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What I’ve Learnt: Paul Connell, Founder, Open Innovations and The Data City

Paul Connell, Founder Open Innovations, Founder & Executive Chair at The Data City

Entrepreneur Paul Connell is the Founder at Open Innovations, formely known as ODI Leeds, and Founder and Executive Chair at The Data City.

Connell founded Open Innovations in 2013, a not-for-profit organisation that works with companies, governments and individuals to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem.

He went to university and initially trained as an environmental scientist, working with leading global consultancies for nearly 20 years before setting up his own organisations.

Launched as a spin-out venture from Open Innovations, Leeds-based data and analysis company The Data City secured a “six-figure” investment from Venturian Funding and Investment Group last year to fuel its expansion plans. 

The tech company creates the best lists of companies in the UK’s emerging economy and works with a range of clients including The Home Office, WPI Economics and Transport for the North.

We found out what lessons Paul has learnt in his career.


Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

Speaking with a client.

What’s been your luckiest break?

People. Meeting my wife and best friend Kathryn whom I run Open Innovations with. Also being in the right place at the right time to work with Alex and Tom on The Data City, which gets more exciting every single day.

What’s your best failure?

I have definitely learned the most from my failures. I think that my best failures have been those situations where I have managed to get out quickly when working with people that I couldn’t trust and what that then taught me.

What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?

The first would be paying for my own Masters in 1994, I took a loan and backed myself and it paid off. The second would be reading, in particular everything I could about how the web, data and complex systems work, between 2000 & 2010 these are the tools that I needed to set up and run our businesses.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

The KLF, John Higgs. Why? Because you don’t need to follow the rules to be successful!

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Crack on, do stuff that scares you and have no regrets.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

My working life has been very varied, so I’ve learnt that the biggest influence on working life is yourself. It sounds cliche but once you realise that, you can get on with it and give yourself permission to do what needs to be done.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I love dancing.

How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?

The ‘death of distance’, especially the reduction in the need to be close to power to be successful.

What I mean by this is that now that everyone has access to pretty good online communications and although being close to where people make decisions does matter – that advantage has been massively reduced and people are more open to working with people who are further away.

What does success look like to you?

Success comes from hard work – so it looks like that.

Personally, it also means surrounding myself with great people who bring energy and are definitely not dementors! I count myself lucky that I have that with the teams at Open Innovations and The Data City. Also being able to ride my bike to work which means I am always close to home.

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