Startups: test your judgement

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Startups: test your judgement – an Easter diversion
Rate the six startups below on how investable you think they are:
five stars – outstanding
four stars – a good investment
three stars – worth considering
two stars – probably not
one star – a complete non-starter!
Then scroll down to compare them with our ratings (from records).

UBeam – developing devices that transmit power wirelessly – over the air-waves – to charge your portable device.

Meet the famous – have a ‘live’ CGI conversation with famous people: Barack Obama, Cate Blanchett, the Queen of England, Oprah Winfrey, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and others.

Kin Community – learn how to make a tartine, get make-up tips, and even launch your career as an internet star.

Gem – prevents your crypto-currency (like Bitcoin) from being lost or stolen.

The Wizard – finds items closely related to a search by reference to your past search history.

Ring – actually see who is ringing your door-bell – whether you are 10,000 miles or just 10 paces away.

Now compare your ratings with ours – based on the records that we have seen:

UBeam – developing devices that transmit power wirelessly – over the air-waves – to charge your portable device.
Has raised $23mn in funding so far – our rating: five star

Meet the famous – have a ‘live’ CGI conversation with famous people: Barack Obama, Cate Blanchett, the Queen of England, Oprah Winfrey, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and others.
Our invention! But Siri and the imminent arrival of Mattel’s Hello Barbie suggest that it may not be long in coming. ‘Nul points’.

Kin Community – learn how to make a tartine, get make-up tips, and even launch your career as an internet star.
Looks as though it has raised $118mn on Crunchbase and is very active – four star

Gem – prevents your crypto-currency (like Bitcoin) from being lost or stolen.
Announced $2mn seed fund round in Sept 2014 – two star

The Wizard – finds items closely related to a search by reference to your past search history.
Doesn’t exist – as such. Apparently you can do it for yourself, but not easily. If you fancy it you could start it, but then the market might be stolen by a big player! No stars.

Ring – actually see who is ringing your door-bell – whether you are 10,000 miles or just 10 paces away.
Raised $13mn in funding last year – three star

Now tell us how you fared (mailto:john.whatmore@btinternet.com)

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National Virtual Incubator has untapped potential

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The National Virtual Incubator has vast untapped potential
It can provide intimate learning opportunities with specialist experts – without the need for travel: bringing together startups and experts that have interests in common with the flick of switch (and a bit of organising).

Cisco’s National Virtual Incubator is effectively a number of inter-connected local mini-studios, each strategically located in innovation centres such as science parks, incubators, innovation spaces and universities (currently 13 nodes). Their focus is on startups and early-stage ventures; and their aim is to provide opportunities to showcase and make use of each host’s activities and expertise. (Many solutions are inspired by similar problems from other domains.)

It was described as a bit like engaging with a TV – or as Skype-like conversations writ large, able to project several individual participants at the same time, or groups of participants, and to organise and moderate discussions among the participating nodes: participants can be as little two in each location and as many as a hundred or more. It has the potential to provide intimate learning opportunities with specialist experts – without having to travel more than a few yards!

Currently each month one node runs an event; recent ones include:
• Angels and VCs joining in an Investor Panel to discuss what they were looking for and what is on offer for investors in early-stage ventures – such as the EIS and SEIS schemes; to talk about pitfalls in raising funds and to offer their help.
• The Digital Catapult Centre has run in information session on MassChallenge with the University of Strathclyde and The Landing hub in Salford.
• The Swansea node ran an event on Big Data.
• Ten startups across a number of nodes came together to discuss the creation of mobile apps.
• The Sunderland node joined with InnovateUK to talk about the latter’s activities and offers, and about the launch of the local Digital Catapult Centre.
• And on two occasions, IdeaLondon has run events where customers were brought in and SMEs pitched their problems to them – looking for solutions.

It is ideal for bringing together those in the same field who are in different places (1); and for bringing together experts in some field with potential beneficiaries who are in another part of the country or even in another country (2) – a sort of magic conference.

Started less than two years ago, it is on a steep leaning curve. The hardware is provided by Cisco and the dedicated space and the management are provided by the local host. There is an NVI website, which is evolving and becoming better known; and each node has ‘lead’ participants who meet twice a year to co-ordinate the activities of the network and identify good examples to showcase [where leaders of Accelerator programmes, VCs, InnovateUK and the Digital Catapult could also have a useful contribution.]

(1) BT Labs use electronic conferencing facilities
BT Labs has equipped many of its development teams with large plasma screens, interactive white boards and video conference facilities (round one half of a circular conference table with the project team round the other half), enabling their members to conference or ‘hothouse’ (a sort of BT Hackathon) alone or with fellow teams eg in Ireland or Bangalore.

(2) ‘Mentor Managers’ can work miracles for startups
Above all else, early-stage ventures need their hands holding in their new adventures, but they have no idea about whose hands to hold. Mentor Managers find experienced and expert mentors by searching on the internet and linking up with them by Skype. http://wp.me/p3beJt-9R Jan 2015

John Whatmore
March 2015
Website: http://johnwhatmore.com

A model of support for hi-growth SMEs – Octopus Ventures

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A model of support for hi-growth SMEs – Octopus Ventures
Octopus Ventures applies all the techniques of intensive development that are typical of Accelerators, but it does so at longer range. It invests in small businesses with potential for very high growth, and then it is set up to provide whatever support is necessary in order to achieve that potential.

Octopus Ventures looks for businesses that are led by outstanding teams that have unique products that are likely to find multi-million pound markets. It focuses on what have been characterised by Nesta as ‘the 6%’ of small businesses that are capable of influencing the UK economy.

Many of its investments come from referrals from people and organisations that know them well – for their deep pockets and their willingness and ability to follow their initial investments in subsequent rounds, but also for the fulsome support that they provide in order to achieve the high potential that they see in these businesses.

Support in handling the hurdles of growth is the essence of Octopus Ventures’ business; and the role of its people is to provide any and every support that they can muster in order to help unlock the growth that they anticipate. This support has four components.

First and foremost, all of the eighteen people in Octopus Investments ensure that they are always in close touch with every one of their forty-five investments – close enough touch to be continuously aware of their growth plans and the obstacles with which they are dealing just now. And they have the ability immediately to put someone in any of those businesses in touch with a top-level expert on the topic in question.

The leaders of Octopus Ventures’ support are its in-house Entrepreneurs-in-residence – its leading growth Gurus, of whom there are currently three. One is Google’s former M&A manager, the second is a very experienced entrepreneur, and the third comes from UK Trade&Industry, where he was an expert Far Eastern markets. All have a great deal of experience, an intense interest in venturing, and large address books; and two of them have taken roles in the companies in the portfolio.

From time to time Octopus managers bring together the managers in those businesses (the CEOs, the COOs, the CTOs, the CMOs and the CFOs) – sometimes in person, sometimes by phone, in the offices of one or other of the companies or at Octopus Ventures in London, to talk about issues that they have in common and how they are dealing with them. Among contributors to these meetings have been Amazon’s Technical Services manager and Google experts.

The fourth plank in the programme of support is through the hundred or so Angels who are associated with Octopus Ventures, who may invest alongside Octopus, but whose support and practical input is at least as valuable as their investment.

London is widely regarded as easily the largest funder of early-stage businesses, and thus an ideal source of support to help them achieve their growth – which Octopus people tap into and skilfully connect to the needs of the businesses in their portfolio.

In Accelerators, support of these kinds is provided in one location and for a short period; but here, similar support is provided in various locations and over a longer period – a model which can be replicated in Incubators, Science Parks, clusters, the Business Growth Fund and innovation initiatives of all kinds, including InnovateUK.

We shall shortly be holding a Workshop on the role of support in intensive development, in which we hope to include Conductors, Directors, Coaches and other supporters in different kinds of creative performance.

See also:

Stories from the front line: what Startups value most in Accelerators
What they get out of ‘Office Hours’, group lunches, others on the programme, their first meeting with mentors, mentor slots and other events. http://wp.me/p3beJt-a7 Feb 2015

I interview the ‘best mentor’ in Startupbootcamp’s FinTech Accelerator
In and out frequently, he steadily evolved his role by offering the wealth and breadth of experience of a life-time’s work in a top bank – clarifying progress and problems, acting as a sounding board, offering experienced insights, and marshalling help. http://wp.me/p3beJt-9P Dec 2014

John Whatmore
March 2015
(http://johnwhatmore.com)

Five types of mentor

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A US Professor on the five types of mentors you need You can’t expect one person to be able to give you all the career guidance you need. Here are the people you need on your team. By Art Markman
When we talk about mentorship in the workplace, we often focus on finding one person who can help to guide us through the challenges we will face at work. It might be better to think about the set of people you need to have around you to help you succeed. With that in mind, here are a few people who should be part of your mentoring team.

The Coach There are times when you need someone to help you think through difficult problems. A good coach doesn’t solve your problems for you. The coach listens to what you say, and asks you questions to help you dig through what might be causing those problems. Coaches can suggest strategies for solving problems you might not have considered, but in the end you are the one that has to implement them and (eventually) internalize those strategies to be used in the future.
A good coach can also suggest perspectives on a problem you haven’t thought about. By broadening your horizons, a good coach makes you better at what you do in the future.

The Star Find people who have the career that you want. Spend time with them. Get to know how they operate, what they think about, how they prepare for big events. Stars often want to give you lots of advice. Listen to the advice, but take it with a grain of salt.
“Don’t ask for their recipe for success, watch what they do and how they engage with other people. ”
Most of the stories people tell about their success miss large parts of what actually helped them to succeed. So, don’t ask for their recipe for success. Instead, watch what they do and how they engage with other people.

The Connector It really is who you know in life that helps you move forward. In order to make sure that you build up your own list of contacts, find the people around you who know everyone. Have them help you to meet new people. It’s hard to cold-call someone, even someone from your own company. Having someone who can make introductions is valuable.

The Librarian A good librarian knows how to find every book in the library. As you navigate you organization and the community around it, you need to know the resources that are available to help you along. Chances are, there is someone around you who knows how to do almost anything in your organization. They are aware of all kinds of hidden resources. Hang out with these people so that you don’t end up reinventing the wheel when you are working on a project.

The Teammate Some days you eat the bear. Some days the bear eats you. On those days where the bear got you, it’s helpful to have someone who understands you and where you are in your career who can listen to what happened. Maybe you aren’t looking for a solution or a motivational speech—just some validation that you had a tough day. Find someone who will listen and lend a sympathetic ear. But, beware of people who want to escalate the drama. While it is important to have someone listen to you, you need that teammate to finish the conversation by reminding you that tomorrow is another day. Find people who can help you talk yourself down from negative energy rather than people who raise that energy to a fever pitch.

Finally, one type of mentor, perhaps the most traditional is not on this list: The Advisor. Often, we think of finding mentors who will tell us what to do in a particular situation. I am not a fan of advisors as mentors for a career. Your job is to learn to do your job. You can’t do that when other people have solved problems for you. You want to learn processes for success and not answers. To paraphrase the old saying, you want to be taught to fish and not to be served broiled trout.

Art Markman, PhD is a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations.

Business Growth Fund adds network of advisers

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The Business Growth Fund adds a network of advisers
Entrepreneurial young businesses need access to strategic support and advice: the BGF’s scheme enables them to find advisers with experience, and willing and able to give time to offering the advice they need. Achieving successful matches remains a difficult task, as does providing the comprehensive regime of support that is often needed.

The Business Growth Fund has gone down a new track (where the banks never went) in providing business support in the form of advisers for its customers; and other funders are even more active in the support of their investments. By enhancing the chances of their customers’ success, not only are they meeting their objective to support business growth, but they are also protecting their own investments.

‘In the corporate world, non-executives might be associated with a dry, formal governance role, but for entrepreneurial businesses, the job is wider – adding experience, networking and credibility. The BGF considers the role of non-executive so vital for its investee companies that it has built up a network of 3,000 experienced executives nationwide who are willing to spend a few hours a month working with a growing business.’ (The Times 26.1.2015.)

‘One of the concerns we hear time and time again from entrepreneurs’ quotes the article, ‘relates to the lack of access to strategic support and advice – ideally from someone who carries the battle scars of business and has come out the other side. The biggest barrier, they say, is gaining access to these people.’

One such adviser quoted in the article said that each company demands about two meetings a month and approximately six phone calls. ‘A decent non-executive will set a business back about £40,000 a year, although the adviser shouldn’t need the money. If they need the job they are the wrong person.’ But much depends on the company. (1)

One beneficiary commented: ‘It was a case of a headstrong entrepreneur finding the world a difficult and risky place who realised he needed some help – a voice of experience, who had been there and done that, someone who could pour oil of troubled waters.’ Another had brought in someone who ‘is a good sounding board for my business…and has been superb at building relationships with our investors.’ Achieving a high rate of growth calls for support in many different areas. (2)

There is no hint of how the Fund is managing these liaisons. Some managers of mentoring simply see their role as that of introducing mentors and mentees to one another, but the recent conference of the Association of Business Mentors illustrated how variegated are the needs and how unpredictable is the role: matching mentors to people and to their needs is a sophisticated task. (3)

Accelerators (like Techstars, Seedcamp and Startupbootcamp) and VCs (like Octopus Ventures) have highlighted the importance of mentors for early-stage businesses, and in providing access to them from the outset. They keep their eyes on the development of the business all the time – for new obstacles and new needs for help and support; and are ready to search for contacts whom they can introduce, sometimes from within the cohort or portfolio, and sometimes from elsewhere in their industry – or other industries.

The Business Growth Fund’s initiative is a first step in establishing a comprehensive regime of help and support for the businesses they fund.

John Whatmore
February 2015

See also at ‘Applied Creativity’ http://johnwhatmore.com.

(1) I interview the ‘best mentor’ in Startupbootcamp’s FinTech Accelerator
In and out frequently, he steadily evolved his role by offering the wealth and breadth of experience of a life-time’s work in a top bank – clarifying progress and problems, acting as a sounding board, offering experienced insights, and marshalling help. http://wp.me/p3beJt-9P Dec 2014

(2) I am a fly on the wall at an Accelerator’s Mentor Day
The day provided the programme’s entrepreneurs a free-form opportunity to meet mentors and for them to learn something about each other. It suggested to me five different mentor roles. http://wp.me/p3beJt-8N Sept 2014

(3) Mentoring: great benefits, but considerable problems
The benefits and the problems are well recognised. Several different routes are evolving, and four distinct approaches to the managing of mentors have different benefits and different problems. http://wp.me/p3beJt-9E