Elizabeth Fairley - Talking Medicines

Elizabeth Fairley is COO of Talking Medicines, a data technology company which she co-founded with Jo Halliday and Scott Crae. Elizabeth joined in 2016 when the business to evolved from a consultancy into a data product led growth business. Today, Talking Medicines structures the global voice of the patient for those taking medicines using artificial intelligence to provide actionable intelligence.

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THE OPPORTUNITY:

Elizabeth was introduced to Entrepreneurial Scotland through Scottish Enterprise. She was working as a consultant with a range of start-ups and spin outs from several universities across Scotland, when Scottish Enterprise suggested she apply to the Saltire Fellowship Programme.

With an academic background, a desire to move into a more commercial, business role, and an ambition to do an MBA, but wondering how to manage it with two young children, the opportunity to join the programme in 2013 arose. It became a life changing decision for Elizabeth and led her to her current role at Talking Medicines.

“The Fellowship took me to the US, Boston (Babson College) and San Francisco (California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences – QB3), where I really got the chance to take a fresh look at things, to think more outwardly. Part of the appeal for me was the location. I couldn’t have done the programme in the UK. It was an intense programme but I loved it. I loved the fact that I could promise that I could work all the time and just throw myself into every opportunity that was there. I couldn’t have done that here, because there would have been too much draw to be with my family – I did look at doing an MBA in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but I couldn’t have done it, it would have always come second. Whereas this gave me the opportunity to really focus.

“Not only that, Scotland is a good place to build a business, but there is not a lot of diversity in the sense that the world’s a lot bigger. I think by going out to the States – I met some amazing individuals and entrepreneurs. It was the ideal solution for me.”

As I set out to embark on the Saltire Fellowship Programme, I had an ambition to start my own company. I’d started and run my own consultancy for over 10 years, but it was hard doing it all by myself – I wanted to be part of something bigger.

IMPACT:

Elizabeth gained not only commercial, leadership and entrepreneurial skills on the course, but also gained more personal development than she expected. She explains; “The fellowship helped me to explore, and I actually realized that I could use my academic and industry skills as a strength in business. It allowed me to move into a more commercial business leadership environment. In that sense it completely fulfilled what I wanted to achieve. But it also gave me so much more than I anticipated. I learnt so much about myself. There was a lot more personal development than I had thought.”

When she returned from the Fellowship Elizabeth continued to work as a consultant, which led to the opportunity to be a co-founder for a drug discovery company called Mironid. Then in 2016, the opportunity came about to work with Jo and Scott as co-founder of Talking Medicines.

Elizabeth believes she was able to bring a huge amount of her learning on the Saltire Fellowship, to building Talking Medicines to the business it is today. She recalls the practical elements of the course as incredibly valuable, from finance and keeping a close eye on numbers, to people management and how important an asset people and culture are in any business.

Elizabeth also cites the networking skills she learnt, the connections she made and the network she has built from the Fellowship as having helped her in a myriad of ways. As well as the content of the course, Elizabeth also praises the people who teach the programme.

“I have gained some great connections but also mentors. Ian Ritchie was fundamental and continues to play a part in supporting my career and my success, as have a number of other members of Entrepreneurial Scotland including Sandy Kennedy, Helen Sayles, Mark Bamforth and Regis Kelly. I feel really lucky to have that support around me.”

There was a real openness for people to engage. I met some truly incredible people on my cohort, but also through their connections and through Entrepreneurial Scotland. I think something that really helps you from the fellowship is the level of good support in Scotland, especially for entrepreneurs.

She continues; “I am still always pleasantly surprised when I reach out to somebody who is part of the network. The door always swings right open, even with people that I am not in touch with on a regular basis. I know I can ask them all for help, for advice, and I’d like to think I could help them if they needed help. I think all of that really helps you to shape and understand leadership. I am definitely still learning. Having the right people around, you can really help. I feel very fortunate to be working with the team I do, and to have the incredible network I have. It allows me to grow and develop too.”

The support she gained on the Fellowship has also inspired her to give back to the community. Elizabeth explains; “After gaining so much support through the Fellowship, I now try really hard to engage with others or help others and do what I can within the community because I think it is a special community. The cohorts before and our cohort – we are all still very much in contact with one another.”

An advocate of mentoring and learning, the programme also helped Elizabeth realise the true value and importance of both personal development and building a business. She concludes; “I think that sometimes the challenge is giving yourself the space to be able

to learn and be mentored”. I am involved in a couple of mentoring programs now too because I can see the value of the mentoring that I have personally received. Especially when hitting a couple of bumps in the road, being able to talk and be mentored and coached can be valuable. It is something I would not ever like to lose. I’ve also done some coaching, which is very different to being mentored – but has been equally beneficial.

I also believe taking yourself outside Scotland and putting yourself into a completely different environment, just resets everything. It was a really good thing for me to do. I think it gives you that time to reflect inwardly and outwardly about where you are. There were some key learnings that I brought back from my time in the US and wanted to stick to. Some have been easier to do than others – but I do think it is really important to get some space to yourself to think and learn new things.

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If you would like to talk to Entrepreneurial Scotland about our leadership programmes and how they can benefit your business please email andy.macnicol@entrepreneurialscotland.com