Growth Builder’s first cohort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

John Whatmore, May 2017

Raising the Mentoring Game

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Raising the mentoring game

Stops and starts have marked the very slow progress of mentoring in the UK. As the ultimate beneficiaries of mentoring, funders of new businesses should be leading the way.

The big question is (and was) why hasn’t mentoring taken off in the UK. Its best known successes include Richard Branson (said to have four mentors). the Princes Trust, and in Accelerators. Two levers were touted at the recent Annual Conference of the Association of Business Mentors (‘ABM’), both winners of the ABM’s Award for Commitment to Mentoring, but both embryonic.

Two initiatives

National Mentors Day’s third incarnation, masterminded by the redoubtable Chelsey Baker, will take place in October 2017, as a seriously bigger, more widespread, much more inclusive and hopefully more impactful day. And Janette Pallas, now at the University of Warwick Science Park, received this year’s award for her pioneering work in creating ecosystems of support in incubators and their ilk – a way forward being strongly encouraged in two recent regional meetings by the Scaleup Institute.

Non-progress

It is now several years (2011 to be precise) since the government made a commitment to put 10,000 mentors in place; and mentoring was a key part of the government’s Growth Builder programme, started in   2012, but alas for some strange reason withdrawn in 2016. Mentoring is an integral element of recent scaleup programmes, such as the Judge Institute’s and the RBS/UCL programme, but the mentoring scene is necessarily local and its institutions fragmented.

                                                   Funders should take the lead

It would be good to see funders take the initiative (eg VCs and Angel Funds) and along with innovation centres and development programmes (where mentoring is usually mandated) work in partnership with sources of mentors like the ABM (eg running joint workshops). The likes of the ABM could encourage mentoring by appointing ambassadors, and running more awards schemes or prizes. What is needed is a campaign of the extent of the Public Understanding of Science.

John Whatmore, March 2017

 

Speed as the new essential

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Speed as the new essential David Giraourd, former President of Google Enterprise Apps and CEO of startup Upstart argues that speed is the key competitive advantage of to-day [and not just in Accelerators].

His top points are:

* Think first of all about the importance and the timing of each decision.

* Next about the inputs and perspectives of your team that you need.

* Make sure that all plans come with assigned completion dates.

* Prioritise mission critical items.

* Make sure that people are not waiting for one another, and can work in parallel.

* Firm up on doubtful assumptions eg legal or regulatory.

* Confront uncertain lines of authority eg CEO vs Founders vs Managers.

 * Use your competition as your incentive.

* Help the members of your team to help you: what inspires them. And tell them why your objective is so vital.

 I’ve long believed that speed is the ultimate weapon in business. All else being equal, the fastest company in any market will win.

Speed is a defining characteristic — if not the defining characteristic — of the leader in virtually every industry you look at. In tech, speed is seen primarily as an asset in product development. Many people would agree that speed and agility are how you win when it comes to product.

What they fail to grasp is that speed matters to the rest of the business too — not just product. Google is fast. General Motors is slow. Startups are fast. Big companies are slow.

The building blocks of speed are in making decisions and executing on decisions. 

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week. The process of making and remaking decisions wastes an insane amount of time at companies. When a decision is made is much more important than what decision is made.

You should consistently begin every decision-making process by considering how much time and effort that decision is worth, who needs to have input, and when you’ll have an answer. Some decisions are more complicated or critical than others: more information might be essential; some decisions can’t be easily reversed or would be too damaging if you choose poorly. Most importantly, some decisions don’t need to be made immediately to maintain downstream velocity.

Eric Schmidt at Google knew he stalled a lot of things, but Eric made sure that decisions were made on a specific timeframe — a realistic one — but a firm one. The art of good decision making requires that you gather input and perspective from your team, and then push toward a final decision in a way that makes it clear that all voices were heard. You don’t want consensus to hold you hostage — but input from others will help you get to the right decision faster, and with buy-in from the team.

There’s an art to knowing when to end debate and make a decision. We intuitively want the team to come to the right decision on their own. But people are enormously relieved when they hear that you’re grabbing the baton and accepting responsibility for a decision.

Executing decisions A lot of people spend a whole lot of time refining their productivity systems and to-do lists. But within the context of a team and a business, executing a plan as quickly as possible is an entirely different concept.

Many plans and action items come out of meetings without being assigned due dates. Even when dates are assigned, they’re often based on half-baked intuition about how long the task should take. Completion dates and times follow a tribal notion of the sun setting and rising, and too often “tomorrow” is the default answer. For items on your critical path, it’s always useful to challenge the due date. All it takes is asking the simplest question: “Why can’t this be done sooner?”

Just as important as assigning a deadline, you need to tease out any dependencies around an action item. Mission critical items should be tackled head-on by your team in order to accelerate all downstream activities. Things that can wait till later need to wait.

A big part of this is making sure people aren’t waiting on one another to take next steps. The untrained mind has a weird way of defaulting to serial activities — i.e. I’ll do this after you do that after X, Y, Z happens. You want people working in parallel instead.

Projects can be so complicated that it can seem you have to go back over the thinking so much that everything else grinds to a halt too. For example, our business at Upstart has to comply with a lot of regulations. There’s not a lot we can do until we know we’ll have legal approval, so we used to spend a lot of time dancing around whether something was going to be legal or not. Then we thought, why don’t we just get a brain dump from our lawyers saying, “Do this, this and this and not this, and you’ll be fine.” Having that type of simple understanding of the problem drastically reduced the cognitive overhead of every decision we made.

If you can assess, pull out and stomp on the complicating pieces of the puzzle, everyone’s life gets easier. The one I see the most — and this includes at Google too — is that people hem and haw over what the founder or CEO will think every step of the way. Just get their input first. Don’t get your work reversed later on. What a founder might think is classic cognitive overhead.

Talking about your competition is a good way to add urgency. At Upstart, we constantly say that while we’re working hard on this one thing, our competitors are probably working just as hard on something we don’t even know about. So we have to be vigilant. A lot of people say you should ignore competition, but by acknowledging it, you’re incentivizing yourself to set the pace in your market.

When we were launching Google Apps, we were coming out against Microsoft Office, which had this dominant, monopolistic ownership of the business. We thought about what we could do differently and better, and the simplicity of our pricing was part of it — I think we decided that in a half hour. We just wanted to be able to tell people, “We may not be free, but we’ll be the simplest decision you ever made.”

Once you’ve made a decision, you’ll need to convince others that you’re right and get them to prioritize what you need from them over the other things on their plate. You need to understand this person, what their job is, how their success is measured, what they care about, what all of their other priorities are, etc. Then ask: “How can you help them get what they want while helping you get what you want?”

I’ve seen this done by appealing to people’s pride. Maybe you tell them that you used to work with a competitor who was quite speedy so that they have incentive to go even faster. I’ve also seen this done by appealing to human decency and being honest. You might say something like, “Hey we’re really betting heavily on this, and we really need you guys to deliver.”

Whichever route you choose, you want to back up your argument with logic. You should gently seek to understand what’s happening. I tend to ask a lot of questions like: “Can you help me understand why something would take so long? Is there any way we can help or make it go faster?”

To keep things moving along at Upstart, I ask a lot of hard questions very quickly, and most of them are time related. I know that we execute well and are generally working on the right things at the right time, but I will always challenge why something takes a certain amount of time. Are we working as smartly as we can?

Too many people believe that speed is the enemy of quality. To an extent they’re right — you can’t force innovation and sometimes genius needs time and freedom to bloom. But in my experience, that’s the rare case. There’s not always a stark tradeoff between something done fast and done well. Don’t let you or your organization use that as a false shield or excuse to lose momentum. The moment you do, you lose your competitive advantage.

 

UK science has too few ‘hustlers’

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Science has too few ‘hustlers’ Why do we have so few entrepreneurs to help bring the products of our scientific expertise into widespread use? Do places like Harwell and Daresbury do enough to identify and encourage hustlers like some of those about whom I have written (see blelow).        Next week: Synthetic Biology at Imperial helps to launch startup ‘LabGenius’.

 A promoter of collaborations to tackle serious issues Ian Downey at the European Space Agency (ESA) puts consortia together for innovative projects enabled by Satellite technology. To combat the recent sharp rise in Lyme’s Disease he had brought together researchers into malaria in Africa and in the UK, GPs and hospitals in Scotland, and pharmaceutical companies – in a project funded by the ESA at Harwell.

A lab head and product developer At MIT she encouraged her students to tackle issues that could have commercial appeal as much as scientific value, and helped them to realise their commercial capabilities as well as produce great science; and went on in the same style to found her own lab in the far east, whence came lots more startups. (Science 12 June 2015) http://wp.me/p3beJt-dw

 Rolling out innovations: the Space Catapult Subverting concerns that in the UK we fail to exploit our technical leads, the Space Catapult is charting new applications for satellites and facilitating path-finding initiatives in technology, markets and finance. June 2015 (http://wp.me/p3beJt-bb)

 Advancing the development of synthetic biology  SynbiCITE (http://wp.me/p3beJt-e8) is an ‘Innovation and Knowledge Centre’ several of which were established in the last few years to develop emerging technologies that have the potential to become major industries. Synthetic Biology – creating manufacturable agents by digitally engineering their biology – is in its very early stages: the Centre is still in the process of identifying commercialisable challenges (such as in chemicals, advanced materials, energy, health and environmental protection.) But even in these very early stages, it has already managed to spawn several startups, of which LabGenius is one – a business which is selling DNA to biotech and pharma for drug development (see next week.)

Steve Blank’s I-Corps Biotech Boot Camp Hallowed publication ‘Nature’ reported 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. http://wp.me/p3beJt-av

John Whatmore, December 2016

 

A bespoke programme for private SMEs

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A bespoke growth programme for ambitious private companies.

ELITE is a platform of unique provenance designed to help the UK’s ‘most exciting and ambitious’ private companies prepare and structure for their next stage of growth.

Launched by the London Stock Exchange in 2014 and delivered in collaboration with Imperial College Business School, this programme – for the UK’s hi-growth private companies – is a veritable hothouse for growth.

Like other such programmes about which I have written recently, it is an extended programme of periodic meetings – this one an eighteen month, three part programme, consisting of education, discussion, business support, mentoring and access to entrepreneurs and business leaders as well as to the corporate advisory and investor community.

In the UK it comprises two cohorts a year, each of 15-20 companies (chosen for their growth potential) – the seventh cohort just starting; and involves seven modules of intensive meetings at the London Stock Exchange, each of one to one-and-a-half days, every eight weeks – normally for the CEO and the CFO.

The dominant theme is (not unexpectedly) capital. Other main themes are: strategy, talent and other key resources, governance, marketing, and packaging one’s story.

Get ready This section – of 8-days broken down into four modules, is aimed at providing participants with the operational skills –initially to review and reflect – about visibility, productivity and efficiency, and about cultural and organisational change.

In the Get Fit phase, all the suggestions and guidelines raised in the first phase are put into practice. Using a self-assessment test, the company can identify the areas for improvement to work on, and have the support of a group of professionals tailored to the specific needs of the company to consider how to embed changes in the business.

 Get value With the help of a select community of investors, professionals and companies, the participants will be engaged in initiatives for moving forward, such as exploring new funding options and new business opportunities – designed to boost the brand and ranking with investors, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders.

The ELITE programme was first implemented in Italy (where it also runs) in April 2012 and has now expanded all over Europe. Some 500 companies have participated in ELITE programmes across Europe, with an advisory and investor community of over 250.

John Whatmore, November 2016

 

How do other programmes compare?

All ‘scaleup’ programmes tend to be for small groups of senior executives in SMEs; they focus on key aspects of growth, and are structured for mutual discussions plus input from experts – at regular, usually monthly meetings over twelve months. (The following have all appeared recently on my website, http://www.johnwhatmore.com)

The Judge Institute’s SME Growth Challenge – a series of six bi-monthly workshops for CEOs of about a dozen hi-growth SMEs, delivered over 12 months – aims to develop each firm’s managerial capability.

The RBS/UCL Growth Builder programme is a 12-month programme for 48 growth companies to meet monthly, alternating between the provision of input and small group working, with meetings rotating around the premises of the numerous and various contributors.

10,000 Small Businesses is a programme offered by 5 UK universities for cohorts of c70 SMEs to develop growth plans. They meet together – in three separate session, each at a different location, with online learning between those sessions, and over the course of 30 days.

Plato, started in Belgium and now widely franchised throughout the world is for groups of c.15 senior executives from matched small companies – to meet regularly – each group with a couple of mentors from large companies – to support and help one another with their current issues.

Vistage, originating in the US, puts together groups, each of about a dozen senior executives in SMEs in the same local area, matched as far as possible. Meeting on each other’s premises, monthly or bi-monthly for a day at a time, they focus each time on the work of two or three members of the group.

‘ella forums’ is a leadership development programme designed to inspire growth in social enterprises, in which CEOs come together for monthly sessions, where they hear the latest thinking from guest speakers, share best practice, and receive coaching from experts.

 

 

Attracting SMEs to the UK

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Bringing leading young businesses to the UK The UK’s attractive Sirius Programme has a new format and a new (private sector) management 

The Sirius programme aims to bring some of the best young entrepreneurial talent from around the world to the UK where they can build their businesses for the benefit of themselves and the UK economy. Participants receive a complete package of services to maximize their potential for success – probably better than any UK young business could expect.

The package includes seed funding of approximately £35,000 plus 30-days of acceleration training, mentoring, twelve-months office accommodation and support in obtaining visas from a dedicated Sirius allocation. The total package is estimated to be worth up to £60,000. Companies participating will cede a 10% stake in exchange for the support received.

Sirius was developed originally by the then UK Trade and Industry (UKTI) in 2013 to promote the UK as a destination for young entrepreneurs, and to date has attracted over 2,300 gifted and ambitious applicants from 93 countries, leading to 73 companies coming to the UK. The programme aims in the future to attract up to 100 entrepreneurs representing 40 new companies to the UK each year; and these will be spread across different regions of the UK.

Management of the Sirius Programme has been transferred to a consortium of private and charity sector organisations to facilitate its growth and development. The consortium includes The Accelerator Network, Entrepreneurial Spark, NACUE, Natwest (part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group), The Rain Gods and White Horse Capital.

The support programme is to be run on a not-for-profit basis and seed funding for the start-ups will be sourced from UK private investors under the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), with the expectation of a strong investment return given the calibre of international start-ups and the support they will be able to access in the UK, now including investor input.

Timothy Barnes, Chairman, Sirius New Direction Ltd commented (3 Nov), “The development and growth of the Sirius Programme underlines our confidence in the reputation of the UK as a leading global destination for young entrepreneurs. There are some incredibly ambitious entrepreneurs with great business ideas that would benefit from being based here and we are keen to hear from them all!”

He added: ‘It is a highly competitive programme, but with much of the previous marketing conducted outside of the UK it is not as well known within the country as it might be. Teams from anywhere in the world can apply, as long as one or more of the co-founders is from outside of the UK. Overseas students already in the UK as part of their education are particularly welcome.’

Applications for the new format programme are open now via http://www.siriusprogramme.com – the first cohort to be selected before the end of the year, to be active in the Spring of 2017.

John Whatmore, November 2016

The contribution of the “10,000 SMEs” programme

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A small but effective contribution to Scaleup needs

New research shows that Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Programme is an effective growth builder, but it makes only a limited contribution to the UK’s Scaleup needs.

For leaders of small businesses from across industry sectors this is a ‘high quality, practically-focused business and management education programme’ during which every small business owner develops a customised Growth Plan to direct their organisation’s business strategy and expansion; and it provides networking and peer learning opportunities.

For the cohort of 70 small business leaders selected to participate in each programme (and there are firm criteria – which do include an indication of growth potential), the three-month programme (offered by five leading UK universities) is delivered over 100 hours. It is made up of ten days of residential learning in three separate sessions (each at a different location) in between which are periods of flexible online learning. Each session features education, discussion and peer-group work to enable individual participants to define their growth goals and pool their experience.

The success of the programme is ascribed to a blend of formal learning, mentoring, and peer-to-peer support, which includes:

  • specialist workshops
  • one-on-one business advising
  • business coaching
  • access to professional experts
  • ongoing support and guidance offered through networking with the resulting community of business leaders.

A just-published survey of past participants indicates that they enhance turn-over and go on to employ more people – more so than comparable businesses in a control group. In line with some though not all of the needs for successful scaling up indicated by the recent Barclays Report, they:

  • introduce new processes
  • use more financial data
  • source new suppliers
  • introduce new training opportunities
  • develop and launch new products/services
  • seek external finance

and above all they

* develop increased confidence.

The latest assessment report focuses explicitly on the successes of the small businesses that it has attracted. But it also ends on what is a sobering note: if the 33,000 other small businesses with profiles like those of the 933 participants to date were to show similar growth, while it would add £4.3bn to the economy, at this rate it will take years to reach just 10,000.

John Whatmore, November 2016

SETsquared tops Trumps

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SETsquared tops Trumps 

The top Incubator illustrates the range of support that can be offered to young businesses.

Karen Brooks of SETsquared, a partnership of five universities centred on Bristol, recently rated ‘Global Number 1 University Business Incubator’, spoke at a recent ‘Knowledge London’ meeting of leaders of university incubators about the six programmes – at a variety of levels in the innovation pipeline and in various sectors – that SETsquared runs; and added that it was all about a mutual relationship with industry – understanding what business wants; and she commented that SETsquared had no academics on its staff.

The most striking contrast, I suggested at that meeting, between Accelerators most of which are branded ‘pop-ups’ (as c.12 week programmes) and Incubators many of which are in universities, is that the former:

  • are more involved with their businesses
  • provide more input and support,
  • have many more contacts with the business world.

But SETsquared is a leader in all of these respects.

At the Pervasive Media Studio at Wastershed, Bristol – a twelve month home to a dozen young businesses, over lunch together on a Friday everyone has to talk about their progress, about which notes are immediately circulated so that teams can meet up to learn from one another’s experience. Jim Milby, until recently a Director of Barclays Bank, who mentors at Startupbootcamp, insists on a weekly review with his team wherever he is a mentor. Paul Miller, one of the authors of Nesta’s The Startup Factories, and founder of Bethnal Green Ventures – a winner of a major grant from the Cabinet Office’s Social Enterprise Startups programme – holds a review once a week with every team in the Accelerator. At ‘Office Hours’, he asks the same questions of each team “What did you achieve last week, what will you do next week, what is stopping you; and what have you learned”.

Accelerators provide more input and support, especially in the form of mentors, notably with specific advice eg on design, potential customers, fundability etc – often in a ratio of four or five to every team. Techstars, Startupbootcamp and Wayra Lab all have around 150 mentors for each programme, (as does SETsquared,) among whom two or three are regularly attached to each team; and Seedcamp has even more.

As does SETsquared, they have many more external contacts with local practitioners, experts and entrepreneurs in businesses in the sectors in which their young businesses are involved, upon whom they can call for specific help. Moreover their leaders are often entrepreneurs themselves.

Incubators are still essentially providers of office space more than they are facilitators of business development, but it takes little (often only a canteen) to encourage their occupants, who are all on the same growth path, to draw from others’ experience and find the essential help that they often did not know they needed!

John Whatmore, November 2016

Innovation Managers visit Maker Lab

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US Innovation Managers visit a brand new Maker Lab

While Maker Labs are becoming more common in the UK, they have not attracted the same interest as this group of innovation managers showed.

The Maker Lab movement has attracted interest alongside the startup frenzy as enabling entrepreneurs to make a model or prototype very quickly – so as to be able to show it off, and to prove that it works.

The US Association of Managers of Innovation (AMI), a by-invitation network of innovation practitioners – started in 1981, brings together managers who often have to work with leaders of enduring businesses when the latters’ primary interest is in their established components. It meets twice yearly in different locations in the US – for members to wrestle with their issues and exchange experience, and to use the opportunity to visit or learn about some topical aspect of innovation. The UK seriously lacks organisations and collaborations of this kind.

At this Autumn’s meeting for example, a visit will build on the theme of the Maker Movement. “We will be joined in Ann Arbor by Will Brick, General Manager of TechShop Detroit and we will visit the TechShop on Thursday late afternoon.
TechShop is a community-based workshop and prototyping studio on a mission to democratize access to the tools of innovation. The facility is packed with cutting-edge tools, equipment, and computers loaded with design software featuring the Autodesk Design Suite. Most importantly, TechShop offers space to make, and the support and camaraderie of a community of makers.
TechShop Detroit is a unique collaboration with Ford Global Technologies and occupies 38,000 square feet adjacent to Ford’s Dearborn Product Development campus.  Ford employees enjoy access to TechShop as a reward for contributing to Ford’s Employee Patent Incentive Award program.  At TechShop, Ford employees invent alongside members of the local community. Everyone has one thing in common, they are working to bring their ideas to life! …We will tour the facility and will share the story of how this unique collaboration with Ford began and the success they’ve had since opening their doors in 2012. Read more about TechShop in Forbes.”

Facebook has apparently just spent a considerable sum to open a brand new hardware lab of state-of-the-art machinery – to provide engineers from a wide variety of the company’s teams with a place to come together to share expertise, and work quickly on projects; and to save the time that would otherwise be necessary if third parties did the prototyping and testing work. Though people think of the company as a software company, says the article in Fast Company, its long-range plans are very much tied to hardware.

Richard Feynman, scientist and author, once opined of the US National Institutes of Health that any scientist who wanted to achieve a Nobel Prize should get apprenticed to an existing Laureate; and the same probably applies in Cambridge’s MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology – home to a series of Nobel Prize Winners. If incubators and their ilk are likely to harbour some of the best prospects among young businesses, it is surprising that since the demise of UK Business Incubator, the incubator association, there is no similar set-up (like the US Association of Managers of Innovation) under which the leaders of innovation communities can meet to learn together.

John Whatmore, October 2016.

Incubator evolving into Accelerator

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A small and successful University Incubator developing its support for participants

With basic and low cost office spaces, this incubator is developing into an Accelerator community – by enhancing support and its connectivity with Tech City.

Accelerator out of Incubator? The London Metropolitan University ‘Accelerator’ has spaces for 30 hi-growth SMEs – who are normally allowed to stay for no more than two years (‘it concentrates the mind’); and it provides space for the annual winners of a startup competition. It is regularly full and there is no shortage of new applicants.

The Incubator consists of offices of various sizes on three floors, with a big meeting room and two semi-balcony small rooms. There is a well-equipped kitchen, but no r&r space – for hanging out with other people. The student Accelerator has its own big communal work space.

The Incubator is ten years old. A tenant of Hackney Community College, its key asset is that its low rent enables it to offer well-priced accommodation on the edge of Tech City, and so enables occupants to make use of the connectivity there.

All Scale-ups: chosen for their good prospects – all are computer-based and all engaged in scaling up. Most of them are looking for further funding (though not yet A rounds) and for more customers, many with overseas markets as their targets. (‘Their confidence sometimes leads them to be over optimistic about raising funds; and their hirings – of CMOs – sometimes fail because they attract ‘company men’ rather than ‘hustlers’.’)

Supporting events are held, and there are occasional meetups; however there are no ‘office hours’ (regular reviews of progress and plans) and no cohort of mentors. Occupants include a patent attorney and a PR company – with their services readily available, but there are few links to serial entrepreneurs, the VC community or Angels, though there is said to be some cross-pollination among participants. But they have to make their own connections. Some members of the SMEs in the Incubator act as mentors to the student cohort.

Its success can be measured by the fact that in the last year its businesses added 115 employees, and raised £5.7 million in funding (previous year £1.4mn, and the year before £0.5mn). The success rate on exit from the Incubator is around 80%.

A student startup scheme (subsidised by the University) uses some of the space. Around a thousand students attend workshops and other events in the course of a year; and 150 applied to join this year’s Accelerator, from which a dozen are selected for 12 weeks of intensive development together, and are offered six months of free accommodation thereafter in the Incubator. (A current objective is to find funding that will support their earnings to help participants to get through to a seed round.)

Toby Kress, its cornerstone, and responsible for its direction, operation and management for the last two years, has himself been part of a successful startup. His role includes the selection of participants for the Incubator (for which he uses the help of a couple of Alumni). Approachable and readily available, he meets all the SMEs about once a month to offer help, contacts etc; and he meets his counterparts in other incubators intermittently.

To add to the support it offers, Toby has recently initiated a programme of Funding Days, at each of which one of five VCs/Angel groups gets to meet 4 or 5 of the SMEs, and this should help them to develop their funding strategies; and he is seeking to make firm contacts with well-connected people to whose networks the occupants of the incubator can then get access.

Why is it so successful? Not open-plan, with no r&r space, and few mentors or outside connections, it can only be its boss! A vital role in any incubator.

John Whatmore, July 2016