Psychology meets business

During her academic pursuits, Dr Marie-Claire O’Kane discovered her entrepreneurial calling. Now, as the founder of Surrey-based startup Beyond Consulting, she is dedicated to empowering teams and organisations to reach their full potential

Marie-Claire, can you share a bit about your background and how it led you to launch Beyond Consulting?

“My professional journey started in consulting. Most recently, I spent a decade at Ernst and Young advising financial services clients on business transformation and change management. However, the demands of the corporate world clashed with my role as a parent, leading me to explore new paths.

“I ventured into academia, pursuing psychology at the University of Surrey and eventually a PhD focusing on thriving in the workplace. The idea of Beyond Consulting emerged as a fusion of my consulting experience, psychological insights and a desire for autonomy and authenticity in my career.”

So, did you always envision yourself as an entrepreneur?

“Not at all. The shift from corporate consulting to entrepreneurship was unexpected but liberating. It stemmed from a desire to break free from the competitive culture of the corporate world and pursue my passions authentically. Psychology and academia opened new doors for me, ultimately leading to the creation of Beyond Consulting.”

Can you tell us about the services Beyond Consulting offers and what sets you apart in the market?

“Beyond Consulting focuses on helping individuals, teams and organisations thrive and reach their potential. Our unique approach combines consulting expertise in change management with psychological insights into behaviour and mindset. We specialise in team dynamics, offering tailored programmes to enhance collaboration, decision-making and overall effectiveness. What sets us apart is our emphasis on sustainability and innovation, leveraging digital tools to support ongoing growth and development.”

What projects are you currently involved in?

“Currently, Beyond Consulting is involved in various projects, including one with a national charity to help improve their governance structure and operational effectiveness. The challenge lies in the dynamics within their team.

“The charity’s governance structure needs restructuring to balance the senior board’s strategic discussions with a team responsible for day-to-day operations. Members are engaged in detailed discussions but lack active involvement in executing tasks. Overall, there’s a need for structural and operational support to optimise their governance model and improve team efficiency.

“I’m also focused on developing a digital app to complement our consulting services. This app will provide insights into team dynamics, track progress and offer personalised coaching prompts. It’s an exciting project that aligns with our vision of sustainable growth and impact.”

As you navigate the entrepreneurial landscape, what challenges have you encountered, and what achievements are you most proud of?

“Confidence and market competition are ongoing challenges. It takes courage to stand out in a crowded market and believe in your vision. However, I’m proud of overcoming these obstacles and making significant strides with Beyond Consulting. Winning funding and securing partnerships and coaching clients have been highlights of this journey, reaffirming my belief in the value we offer.”

You mentioned securing funding. Can you tell us more about that process?

“I secured initial funding for Beyond Consulting through the University of Surrey’s Student Enterprise Foundership programme. The programme has certain modules throughout the year, which progress linearly. You start with the boot camp, equipping you with the knowledge and skills to pitch your business idea. The pitch is all about using the money to test the feasibility of your business.

“If you secure the funding, you can pitch for the next stage, which is more about shaping your business further. I was strongly recommended to pursue that, and it was a great opportunity to delve deeper into understanding the market, business model, pricing model and why it will succeed.

“The Foundership funding not only provided financial support but also included access to training modules and a funded year of membership to SETsquared Surrey, a business incubator at Surrey Research Park.”

What role has SETsquared Surrey and the University of Surrey’s Student Enterprise played in supporting your entrepreneurial journey?

“SETsquared and the University of Surrey’s Student Enterprise have been invaluable partners in this journey. From mentorship and networking opportunities to masterclasses and legal advice, their support has been instrumental. Being part of their ecosystem provides a sense of community and accountability, driving me to push boundaries and pursue excellence.

“Over the next six months, I’ll continue leveraging the resources they provide and building my network through them. Their wealth of experience in supporting early-stage businesses will be invaluable as I navigate through the challenges and opportunities of growing my business.”

How exactly do you plan to grow Beyond Consulting?

“My growth plan for Beyond Consulting involves a combination of strategies. Firstly, I’ll continue engaging with prospective customers and running consulting projects to bootstrap the business. Additionally, I aim to gather sufficient insight into the demand for my product to convince investors of its potential success. Bringing the right people on board to build and design the product will be crucial. I want to establish my business as research-based and become a recognised player in the research space. The sky’s the limit after that.”

Looking ahead, what support and opportunities do you hope to leverage as you grow Beyond Consulting?

“Moving forward, I aim to leverage mentorship, networking and potential investment opportunities to scale Beyond Consulting. Building strategic partnerships and expanding our digital offerings will be key priorities. Ultimately, I envision Beyond Consulting as a leading provider of innovative solutions for organisational development and team effectiveness.”

About SETsquared Surrey

Serving as the business incubation centre of the University of Surrey, SETsquared Surrey operates within the broader framework of the SETsquared Partnership, which stands as an enterprise alliance uniting six leading research-led UK universities – Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey.

The business incubator offers a wide range of support programmes aimed at catalysing the transformation of ideas into thriving enterprises. Regardless of one’s stage – be it a student, academic researcher, startup tech founder or proprietor of an SME – SETsquared tailors its programmes to provide comprehensive support throughout the venture’s lifecycle.

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