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Brent Hudson, chief executive, Sagentia

Sagentia's ceo tells Graham Pitcher how the consulting company is anticipating its clients needs.

Cambridge, including the communities which lie within easy reach, is an interesting place. Under the broad heading of silicon fen, the area boasts a range of industries, supported by the university, science parks and some of the best consulting companies in the world.

Many of these consulting companies have a common heritage, which can be traced back to the early 1960s. But while they share an ancestry, they have carved out different areas of technology in which to specialise.

Sagentia has seen its business change rapidly over the last few years to the point where 70% of its revenues are generated by companies in the medical sector. The remaining 30% is produced in equal shares by the industrial and consumer sectors.

Brent Hudson, Sagentia's chief executive for the last couple of years, is keen to see the company continue to grow. But he would like that growth to come from a broad market base.

"The company has changed a lot over the last three years," he noted. "It was a business where good people were hired who had ideas. Those ideas would be spun out into other companies founded by Sagentia with the hope they would be successful and make money. As long as Sagentia broke even, that was OK."

Now, things are different. "It was decided that Sagentia should become a growing profitable technology consulting organisation," he said. "Since I joined the company, I've been accelerating that model. We're a public company which grew by 28% over the previous year and which is profitable." Sagentia is now 200 strong, having added 30 people worldwide in the last year. It also has 25 open positions.

The 70% market share in medical is mirrored by 70% of its revenues coming from North America; the remaining revenues are from the UK and Europe. And 30% of Sagentia's business is from start ups.

How does Hudson describe what Sagentia offers? "We help customers to decide what product to bring to market. We provide concept development and early industrial design. The products will often be complex electromechanical devices with elements that we have had to invent."

That is something of which Hudson is proud. "We have a strong scientific and technology group which has to invent new applications from scientific principles, then instantiate those ideas into products."

How Sagentia appears to different companies depends on what kind of company the customer is. "For start ups," Hudson explained, "we're typically a full outsource R&D capability." He gave the example of a US medical customer; T2 Biosystems, a developer of point of care diagnostic devices. "It had proven wet chemistry tests, but needed to build a complex device quickly. To do that, it needed a team of mechanical engineers, embedded software experts and industrial designers. If you're a company with a team of chemists, you have two choices – build the team or outsource the design."

For larger companies, Sagentia might undertake some R&D for a particular product or part of a product. But it can also act as an ideas factory where clients will come to it as part of an innovation effort, looking for new approaches to their markets.

The balance between research and development is an interesting one. How does Hudson see it? "I consider Sagentia to be a small 'R' and large 'D' organisation, but the balance isn't definitive. If you're a professor, for example, you might see Sagentia as a big D company. If you're a lower tech company, then we can seem to be a big R operation."

Some of the work is undertaken simply because the customer's design requires an innovative approach. But there remains the need for Sagentia to do its own science – and Hudson is encouraging more effort in this area. "We create technology; we invent from fundamental scientific principles. If we don't do this science, then we start from scratch each time."

Sagentia, not surprisingly, has relationships with a range of universities in the UK and the US. "These are important," Hudson pointed out. "They keep us 'up to speed' and also help with our recruitment efforts."

Hudson is now building on these relationships by seeding research. "Sagentia has been less willing to do that in the past than it should have been," he admitted. "But seeding is important in helping us set a direction for the company. We can't wait for clients to ask us to do work for them and hope that, when the call comes, we have the right skills and resources to hand. We have to ask ourselves where medical, for example, is going and what those developments mean for clients. We have to look forward and make calls about where we are going."

While medical is a strong part of Sagentia's business, Hudson is looking to broaden the outlook, including more business from customers in its traditional industrial sector. "But medical will remain strong," he asserted.

And Sagentia is sitting on £18million in cash, which may well be used for an acquisition. "The available market for Sagentia is huge," he believes, "and we are only really scratching the surface. Whether the growth is organic or comes through acquisitions, it's a hugely exciting time," he concluded.

Brent Hudson
Brent Hudson joined Sagentia in 2009, bringing expertise in growing technology focused companies, in both the UK and the US.

He began his career working in financial management for FTSE listed companies before moving to KPMG management consulting, where he specialised in marketing and strategic consulting. He gained an MBA from Cranfield University whilst working at KPMG.

Since then, he has held senior and board level roles at technology led companies, including Symbionics, Tality (UK), QinetiQ Group and, more recently, as ceo of Beach Solutions.

Graham Pitcher

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