Tristan Collins, founder of gaitQ

Photo of Tristan Collins

Tristan is CEO of gaitQ, a company spun out of the University of Oxford in 2019 that is developing wearable technologies for people with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s. The company is about to launch its first product, gaitQ tempo, which helps people with Parkinson’s overcome ‘gait freezing’ – a debilitating aspect of the condition. It is based in central Oxford with a growing team of over 10, mainly engineers, after raising in excess of £2.5m.

What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I did my first degree in Mechanical Engineering, but even back then knew that I wanted to be ‘more’ than an engineer. So I did a ‘with Financial Management’ bit on top – basically the core Finance/Accounting degree classes. However, when I got to the end, I wasn’t quite done with the ‘science bit’ of engineering and went off to complete a PhD in turbulent combustion modelling – often called one of the most difficult challenges in science, reacting fluid flow simulations. This gave me a taste for cutting-edge, early-stage technologies and, ultimately, led me to the spin-out world, via spells in strategy consulting and marketing.

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Being comfortable with taking on risks, believing in what you are doing, and having a level of determination that exceeds what most people are capable of. Many like the idea of being an entrepreneur (the ‘glamour’, what they read on Twitter or LinkedIn) but often the reality is disappointing. Of course, having high levels of equity funding helps mitigate this and can lead to glamour. But it’s tough to achieve.

How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
gaitQ Logo

The founders showed me a video that demonstrated what the early-stage lab prototype was capable of. A side-by-side video of an elderly gentleman with Parkinson’s walking 3m. The difference was huge and I was hooked. I thought to myself “we have to take this to market”.

What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Emotional intelligence.

What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
The buzz when things start coming together after what seems like ages and ages of hard work preparing the seemingly impossible to attain.

What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
The mathematician Donald Knuth. He created the wonderful typesetting program TeX, amongst other things, that helps to communicate complex mathematics in a beautiful form. Most people haven’t heard of him, but almost everyone will have seen and learned from something created with his software. And he gave it away for free taking minimal credit.

If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
His opinion on how computing is being taught and how it could be improved.

What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Growing the business during the pandemic.

What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Gut instinct is usually correct.
If it looks too good to be true it probably is.
Just because everyone else does things in a really stupid way doesn’t mean you should too.
Unless they know something you don’t, in which case do what everyone else does and don’t reinvent the wheel.
Maintain your standards.

How have you funded your ideas?
Private VC or angel funding.

Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
NIHR awards

What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Central Oxford is a great location with great access to talent. However, there’s lots of competition for that talent… And without decent public transport, getting around is tough. I would also say the ‘community’ of start-ups is too spread out. There’s no one region/area where it all happens and where new ideas can be generated and companies formed. c.v. Cambridge.

If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?

Any last words of advice?
Don’t leave it too late.