A part-time Accelerator – generating the next leaders

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A part-time Accelerator – generating the next leaders
A charity has faced an excruciatingly difficult task in steadily scaling up its very part-time programme for helping young people to learn to be leaders

Next: nothing more while you are on holiday – till September 2, when I shall be writing about InnovateUK’s new mission statement and its implications.

‘Uprising’ was established in 2008 under the aegis of the Young Foundation and with government funding, with the aim of getting talented young people whose backgrounds make them under-represented in powerful places to take leadership roles in communities.

Undertaking the personal development of some 400 young people at a time, to help them in a role in which many people struggle, and which they might well not otherwise have sought, might be seen an overwhelming goal, not least for the limited resources and experience of a charity, itself a startup.

An award-winning leadership development programme with a role of Ambassadors that many charities would die for, it has 2,700 alumni, operates in seven cities, and has now reached the point where it manages without any government funding. Each cohort is of 45 young people; and there are currently nine cohorts running simultaneously. It generates in a very high proportion of its intake the confidence and belief that they have the power and skills to change issues that affect them and their local community.

The programme is designed to provide participants with the knowledge, networks, skills and confidence to take on leadership roles. Far from intensive, it is 9 months long and consists of a 3-hour meeting, once a week, with the first three months devoted to learning about leadership as such, and to enhancing leadership skills; and for the following 6 months participants work on a project [a format that is very similar to the Clore Programme for Leadership in the Arts] in small groups, often a social action campaign, for example to encourage young people to vote, to alleviate social exclusion caused by language barriers, or to support single parents.

In the first period, during which each participant will have a coach, they will hear from local councillors and MPs, and the likes of head teachers, police officers, social work leaders and business people – what they do and how to influence them; and sessions to help them develop their project management, fund-raising, communicating and networking skills – how to get to meet people and develop and retain relationships (‘all the stuff you don’t learn in school’!) After six weeks and for the duration of their project, each participant will have a mentor. Personal relationships are seen as of the essence in their journey.

Local managers now have the guidance of a manual to help them in running their programmes, which may nonetheless be adapted to local needs and local interests. With so many events and happenings to be organised and so many people involved, there is the constant worry that someone may not have been contacted, informed, booked or briefed; and the CEO feels that she is in constant ‘check-up’ mode, especially when there has been a high turn-over of staff. (And continuity of funding is an issue that is always with her.)

Connectivity is a current issue. Not only is it a part-time programme, but there are numerous occasional contributors, and semi-involved supporters – in all nearly 4,000 people – participants, mentors, coaches, speakers, alumni and staff, and most of them in different locations. A Customer Relations Management system is being installed that will include everyone, even suppliers, in order to facilitate communications – most of which must be by e-mail. And Twitter and Facebook constitute an important medium for maintaining a sense of coherence and the ethos of the organisation.

It is not just the alumni but what they then go on to achieve that is the full measure of this programme’s success.

John Whatmore
July 2015

See also below for three other examples of periodic programmes, two of them in social incubators/accelerators:

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. May 2015 http://wp.me/p3beJt-aW

An Open Innovation Learning Network – for SMEs and others
I have just returned from a two-day workshop in Belgium called Plato, about mentoring small groups of senior managers in SMEs, who meet together regularly to draw on each other’s experience – a striking example of collaborative enterprise. May 2012. http://wp.me/p3beJt-H

A Social Enterprise Seed Camp
Bethnal Green Ventures [BGV] is a unique new venture of Social Innovation Camps, itself a commercial social enterprise started several years ago by two individuals, and now offering a variety of short accelerator-type programmes (of up to a week long) of social camps and in a number of different countries. BGV is now just starting a second round of 13-week accelerators – for technology-based social ventures in the UK. Feb
2012. http://wp.me/p3beJT-V

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A major programme for new hi-flyers

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A major programme for new hi-flyers that includes an Accelerator
Public support for a major programme of development for a relatively large number of early-stage ventures, designed to identify and accelerate some world-class companies for to-morrow – from the Middle East. Why doesn’t InnovateUK do something similar?

Lebanon has a history of cultural development that is currently shrouded by the strife in the Middle East, and it has long-established international tentacles, so it is not surprising to come across a major commercial initiative from the Lebanon that is both far-reaching and high-flying.

Over a two-year period, teams will be brought to London for 6 months with the objective of grooming them – via partnerships, networks, mentoring etc – to become major global businesses of the future. Carefully selected for their promise, about half are already growing businesses, a third are early-stage startups, and the rest are at ‘product stage’

I spoke to two people who had just come to London for the duration of the programme, who were developing with US partners an algorithm for selling on the internet. They already had an investment of about $1mn from sources in the Middle East, for which they had given a substantial stake in their company, an amount that would provide them with a runway of about a year in which to achieve full commercialisation of the business.

The UK Lebanon Tech Hub’s Accelerator consists of a 4-month programme in Beirut with one-on-one mentorship and business support from international entrepreneurs and subject-matter experts for 45 carefully selected businesses – run by Babson Global. Fifteen of these will be selected to come to London for a 6-month programme and follow-on, which is designed to help those businesses to deliver their business plan – with training events, meetings, access to contacts and one-to-one mentoring.

The London office mirroring that in Lebanon is to be managed by PAConsulting whose role includes the Outreach programme and the Signposting Service as well as contacts and the support of mentors – sourced from various other organisations.

The Outreach Programme aims to understand business and innovation needs, and identify strategic opportunities for synergy with Lebanese and UK partners. The Signposting Service, available also online, offers opportunities, knowledge and advice on how to enter the UK and international markets – for Lebanese entrepreneurs, investors, academics and media professionals; and will facilitate action on significant business leads or proposed partnerships.

With the Capacity Building programme, the UK Lebanon Tech Hub will contribute to the development of Lebanon’s Tech Cluster with training events and master classes on a regular basis, tailored to the needs of individual businesses, with study tours, internships, and job shadowing for key entrepreneurs and investors; and with Tech talks, seminars, and workshops with internationally recognized tech entrepreneurs and experts.

The UK Lebanon Tech Hub is an international initiative kick-started by Banque Du Liban and the UK Government through the British Embassy in Beirut and with the active support of UKTI. The initiative is privately run and managed by UK-based PA Consulting. The programme’s objective is to open global markets to Lebanese entrepreneurs through the expertise, exposure and experience to be found in London, with the aims of growing Lebanon’s knowledge economy, its GDP and its job opportunities.

The striking aspects of the programme are the commitment by the Lebanese government and Lebanese institutions to identifying and supporting early-stage businesses that might have the potential to become the Microsofts or the Googles of to-morrow; and secondly the fulsome and collaborative nature of the development programme that is being run by a semi-independent public body. Why doesn’t InnovateUK do something similar?

See also:
A cluster-based ‘Accesserator’…
here helping to enable SMEs with innovative products to market to the big companies of this cluster; the process energised both by collaboration and competition Feb 2013 http://wp.me/p3beJt-3

Bioscience brings development expertise to bear on discoveries with big potential benefits
We are widely recognised for the quality of our academic output in the UK, but stories abound about the inflexibility and lack of commercial understanding of Technology Transfer Offices. The Wellcome Trust recently launched a vehicle for investing in spin-outs and start-ups for developing promising discoveries. March 2014 http://wp.me/p3beJt-8r

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. March 2015 http://wp.me/p3beJt-ap

John Whatmore
July 2015

Shorter, not longer, Accelerators: BT’s Hothouses

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Shorter, not longer, Accelerators
How do you come up with an idea for a business that meets a big need, will be desired by customers and is readily fundable. BT’s Hothouses, quicker though more complex and involving, suggest a counter-cultural model: do it as one problem, not as a series of problems.

Next week: A major programme for new hi-flyers that includes an Accelerator – so why doesn’t UKTI do the same for the UK?

The problem: one of the dangers in the conceptualisation stage of a new business is that what meets a need may not be marketable; and what is marketable may not be fundable; and the process of meeting all three requirements may go backwards and forwards interminably.

BT recognised long ago that the danger of the waterfall approach exemplified in the three phases of the Accelerator (the project handed on down the line to its next stage – to the product managers or the marketers and thence to the accountants before eventually being signed off) is that unforeseen problems may arise late in the development process and can involve expensive iterations and missed opportunities. BT’s solution (‘tangible outcomes are essential’) was to bring together into the early stage of the process authoritative representatives of all the parties concerned.

BT’s solution – the Hothouse is perhaps better described as a small problem-solving conference (or even as a Hackathon) rather than a workshop. Between three and eight teams (each of 6-8 people – they can involve lots of people during the Hothouse itself, though less both before and after) compete for small but significant prizes in the presence of the problem owner, his boss (and often his boss) and other stakeholders.

Participants are chosen to fulfill a specific mix in a team and while fully briefed beforehand, they may or may not have had previous experience of Hothouses. Teams are composed through an electronic auction; the facilitator will regularly call very brief ‘stand-up’ meetings to ask about progress, obstacles, needs, and resources that might be made available; and the 3-day process is marked by presentations at the end of each day, and a carefully chosen panel of judges is on hand throughout the proceedings.

Each team’s space in the large communal break-out area has its plasma screen and white board; and Microsoft’s Sharepoint Online software is used for enabling each team to share material, with two other programs for sharing software in development.

Some 70 Hothouses a year are now run, each focused on a significant business problem or opportunity – identified by a Business Unit of BT, for which suites of rooms have been built in two locations. The ‘conference’ space is institutional and Spartan (no toys – what would their bosses think!); and the process is intensive and full of energy. There are no signs of any input – either of people or materials – from outside BT, (though that will apparently depend on the business problem, and customers will often form part of the process); and the technical members of the teams ensure that use is made of relevant existing BT platforms.

The main uses are currently for bringing new products and services to market, many of which are opportunities offered by new technology, where the objective is to overcome obstacles in the development process. Formalised methods more than experience or expertise in this type of activity distinguish BT’s Hothouses; and they are very process-driven.

The lesson: BT’s method suggests that a more comprehensive problem-solving approach might have a useful place in developing new businesses – intensive, shorter, but with more supporting resources.

See also: US non-profit ‘Village Capital’ has a different perspective on social enterprise: objectives first, resources next Oct 2013, http://wp.e/p3beJt-6K

John Whatmore
July 2015

Accelerating the adoption of innovations

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Accelerating the adoption of innovations
Big changes are difficult to bring about. So far semi-public but independent bodies with their ability to take radical approaches have been the spur behind them. Is it time for institutions and associations to take the baton?

Rolling out an innovation for new technologies and sociologies is often seen as the job for entrepreneurs, their champions and their supporters – their focus on early-adopters whose work will then lead on to more wide-spread useage. But it is hard to locate where that should be taking place and how to foster it, not least in those areas that involve behaviour change such as education and healthcare.

The UK’s Cabinet Office has held three competitions inviting organisations to bid for funds to run Accelerators in social enterprise and in healthcare (short periods of intensive development for a dozen or so carefully selected small teams); and the winning organisations will now have helped will over a hundred such startups.

Nesta’s Innovation Lab works with individuals and organisations to generate, develop and test radical new ideas to address social problems; and links innovative projects to advocacy and policy change – to transform whole systems; exemplified by its work on shifting healthcare towards more peer-support, social prescribing and prevention. The Lab’s objectives are about:
• creating solutions to solve specific challenges;
• engaging citizens, non-profits and businesses to find new ideas;
• transforming processes, skills and culture of government; and
• achieving wider policy and systems change.

The UK Cabinet’s Behavioural insights Team (so-called Nudge Unit) was launched in 2010 to see how behavioral science might contribute to the achievement of policy objectives. It’s successes have been very specific eg in changing the unwelcoming nature of Job Centres; with redesigning communications to non-payers of income tax and fines and non-renewers of their driving licences; with reshaping the offer of loft insulation to include loft clearance. Its approach has been to identify the factors that lay behind the behaviour and then to set up an experiment using a faster, more attractive, social and timely approach.

Mike Bloomberg as Mayor of New York used special teams to develop and deliver new approaches on issues ranging from climate change to poverty and education, and his work spread new models that local leaders can use to generate and implement bold ideas.

New York’s iZone is one example: it is a community of schools committed to personalising learning around the needs, motivations and strengths of each child – an incubation lab for the city’s education department. MONUM, the Mayor’s Office for New Urban Mechanics in Boston is another. It aims to enable busy City Hall staff to run innovation projects – often done in collaboration with external entrepreneurs and internal government policy experts.

Copenhagen’s MindLab was launched in 2002 by the Danish Ministry for Business Affairs as an internal incubator for invention and innovation, inspired by Skandia, the Swedish insurance company’s Future Center (of which there are now a number, mainly in continental Europe). It embraces human-centred design; and aims to stimulate dialogue on transforming the public sector and creating a different interplay between state and local level, and create more systematic change. It is now owned by three ministries and works across employment, education, business and growth, and government modernisation.

MIT’s Media Lab is running numerous experiments of all sorts, among them research to measure the social and spatial settings of innovation in districts across the US to identify the factors that promote and sustain innovation in cities. And in collaboration with the Austrian Institute of Technology it is running a study of the key persuasive strategies that enable, motivate, and trigger users to shift from high-energy to low-energy modes of transport.

InnovateUK has taken a different approach: it has spun off several ‘Catapults’ whose objectives are to transform the UK’s capability for innovation. Among these, one has focused on understanding what will stimulate change (Cognicity – new cities); another on tackling public issues that obstruct change (the Digital Catapult); and a third on launching initiatives that will directly stimulate the creation of new products and services (the Space Catapult).

Work in units like these does not fit easily into existing organisations, but is it time for institutions and associations to follow in the lead of the Young Foundation, which has been active in promoting social enterprise for many years, and spur their fields into accelerating innovation?

See also:

iLabs. The teams and funds making innovation happen in governments around the world. Nesta, 2014. mailto:research@nesta.org.uk

Workshops for helping to develop innovations. Commercialising IP, developing startups and SMEs, and new products and new businesses for corporates. Oct 2013. http://wp.me/p3beJt-18

Government launches £10mn social incubator fund. A remarkable bet on the future of an unproven horse. http://wp.me/p3beJt-b5 Sept 2012

Accelerators for young businesses and the Young Foundation. Seeking to turn social SMEs into burgeoning businesses that change people’s live for the better. Jan 2013 http://wp.me/p3bejt-4

Space Catapult driving new markets

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Rolling out innovations – making use of a whole field of new opportunities
Subverting concern that in the UK we fail to exploit our technical leads, the Satellite Applications Catapult foresees a big future in space and is charting new applications for satellites and facilitating path-finding initiatives in technology, markets and finance.

Next week: Accelerating the adoption of innovations
Big changes are difficult to bring about. So far semi-public but independent bodies have been the spur behind them – with their ability to take radical approaches. Is it time for institutions and associations to take the baton?

With the rapid miniaturisation of components, the enhancement of data transmission, and the substantial decreases in the cost of launching satellites, there has opened up a starlit array of opportunities for startups to make commercial use of space satellites. InnovateUK has just launched its first technology demonstration satellite (TechDemoSat-1) – to piggy-back experimental payload and platform technology from academic and commercial organisations.

Views from space are finding new applications in city planning and inspection, agricultural productivity and natural resource management, transport navigation and management, weather forecasting and climate change, and site security, among other emerging uses.

The Satellite Applications Catapult’s main objectives are to bring different parties together to facilitate the development of the field – mainly in technology, markets and then finance.

On the Science and Technology Facilities Council site at Harwell, in addition to the Satellite Applications Catapult there are some 50 space businesses; and elsewhere there are centres of excellence in this field working in conjunction with Universities, notably in Scotland.

The Catapult is the source of information about the state of knowledge in this field, about experts – their expertise and about their needs, and about the substantial supply chain of technology providers. One of its main aims is to demonstrate what can be done. With a team of eight in business development, it is putting designers alongside entrepreneurs in creating startups; and it can bring organisations together to achieve the advances it foresees. Moreover it has the trust of its community.

The Catapult regularly hosts Hackathon-style events known as ‘Inventorthons’ – unique two-day event combining traditional technology development with an entrepreneurial spirit. Their objective is to enable groups of people to work together to solve a set of challenges derived by specific communities, organisations or individuals. They focus on using space technologies and data to identify how they can be used to benefit other markets sectors, eg. transport, healthcare, natural resources, emergency services, etc. And they are open to anyone who would like to participate – software developers, engineers, technologists, scientists, designers, artists, educators, students and entrepreneurs etc. Winners of each Hackathon are given the opportunity to work with the Catapult to develop their solution further.

The Catapult’s Co-space facility provides workspace is a vibrant, entrepreneurial environment that can be used by anyone from start-ups and small- to medium-sized enterprises to large organisations, as well as end-users and academic researchers (free till end 2015). Co-Space clients can use the facility to work together to develop new satellite-based services, technologies and applications, and also get access to valuable networking and business growth events. Where required, technical and business experts from the Catapult can offer mentoring support.

Focusing on technology, while there are two companies in the UK building nano (100Kg), notably in Scotland and Surrey, there are none building micro-satellites (between 10kg and 100kg). The Catapult has been working with InnovateUK to a programme for funds with which to build one so as to encourage existing and new companies in this field to do so.

Combating illegal, unregulated and unlimited fishing is a market that can benefit from satellite data. While there is the political will to do so, together with some funding, it is currently an extremely expensive approach. The Catapult has created a demonstrator (WatchRoom), and tested it in a delimited area – the Pitcairn Islands, and is now challenging satellite operators to change their business models and enter this field. While such operators have so far sold and managed satellites, the Catapult is encouraging them to become a service provider, and by doing so to open up a larger market for itself in this particular field.

The Accelerator ‘MassChallenge’, has selected two space startups for its first UK cohort, which will start in June and culminate four months later in ‘Demo Day’ for investors. One of them (WeatherSafe) is designed to help coffee growers to use satellite data to plant, harvest and sell their produce more effectively; and the second (Bird.i) aims to make use of under-exploited earth-observation data by making it available to the mass market.

The Catapult’s picture of Space in 2030 foresees the manufacture of advanced materials and biomedical products in space, the provision of high-level real-time global monitoring from space, benefiting finance, construction, transport and manufacturing – fostering new industries and becoming a major field of growth in our economy.

John Whatmore
June 2015