Specialists will head up a coaching revolution


Specialists will head up a coaching revolution says Mike Atherton in the Times (27 Feb 2014)

These abstracts from his article apply word-for-word to the mentoring roles in teams developing new businesses, but in them mentoring is still a very chancy business. We need the equivalent of Head Coaches – to be organisers-in-chief of the entire support system.

“A one-man job, where the man was expected to be a specialist coach for every player under his command, has become more managerial. Now, the head coach, or team director, is an organiser-in-chief of an army of coaches, and of the entire back-up system”. “Could a Woodward or Ferguson figure transfer skills between sports?”

“[He] must be an accomplished strategist; he must be able to develop a winning culture; he must be an outstanding communicator and man-manager, and he must be an organiser who can put in place structures to help to develop and improve exciting talent both technically and tactically and [develop a] world-class team and world-class players and individuals.”

“Technical help…can come from many sources. It might be an old friend or teacher; it might be a team-mate; it might be self-taught; it might come from watching another player, or it may come from a personal relationship with a specialist coach – on a paid, professional basis. It is unlikely that any one coach can find the secret for every player within the team.” “Part of the head coach’s role will be to co-ordinate a player’s individual requirements within the culture of the team.”

“To generalise, coaches tend to have strengths in some departments but not others. Buchanan…was a coach who did not believe he could necessarily further the technical skills of some of the great players under his command…, but he did believe that he could develop them as individuals.” “Duncan Fletcher was a superb technical batting coach,…he would admit though that his knowledge of bowling was sketchier.” “The really sought-after, most highly paid coaches will be not the generalist team directors but a new generation of specialist coaches – cricketing John Jacobs, David Leadbetters and Butch Harmons.”


See also Curating Support for inventers, innovators and creatives, July 2013





Unilever’s Open Innovation initiatives as a catalyst


Unilever’s Open Innovation initiatives act as catalyst for new supply chains

Its ‘agent provocateur’ talks about his role as a catalyst in linking  entrepreneurial academics, SMEs and intermediaries to form eco-systems and tap into public funds to become the supply chains that will deliver innovations to Unilever.

Who better to head up your corporate Open Innovation endeavours than a man with the broadest of smiles, irrepressible enthusiasm and a string of patents to his name? Many Corporates no longer fund blue sky research but only development, opines Stephen Barnwell, Unilever’s European Open Innovation Manager. He works only on projects where the Technology Strategy Board is offering grants, competitions or other sources of funding – Unilever puts in only staff time.

His job, he says, is about three things: new supply chains, new supply chains and new supply chains. He seeks to put together eco-systems that will make use of innovations that will deliver the benefits of new products, processes, services or business models to one or more of the many areas that are of interest to Unilever.

He is forever looking for entrepreneurs – of which, he says there are too few. His search starts with universities, where he is looking for entrepreneurial academics with IP that could benefit some part of Unilever, and that can show evidence of being scaleable – among whom he names Liverpool, Manchester, Bangor, Sheffield and Warwick’s Advanced Manufacturing Catapult.

If Technology Transfer Offices are too greedy or too inflexible (and he names some) to accept that Unilever needs to own 100% of the IP in its areas of interest, then if we are probably the best opportunity for the development of that IP and we turn it down, he says, it may possibly never be taken up, and its value will fall away – even to zero.

And he is forever looking for SMEs with similar new concepts or interests and able to take on and develop IP from academia. Once the TSB funding has been won, it can be leveraged with tax breaks in the SME.

The third leg in the eco-system is the intermediary – who will adopt and use the new technology in order to deliver product to Unilever – often one of the partners (he always seeks to work with corporates partners in other sectors, such as Siemens, Akzo Nobel, BAe, Croda, Syngenta and IBM).

Among his fifteen or so current projects (all if possible within a stone’s throw of Port Sunlight) are several in 3D printing – for fabricating components or local variations of them; and about larger sizes, different materials, and more complex structures. Another is in raw materials, for example a new kind of millet for Unilever’s bread business in India; another is in regional distribution (from local suppliers and to local retailers); and one is in super-computing.

While startups tend to focus on IT (many of them with apps and applications on the internet), Unilever has found a way of becoming the engine of technology development on an altogether different scale.

John Whatmore                                                             Copyright Feb 2014

Yet more different Accelerators


Accelerators: new approaches; more focused; and part of a more comprehensive process.

Hub Launchpad, one of the initiatives under the Cabinet Office’s contract for accelerating social enterprises (item 2), focuses the Accelerator not simply on people with interesting ideas for a new social enterprise (as has Bethnal Green Ventures – item 3), but on issues that are of major importance; and it then follows an Action-learning model rather than the more common intensive co-working commune.

Accelerators are continuing to become more thematic – see item 4 – the application of a classic form of the Accelerator in the Movies. And UCL’s new innovation space (item 5) is a complete hybrid: a partnership between academia and a commercial organisations; and the process, interestingly, a cross between an accelerator and an incubator.

Applied Creativity

Briefings from

John Whatmore at

The Centre for Leadership in Creativity

January 2014


 Join the discussions at https://johnwhatmore.com/


*                                    *                                    *


*         Are Forecasts (like Alice in Wonderland) simply what you



*         Inventive two-stage Accelerator for creating social enterprises

         and services in the field of public services


*         Bethnal Green Ventures evolves its process

*         ‘Accelerators’: another application – the Movies

*         A new incubator with a difference in Tech City – at UCL                           

                        *                           *                           *

Are Forecasts (like Alice in Wonderland) simply what you believe       Often just a bit of dreaming, but research shows that there are indeed experts in forecasting. Maybe our judgments are clouded by what we happen to believe will influence those futures about which we are mere spectators. (http://wp.me/p3beJt-79)

Inventive two-stage Accelerator for creating social enterprises and services in the field of public services

Under their three-year contract with the Cabinet Office to run Accelerators for developing social enterprises, Hub Launchpad has developed an unusual two-stage approach. Rather than promoting ideas for new businesses, it aims to help participants to identify issues in public services and to form teams; and then to work together to develop solutions as social enterprises or new service models within the public sector that will be able to take root and grow. (http://wp.me/p3beJt-7m)


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. (http://wp.me/p3beJt-6X)

 ‘Accelerators’: another application – the Movies

A classic ‘Accelerator’ hopes to open up a new route to funding for independent film-makers. A US film-maker and entrepreneur launches an Accelerator at the Sundance film Festival, selects 8 out of 440 applicants; gives them three months of seed-funding and development, and then enables them to pitch their embryonic film to investors – all for 8% of their equity. (http://wp.me/p3beJt-7j)

A new incubator with a difference in Tech City – at UCL                            IDEALondon, a new incubator space in London’s Tech City, opened in December, an unlikely alliance between Cisco, DC Thomson and University College London, which furthers UCL’s far-sighted objectives and strengths – in entrepreneurship. (http://wp.me/p3beJt-71)

Copyright John Whatmore 2014


The Centre for Leadership in Creativity            138 Iffley Road,London W6 OPE                 

Tel: 020 8748 2553                                E-mail:  john.whatmore@btinternet.com



The story of a start-up – in making things


The story of a UK startup (making things), worth several millions but not yet cash positive, nor profitable. Is this the UK’s future?

This great story has three critical points:

  • its boss, well-known to what was effectively an angel syndicate for his recent work in an ailing company, attracts some 20 investors, each putting in around £10k – funding him with some £140k for development work on a project for an important tool in an emerging technology (3D printing), whose market he has carefully researched, in which he has considerable technical expertise, but no definitive solutions;
  • after being turned down once for a SMART award from the Technology Strategy Board for creating a prototype, he commissions PERA to write a second application – and wins a grant – of £100k. With incidental help from an inventive colleague, he develops a solution to the most expensive and difficult component; he takes out a patent and brands his solution; and completes the prototype;
  • armed with these, he puts up a bid on the US-based website Kickstarter, offering to deliver the product months hence at a given price (£600) in exchange for orders now. He deals successfully with incisive questioning, and within hours he has four orders; within days he has fifty, and by the end of the Kickstarter campaign he has almost 150 – from 25 countries, to which he is later able to add another 50 orders; and he raises almost £100k.

Some ten months later, he is about to start deliveries – it is being manufactured for him in batches. As a result of the Kickstarter campaign, he now has a good picture of the market in a number of countries and introductions to resellers (he has had calls from potential resellers all over the world, including from the CIA’s venture capital arm in the US!) He sees neither selling nor manufacturing as the key parts of the business: design is his unique asset. And he is looking to scale up the enterprise as rapidly as possible and to design different versions of his product. He is writing a business plan in order to raise £1mn for 10% of the equity, hopefully from at least one person who will help him with the development of the business.


(He was one of a group of people who spent several months meeting together periodically, learning from each other’s experience, in a networking group based on the concept of action learning – led by me.)


Copyright John Whatmore                                             February 2014

The Centre for Leadership in Creativity


Angels Association meets to discuss achieving successful exits


Exits was the focus of the UK Business Angels Association’s recent Winter Investment Forum. Nothing matters more to most startups than refunding at the next milestone; to most angels, how they will succeed in selling on their stake; and to many SMEs how they will fund their growth or sell the business to some larger organisation.

Sir Nigel Rudd, chairman of the Business Growth Fund as well a of UKBAA, and a man with a great deal of experience in selling businesses made six points:

*         Identify likely buyers, their reasons, and their prospects as buyers

*         Choose one or more advisers who know the market for your business

*         Align board and managers alike to sale as well as to ongoing growth

*         High-light your weaknesses early

*         Don’t be too greedy!

*         Expect a last-minute hiccough!

Other speakers emphasised the importance of:

  • Alignment between the managers of the business and their angel investors eg over objectives (angels may well expect to get out within three years).
  • Yes, focus on growth first
  • Consider how it might be possible to structure a sale differently that would make it more attractive
  • Recognise that it takes a great deal of time and effort to arrange and complete a sale
  • Enjoy the ride!

Among speakers were representatives from the Angel Co-fund and the Business Growth Fund, both of whom seemed to stress how accessible were their funds and how relatively small their investments might be, together with the British Business Bank, and Angel Funds ECI partners, Sussex Place Ventures and Avonmore Developments.

Jenny Tooth, CEO of UKBAA who has steered it along a clear path with enormous energy and drive, outlined the ways in which the organisation is approaching four objectives:

  • supporting standards and good practice in Angel investing
  • creating mechanisms for enabling Angel Funds to complete investment rounds by deal-sharing
  • building the Angel market-place – by blowing the trumpet – in various locations, to new audiences and with other organisations
  • research and market intelligence: data, impact of investments and the pulse of the angel market.