A non-residential Accelerator – in Education

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Innovators in education: The Young Foundation’s third education/ incubation cohort
A programme of intensive learning sessions, the teams supported by staff, mentors and coaches and the Foundation’s network, with access to up to £150k of social investment – a model for non-residential Accelerators.

Most Accelerators have so far been residential, but the more these programmes move up the value chain, the more widely spread are the established businesses likely to be in any cohort. This is a model for such programmes in the way it brings the teams together for repeated periods of intensive development work, and with the option of using a communal space; and in the way it attaches to each team mentors in key roles.

The ‘Young Academy’ is an initiative by the Young Foundation (‘YF’) which has a long and enviable record in supporting social ventures, this one in pioneering the development of innovations in education under the aegis of Round 2 of the Cabinet Office’s Social Incubator Fund.

Its third cohort of the programme about to launch – for around ten to fifteen early-stage ventures all of whose projects are focused on reducing inequality in education. The previous two cohorts have worked with 17 projects, including one working to better enable access to employment and another to reinvigorate the careers advice available in schools. All but one of the ventures from the two earlier cohorts are surviving and thus contributing in various degrees to this objective – in terms of impact, extent and reach. The objective is to get these ventures up to a level where they are reliably revenue-generating; with a strong emphasis on rapid proto-typing and testing eg in a school.

Like YF’s earlier programmes, this one – a 6-month programme starting in late May – brings participants together regularly for (mostly) two days every two weeks at the Young Foundation offices in Bethnal Green, London – for two day-long learning sessions at a time. Of the 12 learning sessions (through May, June and July), the first 6 include the mapping of the target audience and understanding the winning of work (with commissioners, buyers and funders). The second 6 are more about turning things into reality. August is expected to be for refining and testing, including project management, future finance and pitching; and the teams will come together for Demo Day in September.

The programme provides monthly ‘Check-ins’ (progress meetings with two YF staff), a ‘strategic mentor’ (in loco chair of trustees) whom they will meet on average for half-an-hour a week, and a ‘coach’, (in loco chief financial officer, and hands on supporter of financial skills) whom they will meet on average for 2 hours a week, and access to YF’s invaluable array of contacts (and there is a mentor pool of 30 or 40 people). Like other YF programmes, it is non-residential, but unlike other programmes, though like many other Accelerators, there is now a common working space available to participants.

YF expect most of the 50 or so candidate teams will be around 1-2 years old, perhaps already have a small turn-over and have couple of members in the team, but there will be a wide range.

This ongoing YF programme is funded by £1.5mn from the Cabinet Office’s Social Incubator Fund, formally evaluated by New Philanthropy Capital, and match funded by UBS, by Bank of America, and by the Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Foundation.

Other similar YF venture support projects include The People’s Accelerator – which aims to support campaigns for social justice to become sustainable (the recent pilot was funded by Citizens UK and The Centre for Justice Innovation), ‘Transition’ – a series of workshops for a wide range of social innovation projects funded by EU; and a project to develop socially sustainable cities.

See also

US non-profit ‘Village Capital’ has a different perspective on social enterprise: objectives first, resources next
Village Capital sees capital as a resource in the service of its mission rather than as a determinant of new businesses; and puts projects and teams together on the basis of what will best achieve the social objectives it espouses. November 2013 (http://wp.me/p3beJt-6K)

Three pieces of Pixie Dust: Bethnal Green Ventures ‘accelerates’ six new social enterprises
Intensive support, lots of interaction (‘the kitchen a vital place’), and pressure to deliver make up the Pixie Dust. October 2012 (http://wp.me/p3beJt-2i)

If you have a tough tech problem, try a Hackathon

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If you have a tough tech problem, try a Hackathon
As short and intensive mass meetings for designing technical solutions to current issues, Hackathons are in hi-growth mode. Used by professional developers and migrating rapidly in the US into the college community, they serve several functions simultaneously in the fast-moving hi-tech world.

Hackathons are the very latest in speed-innovation. In the UK they are to be found regularly now in specialised ‘innovation labs’ like IdeaLondon in Tech City, Level39 at Canary Wharf and the Digital Catapult. And they have become commonplace among professional developers in the US, especially in booming tech centres like San Francisco and New York, where they have emerged as prime places for networking, job recruiting, entrepreneurial pitching and, in many cases, winning cash/big prizes.

The goal of a ‘hackathon’ (part ‘marathon’, part ‘hack’) is not to obtain confidential data, but for teams to build a new piece of tech, either of their choosing or with code provided by one of the sponsors; and sponsors often encourage students to use their devices – a team of software engineers from Apple was at one hackathon to mentor students at all hours of day and night.

One team spent the week-end programming four of Microsoft’s motion-sensing Kinects with an Oculus Rift reality head-set to create an immersive 3-D video conferencing system. Another found sleep-deprived students participating in a 36-hour contest to program mobile apps, websites or hardware, including aerial drones and virtual reality headsets. At the end, the judges walk around as the programmers show off their projects. The winners of one hackathon had developed a robotic arm controlled by a motion sensor; and they won a free trip on a zero-gravity aeroplane as well as travel expenses and admission to hackathons in Taiwan and South Korea.

Week-end hackathons organised by and for students are surging in scale, size and frequency in the US. Only recently a sub-culture, now they are mainstream: last year there were some 40 inter-collegiate hackathons; this year more than 150 are expected. The longest-running was founded at the University of Pennsylvania in 2009 and has now ballooned to accommodate 1,200 students each semester; and demand is outpacing growth.

In most cases, sponsors underwrite the entire cost – upward of $300,000 – including travel, food and perks; as well as games – frisbee, laser tags, tug-of-war and yoga sessions. “It’s a big party”, commented the Director of one US university hackathon.

Hackathon-goers maintain that it is not the awards that motivate them, but getting off your butt forces you into situations where you learn new tech skills. They encourage students to tinker with new software and hardware and challenge themselves; and students teach one another – there are experts there on nearly everything. They acquire practical skills that college courses fail to teach them, and gain technical proficiency at a much faster pace. And some of them are spinning off their projects into startups and money-making apps.

Identifying coders who can dream big and thrive under pressure is particularly valuable to Silicon Valley. Since hackathons showcase some of the best, brightest and most motivated upstart programmers, the events have become a focal point for recruiting – some say they are essential for pursuing a career in tech. Likewise, students say that hackathons are an ideal way to test-drive the experience of working at a startup. But for venture capitalists, finding talent is only part of the appeal: they provide opportunities to spot emerging tech developments – with virtual reality projects now taking over from social media apps.

In the US, Hackathons, it is claimed, are instilling in young engineers a sense of life after college, and the feeling that they can accomplish anything. In the UK, for the moment, they are essentially intensive sessions for generating technical solutions to topical problems.

From an article in the New York Times, April 8, 2015

Red Riding Hoods should beware of the Wolf

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Unilever and Canary Wharf both invite you to come and help them crack a world-wide problem, but… Corporates are seducing startups into giving them their good ideas, but the odds and the risks against getting your rewards are less evident than they should be. There is a solution. Next week: If you have a tough problem, try a Hackathon.

Here’s a new but increasingly familiar slant for startups – from a big corporate (Unilever). We’ll identify some specific key issues, they say, (in this case how data can be used to attract people to live more sustainably). You come along and work with our staff to suggest ways to crack such issues – at a Hackathon. Our staff will provide background – marketing, sustainability, IT and consumer research, together with one-on-one mentorship. One winner gets £5,000 in prize money, and may be invited to participate in a paid pilot with Unilever, with £31,000 made available to help develop and test their idea.

Level39 at Canary Wharf’s ‘Cognicity’ has launched a similar challenge. Smart City technology companies have been invited to apply for one of six streams – each about a specific aspect of ‘the city of the future’. For each stream, six teams were to be selected to enter an Accelerator with leading technology companies and Canary Wharf Group partners – to develop their technologies and solutions. In each stream, one would receive a £50,000 prize, and ‘pilot their solutions in the ongoing development of Canary Wharf and create a showcase connected city’.

It’s hard to tell whether these are impact enterprises or commercial ventures. Each competition has only one winner; and the costs and benefits of being involved in any pilot are unknowable. There is no mention of who owns the ideas nor who shall have the rights to them. And there is no one there to protect your rights. So if you have a good idea, you would be at risk of being seduced into a process in which, whether you win the prize or not, your ideas may have lost any protection.

Nesta, some time ago in an open innovation pilot, acted as intermediary for P&G by eliciting and selecting relevant ideas and then providing a period of support and development with the help of a VC for their originators (including ensuring adequate protection and the writing of a business plan) and enabling the best to be pitched to P&G. Ultimately, one of these was felt by P&G to have very considerable market potential. (http://www.nesta.org.uk/corporate-connect). This process, known as the ‘Air Lock’ is run regularly now for many different companies by its creaters in Nesta in ‘100% Open’: it builds up communication channels and trust, and it protects IP.

Young businesses in accelerator programmes run by organisations like Techstars and Startupbootcamp expect to get from idea to marketable proposition in 13 weeks (for which the latter take around 7% of equity in return). At that point they are in a position to negotiate with users as investors on a commercial basis rather than simply on the terms dictated by a corporate.

Accessing creative start-up talent is increasingly necessary for larger companies who want to capture the best ideas, people and technologies. As scouting by corporates for good ideas becomes more common, they must not be allowed to play the Wolf to Red Riding Hoods. They should recognize that they do not know what they will be able to catch in their fishing net: vagueness simply raises suspicions.

John Whatmore May 2015

Deloitte 2: the future of Innovation

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The Deloitte Report, Part 2
Big business and the future of innovation

The R&D spending mix is expected to change – in two ways
If companies are seeking to align their innovation strategies with their business strategies and are seeking to gain better insights into customers’ stated and unstated needs, how are their strategies towards innovation expected to change in the future?

Over the next decade many companies plan to shift their R&D spending mix—from incremental innovation to new and breakthrough innovation, and from product R&D to service R&D.

All respondents to the Deloitte survey report that they plan to shift their current R&D spending mix from incremental innovations to more new and breakthrough innovations. Today, 58 percent of R&D spending is directed at incremental or renewal innovations, just 28 percent at new or substantial innovations, and only 14 percent at breakthrough or radical innovations. In 10 years, respondents expect the picture will look quite different.

Breakthroughs, for example, involve higher risk than incremental innovations, so it is important to make sure both that these innovation goals make sense given the company’s market position and strategy, and that the right risk management capabilities are established to handle a higher-beta portfolio. “New research projects will continue to involve more collaborators, including universities, suppliers, and other industrial partners. Ultimately, this will make product development more robust and enable greater technology leaps, while reducing risks and cost.”

Companies also expect to allocate more R&D spending to enabling services and less to creating products. The current allocation slightly favors product R&D, 52 percent to 48 percent. By 2024, respondents expect that relationship to flip—with R&D for services rising to 62 percent, versus 38 percent for R&D for products.

Need Seekers should hone their distinctive capabilities, which include their proficiency at directly generated deep customer insights, enterprise-wide launches, and technical risk assessment. One priority that Need Seekers cited in this year’s survey as being important to their future success—open innovation—complements their approach by enabling them to seek new ideas and insights from a networked community beyond the borders of the company and its traditional partners. They should ensure that their products and services are advantaged by seeking out new ideas from customers, suppliers, competitors, and other industries, as well as by building focused technical innovation networks across the business. They should exploit front-end digital enablers such as visualization and engagement tools.

Market Readers should continue to develop their capabilities in managing resource requirements and engaging suppliers and partners. Their goals should include customizing their products for local markets, and creating a culture of collaboration across functions and geographies to facilitate rapid, seamless response. They need to be good at assessing feedback from sales and customer support and traditional market research. Digital enablers such as monitoring tools and idea-capture tools are critical, and are consistent with the needs of this model.

Technology Drivers should continue to enhance their product life-cycle management capabilities. Their priorities are strategic platform management and gaining a detailed understanding of emerging product- and service-related technologies and trends. They need to excel at technology road mapping and interacting with the external tech community. Digital enablers will be particularly important for them, including big data, customer profiling, and co-design tools, as well as collaborative environments that connect far-flung teams, customer relationship management systems, and ERP platforms.

Of course, some key imperatives have surfaced in the Global Innovation 1000 studies that apply to all companies seeking innovation success: * Define your innovation strategy, communicate it throughout the organization, and identify the short list of innovation capabilities that will enable it. * Tightly align your business and innovation strategies. * Ensure that your innovation culture is aligned with, and supportive of, your innovation strategy. * Focus on developing deep customer insight by directly engaging and observing end-users of your product. * Ensure that the technical community has a seat at the table defining the corporation’s agenda. * Systematically manage the R&D portfolio, aggressively winnowing out low-potential projects and ensuring that the right risk management capabilities are in place to support big bets.

Despite the impressive growth of innovation spending in the software and Internet category, four other industries spent more absolute dollars on R&D in 2014: computing and electronics, healthcare, auto, and industrials In fact, three of them—computing and electronics, healthcare, and auto—have spent more on R&D than the software and Internet industry in each of the last 10 years. This shows that there has been and continues to be a huge amount of innovation spending going on outside Silicon Valley and other tech clusters.

Open Innovation’s innovations
Corporates are articulating their needs and opportunities for innovation; and using intermediaries to search for innovators with ideas, and to provide candidates with a period of intensive development. Jan 2015. (http://wp.me/p3beJt-9N)

Unilever and Canary Wharf both invite you to come and help them crack a world-wide problem, but… Corporates are seducing startups into giving them their good ideas, but the odds and the risks against getting your rewards are less evident than they should be. April 2015. (http://wp.me/p3beJt-aI)

Cambridge Service Alliance A global alliance between leading businesses and universities that brings them together to work on the complex service solutions of tomorrow. (http://www.cambridgeservicealliance.org)

The full version of the Deloitte Report can be found at www.strategyand.pwc.com/innovation1000‎

John Whatmore May 2015

A Minister for Enterprise?

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A Minister for Enterprise?
Entrepreneurs-in-residence are to be found in innovation centres, science parks, startup communities and venture capital companies, both leading their own and supporting other early-stage ventures. Is there not a role for them in universities, not-for-profit organisations and public bodies too?

The spot-light has been focused consistently onto emerging technologies, but turning ideas into innovations – the essence of to-day’s economy – has not traditionally been one of our strengths; and concerns are often to be heard that there are not enough talented entrepreneurs.

Start at the top: the next government should appoint a Minister for Enterprise, whose task should be to put an entrepreneur into a leadership role in every organisation, by:
• stimulating the better understanding of their skills
• promoting the development of their talents, and
• encouraging their contributions to all kinds of organisations.

Vote for enterprise!