Imperial’s I-Corps programme

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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? 

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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.

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Recent Blogs (www.johnwhatmore.com)

 

John Whatmore, March 2018

 

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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

 

 

‘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

A learning programme for leaders

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Boosting Resilience: a 2-year learning programme for leaders – in the arts

The startup and scaleup world has seen a dramatic explosion, but there has been little or no support for the development of entrepreneurs and leaders of innovation. This is one such programme.

This is a programme – in a sector whose very essence is innovation – that aims to enable senior staff from England-based arts and cultural organisations, music education hubs, museums and library services, faced with difficult times (‘the new norm’), to develop new approaches to their work.

It is one of four new flagship projects supported by Arts Council England with the aim of inspiring and supporting the development and piloting of new approaches to ‘making the most of Creative Assets and Intellectual Property’.

It is being conceived and delivered by the Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice at Cass Business School, the Culture Capital Exchange and the Centre for Enterprise at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The programme is working with a cohort of 27 leaders, such as Directors or Chief Executives, from a diverse range of organisations across England. It aims to help participants to: recognise and seize opportunities, to deploy resources more strategically and imaginatively and to identify and mitigate risk, focusing on developing organisations’ thinking on their creative assets, their existing and potential intellectual property, and on their abilities to maximize these through working with wider sectors.

The longer-term aim is also to benefit the wider sector, creating materials and methods to anticipate and withstand economic, social, environmental and technological change.

The programme aims to create a unique environment in which to nurture approaches to resilience and leadership in the arts and culture sectors. It consists of three residentials that bring people together to develop skills and knowledge as well as to network and engage in peer-to-peer learning. It includes action learning sets, partner evaluation groups, peer-to-peer learning, walking, mentoring, bespoke workshops, one-to-one support and an online learning environment.

Participants’ interests and aspirations, derived from their applications, together with ideas generated in three ‘ideas pools’ each in a different part of the country, provided the themes for the first residential, just completed. It concentrated on established foundational knowledge and learning approaches. Four external speakers shared their expertise – of insights on creative assets, of problem solving styles, and intellectual property.

A combination of active and digital learning enabled individuals, small groups and the whole group to work collaboratively on individual’s issues; and material was regularly made available on the website.

The taught content consisted primarily of short briefings and debriefings around hands-on activities, introducing them to current learning methods while working on topics specific to their own interests.

Participants were also supplied with custom-designed reflective journals to keep during the event, and there is also a personal secure reflection space available digitally.

It was evidently a very inspiring week-end. The subsequent residentials take place in March and November, 2018. In between residentials, participants will have opportunities to meet individually with experts and programme staff and to take part in Action Learning groups – to help develop their ideas and plans.

John Whatmore, November 2017.

 

 

Organising your venture’s supporters

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Organising your venture’s supporters Priscila Bala of Octopus Venture Capital, (formerly Mentor Director at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute) has emphasised the value of advisers, and suggested how to set up and make good use of them.

Savvy enterprise start-ups understand the power of relationships. When it comes to entering new markets, gaining the support and endorsement of well-connected or local industry players can make all the difference. Advisory board members can fill knowledge and network gaps within your company or your own background – to help with product development or sales strategy or to introduce them to valuable clients, suppliers and investors.

An advisory board can be a bounty when you find the people who are experts at solving a set of problems you have, engage them with clear expectations and rewards, and turn to them whenever you have issues related to that problem. To find the right people, you have to be clear on what problems you want them to help you solve.

For example, Steve Blank [of I-Corps] suggests (1) that there are five primary types of advisory board members:

  1. Technical advisor: for product development advice
  2. Business advisor: for business strategy and guidance
  3. Customer advisor: for value proposition and positioning advice
  4. Industry advisor: for domain expertise
  5. Sales advisor: for market tactics and demand creation

Beyond these, it’s important that you identify the crucial challenges in your scaling up roadmap, to determine what kinds of advisors will be strategic to you, and which will complement your team’s skillset.

Go for ‘stars’! Advisory member relationships can work particularly well if the candidates you are courting are well-connected leaders in their space

Clarifying your objectives will also enable you to have you targeted conversations. For example, if your goal is to grow a base of customers in a particular vertical, try the following:

  1. Ask your customers or prospect customers who they respect.
  2. Ask your Board of Directors and industry connections for referrals.
  3. Have a point-of-view related to the industry, and build a profile and relationships based on your expertise.

If you are a first-time entrepreneur or an early-stage entrepreneur, there are often many apparent candidates but who won’t be valuable advisors for your business. Ask for referrals within the industry and spend time getting to know the advisor. Before formalizing any advisor relationship, ask for their input on a few demonstrative issues — how would they approach them? Who might they reach out to? What strategies have they seen in the past? What were the outcomes? Which risks do they anticipate?

Compared with Board members, you can focus the work and input of those advisors much more narrowly to their expertise, there is more flexibility on the time and level of engagement the advisor can offer and you can successfully engage a larger group of advisors within this mandate.

Most companies don’t engage their advisory board in meetings as a group; instead they reach out to specific advisors as needed, and set different frequency for those interactions.

Strong advisors are busy people. Since you likely will only have a limited amount of their time each week or month, be rigorous about setting agendas for each meeting or call, be explicit about actionable items between conversations (your action items and theirs), and send follow-up summary emails after every meeting. Some entrepreneurs find it helpful to use a running Google Doc shared with the advisor to keep track of ongoing notes together.

Ongoing feedback is another helpful tactic to successful advisor relationships. Mention to the advisor up front that you will want to spend 15–20 minutes in your third or fourth meeting talking through how the relationship is going to-date, and how you can improve your collaboration. Advisors are professionals, and should be receptive to feedback. Some relationships will work better with a set schedule of interactions; others might require more flexibility and unfold in “bursts” of support. Work with the advisor to find the style and cadence that works best for your partnership.

Compensate your advisors. In addition to aligning incentives and recognizing that expert time is valuable, compensation will make you more disciplined about the calibre of advice and support you are seeking and getting. It formalizes the professional relationship you expect from advisors, as it does your commitment to receiving their open and honest expert feedback, rather than having them tell you what you want to hear.

Advisory boards can be a powerful asset, accelerating your access to people and solutions that are key to your company’s success. Advisors can make strategic introductions, help you secure contracts or fundraise, attend strategic meetings with you, help you secure press coverage for your company or serve as a reference for your product or your work, and help you recruit other members of the advisory board or your team.

(1) My work at IdeaLondon came up with exactly the same analysis.

See the full article at: https://medium/octopus Ventures/how-advisory-boards…

John Whatmore, September 2017

 

 

Imperial’s vast new incubator

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Imperial White City to house vastly more space for young businesses

With four times more startups and scaleups than on its South Kensilngton site and on ten floors, managing collaboration among a wide spectrum of parties and across big spaces will be a new and hugely challenging task.

Imperial White City in West London consists in the development of a wholesale new university campus. Imperial, very much a leading university, long constrained by the shortage of space in its part of London, took an opportunity offered by property developments in White City to rethink the complete structure of university education.

The gap that has emerged between students and staff could be bridged, the thinking went, if it were possible to bring together – into a community – students, staff, alumni, local businesses and the local community.

One of the dozen or more buildings on the new site is, rather enigmatically, called the Translation and I-Hub; (another is the big new ‘maker’ space, about which I will write next). The aim is to create a ‘dynamic, enterprising environment that enables the translation of research outcomes into internationally significant technologies’, co-locating research capabilities with ‘allied [commercial] enterprises’.

The building will offer ‘spinouts, startups, SMEs, scaleups, established industry leaders’ about seven times more space than was previously available on the South Kensington campus (1) (ie it will house perhaps 250-350 businesses,) for incubation, grow-on and collaboration with corporates.

Of the 13 floors, three are already kitted out as wet labs/office spaces devoted to incubator grow-on use – with coffee/community areas, that will house around two dozen bioscience businesses (one floor will be for businesses in synthetic biology). And the other ten floors are open plan office space, (initial plans show no coffee/community areas), each of which could make an ideal incubator for a community of carefully matched young businesses. While access to experts in departments still at Kensington will of course be harder, the bioscience incubator has recruited its first alumnus (‘who has done it before’ ie built a big business from the ground) to work with its occupants. (2)

The new facilities, all shipshape, will be impressively modern, not least with all the latest communication facilities. In so far as more of the accommodation than in the past is oriented towards more mature startups, the offices anticipate a greater focus on the individual company and less on the centre as an innovation community; yet the essence of the new thinking lies in the unity of the community.

If cross-fertilisation is of increasing value, the proactive management of support will be vitally important. But it will be unusually challenging by virtue of the wide spectrum of the parties involved and the very large area of the accommodation.

John Whatmore, June 2017

  • The South Kensington Incubator was home in all to around 80 young businesses – 20 core SMEs plus 10 in cleantech and 10 in synthetic biology; some 30 were virtual/hot desk businesses, and around 10 were brand new startups.
  • Wayra Lab, Startupbootcamp and MassChallenge inter alia average 5 mentors per startup, some closely attached, others called up as their businesses evolve.

See also: New support for startups and scaleups in East London ENTIQ’s new innovation centre in the old Olympic Park will be a great new signpost but the peloton needs more than that: a new network is needed to spur incubators and co-working spaces to develop support services like this one – for the growing number of young businesses. (http://wp.me/p3beJt-gu)

STOP PRESS Imperial has just announced that it is seeking to recruit a Director of Entrepreneurship to lead its new Enterprise Lab.

John Whatmore, May 2017

 

France’s new Incubator

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France opens a giant new Incubator Aiming to attract in the next month a thousand young ventures to its halls, France’s vast new incubator (a refurbished train depot in Paris called Station F), has just been opened by President Macron (‘preaching to the choir’ as one correspondent called his speech’). It provides all sorts of spaces for young businesses that ‘have a business prototype and a path to growth’, together with other related organisations.

Station F is the brainchild of a French billionaire from the tech startup world and his project manager, a lady with a serious background in a variety of startups – who has focused on health, finance, education, and even fashion. It is supported by France’s increasing efforts to become second only to the UK in startups in Europe; and it is backed by Facebook and Amazon.

Its young ventures still face likely problems – in attracting talent, and around French attitudes to risk. Questions hang over the incubator itself and its sheer size, and the extent of the necessary eco-system in Paris. And later in their life they face France’s tough labour laws.

In 2014 the French government started a sprawling programme to support tech, in which 13 cities were designated hi-tech hubs; and it supports the growth of French startups in dozens of foreign cities. The French government has created numerous investment vehicles and offers loans and grants to fund startups and accelerators on easy terms. France has created a special tax status for innovative new companies; and Macron has pledged to do more about exemption form wealth tax and liability to capital gains taxes. ‘While more venture capital is flowing into France, the levels still lag Britain, Germany and Israel’; but France’s angel network is only a quarter the size of the UK’s, reports the New York Times.

The rationale for housing startups in incubators is that they have great opportunities to learn from their fellow travelers, and increasingly so from those in the same field as themselves. Claimed to be the largest incubator in Europe (and more than four times the size of Imperial’s new incubator at its White City campus – just completed, which is likely to take months to fill; see link below), making Station F into an effective growth community will itself be an innovative task for those who run it (like ENTIQ – see below.)

What makes Silicon Valleys’ eco-system so effective is perhaps the intimacy of interactions between early stage ventures and those with related expertise and experience. In Accelerators (and in some UK incubators), mentor cohorts are large and their management is proactive. But they take time to set up and are difficult to manage effectively (see link below – BioHub).

Facebook set up an artificial intelligence hub in Paris several years ago to recruit talented engineers at France’s elite universities; and is now anchoring a programme in Station F called Startup Garage, which will mentor every six months 12 budding tech entrepreneurs in health, education and other fields. In exchange for coaching, Facebook will observe how the startups approach issues like privacy, and identify cutting-edge tech trends.

Despite the gross hype around the grand Station F, one French citizen is reported as commenting: ‘France can definitely become a startup nation: the potential is there’.

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See on my website: johnwhatmore.com:

 Imperial White City to house vastly more space for young businesses With four times more startups and scaleups than on its South Kensington site and on ten floors, managing collaboration among a wide spectrum of parties and across big spaces will be a new and hugely challenging task. May, 2017. (http://wp.me/p3beJt-k0)

Making science deliver: BioHub – an outstanding new Incubator BioHub has been assiduously building programmes of support and development for research based businesses.  June, 2017 (http://wp.me/p3beJt-k4)

 New support for startups and scaleups in East London ENTIQ’s new innovation centre in the old Olympic Park will be a great new signpost but the peloton needs more than that: a new network is needed to spur incubators and co-working spaces to develop support services like this one – for the growing number of young businesses. Sept, 2016. (http://wp.me/p3beJt-gu)

John Whatmore, July 2017