How do different perspectives fuel innovation?

As a meeting place for people and ideas, how do real entrepreneurs use their School experience to inform their thinking?


It has long been understood that teams benefit from a diverse mix of perspectives.

But the reality is too many managers hire to fit their culture and teams can quickly become iterations of the same kind of people. Here we gather three very different start-ups to talk about what difference really means to them and how the School has shaped their experiences.

Think at London Business School spoke to Out of Office Coffee, the café chain with the ambition of an incubator; Roleshare, a job sharing platform looking to shake up productivity, innovation and corporate life, and SFR Medical, a start-up bridging the gap between a doctor’s notes and crucial evidence in court.

SFR Medical

Founded by (pictured above left to right) Dr Johann Grundlingh (EMBA 2018), Dr Lucy Grundlingh, Lisa Helfer, (Sloan 2018) and Suyash Shrivastava CTO (EMBA 2018), SFR Medical is a new way for police to access medical evidence required for the investigation of violent crimes.

 “I'm an Emergency Medicine and Intensive Care Consultant,” explains CEO Grundlingh, who still works at an NHS Intensive Care Unit a few times a month.

“I was always keen to explore the business side of medicine and beyond. I always knew that I was not going to be a full-time clinician for the rest of my life. So I decided to broaden my skill set with an EMBA.

“Throughout my career, we've had issues with getting medical evidence into courts. It was a very disjointed, challenging system and navigating the NHS is challenging for the police. The NHS and the hospitals that we work with couldn't understand how police officers work. There was a lot of conflict, and poor communication and episodes of injustice. Because if the police sometimes can't get evidence, the court cases are jeopardised. So there were pain points on both the medical and justice sides.

“The police, who we contract with, used to look at this state of affairs as a fact of life.”

Dr Grundlingh is joined at SFR Medical by his wife and co-founder and Head of Operations, Dr Lucy Grundlingh. “SFR Medical’s diverse mix gender, ethnicity and culture mix brings unique perspectives to the business.”

Having worked in multiple Emergency Departments, Dr Lucy Grundlingh was the first Medical Transcriber for SFR Medical. She now uses her knowledge and deep subject matter expertise to recruit and train client relationship managers and medical transcribers, all of whom have diverse cultural backgrounds.

“We are learning and trying and failing and succeeding together”

Fellow EMBA alumnus and CTO Shrivastava was next to join SFR Medical, when Grundlingh approached him about building the technology.

“We sat together on an elective and right away it felt real,” says Shrivastava. “I knew it wouldn’t be a complex solution and I told him it could be designed and developed.

“I’ve spent my entire career in technology for GSK and Maersk but I’ve just found myself drawn to entrepreneurship. It is something I enjoy and the EMBA has opened up opportunities.”

Communication as a diverse team

According to CCO Helfer, whose background is in gaming, litigation consulting, pharmaceutical and tech public relations, communication is key to SFR Medical as it grows.

“One of the things that's great about the company right now is that it's a very open forum, because we are still learning and trying and failing and succeeding together. Johann is great at taking perspectives and thoughts from multiple different people, and then reaching not purely a consensus decision, but the decision that he thinks is going to work for the company. Or he puts the decision back on the four of us as an executive team to explore further.

“We have subject matter experts who have started the company. That is Johann and Lucy and they have the contacts and first-hand experience of being chased for medical statements by police officers in the hospitals. We have technology experts from a different country than the UK, and then there is me, this American who can do a lot of things and probably thinks she can do more.

“This dynamic has been really interesting for our product innovation, because we get first-hand knowledge of what works. We can then think about what might work or how we can push the boundaries. And then we get a little bit of the realism from the others in terms of how the technology can support the products we’re working on.”

Out of Office Coffee

For SEP alumni Steve Dick (pictured below right) and Murat Erden (below left), their start-up adventure began with a chat over a coffee. It wasn’t just that they loved a really good cup, they were both interested in the ritual and environment around coffee.

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Both describe themselves as loyal employees, and prior to the Senior Executive Programme, they reached high level roles in blue chip organisations. Originally from Turkey, London-based Erden is a former telecoms CFO with Turkcell and Dick, a South African, is a former sales and marketing director with Virgin Active.

However, the SEP is well known for taking its graduates in different directions and it was no different for them. After one trip to a specialty roaster and café, the seed of an idea was planted to launch their own coffee brand.

Together they have launched Out of Office Coffee, a Milton Keynes, UK-based chain with a unique ethos. Unsatisfied with just great coffee they are pitching the business as a ‘third space’ – where laptops and business meetings are actively encouraged.

It is philosophy the staff have taken to heart, Out of Office Coffee now buy some ingredients from a former employee who has stepped out on her own with a green, low and no packaging food business.

Listening to people

For Dick, SEP was a testing ground for ideas and a great way to connect with a business partner to create a venture which supports the community.

“We want to prove that by doing this, we're better than others.”

“The School is a great place to meet people because you have a chance to hear their ideas and explore their thoughts as a group,” he says. “Murat and I are from completely different backgrounds with completely different cultures but we both agreed about coffee. We both like meeting people in cafes and we both believe we do our best thinking in a bustling café environment.”

Different angles

“We do have different angles on business,” says Erden. “I’m from a much more financial background and Steve’s focus is on sales and operations but we both love learning together and the interaction. At the School we had a chance to explore our ideas and approaches to business and the world. As a class we learnt an enormous amount from each other.”

“This is what Out of Office Coffee is set up to do,” says Dick. “Initial meetings happen here. As a café it's not work or home, it's the place where you come up with ideas, are creative or negotiate your next deal. Every time we see it happening between our customers, and it happens every day, it makes us really happy.”


Roleshare is a start-up that is building its entire prospects on the power of collaboration between two people. Like SFR Medical they are enjoying the support of London Business School’s incubator programme run by the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

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It is a platform for talent that is looking for a job share. They believe splitting roles is so powerful the start-up is built by job sharers.

Husband and wife team David (MBA17) and Sophie Smallwood are co-founders and co-CEOs (pictured second left and right). They are building a business that is evangelising for what could be the next workplace revolution. It isn’t just about giving talent flexibility and fitting in more life in the work/life balance, Roleshare is out to prove productivity increases when a job is shared.

“While I was doing the MBA at LBS I came across this idea that diverse and inclusive businesses are more innovative and I already knew there was demand to share jobs,” says Smallwood.

“It occurred to me that if you can solve this side of the equation, which is helping two people to get the flexibility that they want, you could also solve another side of the equation for companies, which is increasing diversity, increasing innovation.

“So we're on a mission to go and prove that getting two people in a role is better for creativity and productivity. Two heads are better than one.

“We want to prove that by doing this, we're better than others. It does mean that ideas are debated a lot more than other start-ups might. We had a heated debate about whether we should be aimed at individuals and talent or companies first. I thought we needed to get the corporates on side first but at the end of that conversation we decided on what I think is the correct decision, to focus on talent first.”

“Dave and I, we are not a mirror of each other,” says Sophie Smallwood. “We actually have very different skills. I understood that role shares start with the talent first and they present it to the company.”

More than a team

“In a job share you are team but it is more than that – you have each other’s backs,” observes Polly Howden, Product Director at Roleshare. “In leadership roles, it can be very stressful at times, you need to flex your style and your skills. It is this flexibility, communication and complementary strengths of the individuals we bring together that is a big reason why individuals in shared roles are more productive and creative.”

Roleshare CTO/Advisor, Ali Minaei (pictured second right above), was inspired to help the business while building a successful career in fintech.

“I love fintech and while companies are trying to change, it is still male dominated,” he says. “When I studied software engineering in Iran the class was almost 50:50 and the women in that class have been just as successful if not more so. I believe technology like Roleshare can reduce the barriers to attracting and keeping that talent in the industry.”

“There is a stigma about taking time off we want to engage people in a healthier way to work,” says Howden (pictured left above). “Having more time to focus on mental health and family, and having that extra support at work can only be good thing for society.”

Further reading

If you are interested in discovering more about innovation and diversity, Rajesh Chandy, co-academic director of the Wheeler Institute, Professor of Marketing and Tony and Maureen Wheeler Chair in Entrepreneurship at London Business School, goes into more detail about how to go beyond expertise here.