerable PowerJect hard and could have been a fatal. But Lord Drayson credits his indelibly optimistic wife, Elsbeth, for refusing to let the incident get them down.
As it turns out, the silver lining lay in the meeting itself. At the depressing meeting, Paul and Elsbeth sensed that the Alza Head of R&D actually didn’t concur with the overall conclusions being communicated by the rest of the management. So on the way back to London, Paul telephoned the R&D Head and asked him to come to the airport to talk about him joining Powderjet. After laughing incredulously, the R&D Head was finally coaxed to the airport and ultimately did join PowderJect a short while later. Then, not to long after, he was followed by the Alza head of Business Development. What at first seemed like the end of the road for PowderJect turned out to be one of the biggest boons to the company’s progress. Lord Drayson summarised, “The lesson of our ‘Alza Moment’ is to never give in. Look for the opportunity in the setback.”