Workshops for helping to develop innovations


A number of examples of Accelerators have shown that short, sharp development workshops can be valuable not just for developing new businesses, but also for developing SMEs, for developing commercialisable IP, and for developing new products and new businesses for corporates. The TSB should encourage the Knowledge Transfer Networks to run Bootcamps.

While intensive development programmes have been focusing most prominently on IT start-ups (eg ‘Accelerators’), others have run bootcamps for people before they started new businesses, or for selecting them for incubators (see Yet others have used them for identifying commercialisable IP ( And some have focused on helping SMEs – with strategy, with their business model, with new concepts, new products and new customers and marketing.

Corporates have used them for scouting for new technologies, processes and procedures; and for working with their suppliers to help them to develop new products for their own use fields (see One major corporate set has a department (‘Emerging Technologies’) to work on major projects that presaged new ways of working in particular industries. One (new) organisation has brought SMEs together to help them to develop new products for big corporates in a local cluster (see

One of the roles for the Knowledge Transfer Networks is that of bringing together organisations in their field that can bring something of value to one another. They should be scouting for opportunities to use development workshops.


A new incubator with a difference in Tech City


IDEALondon, a new incubator space in London’s Tech City, opens this month  (Dec 2012), an unlikely alliance between Cisco, DC Thomson and University College London, which furthers UCL’s far-sighted objectives and strengths – – in entrepreneurship. (For comparisons, see final para.)

IDEALondon enables twenty early-stage businesses to be co-located for up to nine months – primarily for launch and trials, as pre-cursor to seeking investment etc. (early-stage businesses are nowadays more often looking less to build something – the means of creating a website or an app are relatively easy to come by – than for customer validation and trials, which IDEALondon can help facilitate).  Candidates must be championed by any of the three partners; and their progress must be justified to a quarterly board meeting.

Completed almost a year to the day after it was announced by the Prime Minister in 2012, it is a significant outcome of UCL’s 2005 decision to establish the department UCL Enterprise with the aim of suffusing enterprise throughout the whole university as well as extending its knowledge and expertise to all its collaborations.

Occupants of IDEALondon have a less tightly determined regime in terms of time and objectives than in classic Accelerators, and are less fulsomely supported with mentors, though with almost every imaginable form of support available somewhere in UCL. Mentoring support is provided on a one-to-one basis with three or four meetings per month, and there is a small amount of ‘education’, for example in marketing, though not in entrepreneurship as such. And there are a small number of specialists-in-residence including designers, developers and entrepreneurs.

More specialised support is also available in the form of commercial testing and concept validation. Cisco provides mentors for CTOs in SMEs in the incubator; and it has its own forms of bespoke support. It also has a leadership programme. UCL intends to offer several other specialist courses such as in machine learning and mobile technologies.

The alliance has also opened a facility in Scotland to support Abertay and Dundee University in their collaboration with DC Thomson. (http://www/

For UCL, candidates would be businesses in areas such as Future Media (one project is with Atos and the BBC), Healthcare or Mobile, that also need specialist support from elsewhere in the university (such as clinical trials or ethical approvals), and that might need several commercial contracts to put a demonstrator into place or more than nine months in the incubator. For UCL’s partners, candidates will be relevant to their businesses, and in Cisco’s case companies include BIG Award Winners. Eight places out of the twenty are already filled.

UCL also operates jointly with Mobile Monday London the ‘Mobile Academy’, a pre-accelerator network in the form of 12-week programmes of twice weekly evening classes, 40 per cohort– for SMEs, start-ups, would-be entrepreneurs and enthusiasts – for the many potential students who are not necessarily at university ( UCL also operates several other programmes relating to entrepreneurship. For example on behalf of Goldman Sachs, it runs their 10,000 Small Businesses programme ( ; it runs internship programmes, and knowledge transfer programmes, eg in support of post-docs providing specialist knowledge for relevant companies. (UCL works with up to 500 companies annually.) IDEALondon also provides space pro bono for community events.

With its 20 places and 9-month+ duration, UCL’s new Tech City facility is more of an incubator than a classic ‘accelerator’ (like Springboard or Bethnal Green Ventures, and has a less formal supervisory regime and provides less specific support. And it is unique in being an alliance with its industry partners. It is more oriented to UCL itself than Cass University’s ( – which is oriented to local Tech City businesses, or than the Royal College of Art’s ( – which is both longer (at 2-years), and tackles different kinds of problems (engineering and design, and the building of its teams). 

Bethnal Green Ventures Accelerator evolves its process


After Bethnal Green Ventures’ third cohort (in partnership with Nesta and the Nominet

Trust), its first under the Cabinet Office’s Social Incubator Fund, Paul Miller, partner,

talked about having more diversity among his teams, better space, more

organisation, and more contact with Alumni and Angels. He described how mentoring

had been planned and had worked out, and the popularity of war stories.

We had 134 applicants, of which 90 met our criteria. We short-listed 30 and selected 10 to join the programme. [They included several projects that would help people with special conditions; two that were about digital skills for certain groups; and two that were about helping would-be students and science writers to make use of the internet: all were IT based.] On completion, four of the teams have managed to secure grants from the Nominet Trust – of £50k each; and two weeks on after the completion of the programme, none have gone bust. (Of the previous cohort’s six, three are doing very well; one has its founders working part-time, and two are winding down.)

I found that to have ten teams was certainly better than just six. Here at Nesta the space we used was better because all our activities could be more integrated. We have had better systems for organising and capturing what we were doing, for example for finding customers and investors. And we have been able to work more with our Alumni, as regards hirings, legals, and investors; and for acting as sounding boards. As all being UK teams, they were quicker to shake down, quicker into action, and there was less need for them to adapt – to new circumstances. We had more Angels present in the later stages (they came via recommendations to us), and we held a separate Demo Day for 20 of them.

In each cohort, we have included teams who are working in all of the three areas that the Bethnal Green Ventures programme focusses on [health, education and sustainability] where some organisations funded by the Cabinet Office are choosing to focus each cohort on a particular subject area, i.e. public services, healthcare, etc. This means that for us there is less competition between participants in each cohort, and more mutual help; and this will be enhanced as our Alumni grow in number. And I have sought to include as much diversity as possible – in problems, people and kinds of issues, so as to decrease the chances of unintended consequences.

We had 60 mentors, as opposed to 30 for the last cohort [ie a ratio of 6 mentors to 1 team, as opposed to 5:1 previously] and we started our work with the mentors with their putting up their USPs and special experience etc, and then on Day 3, we held a structured speed-dating session. Mentors either offered their time to the team via half-days surgeries in our offices during each week or they would offer office hours slots in their offices (early on, expertise in design was more sought after, and later it might be expertise in investment); we did not assign mentors to teams. Some mentors attached themselves to individual teams, working as official or unofficial board members and/or advisory board members.

As before our Monday talks were rated most highly: they were often an Entrepreneur’s story – which would lead participants to think ahead.

And we have been able to offer participants office space for a further three months after the end of the formal programme.


See also: Bethnal Green Ventures, a social enterprise Seed Camp, and

Three pieces of Pixie Dust – Bethnal Green Ventures’ Accelerator