5 Ace Mentors – you may need all of them

Aside

5 Ace Mentors – you may need all of them

If the benefits of mentoring are only really appreciated after the experience, the mentors in this series tell us about the special contributions they have made to their mentees.

No 1 Concept development: coming up with something for which there is a real need and that is achievable, marketable and fundable. Jackie Young – in Life Sciences

No2 Strategy and management: determining objectives; getting there; and making and managing the team. JMD – in Fintech.

No 3 Technical: designing, creating and delivering the product/service. Jo Rabin – in Technologies.

No 4 Marketing and sales: attracting users, buyers, customers. Andrew Grant – in modelling.

No 5 Finance: managing the funds. Anon

 No 6 Mentor and support Manager –helping to identify issues and provide mentors; and running events – Thibaut Rouquette – Startupbootcamp

 

‘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 can help them by finding experienced and expert mentors.

Their extensive network of supporters is one of the most distinctive features of Accelerators. Their early-stage ventures have fast-changing needs for support – in terms of knowledge, expertise, advice and relationships; and keeping up with these changes and introducing people with appropriate contributions is a job for which the programme leader is often the best placed person, but he can seldom give it enough time.

One Accelerator has used a leading intermediary as their ‘mentor manager’. Once a week he would talk briefly to each team, on the first occasion to all of the team together, then each week to a different member, and ask:

What is your current ‘pain point’?

What are you currently struggling with?

to which he would add his own experienced perceptions. The CTO of one team was having trouble in managing a growing team: he was an expert in technology but managing people was a different story.

‘Validating a financial product is not as easy as going into the street and conducting a survey: you need specific experts! This team was having trouble in finding and getting in touch with a decision-maker within a large African Bank who would be a specialist in micro-credit in two specific sub-Saharan countries.’

As an intermediary, his task was then to find someone who would be able to help the team with their specific issues. There was a very good chance, he said, of doing so from within his and the Accelerator’s own extensive data-bases. With some two hundred previous startups in the latter’s data-base, within a week that CTO had meetings with numerous experts on the subject and gained tremendous confidence.

If these sources did not identify a good contact, his second line of attack was to search Google and LinkedIn by using key words, for someone with whom there could be some kind of link – with their company, their skills, their country and their activities (eg they had spoken on the topic at a recent conference).

He would contact them by e-mail, hope to spark an interest in the project, invite them just to have a 10-minute phone call with the team, then to Skype and perhaps meet.                                                                                                On one occasion he searched the main VC, Tech and banking conferences in two countries, identified three people who might help a startup, and within a week had arranged Skype calls to two of them.

He brings to Startupbootcamp his experience when Up Global held Startup Weekends in some 270 cities in one single week last November.

See also:

I am a fly on the wall at an Accelerator’s Mentor Day

When the participants had an opportunity to meet the mentors at the beginning of a recent Accelerator programme, my encounters with the latter revealed five different mentor roles. http://wp.me/p3beJt-8N

 

No 6 ‘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 can help them by finding experienced and expert mentors.

Their extensive network of supporters is one of the most distinctive features of Accelerators. Their early-stage ventures have fast-changing needs for support – in terms of knowledge, expertise, advice and relationships; and keeping up with these changes and introducing people with appropriate contributions is a job for which the programme leader is often the best placed person, but he can seldom give it enough time.

One Accelerator has used a leading intermediary as their ‘mentor manager’. Once a week he would talk briefly to each team, on the first occasion to all of the team together, then each week to a different member, and ask:

What is your current ‘pain point’?

What are you currently struggling with?

to which he would add his own experienced perceptions. The CTO of one team was having trouble in managing a growing team: he was an expert in technology but managing people was a different story.

‘Validating a financial product is not as easy as going into the street and conducting a survey: you need specific experts! This team was having trouble in finding and getting in touch with a decision-maker within a large African Bank who would be a specialist in micro-credit in two specific sub-Saharan countries.’

As an intermediary, his task was then to find someone who would be able to help the team with their specific issues. There was a very good chance, he said, of doing so from within his and the Accelerator’s own extensive data-bases. With some two hundred previous startups in the latter’s data-base, within a week that CTO had meetings with numerous experts on the subject and gained tremendous confidence.

If these sources did not identify a good contact, his second line of attack was to search Google and LinkedIn by using key words, for someone with whom there could be some kind of link – with their company, their skills, their country and their activities (eg they had spoken on the topic at a recent conference).

He would contact them by e-mail, hope to spark an interest in the project, invite them just to have a 10-minute phone call with the team, then to Skype and perhaps meet.                                                                        On one occasion he searched the main VC, Tech and banking conferences in two countries, identified three people who might help a startup, and within a week had arranged Skype calls to two of them.

He brings to Startupbootcamp his experience when Up Global held Startup Weekends in some 270 cities in one single week last November.

No 5 A Mentor for finance – and his experiences

Thinking early on about future funding needs; identifying and understanding investors; and keeping track of the finances.

“I worked with a cohort of startups in social enterprise, most of whose ideas had stemmed from their own experiences. They had been funded so far with small grants from relevant charities. I found myself repeatedly asking how they might hope to fund their enterprise at the culmination of their 12-week Accelerator programme. That would get them to focus on how the enterprise might be developed so that it would later meet the criteria of what would often be another grant-making organisation.

Although ‘Demo Day’ – when startups pitch their business to funders and to the startup community – marks the culmination of these Accelerator programmes, investors take time to evaluate the businesses in which they might invest and I stress that identifying potential investors and making their acquaintance early on is important. (Wayra Lab, Telefonica’s Accelerator requires that one of the three mentors that it attaches at the outset to its new businesses be an investor.)

I stress that Investors look for an experienced, successful founder, a compelling mission and a big opportunity, and that they will seldom invest on the basis of no more than a business plan: early-stage customers, a working product and an idea of how you get a product-market fit in this round of funding are almost essential requirements. And having good partners (and mentors) is increasingly seen as of added value.

A friend of mine with experience of several startups and a hi-tech background had won a grant of £100k from Innovate UK to develop a prototype for a well recognised market, and now sought funds for its manufacture. He used the website Kickstarter that enabled him to identify and make contact with potential users, get feed-back about his prototype and offer them the product at a future date – in return for payment now (from which he raised almost another £100k.) He anticipated that he could then sell a small share in his company to investors that would enable him to extend his product range and add to the value of his company. [Access to mentors, coaches and advisers is now available to grant winners free of charge via the Business Growth Service.]

I can introduce startups to Angel networks (which can also be reached through the UK Business Angels Association), to the Angel Co-funding Scheme, and to the Business Growth Fund which also categorises funders by industry, stage etc. (Trade sales/investments/options are frequently overlooked.) I emphasise the kind of returns that Angels seek and I stress that they are attracted if there is a clear path to the next round of funding, and are wary of businesses that may take a significant time to reach the next funding round’s benchmarks. I stress that negotiations will always take time; and I am able to help identify gaps in their pitches.

I have so far discouraged anyone from using crowdfunding websites (though they are evolving fast), because they are difficult to evaluate, and some require that you reach your target to win funding. There are too many dangers in determining your pitch; you will not necessarily get the help of an investor who has ‘been there before’; and you are likely to have to be dealing with a number of small shareholders.

And I take some responsibility for ensuring that a team is constantly aware of revenues, margins, costs, expenditures, cash flows, free funds etc.”

 

No 4 Supporting the commercial side

He sees his main role as determinedly focusing on and asserting the commercial essentials in which the business has to work, underlining customer constraints (they are mostly corporates) and eliciting their needs; and as opening doors and finding and developing customers, overseeing contractual arrangements and customer relationships.

He was introduced to the company by the Business arm of UCL and has contributed to it in several ways and has been named its chair – for which he gets little remuneration but was later granted a small equity participation. He now gives around 25% of his time to the company because he says: ‘there is so much to do and no one to do it’!

The business is a university spin-out and offers techniques for optimisingbusiness efficiency solutions in vehicle routing, staff-scheduling and telecoms network planning, based on mathematical models and algorithms.

He sought always to get the full picture and saw himself as the person who stood back and took into account the full implications of things while others were immersed in product development and delivery. He doesn’t have the programming skills of the team who have deep specialisms in specific applications; but his marketing and IT background and senior experience in BT add importantly to the business’s credibility.

He saw himself as structuring (encounters), clarifying, learning to articulate and to garner product and client benefits, both monetary benefits and knowledge transfer benefits; and helping to understand underlying motivations.

He saw his overall objective as helping the business to reach defined milestones along its way to realising its full potential. He is highly positive – an ‘evangelist’, a grafter and enthusiast, and tends to see everything in terms of learning opportunities.

As the success but modest penetration of the Business Growth Service suggests, mentoring has potential that has hardly been tapped yet; it needs a giant boost.

 

No 3 I meet Accelerator Wayra Lab’s ‘Chief Technology Officer-in-residence’

For early-stage ventures, mentors are fairly common, entrepreneurs-in-residence rather less common, and CTOs-in-residence rare birds. He advises on the scope, requirements, costs and risks of alternative approaches – especially in the early stages of young businesses.

 As CTO-in-residence at Wayra Lab, Jo Rabin mentors the 24 startups/SMEs there over the course of their 10-month programme, by initially meeting all of them, and then responding to the teams’ summonses or needs. He devotes one day a week during the first month of this programme, when he is in the greatest demand, and then two days a month for the rest of the programme.

He helps team to take the right decisions on the technologies that form an essential part of their business. Budding entrepreneurs, he says, often need but seriously lack the IT experience that is often an essential component of their business’s development. For those that are developing IT, he will review their options and advise on the scope, requirements, costs and risks of their alternatives; for those who are marketing a product in which IT is embedded, he will usually be responding to their specific issues.

He is highly valued – for his substantial experience of different technologies and breadth and depth of knowledge, and for his network of contacts, all of which he draws on for businesses at different stages of development, and for different members of each team – with their different values and relationships.

According to colleagues at Wayra Lab, he had devoted a whole week-end to rescuing a team whose developers had abandoned ship and which had no clarity about its strategy, helping them to take the right decisions about the technology involved.

He is a qualified engineer, and is above all a practitioner. He has always worked in organisations that were at the leading edge of IT development, and he now heads up a group of engineers in a small engineering business, and he has been involved in half-a-dozen startups. Ten years ago, he started Mobile Monday, a monthly meetup for people involved in mobile technology; and over the last three years he has run five innovate-style learning programmes about mobile technology (each of ten weeks duration, two evenings a week) for UCL, and now held at UCL’s IdeaLondon incubator.

His is a mind of many dimensions. He has seen the development in the past of many leading-edge innovations in IT; and though sceptical about innovation for its own sake, he holds clear views about its future – as especially in terms of mobile and the Internet of Things. As with all engineers, he says, he thinks both in terms of the macro and the micro, and the successful integration of the two. And he sees things in terms of understanding patterns and what makes them harmonious, and applies that thinking to the teams he meets (which he explained to me in terms of Bach’s fugues.)

He likes working with early-stage businesses because their members are young, bright, quick, passionate and determined; and they are responsive. And he enjoys his current portfolio of different roles in different contexts – which seem to support one another.

 

 No 2 Regular reviews of strategy and management – from an independent viewpoint

An evident contributor, likeable and enthusiastic, he brought a life-time’s experience of businesses (he recently retired as a Director of a major UK bank), and an effervescent clarity to issues that interested him.

He would ensure that there was a regular review system; he encouraged ‘plan B’ thinking; he was always a ready sounding board; as he was a difficult tank to stop when he thought change was needed.

He picked four turning points to which he had (or in one case had not) recently contributed.

I eventually persuaded a team of 30-year old young Turks based in Shoreditch whose finance man aged 50 lived miles away and had other interests, to let him go. Though he had some special assets, cash was becoming an issue, and other needs were being met only tardily. I gained the support of other Directors, and the separation was done elegantly.

  • Missed key milestones was the signal for me to try and persuade one company that they needed to woo not just one major customer, but several others. I had to hammer away at the issue, and I had no emotional attachment to the first strategy.
  • It took me four months and the occurrence of a sharply relevant Court case in Japan for me to persuade ‘African Exchanges’ (not its real name) to change its name as the company found itself increasingly drawn into trading in other currencies.
  • At a first meeting with one company, none of my thoughts and ideas went deeper than to get a mild brush-off. Both parties are looking for an instant link – that will suggest a fertile union. Like many young companies, they seemed dead-set on their plans; and perhaps they did not understand what they might get out of a mentor.

‘As a Startup, this is the biggest thing they have ever done, and they are of course passionate and determined about it. So to lose clarity is unsurprising. Moreover, consensus in the team is a vital factor, so there is also a danger of Groupthink. When passion becomes rigidity, it is time for a dose of adaptability. ‘

‘At least two qualities are important for a good mentor: that ‘he/she has seen it before’, and therefore the more he/she has seen, the better the mentor. And secondly, he/she needs to be (and in status is) dispassionate.’

Confessions of an talented mentor

An evident contributor, likeable and enthusiastic, he brought a life-time’s experience of businesses (he recently retired as a Director of a major UK bank), and an effervescent clarity to issues that interested him. (http://wp.me/p3beJt/9P)

 

No 1. A Concept Developer like no other

A Lab head who encouraged her students to tackle issues that could have commercial appeal as much as scientific appeal, and helped them to realise their commercial capabilities as well as produce great science.

Jackie Ying was eager to push her already productive lab at MIT into the life sciences. Todd Zion was first attracted to her lab because of her fanatical work ethic; and her business-minded approach appealed to his nascent interest in becoming an entrepreneur – she says that every graduate student should tackle a project not only of tremendous scientific interest, but also of great commercial potential.

He was asked by Ying to see if the same technology her lab had used to make a nano-emulsion to coat the turbines in jet engines could create a platform for delivering insulin to treat diabetes. He spent two years trying to find a material that prevented the insulin from leaking out before he realised that the secret lay in chemically modifying the insulin itself. The discovery led to SmartCells, a company he and Ying co-founded in 2003, which was later sold to Merck for an undisclosed sum.

His business savvy drew the attention of Lita Nelsen, the longtime director of MIT’s technology licensing office because of the way he had run the company as a tight operation, and he was soon back starting another company with his former colleagues.

Ying says that roughly a quarter of her MIT students have founded companies or gone to work for a startup, but she has chosen not to take that path. ‘What interests me’, she says ‘is bringing the technology to a certain level where you can spin it off and then playing an advisory role to make sure that things are running smoothly.’

Andrey Zarur, one of Ying’s first graduate students who developed the technology that Zion later modified to create SmartCells says Ying ‘would take me with her on visits to companies to get funding for the lab. And I would make the presentation. People thought she was taking advantage of me because she made me do three PhD projects, but this was preparing me for the life I want’.

Ying went on to become the founding director of the Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore – to spread the twin gospels of top-flight research and entrepreneurship that she had learned at MIT. Her record over the past 12 years suggests that she has done exactly that. IBN has generated more than 300 patents, 80 licences, and eight startup companies.

Sometimes, she suggests, faculty members need help in finding a project with commercial promise, and sometimes she needs to find partners in industry to help with a project. Overall she hopes to find a way for IBN to help nurture new companies without losing all the scientists who did the technology’s foundational work. ‘We will continue to help the firms with research’, Ying says, ‘and maybe they will give us not just royalties but some shares to the people involved.’

(Abstracted from ‘Science’, June 12, 2015)

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. (http://wp.me/p3beJt-bf)

 

 

 

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A UNIQUE FORM OF SUPPORT FOR EXECUTIVES IN SMEs

Aside

A UNIQUE FORM OF SUPPORT FOR EXECUTIVES IN SMEs

These mutual problem-solving and support groups for senior executives in well-established SMEs would be beneficial in every incubator, science park, innovation centre and tech hub. All they need is a good facilitator.

Next up: Oxford Innovations – a major source of incubator space in the South East, but one that provides meagre support for occupants.

‘Vistage’ forms groups of senior executives from SMEs, each group of about a dozen people, who meet regularly to help each other to:articulate their issues (‘what is your biggest pain point?’)

  • clarify their thinking (‘what is its root cause?’)
  • identify possible solutions (re-motivate/hire/fire?)
  • and to hold them accountable (‘What are you doing about it?’)

(- comparable to the Belgian Plato programme (see below.)

It now has some 1000 members in 70+ such groups in the UK. Big in the US where it started several years ago, it now operates in 16 countries with over 20,000 members.

Each group is of about a dozen senior executives, all with similar levels of responsibility. (Groups in the Plato programme are matched both for function (eg marketing/finance etc) and by industry.) Vistage runs some for large SMEs (£4mn+ turnover); some – on a smaller scale – for smaller SMEs; and some for ‘key directors’.

They meet on each other’s premises, normally monthly, for a full day, in which they draw from each other’s experience. The centrepiece of the day is for two (or sometimes three) members of the group to bring a key issue to the table, by:

  • stating succinctly what it is
  • saying why it is important
  • and indicating their ideal outcome.

Other members of the group then ask questions to get to the heart of the problem (diverse thinking being encouraged) until in a final round, each person proposes their solution. Only then does the problem-owner comment, and say what he or she will now do.

Most meetings will start with a presentation by a well-recognised speaker – on a relevant topic; and may finish with a general discussion on a common or topical issue. These groups have a life of their own, including an annual retreat; and this life is itself managed by the group.

Between meetings of the group, each of its members has a coaching session with the Chair of the group, focusing on their current major challenge; and helping them to make decisions about what they will now do. Those who were in the spotlight at the previous meeting will be asked what have they done since; and they will be asked again at the next meeting of the full group.

The nature of these groups consists in:

  • willingness to accept vulnerability
  • the sharing of issues, experience and ideas
  • and the acceptance of challenge.

Openness to these qualities is the overriding requirement for joining any group. Group Chairs have a crucial responsibility for putting groups together, for which they depend on their interviews, though some candidates may attend the Speaker workshop part of the meeting as a guest, and sometimes they join for a trial period.

Candidates come from several sources and have to be invited by the Chair – to ensure that they’re right for this kind of meeting and for the specific group. (To ensure openness and confidentiality, no group can include competitors, suppliers or customers). The fact that most group members sustain membership for long periods of time makes it clear that these groups have a role that is different to any other relationship in almost any organisation – whether with directors, colleagues or subordinates – essentially because of their intimacy (they could be said to be addictive and comforting – a bit like the confessional!)

The group Chair is of course responsible for sustaining the life of the group, for organising and facilitating the meetings of the group, and for the one-to-one coaching sessions between each of its meetings. Vistage carefully selects Chairs, and runs training and development courses and events for them. The expert speakers are equally carefully selected and only retain their Vistage accreditation if the members score them highly.

In addition to the group meetings and 1-to-1 coaching, Vistage also runs a series of exclusive keynote speaker events throughout the UK – to further support the development of group the members, but also to help them develop their teams.

It is evident that Vistage supports growth in the businesses concerned (apparently three times that of the average SME), just as it also helps to allay the stresses in those involved.

The main advantages of this well-established model (which is not unlike that of Action Learning) is that it:

  • focuses on major issues
  • brings to bear on them a wide range of thinking and experience
  • encourages decisions and action
  • enables close relationships with a number of fellow travellers
  • and provides comfort and re-assurance.

However, it does not necessarily provide advice related to the specific context of those issues (eg the sector), nor from people with closely related businesses.

January, 2016

A comparable programme:

AN OPEN INNOVATION LEARNING NETWORK – FOR SMEs AND OTHERS

I have just returned from a two-day workshop in Belgium about mentoring small groups of senior managers in SMEs, who meet together regularly to draw on each other’s experience, and with the support of mentors – a striking example of collaborative enterprise. Set up by a passionate individual in East Flanders Chamber of Commerce, it has been running for twenty years and has now been seeded in at least fifteen different countries. April, 2012. http://wp.me/p3beJt-H

 

A long-established university incubator

Aside

A long-established university-based incubator that is just now spawning off-spring

With a small residential staff, and access as needed to specialist experts locally, it offers flexible office space and provides services on the premises to small businesses with clearly viable ideas, with readily available support especially on marketing and fundability. Can it deliver support in the future to its new locations?

Upcoming:

  • A brilliant commercialiser of research: a concept developer like no other.
  • A programe for groups of executives in SMEs who meet regularly to help one another with their major issues.

Then the spotlight is on Oxford Innovations.

Sussex Innovation Centre aims to be a centre of support for the growth of its businesses (eg. getting turn-over up from £200k to £2.5mn pa) by means of learning about their needs for support and then being able to provide what is required – or find within the area one or two people with appropriate experience.

Some businesses fail to last more than a year; others will remain for two or three years or more depending on growth potential and the scope of support required (about 20% of them go on to achieve hi-growth, with the largest of the current tenants worth some £150mn). The turn-over of occupants is about 30% pa – and there are around 15-20 new applicants for places every month. (An idea and ambition are sought, and the business needs to be something to which the Centre can add value and help it grow.)

Owned by the University of Sussex, it supports about 120 young businesses of which it is also home to around fifty, for which (together with one or two corporates) it provides: office space – of varying sizes, a small hot-desking room, a boardroom, seminar room and a café, plus advisory support and accounting services, and offices (for the almost 30 staff).

                             Its philosophy: a ‘training ground for management’

Mike Herd, its Executive Director since it was founded nineteen years ago, came from a career at Schlumberger where he was a globe-trotting leader of field development programmes; and was recruited, as he quips, on the then topical basis of  ‘getting some money out of science’. He sees the Centre’s role as that of training up management, and his philosophy was from the outset about discovering what support the businesses need and then finding it for them, which he describes as a more gentle and broad form of support than providing or attaching mentors to teams, who might then meet with them regularly. A model he quotes as having been successful is when an investor with experience in that field plays an active role in the company in which he has invested, especially so in its commercial dealings. (Many are those who offer to act as mentors, but he derides the use of ‘coaches’ because their contributions can be insufficiently closely related to the needs of the  business; and even if the entrepreneurs get good advice, he feels that they often do not have the practical [business] skills to make good use of it.)

                          A trusted adviser – with a support team and a network of experts

He sits in the café for an hour each morning for anyone who wants to come and see him – the morning I met him, he had met people from four of his businesses. “He is always interested in my challenges and opportunities”, “a trusted adviser”. “He opened and shared his network of well-connected experts”; and “he runs a cracking team with whom you can always talk” “…very good when you need help; but there are times when I don’t know what questions I ought to be asking – maybe I would like to be able to talk to someone who had faced the same dilemma as I currently do.”

He has a network of some 30 senior experts – from companies in the area, with which he has developed relationships over the years, whose most common contributions are about selling; but also filling gaps in teams’ expertise; and about turning points, such as hirings, new markets, mergers etc, and whose contributions are more casual, various and occasional.

He is supported by a small Business Support Team – of seven senior members of staff, all with practical experience in business, with expertise including investment readiness, market research, marketing and sales. They maintain close relationships with the businesses and are readily available (and highly valued) for acting as sounding boards as well as providing help; and organise events (including a number of days of intensive analysis – like reporting to the board). And there is of course ready access to the entire university research community.

‘Customer Dens’ attract a lot of interest. In these, several young businesses pitch their products or services to a panel of three or four people from their field, (eg in education: a teacher, a lecturer, someone from the education department of a local authority or from such as the Institute of Education) looking for feed-back about applications, potential users, and purchasers; and the Centre houses several businesses with expertise in applied psychology, whose work is often relevant in this context.

One member of staff, a former bank manager, leads a small Business Angels group a which includes some people who have ‘done it before’, and runs quarterly investment meetings, which help the businesses to focus on cash and to learn about funding, investor expectations and requirements, and about the various ways in which they might be funded. (The businesses in the incubator raise around £4mn of capital a year.)

And there is a finance department, which serves the accounting needs of the Centre, but also provides not only accountancy services to those of the businesses that choose to make use of them, but also helps businesses use financial information, and provides financial consultancy.

From time to time, workshops are run, about such topics as

  • aspirations and what makes a good idea
  • how to raise funds
  • employment law – with a specialist lawyer.

There is a much valued team of about ten students and recent graduates (the one to whom I spoke had a Masters in Management and Entrepreneurship) who help both resident and non-resident businesses – on a similar basis ie ascertaining what their needs are for help and then providing it, or marshalling it from elsewhere, and who are trained and mentored to deliver projects by the senior Support team. The intention is to provide businesses with a more flexible and cost-effective resource than traditional internships, while giving these ‘Catalyst’ team members the opportunity to develop a range of practical and entrepreneurial skills that will help make them more employable. Several have moved on to full-time roles at the businesses they have worked with, or are even launching their own ventures.

                                                    Expansion into new locations

Significantly in the UK’s current entrepreneurial climate, as with comparable organisations there are plans for setting up similar incubators in three different locations, one of which just opened in Croydon – where the University has established links with the nearby Croydon College. Sussex Innovation – Croydon will provide premises for around 30 local businesses, with its own dedicated Director and a team of support rotated from the Centre, together with some services provided locally. Another centre in Brighton itself is due to open in spring 2016, with three floors of accommodation, but many more of the businesses served are expected to have their own local premises; and a third – in Biotech – when rebuilding takes place on the Falmer Campus in 2017.

These plans will make for new contact points, and will mean that the Centre’s team will have to concentrate its work into a short period in each location; it will have to establish contact with local entrepreneurs to provide support – a major task; and it will bring in businesses that have no understanding of support nor of the Centre’s credibility, and will take time to establish.

John Whatmore, October 2015

Other programmes include:

Birmingham’s Science Park without walls

The essence of the burgeoning Innovation Birmingham Campus consists in the physical and virtual proximity which it offers – co-working in new dimensions, providing opportunities for co-learning and collaboration. Nov 2014 http://wp.me/p3beJt-9q

Managing support for early-stage ventures – a fast emerging role

In Silicon Valley support is everywhere, and it is increasingly immanent in London’s entrepreneurial world, with some high profile examples – promoted by a new breed of support managers. But there are other areas where it is still a distant prospect. March 2015 http://wp.me/p3beJt-ax

 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 this sort of thing? July 2015. http://wp.me/p3beJt-bh

How can we speed up the adoption of innovations?

Aside

How can we speed up the adoption of innovations?
Big changes are difficult to bring about. So far the spur behind them has been semi-public but independent bodies with their ability to take radical approaches – like these nine examples. Is it time for institutions and associations to take the baton?

Rolling out innovations for new technologies and sociologies is often seen as the job for entrepreneurs, their champions and their supporters – in the expectation that their focus on early-adopters 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 with 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 (the 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. 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. And its project aimed at enhancing entrepreneurialism in specific regions of the world is now in its third year.

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
John Whatmore
January 2016