MBA Partners

August 27, 2014 4:17 pm

MBA star partnership brings science to the data business

Jason Muller and Kim Nilsson©Daniel Lynch

Kim Nilsson used to spend her time gazing at the stars, but now the former astronomer is looking at more earthly pastimes, as an entrepreneur.

With business partner Jason Muller she has set up a recruitment company to help highly-qualified scientists find careers in business, and much of it is thanks to their MBA degree.

It was on the Cranfield full-time MBA programme that Ms Nilsson, a Swedish astrophysicist, and Mr Muller, an Australian recruitment specialist, worked on a business project as part of their degree. “At some point we started talking about the problems I had leaving academia and moving into business,” recalls Ms Nilsson. So with Mr Muller’s background in the recruitment industry the idea of a recruitment consultancy for science PhD graduates soon took hold.

Pivigo recruitment firm

When she graduated from Cranfield in 2012, Ms Nilsson moved into financial services, but Mr Muller continued to research what kind of infrastructure would be needed to launch their business. On March 1 2013, Ms Nilsson joined Mr Muller and the two set up Pivigo, a recruitment agency to help those with a science PhD move into finance and analysis.

Things have moved swiftly since then. When the two heard about the shortage of data scientists - some estimates put the shortage of data scientists today in the UK alone at 40,000 - the company took a new turn. “We thought the PhDs we were talking to had these [data science] skills,” explains Ms Nilsson.

Mr Muller saw a huge business opportunity, given the increasing complexity of corporate data. “With the internet of things everything will have data points,” he predicts.

As a result the two decided to branch out into a second line of business - training - and this month saw the launch of a five-week bootcamp in London. The aim of S2DS (Science to Data Science) is to bring together science PhD graduates, prospective employers and business professors, to help corporate recruiters find people with the skills they need for this new style of business.

S2DS bootcamp

The demand has clearly justified the scheme, with 85 science PhDs from 24 countries signing up for the first bootcamp. Like Ms Nilsson, half of them hold doctoral degrees in physics and astrophysics, while the other half are chemists, engineers, computer scientists and economists. About 50 per cent have studied at British universities and 35 per cent of participants on the programme are women, a far cry from the 10 to 15 per cent of data scientists in industry that are women.

One such participant on the S2DS programme is Martina Pugliese, an Italian physicist. Her reason for applying to the programme was clear. “We may all have the technical skills, but we lack the business skills.”

For the first week of the five-week programme, participants received business lectures, some delivered by the Cranfield professors that taught Mr Muller and Ms Nilsson. They have found clear favour with Ms Pugliese. “The lectures have been very useful from the financial and economics point of view,” she reports.

In the second week, participants were put into teams with each team partnering with one of 22 sponsoring companies, in what is effectively a short internship. Companies support the bootcamp financially, which means that PhD graduates pay just £360 for the programme, which includes a laptop and accommodation, as well as teaching.

Participating companies range from the usual suspects, such as KPMG, to the more unexpected, such as the Royal Mail. And there are 15 start-up companies in finance, technology and consultancy - most start-ups are based in London. It is for one of these start-ups that Ms Pugliese is developing a live project with her team. She believes the skills she learns will help her find the job she is looking for. “I will use all the expertise I have acquired to apply for data science jobs, either with a start-up or an established business.”

Digital Shadows, a London- based cyber-security company set up in 2011, is another of the small companies taking part in S2DS and Alastair Paterson, chief executive believes the project is a great way for him to supplement the work of his 20 staff. He was able to specify the skills he needed in his project team, he says. “It is very hard to find people with this skillset.”

He points out that the project addresses a real issue faced by the company. “It isn’t just a problem for problem’s sake. It is really difficult to find suitable people [to do this].”

The scale of the operation means that D2DC bootcamp is unlikely to run more than once a year in the UK, says Ms Nilsson. But she is already thinking of other opportunities. “The UK is not the only country that needs this.”

The value of the MBA

When reflecting on the value of his MBA, Mr Muller highlights the support from Cranfield professors and peers as the most significant element. “The relationships have been the stand out thing, and not something I was banking on. A handful of lecturers continue to be very supportive.”

For Ms Nilsson, the value is equally straight forward. “The MBA gave me the confidence to start my own business.”

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