Tracking innovations in the development of innovations

Nesta’s work on Accelerators (The Startup Factories has been followed up with a series of reviews about developments in incubators, science parks and angel investing, as well as in accelerators (summarised below).

Reviews in progress include:

            Harwell’s incubator;

DesignLondon – the RCA’s incubator;

GSK’s incubator at Stevenage;

Northampton University’s social enterprise work and incubator;

BioCity – Nottingham’s private enterprise healthcare incubator;

IBM and Unilever’s Wellbeing business incubator; and

Telefonica’s considerable investment in incubators in several countries in Europe.

And we are aiming also to report tales of success and disaster from some of them – as they progress!

 In a separate Paper entitled ‘Design your own accelerators’, the elements of different accelerators are analysed. Available on request from the Centre for Leadership in Creativity (

 Reviews that have already appeared among Nesta’s blogs include:

 Springboard – a new ‘Accelerator’ programme for early-stage ventures

With its aim of generating in a very short space of time not just new products but new businesses, Springboard is only the third in the UK of a new generation of ‘Accelerator’ – a rapidly growing approach from the US. It makes use of over a hundred mentors. (

 Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus – a Phoenix and a new model

Mix together different disciplines and technologies, theory goes, and the sparks of creativity and innovation will fly; but many science parks (like incubators) have been more like property companies than crucibles of alchemy. The Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus ( has risen over the last seven years like the Phoenix out of a laboratory whose heart had been ripped out by the loss of a contract for the big new Synchrotron Radiation. It is a new centre of innovation and enterprise with an interesting model ( – centres of excellence in three fields of science: accelerator science, computational science and sensor/detector technology) beside a large number of hi-tech small businesses, all glued together by an ethos of openness and collaboration – just now is about to enter a more challenging but potentially yet more rewarding phase – attracting the interest of large corporates.
Oxford’s Begbroke Science Park prospers despite its focus on nanotechnology, where any UK lead seems to be slipping away

Oxford’s Begbroke Science Park, miles from Oxford, prospers even though leading-edge work on nanotechnology – its original focus – seems to be passing to other countries, despite its evident potential benefits.  Typical of businesses of this kind is that they cannot easily find the necessary level of funding, nor are they located close to relevant scientific facilities and manufacturing clusters. The TSB needs to recognise early on how best to proceed in supporting new emerging technologies.  (

 BT’s R&D uses Hothousing in a big way                        

BT has for some time had special spaces designed to support small problem-solving conferences, used for ‘problems to fix’ and ‘[new] concepts to market’, but also for reviewing and developing strategy. They are now being used as the precursor for all relevant R&D team projects, where projects are divided into 13-week stages, and are prefaced by a Hothouse – an intensive workshop designed to search out new approaches for the ensuing stage of the project. (

Accelerator Learning Programmes – for very early-stage venturers are emerging, designed to develop their capabilities to the point where their propositions are of investable quality – among them Accelerator Academy and Bethnal Green Ventures). The formats of their learning element are very similar; but the mentoring element and their sources of funding differ – according to how commercial they are likely to be. (See and links to examples.)
Mini ‘Accelerators’ go global. Essentially ‘tasters’, they are all just a bit different from one another

‘Nairobi is becoming a hub for tech start-ups’, reports the FT; ‘at its heart is HumanIPO’s co-working space Startup Garage, which opened in February. Seed investor 88mph runs investment boot-camp weekends here – the best ten each receive $18,000 funding’. Each of the many short start-up boot camps for entrepreneurs looking to create new businesses has a slightly different emphasis, so where might you begin? It depends on how solid is your experience, your idea or your work on it so far. (For more see Nesta’s The Startup Factories at And we report here on a number of other such mini-accelerators. (

 Can ‘Accelerators’ work for big companies where innovation times are inherently long?

Where ‘Accelerators’ focus on innovation-to-market, do they have anything to offer in those sectors of the economy whose innovation times are inherently longer? GSK introduced its new approach to drug development three years ago, with smaller multi-disciplinary teams, each focused more clearly on ‘discovery performance’, ‘with scientists back at the centre of the process’; and these new drug development teams have just faced their first confrontation with a senior management Dragons Dens-like meeting to assess progress and continuation of funding.
This new approach requires different management skills, and competition may erode the potential value of collaboration; moreover the single three-year stage-gate cycle is probably not appropriate for all such teams. Time will tell! (

Competitions becoming a significant element in the allocation of space in incubators

The winner of the recent Startup Weekend London, just announced, was – ‘a simple way to create an A/B question and distribute it to friends across all social networks – a handy tool in a start polling situation or even to help make simple decisions about daily questions.’ This was one of eighteen presentations competing for the opportunity to be fast-tracked in Telefonica’s incubator. What seemed to impress the judges at Google’s new campus in East London where it took place – described as a combination of inspiring space, working zones and presentation area – was the rapid prototyping capabilities that produced a decisive product, well presented and ‘perfectly formed for presentation’. (for more, see

Mentoring: supporting innovators in their early-stage ventures

A recent Nesta report on Incubators emphasises the essential importance of ‘fit’ – between the needs of incubatees and the provision of support and supporters. But it also depicts the challengers represented by the hugely changing and wide-ranging needs for support in incubatees (start-up/spin-out; hi-tech/lo-tech; niche market/mass market etc).  Five innovation projects are discussed, emphasising their different approaches to mentoring. (

Pressure Cookers for business – what next

From their origins in the 1940s to their latest embodiment as Accelerators in 2011, ‘Pressure Cookers’ in business have been getting longer and longer; but there are some that are even longer than these 13-week Accelerator programmes, like Springboard at Cambridge, which I recently caught a glimpse of. So what will happen to the concept of the Pressure Cooker? How will it change and develop?
I suggest here that some will be longer and some shorter; they will become specialised to different fields; longer ones will be split up into smaller bites; learning will be personal and on-the-job; and mentoring will become a team effort. (

Rapid growth forecast for Angel investing, but there are bottlenecks

Rapid growth in progress, limited only by the need to initiate angels into the field, by the Dragons’ Den type processes of selling investees to investors, and by short-age of syndicate leaders.  And in the longer term by the limited support that angel organisations offer to their investments. (









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