I visit the first bioscience Accelerator in the UK

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A high pressure late-stage Accelerator for young businesses in bioscience that have been carefully selected – for their progress and potential, built around meeting up with experienced advisers.

RebelBio is what it says on the can: a leading-edge bioscience Accelerator – at a moment when biology is more about discovery than it is about engineering. Located at the new Imperial College Incubator in West London is its new 90-day Accelerator for ten young businesses in bioscience, currently at the end of its fourth week.

It transferred from Cork because of the sheer quality of London’s eco-system. RebelBio’s three Bioscience Accelerators, the third in San Francisco, are one of a number of such ventures of SOSV, Sean O’Sullivan’s venture capital world. He is described as a ‘visionary entrepreneur and investor’ – since 1985, with a series of seminal new ventures in business, humanitarian and educational fields – in economic and social development; first in the US and also in Iraq, and in Ireland.

The key aspects of RebelBio are three: they trawl worldwide for young businesses in bioscience that have a solid scientific basis and are close to market; second, they provide an accelerator of very intensive pressure, heavily oriented to experienced advisers; and third, their generous offer of cash (though their recruits have to relocate to London for the programme).

Their offer is to provide to each business $100,000 of support in return for 8% of equity – $50,000 in cash and $50,000 in the form of participation in the accelerator, mentoring, legal support, lab space etc., an investment of a million dollars – in return for their 8% stake in each, and of course the opportunity for SOSV to make investments in the next round of their funding.

There were 350 applicants for this programme – from a number of countries, of whom 40 were subjected to analysis of their business based on information supplied, and then by three rounds of extensive telephone interviews, and where possible personal interviews, out of whom 10 were finally offered a place in the accelerator. Selection criteria had been based first on the team, next on the problem, then on their solution and finally on the market.

(RebelBio makes opportunities to present itself to universities all over the world in order to get itself and its programmes known, and thus encourage applicants.) Present at to-day’s pitching session (learning to pitch as an iterative process) were seven RebelBio staff with considerable experience of young businesses (upon which their business model depends)

By dint of hard grind and the pursuit of contacts, the programme has now mustered some twenty mentors – founders or leaders of successful startups, mostly in biology – willing to come in and help the participants. And RebelBio has been surprised (and delighted) at the number of funders interested in the programme.

The week’s programme starts with mentor visits (whose initial focus is the market and marketing; and will move on to funding); in mid-week, there are one-to-one meetings with staff to talk through progress, problems and plans, and a mini ‘board meeting’; all day Thursday is pitching practice; and Friday is general meetup day.

All of the participants have received previous funding, usually of several rounds. All of them presented with the help of excellent graphics; all of them have existing teams of officers and non-execs; and all showed clear time lines to full commercialisation.

One whom I met, had before joining this programme won the BioStars Prize in Oxford (presented by an anonymous donor) which consisted of £30k plus a year at the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (which is located beside GSK’s research laboratories). Her product was a contact lens for helping with animal cataracts, which would sell to veterinary markets.

Another whom I met had come over from an Indian company. He had synthesized a sweetener that mimicked a rare fruit found only in a small area in West Africa, which had none of the damaging qualities of sugar. He was looking for international food brands (like Danone) that would want to make use of it. He told me that the mentors came and made a presentation; and you select those to whom you want talk. In the four weeks of the accelerator so far, he had met seven.

While I watched the presentations, I invented a game: how much could you tell about the product from the way its presenter felt, dressed, spoke etc. This was prompted by a lady who had a scientific button for getting you ‘into the flow’, which I had guessed was more like a cosmetic. Maybe it was!

The director of the programme likened it all to a kindergdarten – painful for the startups, he said, but diamonds are made by pressure.

John Whatmore, February 2018

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The stark tale of a startup; its dramatic ups and downs

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THE STARK TALE OF A STARTUP – ITS DRAMATIC UPS AND DOWNS With intangibles now possibly the largest part of our economy, it is bad news to find seed-funding tied by fixated criteria and subject to protracted delays. This project shows that support is quite as valuable as funding; and support alone can make the difference.

 A new and radically different approach to production suggested itself to two experienced and talented people who worked in one segment of this multi-skilled field. They had come to feel that the ways in which material was produced in a related segment could be better served by adopting an approach that would transfer from a third segment.

The segment in question, they felt, though successful to its dedicated customers, was somewhat stylised, and stuck in its mould; and its output is exceptionally expensive.

They had developed a clear concept of how to demonstrate that a new way was possible; they had assembled experts who would take part in the demonstration, they had located where it would take place; knew how long it would take; and how much it would cost.

After looking for some long time for seed funding from one public body that would have added considerable credibility to their project (it had encouraged them to make an application), they eventually came to appreciate that its criteria required something more proven, with immediately widespread side public benefits, as well as post-completion benefits; and they had to abandon that line of approach.

There proved to be no public body either in this field or in any related field that would put up the necessary seed funding; and other organisations in this field had their own incubators.

So they turned to people who were passionate about this field (‘friends and family’); but they first had to enable them to contribute in the form which they required, and attract their interest – in settings that appealed to them.

Finally after eleven months of hard labour, they were able to embark on the ‘real work’ – two months of creating a demonstration that their approach was feasible; and it was very well received by its customers and by the Press.

 

If this was in industry, it had all the elements of a project that would attract grants from Innovate UK – as a pathfinder project. But it is in the Arts, – where every project is in the nature of an innovation; and this is in a specialised sector.

 

Instead of working mainly with established opera productions, one of which is dustied off, recast, and presented in an established opera venue with a new director and conductor, the plan was to take an existing opera and in six weeks, to develop a new production before putting it on stage – in the way that most theatre is produced; and – this was a twist – not in an established venue, but in an intimate setting. They sought ‘to create an exquisite world-class production in an intimate space’.

The idea was conceived by two friends who had often worked together in writing music for shows and directing plays. They hit upon an existing opera – The Rake’s Progress – whose libretto was by W.H.Auden and Chester Kallman and music by Stravinsky, which happened also to be set in the eighteenth century, an opera that one of them (an actor and director, who had produced eighteenth century theatre) had previously worked on in a project at the National Theatre’s Studio. And they knew world-class performers who would be interested in this. ‘We had a fit; but no money!’

They contacted key singers and set and costume designers (one person just led them on to another) all of whom they had worked with before; and decided to have a go.

With 12 months to go, they registered a company, and 4 months later (crucially) booked the theatre (Wilton’s) – on the basis of sharing the takings; ‘and all our key contacts then started to turn down other work. And we revised the budget – cutting a third off it – making savings on performers, sets and costumes, but not on the orchestra.’

They then made an application for funds to the Arts Council – ‘a monstrous process’. Encouraged there to apply for a big sum, it emerged later that they might only hope for £15k and that there were many boxes that they could not tick: they were a new company; they had no community outreach nor benefits to offer; their work offered no legacy etc, etc. And they got the thumbs down.

 

In March (ie 6 months before opening day), they sought to register as a charity. But approval was delayed – the Charity Commission was overloaded; they didn’t hear and didn’t hear, despite continually trying to communicate with them; and only at the end of August did they get approval (ie only 3 months before opening day). Though that felt quite scary; it gave them enormous commitment.

They realised that they had to raise the funds themselves; and started by employing a fund-raiser, but ‘he was hopeless’ and after a month they gave him up; and everyone said: do it yourselves.

‘Opera fans tend to be boundlessly enthusiastic and sometimes quite rich; so we were looking for donations from their trusts or charities. We ran a series of fund-raising events – in the likes of small museums (the Soane Museum, the Handel Museum), at which we offered enticing performances, drink and commentary. They were all about networking; grinding work – most of it negative, that got you down.

‘On the advice of an expert fund-raiser (though for another opera company, and too grand for us) who helped us with how to go about it and how to approach people, we did briefly employ a marketing person and a PR person.

‘Our best donor gave us £20k with no strings; and another supporter offered his house for an event and a small donation, because he believed in us even though he had doubts about whether we could do it.

‘And four months before rehearsals started, we lost one singer – who was too busy getting divorced, and the month before rehearsals started, another, who had to go and look after his ailing father.

 

‘If we hadn’t booked the theatre, there were moments when we would have rethought the whole project – usually when a possible donor turned out to be a dead end. Unless we got there, it was a dramatic failure – we were naïve enough that we knew we would never pull out; we would do something somehow! The product itself was never in doubt; but the business stuff was so difficult and so new to us. But once we had decided, we were very upbeat and it was exciting.

‘We reached the first day of rehearsals (in October 2017) with great pride; and then our work started – to create our vision.’

The six performances were completely sold out and were very well reviewed (with four stars) in the Times and the Guardian, and accorded Pick of the Week. They have achieved their objective: they have proved that opera can be performed to high standards, in less grandiose settings and through different creative channels – which ought to cause the Arts Council to reconsider its approach to the production of opera.

What would they have liked that would have made made it easier for them? Two things: first, someone who could have helped them with strategy – what to do and how to do it; and second, more fillips to their flagging confidence that Arts Council approval would have given them.

So what’s next, people ask.

 

John Whatmore, January 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

No institutional support for startups and scaleups

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No institutional support for startups and scaleups

The CEO of the Art Fund complains that there is no support system for one of the oldest of functions – museum curators; neither is there in the newest of fields – the world of entrepreneurialism. The Clore Foundation runs a stack of programmes for leaders in social enterprise, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council has commissioned a programme for leaders in the Arts, but programmes for leaders in other fields of enterprise are rare.

Learning is essentially on-the-job; but there is no extensive form of support for on-the-job learning. There are several recent action-learning type programmes, such those run by UCL/RBS, the Judge Institute, Vistage (originally US); and Belgium’s Plato programmes provide another example. Steve Blank’s I-Corps programme helps scientists to identify and pursue opportunities for commerialisation. And there are a number of online programmes including Digital Business Academy and Dreamstake, and MIT’s new U.Lab.

There is virtually no networking/pooling of experience: Nesta initiated a twice yearly pan-European conference called Accelerator Assembly, which has since been taken over by Salamanca University. The Association for Managers of Innovation has existed in the US for a number of years, but there is no such networking function or organization in the UK.

There is no strong overall supporting institution: Praxis/Unico is focused on universities; UKSPA is focused mainly on the development of Science Parks; and UK Business Incubator died several years ago. The Scaleup Institute is in its nature focused on scaleups – on identifying routes to success together with leading examples.

Research remains uncoordinated. The Enterprise Research Centre at Aston University has developed a scoreboard and carried out research into the factors that support local enterprise, as have other organisations. The Scaleup Institute commissioned a major research project on Scaleups jointly at Judge Cambridge and Said Oxford; and Nesta has a very general and long-term research project about the effectiveness of support for startups, but does not focus on best practice. There is no large-scale university programme dedicated to research and especially to the development of enterprise and early stage business.

What is needed is an organisation that could lead or seed programmes for potential leaders of innovation across different fields (- the CBI, Nesta or ESRC?) – in industry, in science, in public services, in education, in health services, or whose first initiative was unsuccessful?

John Whatmore, January 2018

 

 

The Future of Work is arriving

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The Future of Work is arriving All sorts of programmes are in the wind designed to facilitate startups and scaleups in particular.

PwC and Swiftscale have just completed a 12 week accelerator programme entitled The Future of Work – for a number of startups with the potential to transform the workplace through scalable innovation.

The 12 week programme took 12 B2B start-ups and supported their growth through a combination of executive mentoring, corporate introductions and a business development curriculum, including masterclasses from sales and marketing experts, extensive corporate introductions and guidance from industry specialists at PwC, and sponsors Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Sage, along with a carefully curated group of executive mentors. They were enabled to pitch their progress and showcase their products to an audience of enterprise executives, investors, entrepreneurs and community influencers.

The businesses include:

  • a programme for managing extended workforce networks,
  • a cloud-based digital coaching programme,
  • another for improving feed-back and boosting performance,
  • a programme that provides support for business relocation,
  • a data-base of business talent – consultants etc
  • an out-sourced data-base analytics service,
  • a programme for simplifying the calculations in business planning,
  • a programme for promoting security in authentication and verification, and
  • a programme for asset management – protection, broader use, monetisation etc.

Google Campus is proud to find itself using a startup from its own cohorts, that manages audience interaction – Google uses it for its own Demo Days.

Touchpaper is a not-for-profit backed by eight major players including Cap Gemini, Nesta, Tech City and the Digital Catapult, on a mission to make it easier for startups and corporates to work together – by fostering an environment that promotes collaboration, innovation and value creation between the parties, and where business processes deliver appropriate relationships, and revenue and results. It provides an instant tool-kit whose guides help you to navigate strategy, communication and buy-in, engagement and decision making, legal and procurement.

John Whatmore, 2017

Leaders of Creative Groups

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The leadership of creative groups is more relevant than ever in to-day’s competitive global business world: innovation and disruption have given a new impetus to creativity; but the skills of leading creative groups have changed little.

The Leadership of Creative Groups has seemed increasingly vital as year by year the creative industries have burgeoned, product-oriented industries have become more creative and the service industries more important. The Dysons, the Nick Serotas, the Reid Hoffmans are the leaders of to-day: what makes them great leaders?

Creative people are often seen as difficult to manage – as experimental and intuitive, open to experience and extravert, but also sensitive and temperamental. Yet some people have a knack for getting the best out of them: they are more concerned with developing individuals and their talents, and creating or sustaining culture and climate than achieving particular objectives. ‘Creativity can be led, it can be channeled and fostered, but it resents being managed’ Martin Sorrell once opined.

Leading creative teams is different: it consists in taking the lead when you have the most appropriate contribution, (‘leadership hops from shoulder to shoulder’,) whether that contribution is technical, process, the making of contacts, the finding of resources, supporting someone else or whatever. It is authority and responsibility without domination or control.

Research (see footnote) has shown first and foremost that leaders of creative groups tend to be Visionaries, (or Ideas Generators or Ideas Prompters). Experts in their field, they see opportunities for doing things differently that others did not see, that are tough, will unlock other issues and have big pay-offs.

These leaders play a variety of roles: they are very often Team Builders and Coaches, and Entrepreneurs. In the big organisations which were the main participants in these studies, they were also Spokespersons and Shielders – as they often are to their shareholders in young businesses.

They are described as having empathy and understanding:

  • in selecting their team,
  • in using the constraints as the very challenges that would help members of the team in the development of their own talents,
  • in providing the freedoms they appreciate, and as an encouragement to experiment,
  • in using milestones and other opportunities for setting up tensions that might lead to creative breakthroughs,
  • in making themselves available as constant ‘supporters’, and
  • in ‘shielding’ them when necessary.

‘Warm and approachable, passionate and enthusiastic’, they are described as providers of all kinds of support, as very ‘process’ aware – as projects evolve and change, and as creaters of climate and culture.

These leaders tend to see everything as a learning opportunity – they have a ‘rage for learning’ – as a close parallel with creativity. They learn by doing and then reflecting on it (‘the way we learn cookery, burglary or sex’) – the very approach adopted by the latest growth programmes for SMEs, like the new Judge Institute programme and the UCL/RBS programme – which provide regular periodic meetups for CEOs for some 12 months at a time (See http://wp.me/p3beJt-hW.)

Is the time ripe for more programmes like the Clore Leadership programme in the arts, with its emphasis on experience?

John Whatmore, January 2017.

“Releasing Creativity: how leaders develop creative potential in their teams”, John Whatmore (www. Amazon.co.uk.) is based on a study for the then Department of Trade and Industry of 40 leaders of project groups – including in science, r&d, design, marketing and the arts. Out of it there emerged a self-assessment instrument (not unlike Belbin’s team roles test) designed to help leaders to identlfy their own typical leadership roles.

 

 

 

 

 

Building ‘local’ eco-systems to support innovation

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Building ‘local’ eco-systems to support innovation Nesta’s recent report The State of Small Business highlights networks – among key levers of influence, as does the recent report from the Scaleup Institute. Hubs, like Scotland’s CivTech programme can be supported by online networks like MIT’s U.Labs which link groups together effortlessly.

‘Business networks are an important source of resource and advice for SMEs’ says Nesta’s recent report (1). ‘From the perspective of local authorities, business networks…can be established and maintained with relatively little financial commitment’.

‘Network theory points to how networks can provide an SME with cost-effective access to external resources – and many of those interviewed for this report (both SMEs and local authorities) highlighted the practical benefits of sharing knowledge and experiences with peers.’

‘In effect, cooperation through business networks gives small firms economies of scale without diseconomies of size.’ And research has shown that access to business network support among SMEs has a positive relationship with business growth.

The recent Scaleup Institute’s report (2) adds that ‘Scaleup business leaders most value locally-rooted resources to foster their growth. They want more local solutions tailored to their needs: more peer-to-peer networks where they can meet their counterparts, easier access and deeper connections to local educators, university research facilities, and UK collaboration partners whether that be in local authorities, large corporates or Government.’ And recommends that ‘local stakeholders signpost effective mentorship programmes and matchmaking programmes between peers and non-executive directors who have scaled businesses before.’

The Scottish Government’s CivTech programme (3) – for making use of outside expertise for developing new solutions to persistent public issues – made use of  MIT’s U.Lab (4). This programme invites people ‘to form Hubs (any place where course participants meet and learn together) and coaching circles (self-organised groups of five that set their own meeting times and use Google Hangout or Skype to engage in a structured deep listening and dialogue process)’. For the Scottish Government and its CivTech programme, it has proved itself a useful networking tool. ‘We found it to be one of the most effective learning experiences we’ve ever had,’ reports one participant. ‘It builds skills we need in working collaboratively and co-producing outcomes with others; it is a highly participative approach – anyone can take part free of charge; it builds on people’s and communities’ assets and strengths; and it champions the use of improvement science.’

References

John Whatmore, December 2017

 

 

 

‘GovTech’ launches world-first programmes

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‘World-First’ Programmes in GovTech Entrepreneurship GovTech and CivTech are latecomers to the UK’s entrepreneurial extravanganza, though like others of the more recent programmes, also aimed at attacking big issues in specific fields.

GovTech seeks to bring entrepreneurial solutions to the problems of government – at local, regional and national levels, enabling:

  • better government decision-making,
  • improved public services, and
  • stronger links between citizens and their representatives.

‘Government can be seen as the biggest industry in the world, and offers a wealth of opportunities to start-ups and investors.’

In response to the UK Government’s announcement that it will form a dedicated GovTech Catalyst team and provide funding to help tech firms deliver innovative fixes to public sector challenges (London, 15 November) The Rain Gods, a London-based company, and The Cambridge Judge Launchpad have announced a new GovTech entrepreneurship programme to run from 2018.

Launchpad will introduce a GovTech specialisation for students on entrepreneurship courses, believed to be the first such offer in the world. It will be available, along with a number of variations, to those at Judge taking both Postgraduate Diploma in Entrepreneurship and the 24 month Master of Studies in Entrepreneurship, both part-time, learning-by-doing programmes, structured so that students can continue to work, or launch, or scale their business alongside their studies.

Tim Barnes, formerly the director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at UCL, founded The Rain Gods – a private company that works with large organisations to develop entrepreneurial eco-systems to support their core activities. ‘Inspirer’ of GovTech, since 2016 it has operated the Rain Cloud Victoria, home to a large co-working community for GovTech and CivTech start-ups and their ilk (currently hosting 19 businesses, think tanks and social enterprises). This is the first such co-working and incubation space to focus on for-profit enterprises in government and the public sector. It is also host to the CivTech Forum meet up. In November 2017 The Rain Gods launched the GovTech Academy, a training programme for SMEs looking to sell to government for the first time, and the GovTech Academy Challenge – to promote GovTech start-ups being launched by graduate entrepreneurs.

These are leading initiatives in an advancing global movement called States of Change, led by Nesta and at present more by innovation practitioners than by governments. It aims to encourage the building of the capability and culture of governments to deal with complex problems they face, eg by bringing citizens into the policymaking process, experimenting with new ways to develop services, and exploring the future practice of government.

John Whatmore, December 2017

More information can be found at: https://insight.jbs.cam.ac.uk/events/meet-the-director-of-the-cambridge-judge-launchpadlondon-uk/; or from Timothy Barnes: tim@theraingods.com

See also: CivTech – A purposed Accelerator: making use of external expertise to deliver innovations in public services https://wp.me/p3beJt-lT November 2017