Mentoring: a shortage of demand and of supply, but not of value!


Mentoring: a shortage of demand and of supply, but not of value!
Mentoring is a fast-growing and vital element of support in the fast-growing entrepreneurial economy (and a major component of all Accelerator programmes.) However, it is hampered by:
• a widespread shortage of mentors,
• the difficulty of identifying hi-growth businesses,
• and a shortage of experience in managing mentoring.

Next week: What it takes to be a good mentee and what makes a successful relationship

In 2011 there were only a couple of dozen mentoring organisations on the Mentorsme website (the single registration body in the field), whereas to-day there are around 125 from which you can find a mentor; and through the Memtorsme initiative there are perhaps around 25,000 mentors (against a target of 45,000 – set maybe arbitrarily once by Vince Cable.)

Tim Rivett of the British Bankers Association, the inspiration behind this growth, says that every organisation in this field reports a shortage of mentors. (The BBA is exploring the role of online mentoring, but mentoring tends to be face-to-face, and thus locally arranged.)

He comments that the identification of hi-growth businesses has been a problem, and that their failure to engage with mentoring is significant, which suggests that it is under-valued.

Organisations like the Business Growth Fund and VCs like Octopus Ventures depend on their representatives to identify and marshal the help their ventures need to facilitate their growth (new markets/exports/new variants etc), as do the many startup programmes their programme managers. If some of our best prospective hi-growth ventures could be expected to be found in Incubators, Science Parks and Innovation Centres, (ie in local clusters), should the management of their mentoring be a priority?

Should the British Venture Capital Association and the UK Business Angels Association be encouraging the growth of mentoring? Is it time that Mentorsme or the Government’s Get Mentoring campaign became more active proponents of this invaluable contribution to our economy?

See also:
Managing support for early-stage ventures – a fast-emerging role
In Silicon Valley support is everywhere, and it is increasingly immanent in London’s entrepreneurial world, with some high profile examples – promoted by a new breed of support managers. But there are other areas where it is still a distant prospect. Join us
in exploring how best to manage support. (

If you have a tough tech problem, try a Hackathon


If you have a tough tech problem, try a Hackathon
As short and intensive mass meetings for designing technical solutions to current issues, Hackathons are in hi-growth mode. Used by professional developers and migrating rapidly in the US into the college community, they serve several functions simultaneously in the fast-moving hi-tech world.

Hackathons are the very latest in speed-innovation. In the UK they are to be found regularly now in specialised ‘innovation labs’ like IdeaLondon in Tech City, Level39 at Canary Wharf and the Digital Catapult. And they have become commonplace among professional developers in the US, especially in booming tech centres like San Francisco and New York, where they have emerged as prime places for networking, job recruiting, entrepreneurial pitching and, in many cases, winning cash/big prizes.

The goal of a ‘hackathon’ (part ‘marathon’, part ‘hack’) is not to obtain confidential data, but for teams to build a new piece of tech, either of their choosing or with code provided by one of the sponsors; and sponsors often encourage students to use their devices – a team of software engineers from Apple was at one hackathon to mentor students at all hours of day and night.

One team spent the week-end programming four of Microsoft’s motion-sensing Kinects with an Oculus Rift reality head-set to create an immersive 3-D video conferencing system. Another found sleep-deprived students participating in a 36-hour contest to program mobile apps, websites or hardware, including aerial drones and virtual reality headsets. At the end, the judges walk around as the programmers show off their projects. The winners of one hackathon had developed a robotic arm controlled by a motion sensor; and they won a free trip on a zero-gravity aeroplane as well as travel expenses and admission to hackathons in Taiwan and South Korea.

Week-end hackathons organised by and for students are surging in scale, size and frequency in the US. Only recently a sub-culture, now they are mainstream: last year there were some 40 inter-collegiate hackathons; this year more than 150 are expected. The longest-running was founded at the University of Pennsylvania in 2009 and has now ballooned to accommodate 1,200 students each semester; and demand is outpacing growth.

In most cases, sponsors underwrite the entire cost – upward of $300,000 – including travel, food and perks; as well as games – frisbee, laser tags, tug-of-war and yoga sessions. “It’s a big party”, commented the Director of one US university hackathon.

Hackathon-goers maintain that it is not the awards that motivate them, but getting off your butt forces you into situations where you learn new tech skills. They encourage students to tinker with new software and hardware and challenge themselves; and students teach one another – there are experts there on nearly everything. They acquire practical skills that college courses fail to teach them, and gain technical proficiency at a much faster pace. And some of them are spinning off their projects into startups and money-making apps.

Identifying coders who can dream big and thrive under pressure is particularly valuable to Silicon Valley. Since hackathons showcase some of the best, brightest and most motivated upstart programmers, the events have become a focal point for recruiting – some say they are essential for pursuing a career in tech. Likewise, students say that hackathons are an ideal way to test-drive the experience of working at a startup. But for venture capitalists, finding talent is only part of the appeal: they provide opportunities to spot emerging tech developments – with virtual reality projects now taking over from social media apps.

In the US, Hackathons, it is claimed, are instilling in young engineers a sense of life after college, and the feeling that they can accomplish anything. In the UK, for the moment, they are essentially intensive sessions for generating technical solutions to topical problems.

From an article in the New York Times, April 8, 2015

Deloitte 2: the future of Innovation


The Deloitte Report, Part 2
Big business and the future of innovation

The R&D spending mix is expected to change – in two ways
If companies are seeking to align their innovation strategies with their business strategies and are seeking to gain better insights into customers’ stated and unstated needs, how are their strategies towards innovation expected to change in the future?

Over the next decade many companies plan to shift their R&D spending mix—from incremental innovation to new and breakthrough innovation, and from product R&D to service R&D.

All respondents to the Deloitte survey report that they plan to shift their current R&D spending mix from incremental innovations to more new and breakthrough innovations. Today, 58 percent of R&D spending is directed at incremental or renewal innovations, just 28 percent at new or substantial innovations, and only 14 percent at breakthrough or radical innovations. In 10 years, respondents expect the picture will look quite different.

Breakthroughs, for example, involve higher risk than incremental innovations, so it is important to make sure both that these innovation goals make sense given the company’s market position and strategy, and that the right risk management capabilities are established to handle a higher-beta portfolio. “New research projects will continue to involve more collaborators, including universities, suppliers, and other industrial partners. Ultimately, this will make product development more robust and enable greater technology leaps, while reducing risks and cost.”

Companies also expect to allocate more R&D spending to enabling services and less to creating products. The current allocation slightly favors product R&D, 52 percent to 48 percent. By 2024, respondents expect that relationship to flip—with R&D for services rising to 62 percent, versus 38 percent for R&D for products.

Need Seekers should hone their distinctive capabilities, which include their proficiency at directly generated deep customer insights, enterprise-wide launches, and technical risk assessment. One priority that Need Seekers cited in this year’s survey as being important to their future success—open innovation—complements their approach by enabling them to seek new ideas and insights from a networked community beyond the borders of the company and its traditional partners. They should ensure that their products and services are advantaged by seeking out new ideas from customers, suppliers, competitors, and other industries, as well as by building focused technical innovation networks across the business. They should exploit front-end digital enablers such as visualization and engagement tools.

Market Readers should continue to develop their capabilities in managing resource requirements and engaging suppliers and partners. Their goals should include customizing their products for local markets, and creating a culture of collaboration across functions and geographies to facilitate rapid, seamless response. They need to be good at assessing feedback from sales and customer support and traditional market research. Digital enablers such as monitoring tools and idea-capture tools are critical, and are consistent with the needs of this model.

Technology Drivers should continue to enhance their product life-cycle management capabilities. Their priorities are strategic platform management and gaining a detailed understanding of emerging product- and service-related technologies and trends. They need to excel at technology road mapping and interacting with the external tech community. Digital enablers will be particularly important for them, including big data, customer profiling, and co-design tools, as well as collaborative environments that connect far-flung teams, customer relationship management systems, and ERP platforms.

Of course, some key imperatives have surfaced in the Global Innovation 1000 studies that apply to all companies seeking innovation success: * Define your innovation strategy, communicate it throughout the organization, and identify the short list of innovation capabilities that will enable it. * Tightly align your business and innovation strategies. * Ensure that your innovation culture is aligned with, and supportive of, your innovation strategy. * Focus on developing deep customer insight by directly engaging and observing end-users of your product. * Ensure that the technical community has a seat at the table defining the corporation’s agenda. * Systematically manage the R&D portfolio, aggressively winnowing out low-potential projects and ensuring that the right risk management capabilities are in place to support big bets.

Despite the impressive growth of innovation spending in the software and Internet category, four other industries spent more absolute dollars on R&D in 2014: computing and electronics, healthcare, auto, and industrials In fact, three of them—computing and electronics, healthcare, and auto—have spent more on R&D than the software and Internet industry in each of the last 10 years. This shows that there has been and continues to be a huge amount of innovation spending going on outside Silicon Valley and other tech clusters.

Open Innovation’s innovations
Corporates are articulating their needs and opportunities for innovation; and using intermediaries to search for innovators with ideas, and to provide candidates with a period of intensive development. Jan 2015. (

Unilever and Canary Wharf both invite you to come and help them crack a world-wide problem, but… Corporates are seducing startups into giving them their good ideas, but the odds and the risks against getting your rewards are less evident than they should be. April 2015. (

Cambridge Service Alliance A global alliance between leading businesses and universities that brings them together to work on the complex service solutions of tomorrow. (

The full version of the Deloitte Report can be found at‎

John Whatmore May 2015

Managing support for early-stage ventures


Managing support for early-stage ventures – a fast emerging role
In Silicon Valley support is everywhere, and it is increasingly immanent in London’s entrepreneurial world, with some high profile examples – promoted by a new breed of support managers. But there are other areas where it is still a distant prospect. Join us in exploring how best to manage support.
Next week: The Future of Innovation – nuggets from the Deloitte Annual Survey of organisations’ views – about how they will do it and what kinds of things they will do.

The most distinctive features of Accelerators (as short periods of intensive development for small groups of early-stage ventures) are the proactive nature and the amount of support that they provide for the businesses they nurture – especially in the form of mentoring (in many programmes mentors are in a ratio of at least half a dozen per team), yet many startups and SMEs even in Incubators and Science Parks are lucky if they have a single one.

Mentors tend often to be appointed simply because they provide a hand to hold, so is it failure to match mentors to individual needs that holds mentoring back? While the Business Growth Fund normally appoints a couple of Directors and then on their advice from time to time finds appropriate experts, advisers and mentors (, the London Stock Exchange has launched its Elite programme of support with Imperial (, one or two VCs like Octopus Ventures ( have evolved sophisticated regimes of support; and Accelerators like Startupbootcamp ( and Bethnal Green Ventures ( are highly proactive in the management of their mentors and of their programmes.

One of the most telling accounts that I have written recently has been about what startups in Accelerators said they valued most (they cited: supervisory facilitators, proximity to their fellow travellers, access to their various mentors, and the inspirational speakers they met ( I am running a project whose aim is to learn more from those on the receiving end about what it is that works best in terms of support for early-stage ventures – e-mail me if you are interested to participate.

Entrepreneurs may be passionate and determined people, but they do not necessarily know what they are missing. The managing of support is a new role: it entails keeping in very close contact with developing businesses, understanding what might help them at different moments, the ability to corral a host of potential supporters, and to bring supporters and entrepreneurs together successfully (see

Help us! We are looking at ways in which people who play this evolving role can contribute their experience to its development – on topics such as building a bank of supporters, identifying startups’ needs, finding specialised experts, matching mentors to startups, curating cultures of inclusivity, and programme management. If you are interested to participate in this, please e-mail me.

John Whatmore
March 2015-03-20

Are there any limits to the scope for Accelerators


Are their any limits to the scope for Accelerators?
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. Its author used to think that his method was applicable in all industries except one – Bioscience! Should the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst and even the Wellcome Foundation be funding their own Boot Camps?
Next week: I enumerate persuasive examples of intensive support for early-stage ventures; and suggest that a lot can be learned from one another on key aspects like the recruitment and the management of supporters.

Steve Blanks’s I-Corps (Innovation Corps) runs a Boot Camp – a nine-week course designed to teach business skills to entrepreneurial scientists in technology-based startups – that has now been rolled out for biomedical firms as part of an experiment by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Its ruthless pitching tests have encouraged some of the participating companies to change course drastically and others to abandon promising science for something more market-savvy. “You can be a great researcher and you can think you have great ideas”, said one Congressman, “but until you’re forced to talk to a potential customer, you never really know.”

Nineteen teams formed last December’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. Teams needed to talk 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. A time-consuming process, and Blank insists that the interviews be conducted face-to-face, to build rapport and allow interviewers to better gauge their subject’s emotions. If an expert cannot be met in person, the team must hold a video-conference. “For commercialisation, being able to explain it to your mother is what matters”, said Blank.

Steve Blank is a college drop-out who wandered into Silicon Valley in 1978 and has launched eight technology companies there – not all of them successful. From his introspections, he crafted a curriculum for tech entrepreneurs, to teach them to think beyond their own technology and to dive early and deep into the details of commercialisation: who the customers are, what they need and how much they are willing to pay. The technique is said to have swept through the tech industry, though it needs to be guided in order to obviate its tendency towards focusing on incremental rather than revolutionary improvements.

The US Small Business Research Programme had been concerned that top earners of grants were rarely focused on commercialisation, sometimes being used not to further a business, but to continue research. The National Science Foundation was the first to offer the programme to scientists on the threshold of launching a company, and since 2011 about 500 teams have taken the course. Then the NIH followed, first with the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

At first, Blank believed that his method was applicable to all industries except one – life sciences – where the gestation period was too long. But life science companies have cut back on in-house research in favour of early partnerships with smaller firms, effectively turning big pharma [and in the UK the Wellcome Foundation too] into early customers. So startups must deal with the difficulties created by heavier regulation, the importance of intellectual property, and the challenge of payment services.

In order to assess whether to get more companies involved, NIH is tracking the teams’ success over the next five years, monitoring how many partnerships with major pharmaceutical or medical-device firms the companies form, and whether they receive funds from other investors. The NCI is expected to decide within the next two months whether to continue its programme. In the meantime, 82% of participants said that they would recommend the programme to others.

The US Department of Energy has announced a similar project and the Department of Defence is also considering one. Several university technology-transfer offices in the US are interested in Blanks’s methods for aiding academic entrepreneurs; and Imperial College has adopted a similar programme – for startups based on synthetic biology. The Cabinet Office’s second round of funding of Accelerator programmes has been for startups in Healthcare; and its participants recently made their final presentations at an event in London.

There is no shortage of opportunities for these kinds of programmes, but there is a risk that they will not be appropriately adapted to their sector and their purpose, and that there are too few people with the necessary expertise and experience the ensure their success. They have a long way to go.

Biotech Boot Camp’ Nature, 26 March 2015

See also: ‘i-Teams: the teams and funds making innovation happen in government’ tells the stories of 20 such teams in various countries.
Nesta, June 2014.

John Whatmore
April 2015

Startups: test your judgement


Startups: test your judgement – an Easter diversion
Rate the six startups below on how investable you think they are:
five stars – outstanding
four stars – a good investment
three stars – worth considering
two stars – probably not
one star – a complete non-starter!
Then scroll down to compare them with our ratings (from records).

UBeam – developing devices that transmit power wirelessly – over the air-waves – to charge your portable device.

Meet the famous – have a ‘live’ CGI conversation with famous people: Barack Obama, Cate Blanchett, the Queen of England, Oprah Winfrey, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and others.

Kin Community – learn how to make a tartine, get make-up tips, and even launch your career as an internet star.

Gem – prevents your crypto-currency (like Bitcoin) from being lost or stolen.

The Wizard – finds items closely related to a search by reference to your past search history.

Ring – actually see who is ringing your door-bell – whether you are 10,000 miles or just 10 paces away.

Now compare your ratings with ours – based on the records that we have seen:

UBeam – developing devices that transmit power wirelessly – over the air-waves – to charge your portable device.
Has raised $23mn in funding so far – our rating: five star

Meet the famous – have a ‘live’ CGI conversation with famous people: Barack Obama, Cate Blanchett, the Queen of England, Oprah Winfrey, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and others.
Our invention! But Siri and the imminent arrival of Mattel’s Hello Barbie suggest that it may not be long in coming. ‘Nul points’.

Kin Community – learn how to make a tartine, get make-up tips, and even launch your career as an internet star.
Looks as though it has raised $118mn on Crunchbase and is very active – four star

Gem – prevents your crypto-currency (like Bitcoin) from being lost or stolen.
Announced $2mn seed fund round in Sept 2014 – two star

The Wizard – finds items closely related to a search by reference to your past search history.
Doesn’t exist – as such. Apparently you can do it for yourself, but not easily. If you fancy it you could start it, but then the market might be stolen by a big player! No stars.

Ring – actually see who is ringing your door-bell – whether you are 10,000 miles or just 10 paces away.
Raised $13mn in funding last year – three star

Now tell us how you fared (

Mentoring gathering pace


Mentoring Conference illustrates the many different roles that mentors play
The interplay of minds is perhaps the essence of mentoring, but up-to-date experience is of increasing importance in a fast-changing world.

The government launched a compaign for mentoring with a great fanfare in 2012, so this first conference of the Association of Business Mentors is something of a milestone in the progress of mentoring. The point was well made that mentoring is experiencing rapid growth, and becoming more professional, with rising standards and the first signs of institutionalisation (ie the appearance of mentoring organisations.) Far less pervasive than in the United States, it has a long way to go.

Finding a mentor is often provoked by a need that is felt but cannot be met by any other means. Discussions illustrated that it is seen as an enduring and personal one-to-one role (like that of Prince Charles and Laurens van der Post), in which the kind of relationship is of the essence: as providing an opportunity
• to discuss one’s private thoughts;
• to consider one’s aims, objectives and progress;
• to work through a particular issue;
• to get a different perspective (eg longer term/more holistic)
• to help in identifying problems or opportunities;
• to reveal unseen factors;
• to get a better understanding of oneself;
• to gain inspiration;
• to affirm one’s commitment.
So it is unsurprising that people often choose people they know well for these roles; and any intermediary needs to know both parties well or risk a mismatch.

For more specific issues, such as advice on a business function, objective or technology, or about the marketability of a proposal, nothing can replace up-to-date knowledge (your mentor needs to know about the latest in Google Analytics, Crowdfunding or 3D printing, as he or she does if the business or the industry is going through a specific phase eg a period of great change or rapid growth.)

The conference was mainly about helping self-employed mentors to develop their business. For most mentoring roles, depth of experience that a second career implies is an essential qualification. Sessions were about identifying one’s mentoring strengths, defining one’s roles, getting more clients and enhancing one’s business processes. While many see mentoring as something that has its own rewards and payment is not among them, Jonathan Pfahl of the Rockstar Mentoring Group urged us with great gusto to treat it as an entrepreneurial young business.

Organisations that aim to provide mentors often have great difficulty in enabling those mentors to establish satisfactory ongoing relationships with their mentees: making a good match is evidently very difficult. Experience, background and expertise can be matched easily enough, but understanding motives, needs and feelings is more elusive. For many people, their mentors play an enduring role; but for some people, mentoring needs change with circumstances and with moods, and some organisations like Accelerators YCombinator and Techstars (and more rarely some people) are able to provide different mentors to meet those changing needs.

Mentoring clearly has an important role in a fast-changing world, and conferences like this one can help in advancing its cause, especially in terms of mentoring skills and mentor-matching.

John Whatmore
February 2015

See also at ‘Applied Creativity’

(1) I am a fly on the wall at an Accelerator’s Mentor Day
The day provided the programme’s entrepreneurs a free-form opportunity to meet mentors and for them to learn something about each other. It suggested to me five different mentor roles. Sept 2014

(2) I interview the ‘best mentor’ in Startupbootcamp’s FinTech Accelerator
In and out frequently, he steadily evolved his role by offering the wealth and breadth of experience of a life-time’s work in a top bank – clarifying progress and problems, acting as a sounding board, offering experienced insights, and marshalling help. Dec 2014

(3) ‘Mentor Managers’ can work miracles for startups
Above all else, early-stage ventures need their hands holding in their new adventures, but they have no idea about whose hands to hold. Mentor Managers can help them by finding experienced and expert mentors. Jan 2015

(4) Mentoring: great benefits, but considerable problems
The benefits and the problems are well recognised. Several different routes are evolving, and four distinct approaches to the managing of mentors have different benefits and different problems. Dec 2014

A flurry of specialised Accelerators


A flurry of specialised accelerators – in partnerships with leading organisations Accelerators are increasingly being targeted at special sectors. Set up in partnership with leading organisations – in fintech, fashion, communications, the arts, traveltech, future cities, restaurants, grocery and ‘ideas’ – they provide expert support to their entrepreneurs. Nottingham’s BioCity offers a model for clusters, catapults, incubators, science parks and innovation catalysts alike.

Both Accenture and Startupbootcamp have recently run Accelerator programmes in Fintech, for up to ten teams – drawn from worldwide, each programme under the auspices of groups of banks – Accenture’s at Level39 at Canary Wharf, and Startupbootcamp’s at the Rainmaking Loft.

The Trampery’s Fashion Lab, in partnership with the London College of Fashion, is designed to support early-stage fashion designers as they innovate their business, products and services as well as providing expert guidance in the fields of finance, legal, manufacturing and marketing.

Publicis, in collaboration with the Trampery, has developed an initiative called ‘Publicis Drugstore’ around a new innovation facility in the heart of London’s Tech City, available to all Publicis clients, to help multinationals and high-growth enterprises work together to spearhead innovation and change. It consists of a suite of services and products from ‘supper clubs’ and ‘meet the makers’ workshops, through coding classes and hackathons to fully managed incubator programmes.

Fish Island Labs is a small short-term workspace in a remote part of East London set up by the Trampery in partnership with the Barbican for a community of some thirty emerging practitioners in different disciplines – artists, technologists and designers – to work creatively together and with new technologies, enabling them to cross boundaries.

The Trampery’s Traveltech Lab is a new, a well-designed working environment in central London that provides a global springboard for startups working in travel, tourism, hospitality and events. They will be supported in looking for investment, alpha customers, promotion or resellers, with privileged access to senior industry executives, investors, mentors and media through London & Partners network; and regular socials and events bringing leading figures in to offer advice and inspiration.

Level39 recently launched its Cognicity Challenge – seeking applications from smart cities technology companies in its quest for ‘the city of the future’, whose the first two streams are about Sustainable Buildings and Integrated Transportation. From the applicants to each stream, six startups are to be selected to enter 12-week accelerators and work with leading technology companies and Canary Wharf Group teams to develop new smart city solutions, the winner receiving a £50,000 cash prize and the opportunity to pilot their solutions in the ongoing development of Canary Wharf and create a showcase connected city.

Kitchenette is a 12-week pop-up Accelerator that aims to coach people who are looking to start a restaurant. Pop-ups like Street food, market stalls and Supper clubs provide opportunities to develop your product ahead of any full-scale launch, and the programme includes a residence at the Kitchenette restaurant in Ladroke Grove. Participants have mentors including advisers from among existing restauranteurs, property developers and investors.

In partnership with Bathtub 2 Boardroom, the Grocery Accelerator is another similar approach – just launched, for brands in food and drink with hi-growth potential. The six month programme (non-residential) includes close mentoring and coaching from industry experts, with input from Ocado, senior buyers and specialists in branding, product development, logistics and finance, with the bonus of a three day trip to the States’ largest food fair (New York).

Second Home Accelerator at Brick Lane, is a startup community primarily about creative agencies, fashion, design, art and finance, whose common theme might be ‘ideas’, which is what Rohan Silva, its creater and founder of Tech City, is best known for. Big companies, he says, want to be next to small ones, to be close to innovation. Second Home is equipped to a high spec because startups should not have to endure the ‘crappiest digs’ when ‘Google is spending £1bn on its new HQ in Kings Cross as a beacon for talent.’

Last year, BioCity, a Biocience incubator in Nottingham, set up a novel Accelerator in partnership with Nottingham City Council under the government’s Cities Programme, which sought to bring together issues in local clusters with people who had viable ideas and to help them to develop those ideas over a period, some of which might end up in BioCity – an aggregation of partners that should inspire other cities and their clusters.

See also in Applied Creativity (

Stories from the front line: what Startups value most in Accelerators What they got out of Office Hours, group lunches, others on the programme, their first meeting with mentors, mentor slots and other events. Feb 2015

I interview the ‘best mentor’ in Startupbootcamp’s FinTech Accelerator In and out frequently, he steadily evolved his role by offering the wealth and breadth of experience of a life-time’s work in a top bank – clarifying progress and problems, acting as a sounding board, offering experienced insights, and marshalling help. Dec 2014

Good Incubation: the craft of supporting early-stage social ventures
Models, methods and types of venture, together with some views about the future. April 2014

Making it big: Suggested strategies for scaling social innovations
An analysis of destinations, routes and strategies, together with some stories.…/making-it-big-strategies-scaling-social-innovations
July, 2014

Ideas from across boundaries


Ideas from across boundaries
Ideas that inspire radical innovations often come from quite different fields.
A meeting at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory will bring together innovators in Healthcare and Motor Sports – to explore their use of real-time data.

Health monitoring and motor sport currently have a common interest – in making use of real-time data from multiple sources. A novel cross-industry partnering and innovation event will take place at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory on 24 March with the help of experience in F1 (see below for details). The focus will be on remote monitoring, data acquisition, better analytics and ease of use. Keynote speakers Include Magna, Leica Biosystems, Siemens Healthcare and the Williams F1 racing team.

With the never-ending segmentation of technologies, the need for cross-boundary links is becoming ever more vital. The Innocentive website is a classic approach – in which problems are posted, and it is from other fields that solutions commonly arrive. Open Innovation (P&G) is one source of such links, art and business another (Watershed, Bristol), innovation workshops a third (BT Labs) and partnerships between designers and technologists (Dyson) another.

Increasing life spans and longer independent living mean that holistic health-monitoring can be a valuable asset to health services; but making effective use of the data is, at least at present, more of an art than a science.

Events like this one at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory with leading-edge practitioners in motor sport and healthcare can help to inspire enduring cross-boundary links. (Maclaren once helped cardiac surgeons at Great Ormond Street Hospital to reduce the risks involved with changing the feed-lines when patients were handed over from Surgery to Intensive Care – by virtue of their expertise in the pit stop. See also ‘ideas via Intermediaries’ – below)

What is needed to encourage the use of real-time data, whether for domestic or public applications, is examples of systems management that are not merely intriguing, but have got real sex appeal; energy management or traffic management don’t have the appeal that F1 does!

If you are wrestling with a difficult problem, join me in this opportunity for thinking up sources that might inspire you with innovative ideas.

For full details of the event, contact

Ideas via Intermediaries – stories of different perspectives
Including how British Airways used a specialist operating theatre design company to enhance cleanliness in its planes; and another airline used the pit stop as a model for its baggage handling systems

The Internet of Thingummies – my worst Christmas dream
I assembled all my devices and told them that I was giving them all the boot! (

John Whatmore
February 2015

What makes a great mentor – I meet one


I interview the ‘best mentor’ in Startupbootcamp’s FinTech Accelerator
In and out frequently, he steadily evolved his role by offering the wealth and breadth of experience of a life-time’s work in a top bank. With regular reviews, he was clarifying progress and problems, acting as a sounding board, offering experienced insights, and marshalling help. His team succeeded in raising the funds they were seeking; and they gave him a great accolade.

Having recently retired from the bank, he was looking to fill his calendar, to escape the City, to keep up to date and to have a bit of fun; and for a team with a cool idea, and with people who were intellectually interesting, and with whom he felt he would like to work. He thought that they were looking for someone who would provide them with connections and who had as much excitement about their idea as they had.

There are so many tasks and so much to take in, all competing for the attention of the entrepreneurs in the very early days of an Accelerator, that it is evidently difficult to determine your focus. One result is that what the mentoring can offer and how to make use of it get less attention than they might. He felt that it would be useful if there was a data base from which you could learn about the specific skills of mentors and the nature of their contacts [as well perhaps as their availability and degree of commitment; and commendations.]

In the Beauty Pageant, when at the beginning of the 13 weeks small groups of potential mentors met with each of the teams on a rotating basis over two days, he and the team which he ultimately mentored had each quickly identified and singled out the other: ‘it was a matter of personalities’ And the relationship simply grew from there – ‘swanning into a formal programme’. There had been no discussions of expectations between him and this team.

‘You could tell from the questions and answers where there was informal interest.’ You could tell, he said ‘who wants to play’, who is passionate, who knows their stuff and can articulate it by means of how people ask and answer, as you can who has a sense of humility [as willing to listen and learn].

Accustomed as he was to a pattern of working in which Friday was review day, they had evolved a way of using a video link by which to publish major documents [and commentaries], circulated to everyone including Directors and existing investors, from which everyone could keep completely up-to-date with situations.

He saw himself as facilitating, making things happen and in getting politics out of the way. He was in and out frequently – working with them to reflect on each situation, to clarify their plans, their options and their decisions and to maintain a road map and timetable of where they should be and when over the 13-week period of the Accelerator – always listening, acting as a sounding board, offering comments, and helping the team to make use of the resources available (- other participants in the Accelerator, entrepreneurs in the adjacent incubator, and his own contacts).

He was impressed at the quality of the original idea behind the business. Over the course of thirty years in banking, ‘I have seen plenty of stuff – people, management and businesses’, he said. He was also deeply impressed at the confidence and competence of the members of this young team; and proud of their successes. He commented on the change in working together brought about by the Accelerator’s lay-out, which located all the members of each team together around a table and adjacent to all the other teams.

He had attended a Mentor Day, when a small number of mentors had met together for discussions at a mid-point in the programme, which he had used to satisfy himself that his own work as a mentor was not biased in some way; that he was not missing something; and in order to meet and hear from other mentors.

He commented on his contribution to one situation where there was no Plan B; and to another critical situation where progress had become seriously slow, where he had contributed to working out solutions. By way of example, we discussed the team’s Demo Day presentation (each team’s presentation to potential investors was repeated several times, each time to new audiences) where he had contributed to its organisation, and to its logic, sequence and structure. And he had sought to use the questions people raised to help identify gaps in the presentation.

He had felt that both at Selection Day (when the candidates for inclusion in the Accelerator were reduced from twenty to the ultimate ten) and at Demo Day, and maybe on other similar occasions, that the large number of participants (there were nominally over 200 mentors and there were other hangers-on) had ‘dumbed down the process’: fewer people, he felt, would have enabled the presentation to be more targeted.

He was evidently pleased that the experience had enabled him to learn something, to give back, and to give value; and that he had enjoyed it so much. He observed that every mentoring situation was different; and commented that ‘mentoring improves your mentoring’. And the best thing of all (and completely unexpected) was that they had asked him to become Chairman.

January 2015