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‘Empathy is one of the most valuable skills for a solutions engineer’

Diligent’s Lorna Smyth shares her top productivity tips and explains why certain soft skills are so important in her role.

Lorna Smyth is a solutions engineer with Diligent, a US business that specialises in corporate governance software. In 2020, the company announced a new Galway hub, creating 200 jobs.

Smyth has more than 10 years’ experience in the technology industry, having worked for Hewlett-Packard, the government of Ontario, DXC Technology, Colgate-Palmolive and SmartBear.

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If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

I have been recently starting my day with a gym session, followed by breakfast while listening to the morning news. I am not usually a morning person so incorporating the gym into my pre-work routine was a big challenge for me initially, but now that I’m doing it I absolutely love it. It goes to show that with practice and repetitiveness, a night owl can in fact become a 5:45am morning owl. A buddy to do it with helps too!

Once logged on, I look at my calendar to see what meetings I have for the day. I pay special attention to any client-facing meetings and double-check that I have done the required preparation to bring the most value to those meetings.

I then review my email and Slack messages and start making a to-do list for the day. I try to avoid responding immediately to messages once logging on as diving in without a plan can lead to hours spent on work that may not be a priority. It’s always good to take a step back, prioritise your to-do list and let that guide you.

As a solutions engineer at Diligent, my primary role is to provide our sales team with the technical support that enables them to close deals.

That typically means that my days are filled by supplying subject-matter expertise on our solutions and offering customised, value-led product demonstrations, preparing for demonstrations, environment set-up, meetings with salespeople, demo follow-ups, proof-of-concept preparation, answering technical questions, or attending product, marketing and team meetings.

I usually end my workday by making sure my admin is all up to date on Salesforce, and if there are any remaining tasks on my to-do list, I add them to the following day’s list.

What types of projects do you work on?

I spend a lot of time delivering value-led demonstrations of our software solutions to clients. Each client or opportunity can be considered a mini-project, and my role with my sales colleague is to actively listen, understand and document the client’s requirements. Once analysed, we develop a plan for the demonstration ensuring the focus reflects the client’s needs.

For each opportunity, everyone within the team has their own roles and responsibilities. For example, after the client outlines their requirements, the salesperson will focus on the commercial element of the deal, while the solutions engineer highlights the technical elements of our offering and how our solutions can help our clients face any issues. We all work towards set deadlines to get information across and demos delivered.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

Some of the key skills I use on a daily basis are listening, presenting, communicating, objection handling, prioritisation, multitasking, empathy, storytelling, curiosity, organisation, problem-solving and teamwork.

Surprisingly, empathy is one of the most valuable skills a solutions engineer can possess. Before becoming a solutions engineer, I didn’t think I would be tapping into empathy as frequently as I do.

Empathy plays a huge part in delivering a successful demo and understanding exactly how your audience, the client or the sales team, feels. Being able to mirror that understanding back to them during the demonstration is an incredibly powerful asset.

What are the hardest parts of your working day, and how do you navigate them?

I think the hardest part of my day is finding uninterrupted focus time among the meetings, Slacks and emails. I may have allocated time to spend on a certain task when suddenly, I see a Slack notification that I think will take two seconds to reply to, and 20 minutes later I still haven’t returned to my task. It definitely makes the workday more varied!

Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the day?

To minimise any distractions, I have disabled my pop-up email notifications, and sometimes I also temporarily disable my Slack notifications or set my status to ‘do not disturb’.

Where possible, I’ll add items from my to-do list into 15 or 30 minute calendar appointments, to block-off my time so that my colleagues have visibility of my workload and avoid scheduling calls at those specified times.

While demoing or presenting my screen, I keep a pen and paper beside me to take notes and write any questions down, as this always helps me with preparation and ensuring that my bases are covered for the next demo.

I always try to respect my colleagues’ time when hosting meetings, doing my best to finish on time or excuse any colleagues who may need to leave at the specified time. I also respect my own time and when the specified meeting time is up, I will politely leave the call.

I’m a strong advocate for team bonding sessions and aim to schedule fun bi-weeklies that provide a forum where people can unwind, socialise and build trust. I always find that having a fun socialising session helps boost morale and productivity among us solutions engineers!

Looking after your mental and physical health is one of the best productivity strategies you can find! I try to take time for myself during the day to go for a walk outside at lunchtime to get fresh air and daylight in, which helps me to reset for the afternoon.

I stay hydrated by drinking one to two litres of water during my work day and try not to rely on coffee too much as sometimes I find the slump can be more counterproductive than the high.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

I’m a people person, so for me the best part about being a solutions engineer is I get to combine my technical capabilities and my customer-facing skillsets.

In the early days of my studies and career, I often felt like there was an unspoken rule that you had to be either ‘tech’ or ‘business’ focused. I didn’t know how to choose between the two areas and struggled to picture my future in tech, being pigeon-holed into one or the other.

When I discovered the world of presales and solutions engineering, I felt like I had found the sweet spot and was relieved that there was a place for someone like me in the tech industry.

I also enjoy the variety of the role – no two days are ever the same. We get to work with so many different clients who all have unique needs that we need to understand and address.

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Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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