Report 3: Developments and fresh Innovation Workshops
This report documents additional contributions to earlier work on Innovations Workshops in this project of The Centre for Creative Leadership and the Royal College of Art. The first report reviewed some twenty-five applications of innovation workshops (see http://wp.me/p3beJt-18); and the second discussed how organisations use innovation work-shops (see http://wp.me/p3beJt-19)
Hackathons Page 2
Developments at FutureFocus – the Government’s think tank facility 2
A ‘Hothouse’ for real: combining competition with collaboration at BT 3
Workz’s use of dramaturgy in Innovation Workshops 4
Systems for inventing: TRIZ, PRIZM, Morphological Analysis et al 6
AwayDays as turning-points 7
Incubators and Accelerators
Meeting the mercurial needs of innovators in Incubators 8
Design London’s Incubator 9
An experimental incubation process: developing applications of 10
pervasive media in theatre
An Incubator in the performing arts: The Battersea Arts Centre 10
New entrepreneurs on the block – they are running Accelerators 11
Incubator Groups: Faber’s Creative Writing programmes 12
Hyper Island – a digital media school started in Sweden 13
The Old Vic as an incubator of talent 13
What accelerates an Accelerator? Learning entrepreneurial 14
skills from one another – in Incubators
The term Hackathon originated in the world of geeks and describes a process in which a group of developers gather for a fixed period of time to work on a specific project. The aim is work intensively towards a goal, but with relative informality as to how groups are organised. Hackathons might last several days. The term “sprint” is sometimes used to describe events of shorter duration.
This overall approach has since been adopted outside the tech world. For example, an event called ‘goodfornothing’ took place in London in December 2010. This was the brainchild of the sustainable marketing agency, Pipeline Projects. They organised a gathering in Shoreditch of around 70 people, mainly but not wholly from the advertising and marketing industries. Three social enterprises each gave a briefing on the marketing/communications challenges facing them, and then all participants chose which of the three projects each would to work on.
Over the next day, these self-organising teams interacted with the client enterprises, often splitting into smaller informal teams to work on different aspects of the brief. A key feature was that there was little emphasis on any single person attempting to manage how people worked. In part, this was because this was an ad hoc gathering of people where there was no clear established hierarchy.
Unlike many innovation processes, very little structure was imposed upon participants, although a lot of effort went into appropriate hospitality and availability of useful equipment, wifi etc.
At the end of the event, each group gave a presentation of the work they had done. In each case, no one person anchored the presentation; instead a variety of team members presented short pieces on the bits of the project in which they had focussed. One person would talk about branding and positioning; another would talk about a practical application that had been built to cross-post facebook status messages to twitter; another presented work-in-progress on a documentary film.
Participants were mainly surprised and pleased with the level of productivity, often contrasting it with what happened in their day jobs in more conventional management structures. This at least raises interesting questions about how innovation can be effectively managed.
Thanks, Johnnie Moore <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Developments at FutureFocus – the Government’s think tank facility
In December 2010, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) launched The Innovation Space in their 1 Victoria Street, London HQ, on the site of the former FutureFocus facility. The Innovation Space enables all sorts of permutations of team-working and linked computers that facilitate collaborative working with ideas. The focus is on innovation and change, including leadership development; and while it is still a hub for innovation in BIS and in government, it is also aiming to bring in clients from other areas.
David Roe, BIS’s Director of Innovation Capability, said: “We have been working hard to enable clients to work together and make connections in two distinct domains: improving capability through team building and supporting change programmes; and developing policy to support Ministerial priorities.”
A public sector innovation portal has been developed on the internet to provide online information, inspiration and support – relevant topics are discussed and brought to life through a regular blog, practical resources are uploaded and news billed. (www.hmg.gov.uk/publicsectorinnovation)
BIS’s intranet includes what is in effect a computerised and interactive suggestion scheme, on which people post ideas to the ‘Idea Street’ site. There they can be commented on, voted on and even ‘invested in’. BIS is just one of 13 organisations to pilot the online suggestion scheme across the public sector. Developed by Spigit and in partnership with DWP, Idea Street has been the source of ideas that have already saved a great deal of money, seemingly largely on departmental operations.
There have been several other developments: while computer terminals were limited to 12, it is now possible to operate with as many as 30; new software (‘Think Tank’ – a development of Group Systems Software) is browser based and thus more versatile, and the use of regular laptops makes connection to the internet readily available. Moreover it is now possible to unify the work of two groups working simultaneously in two different locations.
A ‘Hothouse’ for real: combining competition with collaboration at BT
I attended part of a one-day ‘Hothouse’ (consisting of an evening coming-together, followed by a day of 7am to 7pm work). The subject was the future of a project which was about half way through its 3-year plan; and the issue: what should the aims be now?
The Hothouse had been summoned by its boss, who organised it together with the resident hothouse staff; and he led it, calling all the sessions, facilitating feed-backs, and at a convenient moment making a presentation to a limited number of the leaders about his own perspective.
There were three teams, each of about eight people, in competition with one another – almost all of them, I guess, technical experts (chosen, I understood, for their likely technical contribution), with a smattering of other stakeholders, such as field engineers.
Each team worked round their own table, (though small groups could break off and work elsewhere in this one big room,) each with all necessary laptops, an electronic white board, and any other flip charts etc they might need.
I watched a part of what was a series of four rounds of ‘pitches’, each about two hours after the previous round, in which each team had five minutes to present to everyone else their ideas about the solution (almost all these presentations were systems-oriented, and presented in the form of matrices), the final pitch being of ten minutes, with these final solutions scored – by the boss and I think two other senior managers.
After each round, the boss asked everyone:
* what they liked about the presentation
* what had moved on since that team’s previous presentation
* what anyone could steal from it
* which team’s solution (as presented) they voted the best (apart from their own).
Each round clearly took the issue a stage forward in the formulation of a solution [understanding the issue/identifying solution areas/developing ideas/building on them/selecting the best/selling them etc.]
(In the course of the day, there was also a presentation by a potential supplier of a technical gadget that might have been useful element of possible solutions.)
Workz’ use of dramaturgy in Innovation Workshops
‘Dramatic Innovation’ was coined by Zentropa WorkZ (now simply Workz), a company that grew out of Scandinavia’s largest film environment and, among other things, orchestrates innovation processes with established companies, start-ups, inventors, researchers and students. It is an evolving methodology that addresses both the narrowing focus that efficiency often brings to companies and the blindfolds that traditions, assumptions and mission statements bring with them. Perspectives and techniques from dramatic professions allow Workz to deal with innovation as a dramatic production with a specific deadlines and a significantly increased likelihood of results that can change the worldview of companies and allow them to explore their talents in completely new ways.
Workz runs innovation camps that last from one day to five weeks in all sorts of fields. These are usually run in an old army camp on the edge of Copenhagen that has been turned into a home for more than forty creative media companies. Every camp is carefully planned and produced using scripts, scenographies, props and multidisciplinary teams, guided by experienced masters. The processes are highly goal-directed and involve the clients as actively as possible, and sometimes up eight teams work simultaneously on different innovation cases for widely different clients.
Innovation is about balancing freedom and constraints. Creativity requires the freedom to think and act differently, but without boundaries freedom has little value in the creative process. The trick consists in choosing and establishing a set of spatial and temporal constraints. Storytelling is traditionally bound within a very strict structure, and virtually every film play or book follows some variant of a traditional dramatic structures, which ensures a progression from the initial introduction of the characters, through conflict, to a logical and dramatic conclusion – all within the environment of a set or a stage with a given scenography and a set of props.
The Hero’s Journey is a venture into unknown and magic territories, in which the hero is awoken from slumber and called to a challenge, which requires him to enter the supernatural world and seek the treasure; and after many ordeals to return with it to share it with his fellow men in the ordinary world. It is thus a story of departure, initiation and return, and one of personal development – which applies not only to individuals, but also to cultures, and can be applied to organisations as well. In this case, the heroes are the representatives sent by the company to create new products, services, process or structures.
While ideas may come out of the blue, generally all innovation work springs from a perceived need or threat. Sometimes a ‘herald’ coming from outside the existing practice and culture is needed to initiate change; and Workz can sometimes act as that Herald in giving a call to action. The history of business is littered with corpses of those companies that refused to acknowledge a threat or seize an opportunity.
The ‘call’ is transformed into a case description that serves as a navigation device and an initial description of the desired outcome. Tools and helpers are assembled to create a plan for the journey; with a multidisciplinary group of fellow travellers with special skills that can come in handy during the quest. (Whoever is selected to represent the client on the journey needs to be supported by persons of high standing and decision-making powers in the organisation – because the process is designed to handle issues of a strategic nature.)
First the Hero must cross the threshold – a very important step, because he must enter a place where everything is possible. Workz tend to adopt an intensive initiation process called Rumspringa – after the Amish tradition of accepting the temporary excursion of adolescents into non-Amish territories and ways. Everyone is first of all deprived of their modern technologies, and driven through a rigorous sequence of tasks designed to liberate them from everyday life, bond with their team and get their creative juices flowing.
Once past the threshold, the hero encounters a dream landscape of ambiguous and fluid forms; he is challenged to survive a succession of obstacles and, in so doing, amplifies his consciousness. He is helped covertly by the supernatural helper or may discover a benign power supporting him in his passage.
The initiation process is a substantial one, in which participants must become aware of and free themselves of their unconscious baggage – their assumptions and constraints; search for new ideas and explore unknown territory. And for the company, just as for the Hero, the journey is an inner journey as well as an outer one.
Next Masters are brought in to challenge the teams with new perspectives and methods for finding, analyzing and selecting new opportunities – beyond the horizon in unexplored lands, in order to find and explore those that hold the biggest promise of treasure. As they are taken in by the limitless space of opportunities and become increasingly frustrated by the tension between the old and the new, they fall back on the strengths of the organisation – which is the treasure itself.
In the Hero’s Journey, the Hero’s idea of reality is changed and he may find an ability to do new things or to see a larger point of view, allowing the hero to sacrifice himself. This transformation can happen gradually or as a result of a sudden revelation; and innovation teams find themselves emerging from frustration into a new understanding and readiness to take joint possession of the promised treasure, in the light of which their petty differences and personal ambitions dwindle.
Then begins the journey home – back into the ordinary world, which is a perilous journey indeed. Sharing the experience can be very hard due to the simple fact that others have not taken part in the journey and lived through the frustrations needed to achieve new understanding. Much time is therefore spent in turning the idea into something that is perceived as valuable to those who have the power to turn it into a reality in the ordinary world – qualified in terms of the business realities of the clients, and prepared for the multitude of obstacles it is bound to meet on its way to fruition, because new ideas are always met with both passive and active resistance – inertia, the threat to existing members and ways, and the practical obstacles of production, distribution or business systems that simply do not fit; or with the challenge of proving that they actually constitute a [viable] business proposition.
So the ideas need to be given an attractive form and presentation, packaged and presented in a fashion that can bring them through all obstacles unscathed. And they might have to find new heroes, who have the power and inclination to bring them to realisation – key stakeholders in the organisation; and come up with ways to make these people take over the roles as heroes.
Just as every play or film is in essence a small company brought together to realise the production, so also, this is a highly focused process, with its special crew, working to rigid and well-defined milestones, and above all brought together to produce a creative and innovative result that will thrill the audience and bestow the makers with honours and wealth. However, unlike a theatre or film production, here there is no script, no rehearsals, and no director with a clear vision of the outcome. The staging of dramatic innovation is more like mastering a live role-playing game, built around a case description, with a quest filled with challenges and obstacles, and no one knowing what the treasure is until it is found.
Creating and managing productive constraints is a difficult balancing act that requires careful planning, considerable experience and a good eye for the dynamics of creative processes in multidisciplinary teams. Workz’s inspiration from film and theatre provides them with a number of tools that can help structure the process and move things along.
The script must be sufficient to manipulate the actors – to experience and actively join the Hero’s Journey – as does a film. It is like a battle plan – it sets the overall objective and describes a specific set of steps leading to the goal, yet is sufficiently flexible to allow for unexpected events or setbacks. It describes the crew and the role of each individual with specific guidelines as to how to act and what to do given specific circumstances. Workz’s external masters must know exactly what they can expect to find, how they are expected to perform and what results they are expected to deliver. The script merely sets the stage and provides the guidelines for the story to unfold; it structures the dynamics and the dramatic elements of the innovation story. It tells when to give more freedom and introduce constraints, when to impose breaks or induce stress and when to facilitate collaboration or inspire competition among teams.
The crew is of course not so much the individual as the multidisciplinary teams, where each individual represents specific perspectives, skills and personality traits. While these skills are of course essential, even more important are the creative conflicts that invariably arise in such diverse teams. Ideas are born out of differences and nowhere are differences more dynamic and potentially productive than in the active and goal-oriented dialogues and collaborations between talented people with highly different worldviews, skills and languages. Bringing out the potential in such teams is the main challenge of Dramatic Innovation, its support crew, team master, work crew and camp master.
Dramatic Innovation has a strong kinship with radical innovation. Heroic Journeys are full of dangers and pitfalls and they should only be undertaken when important issues are at stake. Dramatic Innovation is a framework that produces real results and leaves both participants and clients invigorated and inspired. And it is a developing methodology that works in practice.
Systems for inventing: TRIZ, PRIZM, Morphological Analysis et al
TRIZ is a system for finding modes of action that are appropriate for solving particular problems eg how to increase speed without a counterveiling increase in the weight of the engine.
A man called Altshuller spent time in the 50s studying submissions to the Russian Patent Office from which he identified only forty different principles for inventing. These principles could be used in the context of a ‘contradiction matrix’, in which the ‘improving feature’ (eg more speed) was to be found on the vertical axis, and the ‘worsening feature’ (eg more weight) on the horizontal axis, and in the box where these two axes met were to be found the kinds of modes of action appropriate for reconciling the two features in question (eg use more powerful fuel).
TRIZ was of course developed at a time when the majority of patents related to physics and engineering; and TRIZ is used now more in those fields and in countries where they are dominant than elsewhere (eg Germany and Switzerland).
Since then the nature of inventing and of patents has changed as biology, electronics, cosmology and nanotechnology have joined physics as leading areas of research. And while TRIZ is a system for identifying approaches to problem-solving that may be useful because they have proved valuable in the past, it does not support imaginative thinking in the way that science fiction and dreams do.
Work at Bath University – on modes of action in biology (biomimetics) has enabled new concepts to be incorporated into those of TRIZ. And a 7-step, 3-stage board game – called PRIZM – developed; (described as simultaneously a game, tool, project, process, programme and social networking tool) that makes TRIZ’s Contradiction Matrix more readily and more simply accessible as well as being more fun. One benefit of PRIZM is that it allows very rapid use of TRIZ techniques by groups to solve problems. A typical PRIZM game takes place using two iterations of the game, each lasting around two hours in time. It has been used with a wide range of audiences for solving many kinds of problems – including groups of children and business executives.
Other work, by ourselves with IBM’s UK Laboratories and by others has identified sets of modes of action in the field of software development. We have gone on to develop games of a different sort: we have put together sets of artefacts each of which epitomises one such principle (eg a model tractor as epitomising a multiple power source). It is the other characteristics of these artefacts (eg the tractor’s big tyres) thatthen prompt players of these games to make use of metaphors, similes and analogies to help find novel solutions (eg high levels of traction).
Morphological Analysis uses a matrix approach, but unlike TRIZ, matrices are normally put together for individual projects, with parameters or sub-systems on the vertical axis (eg power) and means or methods along the horizontal axis (eg petrol, diesel, electric); and the creativity promoted by this kind of analysis is to be found in the leaps of the imagination that the means or methods adopted in one sub-system suggest for other sub-systems in the matrix: imagination in Morphological Analysis replaces previous experience in TRIZ.
AwayDays as turning-points
Awaydays are rarely mandated; they are usually self-inspired and self-managed; and they do not appear in management studies. They tend rather to be the product of the leader’s previous experience; but they can be inspirational.
Traditionally they are about identifying issues, looking at trends and drivers, strengths and weaknesses, re-visiting strategy, getting to know one another and having a good meal together. They are not seen as an opportunity for radical thinking, but in practice they have several elements in common with good opportunities for doing so.
They bring together all the members of the team; away from the office; with a higher level agenda; and a less hierarchical atmosphere. In the corporate world, Board Awaydays will often include
- visits to see things that Board members might not normally have access to
- meetings with people whose perspectives are very different
- opportunities to discuss and debate issues that are fundamental, but of less immediate relevance or longer term.
They are also occasions that bond and that enable members to cohere around their problems and opportunities. In these days they must also consider less predictable scenarios and the possibility and implications of disruptive innovations.
In 2009, the Clore Foundation ran a programme of training days for Board Awaydays in the cultural sector, in which three outside experts joined Board members to discuss various Board issues. One of its main conclusions was that it had helped to bring Board members together on issues, and to agree on a common agenda; “…for some [participants] it has had a profound effect, laying the foundations for significant change in ways of working and personal connections”.
Incubators and Accelerators
Meeting the mercurial needs of innovators in Incubators
If incubators are the quintessential generators of new businesses, what
do they tell us about how organisations in general can enhance their innovation? Above all else: flexible and intensive supply
Incubators have such a variety of stakeholders, objectives and approaches that evaluation is not really possible, says a recent report from Nesta; but what is unquestionable is that in 20 years, the number in the UK has grown from single figures to over 300 to-day, the majority of them linked to R&D functions and universities. The one thing that is common to their aims is that of developing ideas into businesses and so generating employment, economic activity, and/or wealth.
Nesta’s report draws on research to suggest that important elements of the incubation process include:
- the implementation of a selection process
- [facilities for] professional and business assistance
- the aggregation of interaction of incubates, co-located inside the incubator
- strong encouragement of peer-to-peer networking
- addressing multiple needs of new ventures
- offering continual exposure to the incubation environment and services, and
- incubators having mixed revenue streams, ie from rents, services, support, consulting, conferences, commissions, investments, grants etc.
The report suggests that the main benefits that incubatees gain are:
* the development of credibility
* shortening of the entrepreneurial learning curve
* quicker solution of problems, and
* access to an entrepreneurial network,
adding that the relative importance of the above factors varies according to the incubator.
The report also mentions a small study where the better performing incubators had ‘proactive crisis intervention’ and ‘proactive development intervention’. These are odd terms compared with the vitality of ‘mentoring’ and the functions that mentors carry out, for example in the new-fangled Accelerators, where the dominant themes are; feed-back, advice and contacts.
Where the report focuses on high-growth firms, it points out that because they are inherently associated with uncertainty, incubators adopt a portfolio approach, where the knowledge and understanding of the incubator manager about different needs are important, as are his/her access to tools and facilities.
The report goes on to point out that the needs of new businesses vary according to their patrons, as they do across the regions; and more significantly over time – as their businesses develop. It points out that ‘not all universities have a cultural fit with entrepreneurial endeavour’; and some areas and some funders are more interested in increasing employment than in nurturing exceptional businesses. Moreover, the support needed by early-stage ventures is different (eg business planning and concept development) from those with an already established model, product or clientele [eg funding and contacts]. In all these cases, the support needed depends upon the nature and prior experience of the entrepreneur; and all of this clearly places increasing demands on the capabilities of the incubator manager.
The report comments that tenants seem to become dissatisfied with incubator support when the incubator programme is predetermined rather than re-evaluated depending on the changing needs of tenants: a critical function of incubators seems to be the ability to learn and adapt to their changing needs.
The report’s main message is that without ‘fit’, there is failure. It castigates public sector venture capital for attempting to operate where there is no concomitant entrepreneurial environment; as it does attempts to emulate strategies of organisations in the US by organisations or in areas in the UK that bear little comparison; and it derogates working with a hi-tech model outside an area of hi-growth activity. It emphasises the importance of the ready availability of ‘a wide range of other actors, from research institutions to serial entrepreneurs to specialist advisers, grant-providers, angel investors and many more’. The report also stresses that an incubator takes time to establish itself [and its own credibility].
This report certainly emphasises how enormously wide is the range of capabilities needed of the incubator manager, and at differing moments – so wide and at such different moments that it raises the question of whether a range of mentors is not a far better solution to the problem that incubators face – of providing effective support for their incubatees.
Design London’s Incubator
In 2010, Design London ran a similar series of events to those of Seedcamps in order to select ventures for its Incubator. The Design London Review Panel, composed of representatives of NESTA, Imperial College Business School, Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art announced a shortlist of ventures that had made it through to the next round of the selection process, based on the multi-disciplinary nature of the business idea; on ventures which were design-led and operated on the cross roads of design and technology; on the innovative nature of the idea and the strength of the intellectual property involved; and on the business potential of the venture (candidates had to be linked with the RCA and/or Imperial College in some way: student, staff or alumnus.)
Having a multi-disciplinary team, composed of at least one technical/creative person and one business person was a prerequisite to being admitted onto the next stage of selection; and Design London aimed to match teams to potential new members from different backgrounds with the aim of complementing the existing projects with new talent and expertise.
At the Venture Selection Showcase, applicants introduced their newly form multi-disciplinary teams to the Review Panel. The selected venture teams would participate in a week-long Entrepreneurial Bootcamp during which a team of eminent lecturers and professional business coaches would assist them with developing a business case, action plan and request for funding.
The coaches would help the teams to prepare and rehearse a powerful ten-minute pitch to the Review Board. These pitches took place during the prestigious closing event of the Bootcamp on the Friday afternoon and aimed to convince the Review Board, amidst stiff competition, of the merits of selecting a project to join the Incubator. The final criteria were:
* The overall strength of the business case: market, solution, business model
* Consistency and realism of the action plan and the request for funding
* The added value the Design London Incubator can bring to the venture
* The overall enthusiasm and cohesiveness of the team and its obvious eagerness to succeed.
An experimental incubation process: developing applications of pervasive
media in theatre
iShed, part of Watershed in Bristol, has recently run an experimental process designed to explore and develop applications for new technology in a particular field.
Invitations were issued widely in this field to attend workshops across the country where participants were introduced to the technology in question and taken through an idea generation process. These people then submitted applications, and an advisory group oversaw a shortlist and interview process. Six commissions were selected to undergo a three-month development process with a leading (non-competitive) organisation in this field, at the end of which they were expected to make ‘early stage performances’. Their remit was simply to explore and develop their ideas, entirely without any imperative as to commercial outcome.
Each team had a small budget (£10K) plus a further smaller sum for expenses and equipment; they were provided with a mentor (future projects are
expected to run with an additional mentor); they were paired with and worked
with a leading venue; they had support from a fellow ‘producer’ in
that organisation; they had access to a panel of industrial advisers; they
worked in parallel with the other groups (who were working on their
different projects all of which were based on the same technology) at other
locations; and they had periodic collaborative workshops (called ‘salons’)
with all parties involved in the project at ‘HQ’. A project documentary was
created; and there was an online collaborative workspace and blog, to which
each team was expected to contribute.
The main benefits were seen:
* the opportunity to explore new creative ideas
* learning about the technology and its capabilities
* honing down potential applications of the technology
* having the opportunity to experiment, to fail, and to continue to explore
* working collaboratively in an experimental process.
This experiment was about possible applications of Pervasive Media in
theatre – a project supported by the Arts Council, through Watershed in
Bristol (‘HQ’). (To see something of the outcomes, and a report on the
process and the outcomes, see www.theatresandbox.com)
An Incubator in the performing arts: The Battersea Arts Centre
The Battersea Arts Centre states its mission as to create the future of theatre. It works with what it calls a ‘scratch’ methodology as part of its ‘ladder of development’ for new work, where performances are shown at various stages of development to an outside audience, whose input and criticism guides the further evolution of the work. As such it is a (‘drop-by’) incubator in the performing arts. The Centre sees its building as a home where people of all ages and backgrounds can take part in the theatre-making process. It runs drop-in creative workshops in theatre, music, dance and futures. ‘You might be an artist looking to test an idea, a teacher looking to develop your practice or perhaps you’re considering a career in theatre’. It hosts a wide variety of theatrical happenings. As well as more conventional theatre pieces, it hosts brief experimental concept productions (after which feed-back is sought at the bar by authors); it runs a one-on-one festival, in which each visitor chooses his/her personal theatre production from a number on offer (and there are other one-on-one experiences hidden throughout the centre); and it dev-elops and runs other innovative theatre experiences. It also runs life and other drawing classes, sometimes themed on productions. And construction has begun of a residential wing in order to support those creative minds who get their best help from others late
into the evening.
New entrepreneurs on the block – they are running Accelerators
Nesta’s recent report ‘The Startup Factories’ discusses a new form of incubator (http://www.nesta.org.uk/library/documents/StartupFactories.pdf) – the Accelerator, and details its essential features (except one) as:
1. an application process that is open yet highly comptetitive
2. provision of pre-seed investment, usually in exchange for equity
3. a focus on small teams not individuals
4. time-limited support comprising programmed events and intensive
5. startups supported in cohorts or ‘classes’.
The one omission (less obvious at first sight) is that these Accelertors are run by angel/entrepreneurs.
These new Accelerators have at least five characteristics that are attractive to angel/entrepreneurs:
- Cost and launch capital requirements are decreasing, at least for internet-based businesses
- Corporations are increasingly looking to ‘open sources’ for their new products and new businesses.
- By virtue of their experience and contacts, Angel/entrepreneurs can add a great deal of value to the ideas for new businesses of the participants in their Accelerators.
- As Accelerator managers, they are in a uniquely close position in which to assess the participants in their programmes, and so to make advantageous investments.
- At least forty carefully chosen new ventures pass through even the smallest Accelerator each year.
No wonder that Accelerators provide a superb opportunity for angel/entrepreneurs!
The result has been that buy-outs have been rising with dramatic speed, both in number and in value; along with confidence in the outputs of Accelerators. To the point where the managers of one of the earliest Accelerators (YCombinator in Silicon Valley) recently offered follow-on funding finance to every one of an entire cadre ($150,000 to each of ten participants).
So far in the UK, managing an incubator or an accelerator has been a job rather than an entrepreneurial opportunity. Seedcamp (http://www.seedcamp.com) may well provide opportunities for the investment of its founder Saul Klein’s Venture Capital Funds, but the week-long programme is as much a selection performance cum development programme; Springboard in Cambridge (http://springboard.com) is not itself a source of follow-on funding; and Ignite, a similar programme in the North East, has as its aim not to be an investor but to provide a source of local business growth.
Techstar’s (www.techstars.com) panel of mentors is substantially made up of angels, many of whom will become investors and members of the companies with which they engage. There are signs that Angel groups in the UK are developing their own professional services which will make the financing and running of development facilities for early-stage ventures a possibility. But the number of start-up experienced entrepreneurs in the UK is as yet small. Perhaps the likes of Luke Johnson could act as mentor to incubator managers.
Incubator Groups: Faber’s Creative Writing programmes
“In 2009 I signed up for a creative writing course at the Faber Academy.
I’d been struggling with my novel for sometime and thought I needed help.
Their ‘Writing a Novel’ programme ran for six months in central London.
There were twenty-two of us students divided into two groups of
eleven, a tutor per group. Every week we attended a two-hour evening
session. There were also full Saturday sessions once a month. The weekly
sessions, divided into two halves, a break in between, comprised a writing
exercise set by the tutor, followed by a critiquing session or ‘crit’.
In preparation for the ‘crit’, three of us submitted a piece of writing
(in our case it was mostly the first 5,000 words of our novels, followed by
two further submissions of the same length, the second and third 5,000 words
of our novel, respectively). Each piece was then read and critiqued by
everyone in the group, tutor included, for forty minutes apiece.
The Saturday sessions followed the same format but also included
contributions from outside speakers – novelists, publishers, editors,
It was the best learning experience I have ever had for a number
of reasons. First, we were learning principally by doing, ie., there was
nothing for it but to write, in class doing the exercises and before class
to prepare our submissions. A concomitant of this was that there was nobody
lecturing us or as I often saw it previously, talking, ‘at us’ or telling
us, ‘how’ to write.
In other words, we were free to experiment and basically had to
work it out for ourselves and, for most of us, this was happening, for the
first time in front of a real live audience, our fellow students and tutor.
This completion of the creative circle, was, I believe critical to our
development as writers. I will never forget my first ‘crit’. It didn’t go
too well. At first I was mortified and thought, I’ll never write again.
Then, I got huffy, thinking, they just don’t understand. Then I realised, I
couldn’t put my new writing friends through that kind of reading experience
again. I systematically addressed the issues they’d raised. In the end,
they liked my work that has, I hasten to add, changed beyond all recognition
as a result of their input and my hard work.
Second point then: peers, all in the same boat wrestling with
their novels, were critiquing each other’s work. The critiquing was always
constructive and offered in a supportive environment facilitated by a tutor
who ensured that everyone had their say. The tutor also prevented any one
person from dominating and steered us to fresher pastures when we had begun
to go down blind alleys. We also learnt by knit-picking others’ shortcomings:
once you have seen someone else making the same mistake as you, it becomes
much easier to recognise your own.
Of additional significance, was the fact that we were not, as has so
often happened to me at the beginning of other courses, asked about our
previous writing experience or what we did or did not do, workwise. As
a result, we were less likely to be inhibited by others students who might
otherwise have been perceived as more able and therefore intimidating.
This, ‘not knowing’ about other students also meant that we got to know one
another through our writing. This, together with artful facilitation by an
experienced, positive and supportive tutor meant that we formed a very
special bond: one that has allowed us to continue working informally as a
group over a year later, and, we are still meetings.”
Hyper Island – a digital media school started in Sweden – has just set up in Manchester in a pilot programme sponsored by NESTA. This is a school without teachers, without grades and without exams. Students will lead their own learning, and will be supported to develop skills to evaluate and reflect on their own performance and on the performances of their peers. Failure is explicitly encouraged as a critical step in learning how to do something or developing a solution to a problem.
Hyper Island is underpinned by a pedagogy which features problem-based learning, experience-based learning and industry briefs. Students work on projects set by colleagues from businesses within the digital media sector, so all learning happens in simulated or real professional contexts.
The Hyper Island curriculum is created in a close collaboration between Hyper Island’s expert curriculum designers and a range of industry partners (who are asked to offer a picture of current industry priorities, trends and skill needs and who often go on to design modules or projects for students). In the Manchester pilot, these include MTV, McCann, Channel 4, Saatchi and Saatchi, Sony Games, Code Computerlove and Weiden and Kennedy.
The deep involvement of industry players in design and delivery means the Hyper Island curriculum is fresh and relevant, which is particularly important for dynamic and innovative sectors, such as high-tech creative industry. If ambitions are realised, students at Hyper Island will have a real head start. They will be ambitious, entrepreneurial, adaptable and in demand. They will also have developed a strong network of peers, potential employers and collaborative partners.
The Old Vic as an incubator of talent
The Old Vic runs a London-based club that provides support for young people embarking on a career in theatre, through contact with leading industry professionals, support for members’ own projects, and participation in networking events with like-minded peers. Its corresponding New York club offers Masterclasses in addition to the above; and there are transatlantic exchanges and collaborations between the two.
The Old Vic has also been a founding partner of ‘a creative online network and funding body for emerging arts talents, where members can find information about events, interact with other users and apply for projects as well as advertise their own shows, form collaborations and access a network of advice, inspiration and opportunities’.
What accelerates an Accelerator?
Learning entrepreneurial skills from one another – in Incubators
YCombinator, perhaps the first of all the fast-growing Accelerators in the world (www.techstars.com) is (almost) unique in the way it has a semi-formal arrangement for its incubatees to share their learning.
Many incubators and accelerators generate a hothouse atmosphere in which incubatees draw from each other: they house them all in close proximity; they offer presentations by inspiring visitors; and they generate intense pressure.
But the regime at YCombinator is different. While participants will live close to the ‘office’ for the duration of the thirteen-week programme, they are not housed together, though they do make use of common facilities. At YCombinator, weekly ‘Dinners’ are long co-working sessions where as well as off-the record talks about successes and failures from the glitterati of the trade, teams present the progress they have made during the previous week to each other. Something similar exists at the Pervasive Media Studio at Watershed in Bristol: every week, members of the Studio area required to identify their learnings, which are then e-disseminated to a wider audience.
In most incubators and accelerators, there are of course many ready sources of learning (colleagues, mentors, visitors etc) and the best learning is a response to a problem or opportunity – which participants in these programmes are all about; but learning to learn from one another as such is rarely part of the regime.
Copyright: The Centre for Leadership in Creativity 2011