New Bioscience ‘Catalyst’ holds Open Innovation Day

The Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst – just across the road from GSK’s R&D labs – made good use of networking at its Open Innovation meeting last week. A number of speakers led a big audience from all parts of the industry into some interesting thoughts and ideas for open innovation – an approach not widely used in bioscience because of the high cost of research and the value of subsequent IP. In addition to Patrick Vallance, President, Pharmaceuticals R&D at GSK, two speakers from outside the industry stole the show: Stefan Lindegaard, an open innovation expert and author, and Simon Schneider, General Manager, Grand Challenges at Innocentive, the web-based organisation on which problems can be posted and bids sought for their solution, where many problems find instant solutions from people who have already solved similar problems in other fields. And the managers of the day made very effective use of a networking approach in which everyone was invited to introduce themselves to their neighbour at the beginning of the first session and, even better, at the beginning of every break-out session (where they have an interest in common). But old habits die hard, and while the breaks (with great food) were the usual outstanding way of making and furthering contacts, all of the sessions were held in lecture style rooms (as opposed to the more neighbourly cafeteria style).

Copyright John Whatmore 2012



TV’s MasterChef: an Accelerator – whose differences suggest other applications

The return to the screen of TV’s MasterChef looks like just another embodiment of the principles of the Accelerator – a small carefully chosen group of people working intensively together over a short period of time, with the help of iterative feed-back and advice – but its unique differences suggest new applications in which Accelerators as a learning experience might have other valuable applications: in MasterChef the experience is divided into a number of separate sessions; and of course there is only one winner (for that is what TV requires). And these differences suggest other applications for the Accelerator – in a variety of fields eg those making awards or letting contracts; and of course in learning; and for helping people back into work. (See also Related Posts – below.) (


Like the Accelerator, MasterChef brings around a dozen carefully selected people – sometimes amateurs, sometimes professionals – to work together (and to learn from one another), for defined periods of time, to prepare their own versions of various dishes (their own ‘products’), which they then present to experts, sometimes Greg Wallace and Michel Roux, but sometimes to diners, wedding guests, restaurant critics et al; and they get regular feed-back on each of their dishes (and noticeably tough feed-back from the expert chefs and from the restaurant critics!) And in the course of this process, they develop their skills and abilities dramatically. Whereas in business Accelerators, the end-point is either a just-established business or an opportunity to pitch their proposal to investors, for the MasterChef programme there is of course just a single winner, but while those who are sent home earlier may miss some of what is an outstanding development experience, new opportunities have often been opened up to them for their careers.

Where an experience of this kind is divided into a number of sessions, there is the opportunity for it to be integrated into other programmes: it has a place in development programmes in science, in industry (as it does at BT’s R&D), in the arts (as in the National Theatre’s Studio), and in the not-for-profit field (and Nesta often uses something of this sort for its programmes). It has a place in learning (schools, universities and Business Schools – as it does at Imperial with its MBA students) and in training (sports, vocational training and education).

As a programme that has only a single winner, its development process might appeal to those making awards or letting contracts (if you put a selected number of bidders through an Accelerator in this way, you can expect to end up with a better outcome). And as a programme in which everyone learns, it has a place in experiential learning.

And it can readily have a place in helping people back into employment (through programmes of intensive help with CVs and interviews).

 Related posts:

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


Pressure Cookers for business – what next (

 Upcoming topics:

Springboard Mobile – the latest UK Accelerator.

HealthXL – IBM’s latest Accelerator.


Help us to find opportunities for turning ideas into innovations!

 Copyright John Whatmore 2012


A new Open Innovation incubator – in bioscience

I visit a huge bet on backing young businesses – by putting together a collection of them to work beside one another, and in this case beside a big pharma. The Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst will provide follow-on accommodation for a number of young businesses – which are in the process of being carefully selected; but without any of the systematic review points enshrined in the accelerator model and adopted by its immediate neighbour, GSK.


The history of bioscience incubators is very short: the first – at Manchester University – opened only in 1999, and it has since spawned a number of outstanding bioscience businesses. Yet now there are 26 members of the UK Bioincubator Forum. The latest, opened in February this year, consists of a pair of huge, glistening complexes – an incubator and an accelerator – constructed within the curtilege of GlaxoSmithKline’s complex at Stevenage, at a cost of £38mn. The Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst is a not-for-profit partnership between the Wellcome Foundation, the Technology Strategy Board and GlaxoSmithKline. It is an attempt, within the restless continuum of the development of bioscience incubators, to see whether successful businesses can eventuate from such facilities when they are ‘plonked down beside a major pharma’, instead of sitting in a science park. And there is plenty more space there if this experiment shows signs of working.

The buildings are very impressive, giving the appearance of ultra-modern versions of GSK’s own premises next door, but at present they have the slightly spooky feel of an empty millionaire’s house! One tenant moved in as the premises were opened in February; an entrepreneurial Technical Services provider was due to take up residence in July; and two lab-based businesses were about to join. The target is for 40% occupancy by April 2013. The incubator contains 24 labs – space for 125 people, making it likely to accommodate between a dozen and two dozen businesses; and the accelerator is designed to take three businesses, each of 30-50 people, one on each floor.

The selection process entails trawls through universities, existing early-businesses and of course GlaxoSmithKline next door, looking for small businesses (or people) with potential, especially if they have a plausible drug candidate or a promising technology platform. The process can take up to 12 months to complete (longer than most incubators) because candidates need to have VC finance in place of up to £100k in order to fund their residency. As such these premises bear little relationship to seed-funded incubators or sponsor-funded accelerators that have started up in other fields: they are more like follow-on accommodation.

The philosophy behind the project is that the magic pills are:

·               what the tenants draw from contact with one another

·               what the large cadre of mentors, made up mainly of people who have ‘done it before’, will contribute, and

·               the interactions that can be generated between tenants and people in GSK’s labs next door.

Martino Picardo who clearly brings enormous experience to the job, is CEO of the ‘Catalyst’, and sees his role as a self-effacing facilitator and speed-dater, in charge of a collection of Dodgem Cars! He sees it as about getting the right mix and then generating the right culture – of willingness to venture, with input from people who have done it before; and his job as providing an environment that will ‘get people to interact on their own terms’ (wine society meetings as well as science seminars). He keeps his eye on similar models including those of Unilever, Philips and Nokia.

The hope is that facilities like these (and the Wellcome Foundation, the TSB and Imperial College are building another at King’s Cross in London) will generate new businesses that will re-invigorate an industry in which many well-rehearsed pressures are forcing big pharma to cut back and close R&D facilities, but where technologies are developing to meet increasing demand for an ageing population.