Y Combinator is open to all online

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Y Combinator’s online Startup School was available this year to anyone and everyone Startup School is a free, 10-week, online course designed for any startup founder who would like to get help through the earliest, most difficult challenge of starting a company.

This year it was open not just to selected applicants but to any and every single applicant (some 15,000). And for the first time ever, $10,000 in equity-free funding was being offered to 100 of the most promising companies that join and complete the course. Those companies would also receive a video interview with a YC partner later in the year for advice or aid in applying to a future YC batch.

‘The most important thing is that you will have a group of fellow founders to connect with so you can support one another. Unfortunately, we’re still constrained by number of advisors who volunteered to lead each group, which means some groups won’t have an advisor. But having peers in a batch is what founders tell us is truly special about YC. We’re going to give you instructions on how to organize the group yourself and get nearly the same experience.’

Founders could choose to join the Startup School community and meet with an advisor on a weekly basis, or to simply follow along with the course by watching the lectures and materials. In both cases, the class was completely free.

Startup School lectures are delivered live in Mountain View, California at Y Combinator’s headquarters and then made available for viewing online. The speakers include YC co-founder Paul Graham, YC Partners like President Sam Altman and CEO Michael Seibel, as well as notable founders from the startup community.

Last year, over 13,000 companies applied to participate in Startup School, and 95 YC alumni volunteered their time to advise over 2,800 of those companies participating across 141 countries.

Throughout the 10 weeks, founders built their products, talked to users, created local communities, and launched their companies. 1,587 (56%) of the companies completed the course, and, since then, 38 of them have been accepted to the core Y Combinator program and received YC funding.

Stripe (‘online payment processing for internet businesses’) was giving startups discounted payment processing and an invitation to Stripe Atlas to incorporate and open a company bank account.

In addition, startups would have full access to deals and credits to a variety of other services, including Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Clerky.

Y Combinator’s goal is to help everyone, regardless of who or where they are, to start their startup. The materials from this year’s Startup School, like those from previous years, will remain online after the course finishes as a permanent resource for all startup founders.

John Whatmore, October 2018

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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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John Whatmore, March 2018

 

I visit the first bioscience Accelerator in the UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Whatmore, February 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

So what’s next, people ask.

 

John Whatmore, January 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

No institutional support for startups and scaleups

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No institutional support for startups and scaleups

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Whatmore, January 2018

 

 

The Future of Work is arriving

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

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

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

The businesses include:

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

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

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

John Whatmore, 2017

‘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