Imperial’s new Maker facility

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Imperial’s brand new Maker facility – at White City

On Imperial’s new White City site (about which I wrote last), in addition to the Innovation-Hub, there is to be a new £5M prototyping and innovation facility: the Invention Rooms – open to college members, industry, SMEs and local community and dedicated to supporting the next generation of investors, entrepreneurs and tech leaders.

 There is already a network of six prototyping spaces, centred around the South Kensington Campus which support the activities of the Imperial College Advanced Hackspace (‘ICAH’). They provide access to metal work, wood work, additive manufacturing and 3-D printing, electronics and robotics amongst others. Its mission is to deliver skills, resources and people to support its users in the development of new ideas and their transition to other commercialisation networks within the university.

Already with nearly 2,000 members, it is growing at a rate of 100 new members every month, drawing members from all Faculties within Imperial College i.e. Engineering, Natural Sciences, Medicine and the Business School.

This growth, coupled with increased engagement with commercial organisations – from micro companies and SMEs to OEMs – and the local community, prompted the vision for the Invention Rooms on the new campus at White Cilty. They consist of four large areas:

  • a new hackspace that will extend the capabilities of the ICAH network,
  • a makerspace for local community engagement,
  • an expo-centre and
  • a co-working space on the floor above.

The new hackspace facility at the Invention Rooms (right next to White City Tube) will lead to co-location of the full prototyping ecosystem of the college: metal work to bio-hacking to microfab to 3D printing to electronics – a  place where engineers, medics, life scientists,  mathematicians, physical scientists – people with common  interests from inside and outside the university (like  Ford’s Techshop Detroit) in device prototyping, computers,  machining, science, synthetic biology, digital art,  robotics, automation or diagnostics can meet, socialise and  collaborate.

As prototyping technologies become de-skilled these will also feed into ICAH giving its stakeholders a competitive advantage in their enterprises. The goal is to become a hub for providing such partly-deskilled tools; speeding up the rate at which researchers cross boundaries.

The Invention Rooms is a distinctive venture, both in terms of scale and ambition, within a university environment: as large is its socialising and public events area; and as large again its ideation and prototyping space and its outreach community makerspace – co-delivering impact in the local area.

These are all complemented by a hot-house facility on the floor above. By providing touch-down desking, meeting rooms and mentorship, these will further drive co-location of college members with the public, entrepreneurs, SMES and industry partners.

A new prototyping space focussing on molecular hacking that will open in the nearby Molecular Sciences Research Hub in early 2018 will make an added contribution.

As these new spaces go live, the ICAH support team will continue to grow, from ICAH fellows, to Hackers in Residence, Advanced ICAH Fellows, ICAH technicians and ICAH management – ensuring that the ICAH community will benefit from an extensive team of experts as they develop their ideas.

John Whatmore, May 2017

 

Growth Builder’s first cohort

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‘Growth Builder’ builds and grows Forty high-growth business leaders have spent the past 12 months working together on their businesses, gaining vital knowledge to help them scale.

Upcoming: I focus next on two radical new incubators: BioHub at Alderley Edge, a recent winner of Incubator of the Year; and the new Incubator and Maker facilities at Imperial’s new campus at White City in London.

Growth Builder’s claim is that it is a programme designed by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs with the aim of helping established British businesses to take on the next stage of growth.

A collaboation between a number of interested parties, it offers an educational programme to a curated peer network of ambitious business leaders, along with access to introductions and networks through its cross-sector partners. It claims to be the first of its kind to work with Government, universities, entrepreneurs, risk capital and leading UK corporates (as is REAP, MIT’s Regional Acceleration programme – one of its sources).

This first cohort included businesses from the tech, manufacturing and retail sectors. Meeting monthly over twelve months for half a day at a time, the focus of meetings alternates between learnings; and then alternate months in smaller selected groups, discussion about how to apply the learnings – supported by accredited consultants/coaches.

Ben Fletcher, its chair (Professor of Occupation and Health Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire), commented that poorly defined objectives were a common focus – reducing their range, an important outcome; as was understanding the triggers of change; and that it takes time to effect changes back in the business. It was important to be able to assure participants of the quality of coaches and their reliability. Participants reported gaining valuable insights from the programme.

Growth Builder is now looking to recruit a second cohort in London during 2nd quarter 2017 and hopes to launch elsewhere in the UK later in the year, with the North East and South West of England among the potential locations.

See also: Progressive support programmes for SMEs – a must! In the course of their work the authors of the just published Barclays Report – on the scaling up of SMEs – participated in a new programme at the Judge Institute for CEOs of hi-growth SMEs, to which they give a nod of approval in their report. Innovate UK should promote this kind of programme – of which there are several similar. May 2016 http://wp.me/p3beJt-fn.

 

John Whatmore, May 2017

Re-shaping support for SMEs

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Making the most out of young businesses Lessons are arriving from all sides about early-stage businesses (Village Capital, Nesta, Scaleup Institute, Growth Builder, IDEO). What do they tell us? Shouldn’t Innovate UK be taking a bigger role in the support of innovation practice?

 Most striking is the extent to which Accelerators – a fast growing phenomenon – have become the province of corporates. They force new businesses to focus not just on good ideas but on important (commercial) issues; they know their own field – its problems and opportunities; they provide invaluable support; and they are willing and capable investors (Wayra Lab, Cisco, John Lewis, and many others.)

However, this does leave great swathes of the population and of the economy untouched by support for innovation eg the public sector, several industries, large parts of the country and the everyday lives of most people. The Nesta report identifies some; and Geoff Mulgan, its Chief Executive, has focused on others, not least in the public sector.

The main sources of funding for Accelerators are now Corporates, the Public sector and Philanthropics. Venture Capital is a source for only 8% of Accelerators (and 2% of Incubators). The Nesta Report reveals that in the UK both Incubators and Accelerators rely heavily on public funds – from a variety of sources (in many areas and sectors for a substantial proportion of funding and in some, completely.)

It is now well recognised that the greatest opportunity for the development of entrepreneurial eco-systems is in ‘sectors that have a deep and local focus’; and the Scaleup Institute is busily working with LEPs to help them to do so.

However, innovation strategy and practice are evolving; and there is still little experienced management of proactive support.

Recent research by IDEO revealed something surprising: neither a more traditional approach to product development – coming up with three good options, analyzing them, and choosing one to move forward with, nor the lean startup approach – taking a best guess, piloting it, and then pivoting based on what works – is the most effective way to launch a new product. Instead, when teams iterate on five or more different solutions, they are 50% more likely to launch a product successfully.

‘Entrepreneurial support organisations are critical infrastructure for cities, communities and for corporates; and they too need clearly articulated support’ says Village Capital, a major US philanthropic business. The most common form of support is mentoring, but the promotion and management of mentoring (and of support in general) is a role that is extremely rare, but much needed, and rarer in Incubators than in Accelerators. Moreover a different format of support programme is also emerging – in the form of regular monthly meetings – especially of hi-growth businesses – based round collaborative learning.

There is at present no body that adequately encompasses Incubators and Accelerators – to help steer policy, identify best practice, and foster training and development in innovationeering. Innovate UK should take urgent steps to create an appropriate KTN.

John Whatmore, May 2017