The Clore Programme for Leadership in the Arts


Clore’s Leadership Programme – a note

The Clore programme, founded in 2003, is explicitly for leaders – in the arts – with some experience behind them. A 7-month programme, it aims to provide opportunities for its two dozen fellows per annum with a bespoke programme of intensive leadership courses, workshops and other learning opportunities, mentoring and coaching, a three-month placement in another (different) organisation, followed by research (and later) execution of a major project of their own design. (It later spawned sister programmes – for social leaders).

An expert report (1) evaluating its performance (in 2013, ten years after the start of the programme) commented on the fact that in the arts sources, roles and even locations are becoming less specific and more collaborative as a result of the interactivity of the internet, and innovation more common, faster and more invasive. It also raised questions about the impact of the two dozen Fellows whom it supports annually, and the number of qualified candidates that it did not include.

Driven in essence by the reach of the Internet, the programme had been seeking to increase its emphasis on the leadership of creativity (as such) – by broadening its perspective – in a world in which boundaries are more fluid, sources, roles and locations in the arts less circumscribed, more flexible and less predictable, life more complex and insecure; but sharing and more collaborative. [I picture prize-winning students producing multi-media ten minute playlets at the National Theatre every morning for a week. Or Hull hosting a poetry competition for children inspired by the Royal College of Art.]

For the future of the programme, proposals included:

  • More emphasis on individual Fellows and less on structures and institutions
  • Greater emphasis on systems, networks, behaviours, technology, organisation and influencing
  • More about collaboration, management and self-management, contracting and commissioning
  • More understanding of entrepreneurialism
  • More understanding of technology
  • More input to the programme from outsiders including expert amateurs
  • More research
  • More pastoral care (for participants lives)
  • More influence outside the arts sector
  • A higher profile for the programme

The essence of these proposals was about ‘finding ways of creating [change] that we cannot foresee’.

(1) Creative Leadership: A future vision for the Clore Leadership Programme, Robert Hewison and John Holden

John Whatmore, April 2018


Innovation and changing peoples’ lives


Innovation and changing peoples’ lives. In a fast-changing world, helping people to make changes to their lives is at the heart of innovation. This programme of mutual learning brings people together who can help one another – easy to set up and run, and ideal not just for innovation centres and their ilk, but for groups of all kinds, such as job changers, patients, students, local communities et al.

Alcoholics Anonymous is the most dramatic of life-changing groups: its regular meetings, mutual discussions, exchange of commitments, and reporting back on progress are its backbone.

Participants in Accelerator programmes (around 12 weeks of intensive development for a dozen or so startups working alongside one another) regularly say that their best sources of help are other participants. At Watershed in Bristol they meet at lunch time every Friday and talk in turn about their progress, their problems and their plans. Notes of the meeting are then immediately circulated to ensure that everyone can identify and meet up with those whose issues chime with their own – to draw on each other’s experience.

Enrolyourself (1) is a 6-month programme of mutual learning – for people who feel a need to work on their ideas together with others who are on similar learning paths. They may be pursuing a new interest or venture, in a new role or job, or looking to add new skills and experiences.

The programme, curated by a learning organiser, is of weekly meetings, every alternative week being a meeting of the whole group, and in the weeks between, buddy pairs meet up. There is an initial kick-off week-end; and after two months there is a PowerUp day; and another after four months – meetings that regularly addressing learnings and build accountability.

Zahra Davidson (2) has nurtured this project, running two pilots before seeking funds to scale it up. In a competition at the Royal College of Art, she won the prize – of some funds, a place in the RCA’s incubator and support from Unltd – an investor in social entrepreneurs; and she is currently appointing her first cohort of learning organisers – in different parts of the country (whose interests include bringing together groups of professionals working on social impact, work/life coaches, and people from one field bringing their expertise into another).

At the Kick-off week-end, there are exercises to help people to get to know each other; skills and networking mapping, role playing, coaching training, and the principles of peer-to-peer learning are presented. The group – of ten people – divide into buddy pairs (who will meet by their own arrangement in the intervening weeks – if necessary by Skype) for mutual coaching, creative exercises and encouragement about their ideas; and they will plan their own sessions and how to capture their content. (Any who feel the need of an outside mentor are encouraged to find their own right person.)

The facilitated fortnightly meetings of the whole group are made up of Workshops (teachings) and Group Challenges (problems and opportunities), and are constructed so that responsibility for facilitation and organisation moves around the group.

At the bi-monthly PowerUp days, each person presents their achievements, their insights, their learnings and their plans – with five minutes to talk them through, then five minutes for questions, and five minutes to capture feed-back, ideas and contributions from the group.

The final week-end meeting is a chance to reflect, with peer assessment and feed-back, including about where next; and about the programme, which finishes with a ShowCase Event – a day or an evening.

Programmes of this kind – periodic meetups of a small group – have been around for some time, as of great help for tackling new issues – for their mutual support and learning. Uprising, a social enterprise, uses weekly meetings to embolden its young members; the Clore Leadership programmes enable similar exchanges of experience; Plato, a programme widely used in a number of countries but originally from Belgium, brings together small groups of similarly placed executives, as does the Vistage programme; and the Judge Institute Growth Challenge programme for CEOs of young ventures uses a similar format.

Collaborative learning programmes have not attracted academic interest perhaps because they differ from the standard model of pedagogy (teacher/pupil). But they are of increasing and wide-ranging interest in these times of constant change, including for new ventures; and an invaluable source of inspiration.



(2) Zahra Davidson at

John Whatmore, April 2018

Imperial’s I-Corps programme


Imperial’s I-Corps programme gets scientists to develop potential applications of their work The I-Corps programme, now widely adopted in the US, has made slow progress in the UK. But there is a more drastic alternative.

 Next up: Learning with and from others A programme of mutual learning that brings people together who can help one another – ideal for incubators, innovation centres etc., and easy to set up and run. Then: The frightening nature of intangible assets

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 I-Corps is a programme designed to promote the development of potential applications of scientific work towards commercialisation. Instigated by Innovate UK, and run at universities, it is based on Steve Blank’s I-Corps programme in the US. (1,2)

The objective of this 12-week programme at Imperial, ‘Techcelerate’, for a dozen postdocs, is to take their work one or more step nearer to commercialisation, by focusing on specifically on the customer development section of the Business Model Canvas.

The central feature of the programme is the requirement that participants meet one hundred experts in their field over the course of the 12 weeks – people who can help them to make a real-world impact with their work.

Conceived in 2014, Steve Blank’s I-Corps (Innovation Corps) was a nine-week Boot Camp designed to teach business skills to entrepreneurial scientists in technology-based startups – that has since been rolled out for biomedical firms as part of an experiment by the US National Institutes of Health, and has been widely adopted by many other agencies in the US.

Nineteen teams formed I-Corp’s first cohort. ‘Each morning was spent presenting, and then re-presenting the ten-minute team pitches. Each afternoon, the teams raced to interview experts in their fields, then reported back for more workshops. Nights were filled with class readings, homework and preparations for the next day’s presentations and interviews.’

The interviews are central to the process: they had to talk face-to-face to scientists, pharma company reps, regulators, doctors, billing specialists and more – essentially any person with expertise in what it takes for companies to get their products to patients and get paid.

Imperial College’s programme, now in its final month, (there were 28 applicants for 14 places) consists of:

  • An initial residential week (the programme is co-located in a Coworking Space in  Imperial West’s new Translation and Innovation Hub) consisting of an introduction to the programme and getting acquainted with one another. It introduces Lean startup theory, the Business Model Canvas, and the Value proposition; and is about the making and taking of opportunities -who the participants might seek to talk to and how they could find them.
  • This is followed by bi-weekly meetings, as a cohort, to encourage peer-to-peer learning with the Director of the programme (if necessary by Skype), to talk through what they have learned, their encounters, their progress, their sticking points and their plans.
  • The programme is complemented by a series of Masterclasses and workshops, (which are also open to the entire Imperial community) on such topics as IP, PR and marketing, finance, design thinking etc.
  • There are two or three business coaches, with whom you can book a time; advice can be sought from the four members of the management team, all members of Imperial staff.
  • They also get access to the Imperial Venture Mentor Scheme, which meets once a month, for mentor/adviser help, and has a cohort of 15-20 mentors, primarily Alumni.
  • In the final week, all are present for an expert-led feedback panel at which they receive specific guidance, advice, and direction on their  next steps
  • The programme culminates in a Showcase  – of celebration – with all who have been involved, including partners, contributors and investors, and people from Imperial Innovations and the Enterprise Lab.

Innovate UK’s programme provides funding of £35k per participant, but this programme is funded by Imperial itself – as to £15k to ‘buy out their [time under their] contract’, and £15k for expenses of meeting customers, suppliers, regulators, whoever.

This expensive programme (just under £½mn a time), limited as it is to a small number of participants, acknowledges that management in science is inadequately focused onto the potential applications of its work.

A better alternative is to make it a condition of every grant for research potentially related to public issues that its recipient explore its potential applications – by establishing and maintaining contacts of this kind. And universities need to make provision to enable scientists to make and maintain these contacts. The Wellcome Trust would be the ideal pioneer.


(1) Are there any limits to the scope for Accelerators?’ April, 2015 Hallowed publication ‘Nature’ reports on a nine-week ‘Biotech Boot Camp’ in the US, funded by the National Institutes of Health, which aims to get entrepreneurial scientists to get out there and ask potential customers what they want.

 (2) Research-led businesses desperately need commercialisers Nov, 2015 Few leading business people started their careers as scientists yet the need for commercial support for research-led businesses is acute. How can this chasm be bridged? 


Upcoming workshop ‘Business for people with passions’ The support team at Cockpit Arts, an incubator for 140 young craft-based businesses, will provide the opportunity for us to discuss our support regimes and theirs rationale.


Recent Blogs (


John Whatmore, March 2018


Research-led new businesses need commercialisers


Research-led businesses desperately need commercialisers Few leading business people started their careers as scientists, yet the need for commercial support for research-led businesses is acute. How can this chasm be bridged? Innovators need to be identified; science entrepreneurs need to be hallowed; support needs to be tailored for and concentrated on young science businesses; and universities need to redouble their work to identify and foster their research that has commercial potential, and incubate and support more young businesses.

It has long been a concern that in the UK we fail to profit from the high ranking of our research. Yet there are far fewer commercial startups and spinouts in UK universities than in the US. What distinguishes Apple is the speed with which technical innovations are translated into commercial products.

As Innovate UK plans to focus more onto the commercialisation of UK research, the US ‘Science’ magazine (June 12 issue) writes up five stories about scientists who have or have not turned their hands to their own businesses, one of whom has become a catalyst for others to follow the commercial route. A second article discusses ways in which commercialisation of research has been encouraged in the US, including:

  • campus competitions to solicit valuable ideas
  • establishing university VC funds
  • university incubators, and
  • ‘accelerator’ programmes, such as the 10-week Innovation Corps programmes of the National Science Foundation.

Commercial-minded heads of labs The founder of one company tells about a knock on the door from a university tech transfer official who asked her if she had anything that could be taken to market. “We thought she was crazy”, but that person ‘took a shot’. A second company grew out of an I-Corps boot camp for would-be academic entrepreneurs that has been widely espoused in the US but so far only found a single adopter in the UK.

While the main interest of the majority of academics is research and teaching, some academics have a strong orientation towards business (who may become founders of startups) and others have some interest (who might become members of teams). So blanket programmes to encourage commercialisation are of little value. Successful commercialisation depends not only on having the ability to develop new technology but also on having the capacity to do so.

Jackie Ying was head of a lab at MIT where she 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. She went on to become founding director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore where her objective was 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 that: IBN has generated more than 300 patents, 80 licences, and eight startup companies.

Identifying real innovators One (personal and itself innovative) view of great innovators (in drug hunting) is that they are:

  • risk-takers with a dislike of the status quo
  • have an outstanding grasp of the cognate science
  • have a non-compliant attitude to formal organizational processes
  • hold strong scientific convictions which they express forcefully, and
  • are genuinely ambitious more for their [idea] than for themselves.

They will usually originate in academia, possibly from an experience in academic/industrial collaboration. This suggests a need to rethink the ways in which innovators are selected and managed.

Other research strongly confirms that you need to know a lot about your subject before you are likely to lead it into new directions; and that such leaders are visionaries/ideas people, who annex the help of others to turn their ideas into reality.

Support for innovators and commercialisers in academia MIT ‘s recent report (1) reinforces the well-acknowledged need for comprehensive eco-systems comprising [a culture of entrepreneurial] teams, [plentiful] risk capital, and corporate and university leadership; and it acknowledges that such systems are difficult to catalyse. MIT’s programme in Scotland has been focusing on two components, namely:

  • entrepreneurial mentoring, and
  • the development of a dynamic network for entrepreneurs.

Parallels with other fields emphasise the importance of working with early-stage ventures and providing support in the form of mentoring, training and access to networks (with peers, customers, experts and investors.)

Innovate UK is now offering to its grant winners the services free of charge of the Business Growth Service. This service gives access to a review with a Business Growth Manager, and thence to one of a choice of coaches, advisers and consultants, to help identify problems and formulate plans for the growth of the business. It should be made available on the same basis to all young businesses in Accelerators, incubators, science parks, innovation centres and tech hubs.

Daresbury Innovation Centre has expanded, as has the range and quantity of support available – together with its innovation network; but the minimal support available to the young businesses in Harwell’s incubators raises questions about the support for other businesses on the site, or at Culham or at other Science and Technology sites.

Short programmes like the I-Corps programme (which has been espoused by a number of government agencies in the US) that aim to provide intensive support for early-stage businesses (‘Accelerators’) are now common in a number of fields both in the US and the UK, though the only directly comparable programme in the UK is one adopted by Imperial College for startups based on synthetic biology. Isis, the Oxford University tech transfer office has just enrolled Wayra Lab, Telefonica’s Accelerator organisation, to set up a similar arrangement for Oxford University entrepreneurs.

Many unversities are already embraced by the IP group and other groups of VCs, but overall the emphasis on entrepreneurialism is minimal. Most universities have their own incubators, but the number of places in them is tiny in relation to the number of aspiring entrepreneurs ion universities. And while there is of course a wealth of technical support available in universities for their young businesses, they do not necessarily know what they need to know, with which mentors can help. Tech transfer offices have often been filled from university staff rather than from the commercial world outside; and in sharp contrast to the business world, support tends to be limited and to be reactive rather than proactive.

Structuring projects for commercialisation Whereas few Biotech incubators offer significant support, BioCity in Nottingham is unusual in that it runs a programme that seeks out areas with identifiable needs for innovation and aims to match them with innovators in a programme of intensive development. The Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst has adopted a different route in that it is positioned alongside GSK’s Laboratories and aims to enable its occupants to work with and make use of GSK’s scientists. The new Crick Institute in London needs to be as strong at bringing into use as it aims to be in research.

While Life Science VCs are said to need big pockets and a wide range of expertise to be effective, and tend to seek quick wins, in 2012 the Wellcome Trust launched a fund that aims to support developments that may be of strategic or technical importance, that seeks to identify important discoveries with potential to significantly impact the healthcare market, and not only to fund their development, but also to put management into place.

The European Space Agency is actively seeking to generate development projects in the range of £500k- £1mn investment that address major issues that might be solved by consortia of disparate organisations with the help of space-related technology (of which it currently has about 10 in hand in the UK). One such integrated application is attacking the recent sharp rise in the incidence of Lyme’s Disease, where the project entails a development plan for research into malaria in Africa and in the UK, GPs and hospitals in Scotland, and pharmaceutical companies.

If scientific collaborations play an increasingly important role in driving world leading research, the Nature Index of Collaborations database — with its focus on high-quality science articles — lends itself well to the analysis of collaboration patterns both between institutions and countries. It paints a rich picture of the global research ecosystem and yields insights into the power and impact of joint research.

Alas, the Queens Anniversary prizes ‘for universities and colleges that demonstrate excellence, innovation and impact – for the institution itself and for people and society more generally in a wider world’ hardly get a mention in the press to-day.

(1) Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme

John Whatmore, November 2015

Building specific eco-systems


Building specific eco-systems Introspection by Village Capital in New York yields insights into the roles and activities of entrepreneur support organisations

 Most entrepreneur support focuses either on the founder or on the investor. But it is important to identify the specific role in the middle of the “Pioneer Gap”: the ecosystem builder, says a report for the Kauffman Foundation by Village Capital in New York. The people who run accelerators, incubators, seed funds, and other entrepreneur support organisa­tions (ESOs) play a critical role in their communities’.

(Village Capital works by identifying real-world problems, and finding, training and investing in entrepreneurs, and building communities around them and their ventures – to improve opportunities for growth and success. Since 2009, when it opened its doors, it has supported over 500 ventures in 45 programmes.)

The report ‘s special contributions are around the qualities to select for and to work on in founders; and on enhancing mutual understandings between startups and funders. And Village Capital’s comments on their latest inclinations (at the end of this paper).

MIT is not alone is asserting that accelerators contribute to local development, stimulate economic growth by bringing jobs, financial opportunities and people to their area of operation.

One of the report’s findings is that programmes that are sector specific raise more funds, attract better entrepreneurs and are more likely to run, and to succeed. Significantly, they attract more targeted and more useful mentors and partners.

Few entrepreneur support organisations find that they can pay for this work in full, says the report, and need to find/use revenues from other sources, such as consultancy or other services, grants (from private or public organisations), or from other benefits that they provide (eg meeting local needs).

In designing their curriculum, ESOs should be clear about their objectives: to what extent are they about product validation, developing strategic partnerships, creating quality jobs, solving sectoral problems or making money as quickly as possible. They should use measurable targets.

In curriculum design and in selection, while most accelerators rely simply on advertising their programme to attract applicants, evidence strongly

suggests that quality is more important than quantity, that you should look to draw on sectors that your accelerator will hope to stimulate, and aim to find matches between entrepreneurial potential and business type (can Myers Briggs tests help, asks the report). ESOs should strive for transparency, collaboration and communication, and peer feedback.

Village Capital’s research examined eight common characteristics of founding team members:

  • Acumen – knowledge of business and market
  • Adjustment – emotional and psychological adjustment/self control
  • Ambition – need for achievement; drive to accomplish
  • Originator – individualistic; spontaneous decision-making style
  • People-focus – perceived level of concern for people
  • GRIT – confidence, resilience, perseverance
  • Persuasion – perceived ability to get things done through others
  • Team build – perceived ability to energise, motivate and inspire team members

And added three riders:

  • Spontaneity has a negative correlation with successful leadership
  • Self-awareness has a positive correlation
  • Female founders outperform their male counterparts.

The report stresses the importance of founder awareness in curriculum planning – in terms of

  • self-awareness
  • actionable feedback (including from peers)
  • realistic milestone planning.

Village Capital’s founding philosophy is about peer selection and ranking, in order to mitigate investor bias (and skewed power dynamics), to empower entrepreneurs, and to evaluate startups and startup leadership on their own merits (eg in terms of market potential, team strength, founder coachability, go-to-market strategy, traction and execution.).

VilCap has put a lot of work into building tools for the better assessment of teams and companies – especially in terms of venture investment readiness and awareness. This has included a definitional matrix – of stages of progress, designed to help entrepreneurs and investors use the same language, entrepreneurs to become more self-aware, and to enhance entrepreneur-investor conversations.

Village Capital’s model now emphasises

  • spending less time on the curriculum and more on teams working on their own;
  • emphasising networking and collaboration (eg in your sector);
  • startups should focus on developing com-munications, networking and organisational structures; and less on financial skills;
  • mentor quality and matching are the keys to success;
  • peer investment selection.

The VilCap Model is available as a toolkit – for those seeking to make use of Village Capital’s knowledge and experience.


* – Reports. A year of Vilcap communities: how ecosystem builders can best help entrepreneurs succeed, 2016.

* And a previous blog of mine about Village Capital at Oct 2017.

John Whatmore, March 2018

Creating local and regional growth hubs


Creating local and regional growth hubs to match local needs 

Silicon Valley’s may be outstandingly the world’s best of entrepreneurial eco-systems, and London’s outstandingly the best in the UK. But can local areas aspire to create eco-systems of support for young ventures for themselves? (Next up: Building specific eco-systems – Village Capital in New York’s extensive experience is revealing.)


The authoritative 2016 Scaleup Report focused on aspects of scaling up (ambition, team building, partnerships, management systems, and identifying core competences and strengths – especially in relation to new markets and new opportunities). The following paragraph, from a recent Scaleup Institute’s report, comments on ways for getting there.

‘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.’

But is available support as widespread or as strong as it needs to be; and is there enough local collaboration. Is the pool of lead investors/serial entrepreneurs big enough to provide advice about growth; and how can the pool be grown rapidly. Here are two examples.

Spark2Scale, a support programme created by the Business Growth Hub in Leeds is a business growth scheme which combines workshops, collaborative masterclasses, personal mentoring, peer-to-peer problem solving and bespoke business support from specialist Hub advisers, tailored specifically for aspiring ‘scale-ups’.

Its second cohort, recruited in mid-2017, aims to tackle the barriers faced by scale-ups in areas like Rochdale that are keen to grow, but which often lack the experience or confidence to take their business forward – by instilling a positive, ambitious, and confident scale-up mindset in those companies which participate.

It starts with a one-day workshop – to help participants develop their strategy; followed by one-to-one support towards delivering a comprehensive strategic plan. Next are three peer-to-peer half day workshops, led by industry specialists – in Finance, Digital Marketing & Growth Hacking; and additional one-to-one support and workshops are available. The programme, which is hosted at the Chambers Business Centre in Oldham, culminates in an evening celebrating success.

Innovation SuperNetwork in the North East was set up as a neutral broker to increase collaboration between parts of the regional innovation eco-system. Run by a specially formed company and championed by the North East LEP, SuperNetwork brings together over 50 different organisations and links to over 5000 businesses.

It has three strands: it runs competitions for the provision of support in specific fields (‘Innovation Challenges’); an access to finance programme connecting businesses with investors (‘FinanceCamp’); and a regional innovation conference (‘VentureFest North East’). And it aims to upskill business support organisations and encourage collaboration between them (‘Innovation Practice’).

The SuperNetwork’s Innovation Challenge takes challenges identified by large organisations and connects them with local small businesses – biomedical catalysts, the charging of electric vehicles and smart phones, and public space TV among current challenges. Its Finance Camp strand runs a programme of preparatory workshops that lead to one-to-one meetings with investors (it will run five investor training events in 2018, each in a different location in the area), and it runs a major investor conference in the summer. Its VentureFest is an annual meetup with a variety of speakers, workshops and other encounter activities.

Its most powerful role may lie in its aim to develop a presence as a cluster in the field of early-stage ventures, to which individuals and their organisations can become attached; and to provide opportunities for them to network so as to benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience.

Time will tell how well these examples will succeed; but time is of the essence: what could help them evolve even faster?


John Whatmore, February 2018


I visit the first bioscience Accelerator in the UK


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