We talked to Shann McGrail on how Haltech accelerates innovation, and this is what she had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Shann McGrail: It’s my husband and I together working from home. Luckily, we had been working from home in one form or another for years, so we’re used to that. It is a lot of time together, but we are both healthy and always had our basement set up as a gym, which helps after long days of video calls. We miss our family and friends, and thankfully everyone is doing well.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Haltech?
Shann McGrail: After 17 years at Microsoft in various leadership roles, it was time for something new. My husband and I formed a company that focused on software, consulting, and training. At the same time, I was invited to join another innovation center as an advisor. That led me to be introduced to Haltech when they needed an Executive Director. I have been at Haltech for the last two and a half years. I love working with the start-up tech community.
How does Haltech innovate?
Shann McGrail: With our clients focused on technology and innovation, I think we are lucky to be inspired by them daily. I think staying close to what they are doing helps us with innovation. We are also a small team, which leads us to believe most often about process innovations and how we can serve as many clients as possible with a limited set of resources.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Shann McGrail: Before the pandemic, one of the significant values to our clients and partners was the opportunity to come into the innovation spaces we work from and network through events, which were mostly in person or the chance collisions. Like everyone, we moved to virtual. I would say that phase one for us was getting everything transferred to virtual. Phase two is about recreating the networking experiences and connections in the virtual environment, especially now that the “zoom fatigue” has set in. We are doing that through different types of events that facilitate networking online and using various technologies suited for recreating the real world. Some things work, and some don’t, so we keep trying new things and gauge the feedback.
We have over half of our client portfolio, who are Women Founders, which is unusual in tech. As we know, they have been additionally impacted by the pandemic. We’ve stepped up and added additional supports and programs for this group of clients because their success is so vital to the economy. That has brought opportunities to collaborate more closely with other innovation centers and think more creatively about serving our clients. When we first started working from home, we initiated daily meetings in the morning where everyone shares their priorities for the day, and we identify if anyone needs help. Each session ends with me telling a terrible “Dad” joke. I’m not even sure why I started that, but the team looks forward to hearing them every day, at least that’s what they tell me. We also use Microsoft teams to stay connected throughout the day and share highlights or answer quick questions.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Shann McGrail: The lesson is the importance of improvising. A year ago, we would not have guessed what was ahead of us. Having a strategy and goals is essential and equally important in reacting and adjusting to reality. Be ready to make a new plan. The word pivot is overused, so I prefer to use think about improvise – say yes to what you have and work with it. Personally, learning has also been about slowing down and having more patience.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Shann McGrail: When I figure that out – I will let you know! The one thing I do is exercise. After a day of zoom calls, I need the physical movement and a good sweat session. I have a Love/Hate relationship with my Jillian Michaels app. I love the end, but I am not such a fan of the journey. As a team, we have started to book some time to meet up online that isn’t about work. Leading up to the holidays, we all realized how tired we were, and it helped us share that and know it was expected after the year we have had.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Shann McGrail: As a Not for Profit Innovation Centre, we are more focused on collaboration across our ecosystem than the competition. Our competition is for awareness and support from partners and sponsors. The best thing we can do is keep our founders first in everything we do and make sure we respond to their needs.
Your final thoughts?
Shann McGrail: It is easy to be good when things around you are good. The test is the reaction to what happens when things get tough. I think we have been open to building the skills necessary to react well. Not to be too cliché, but I am thankful for the dedication and creativity of the people I work with, the inspiration and motivation that comes from the clients we serve, and our partners and community’s support.