How can we speed up the adoption of innovations?

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How can we speed up the adoption of innovations?
Big changes are difficult to bring about. So far the spur behind them has been semi-public but independent bodies with their ability to take radical approaches – like these nine examples. Is it time for institutions and associations to take the baton?

Rolling out innovations for new technologies and sociologies is often seen as the job for entrepreneurs, their champions and their supporters – in the expectation that their focus on early-adopters will then lead on to more wide-spread useage. But it is hard to locate where that should be taking place and how to foster it, not least in those areas that involve behaviour change such as education and healthcare.
The UK’s Cabinet Office has held three competitions inviting organisations to bid for funds to run Accelerators in social enterprise and in healthcare (short periods of intensive development for a dozen or so carefully selected small teams); and the winning organisations will now have helped with over a hundred such startups.

Nesta’s Innovation Lab works with individuals and organisations to generate, develop and test radical new ideas to address social problems; and links innovative projects to advocacy and policy change – to transform whole systems; exemplified by its work on shifting healthcare towards more peer-support, social prescribing and prevention. The Lab’s objectives are about:
*   creating solutions to solve specific challenges;
*   engaging citizens, non-profits and businesses to find new ideas;
*   transforming processes, skills and culture of government; and
*   achieving wider policy and systems change.
The UK Cabinet’s Behavioural insights Team (the so-called Nudge Unit) was launched in 2010 to see how behavioral science might contribute to the achievement of policy objectives. It’s successes have been very specific eg in changing the unwelcoming nature of Job Centres; with redesigning communications to non-payers of income tax and fines and non-renewers of their driving licences; with reshaping the offer of loft insulation to include loft clearance. Its approach has been to identify the factors that lay behind the behaviour and then to set up an experiment using a faster, more attractive, social and timely approach.

Mike Bloomberg as Mayor of New York used special teams to develop and deliver new approaches on issues ranging from climate change to poverty and education, and his work spread new models that local leaders can use to generate and implement bold ideas.

New York’s iZone is one example: it is a community of schools committed to personalising learning around the needs, motivations and strengths of each child – an incubation lab for the city’s education department. MONUM, the Mayor’s Office for New Urban Mechanics in Boston is another. It aims to enable busy City Hall staff to run innovation projects – often done in collaboration with external entrepreneurs and internal government policy experts.

Copenhagen’s MindLab was launched in 2002 by the Danish Ministry for Business Affairs as an internal incubator for invention and innovation, inspired by Skandia, the Swedish insurance company’s Future Center (of which there are now a number, mainly in continental Europe). It embraces human-centred design; and aims to stimulate dialogue on transforming the public sector and creating a different interplay between state and local level, and create more systematic change. It is now owned by three ministries and works across employment, education, business and growth, and government modernisation.

MIT’s Media Lab is running numerous experiments of all sorts, among them research to measure the social and spatial settings of innovation in districts across the US to identify the factors that promote and sustain innovation in cities. In collaboration with the Austrian Institute of Technology it is running a study of the key persuasive strategies that enable, motivate, and trigger users to shift from high-energy to low-energy modes of transport. And its project aimed at enhancing entrepreneurialism in specific regions of the world is now in its third year.

InnovateUK has taken a different approach: it has spun off several ‘Catapults’ whose objectives are to transform the UK’s capability for innovation. Among these, one has focused on understanding what will stimulate change (Cognicity – new cities); another on tackling public issues that obstruct change (the Digital Catapult); and a third on launching initiatives that will directly stimulate the creation of new products and services (the Space Catapult).

Work in units like these does not fit easily into existing organisations, but is it time for institutions and associations to follow in the lead of the Young Foundation, which has been active in promoting social enterprise for many years, and spur their fields into accelerating innovation?

See also:

iLabs. The teams and funds making innovation happen in governments around the world. Nesta, 2014. mailto:research@nesta.org.uk

Workshops for helping to develop innovations. Commercialising IP, developing startups and SMEs, and new products and new businesses for corporates. Oct 2013. http://wp.me/p3beJt-18

Government launches £10mn social incubator fund. A remarkable bet on the future of an unproven horse. http://wp.me/p3beJt-b5 Sept 2012

Accelerators for young businesses and the Young Foundation. Seeking to turn social SMEs into burgeoning businesses that change people’s live for the better. Jan 2013 http://wp.me/p3bejt-4
John Whatmore
January 2016

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Accelerators or Incubators – or combinations?

Flexible and adaptive development, challenge and support are what is required for hi-growth young businesses.

 IT is revolutionizing or disrupting many sectors of the economy and providing opportunities for endless innovations. And as it does so, first-mover advantage has been an important asset, and speed of development has become an increasingly vital element. While Incubators provide valuable spaces and an umbrella for SMEs, Accelerators (12-week managed programmes of intensive development for a small number of early-stage businesses, all working beside one another, and with fulsome support) aim to provide injections of development.

 Incubators provide flexible accommodation and basic services for SMEs, while Accelerators aim to provide 18 months of development for dynamic young businesses in the 3 months or so of their programmes; and they differ in two main respects: pressure and support.

While Incubators have no time limits on their occupants, Accelerators calibrate their progress and provide at the end of the period an opportunity to present their case to investors – for further funding. And while Incubators are reactive – they may have access to a range of advisers, available on request, Accelerators are proactive – they work with their young businesses to help them identify the advice or support they need, and then find it for them.

The reality is that different things are important at different moments and for different stages of growth. Most valuable is to have access (and not just the one-shot injection that the Business Growth Service provides to its adherents) to people with a depth of experience in the long-term growth of young businesses – a changing quorum of experts in a non-executive role. The big new co-working spaces like the 3,000-seater new WeWork building in Moorgate London (or for that matter the new Crick Institute at Kings Cross, and even the Harwell Campus), would benefit from having a number of such experts on tap, and ready to take up that role.

They can also mediate access to specialist mentors and advisers, and they are also in a position to bring together from time to time those businesses with similar growth issues and in similar sectors – to learn from each other’s progress and experience (like the Belgian Plato programme, http://wp.me/p3beJt-H) and like Wayra Lab – the Telefonica Accelerator http://wp.me/p3beJt-s). And they can run sessions of intensive assessment (like those run by the Sussex Innovation Centre) and short periods of intensive development (like Hackathons http://wp.me/p3beJt-aU).

The other crucial difference between Accelerators and Incubators is that you pay for the former in equity, and for the latter in rent.

For an analysis of the several roles that supporters play, see “Managing Creative Groups – how leaders develop creative potential in their teams”, Chapter 9, How leaders provide support. John Whatmore, Kogan Page, 1999.

 John Whatmore

December 2015

Reversing a topsy-turvy approach to a better world?

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Reversing a topsy-turvy approach to a better world

Focusing on major issues rather than relying on people with good ideas is likely to be a good source for the 6% of businesses with hi-growth potential (- and Unicorns)

 Next: the Business Growth Service’s coaches, mentors and advisers are having a real impact for SMEs; it must be exploited.

Following: Five Ace Mentors – you may need all of them

Most of the commercial supporters of hi-growth businesses depend on who turns up with a good idea – for which they search keenly; yet many of those ideas are often limited, ephemeral and even trivial, and many of their protoganists far from suited to the heavy sweat of growing a business. Few focus on issues of strategic, technical or sociological importance – like basic needs, lifestyles or communities.

Among those that have done so are:

Village Capital in New York – which seeks to identify large scale needs in any country throughout the world, and then to match them with experts and funds designed to find and implement solutions.

Syncona Partners, a subsidiary of the Wellcome Trust, which identifies potential solutions to major healthcare issues that are of technical or strategic importance and matches experts (or sets up the necessary management) and funds for delivering their benefits.

BioCity Nottingham which runs a programme whose starting point is identifying major issues of organisations in its area, and then finds experts who may be able to help solve those issues; and goes on to provide them with intensive support for the development of solutions.

The provision by Innovate UK’s for its grant winners of free access to The Business Growth Service is a welcome focus on technological opportunities that have been identified in competition, and thus a well-directed initiative for supporting young businesses that have the potential for high growth.

Innovate UK’s Business Growth Workshops bring these grant holders together and illustrate the analysis that the service’s Growth Development Managers put together, and which they use to offer a choice of three coaches, mentors or advisers to the business involved.

The success of this service must be exploited by making sure that it is adopted for example in clusters and in innovation centres everywhere.

John Whatmore

October 2015

Accelerators attacking bigger issues?

If Accelerators can support hi-growth SMEs as well as startups, can they also be adapted to focus on tough problems and emerging opportunities in all sorts of fields? (http://wp.me/p3beJt-9e)

Top digital expertise to drive the digital world

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Top Digital expertise to drive the digital world
The new Digital Catapult Centre in London aims to tackle ‘obstructive problems’ whose solutions will unlock digital futures, and to enable expertise in the digital world to contribute to that work and to benefit from it – by supporting digital development in all kinds of organisations. And it aims to spawn similar centres in the regions.
Next week: The Satellite Applications Catapult is charting new applications for satellites and facilitating path-finding initiatives in technology, markets and finance.

The Digital Catapult Centre (https/::digital.catapult.org.uk), surprisingly the seventh Catapult to be created by InnovateUK, opened its doors only in November 2014, at the very top of a building with a magnificent view onto the British Library and Euston and Kings Cross Stations in London.

It is permeated by the philosophy of Neil Crockett, its boss, whose strong belief is that innovation is born essentially of physical encounter and interaction – hence its location beside the stations and with as good access as is imaginable to most of the UK and to Europe and the City of London.

As such, it is meticulously designed to look very modern but with user-friendly touches – such as lockers, bookshelves and kitchen space. It is made up of a collection of different size and style spaces, each of which can be re-ordered for a variety of different purposes. Wiring is self-consciously exhibited; screens – of different sizes and surrounds (tablets, mobiles, hybrids etc) are everywhere, presenting all sorts of different material and high-lighting the leading-edge work of a changing quorum of SMEs; and everything is designed to capture data.

There are two sides to the work of the catapult: there is research work and there is the generation of innovation – through interaction with the digital community and the digital industry. Research is focused on ‘obstructive problems’ – those issues that get in the way of the progress of the digital economy. There are four themes to these:
• removing obstacles to the sharing of personal data
• facilitating the exchange of proprietary data
• enabling the sharing of creative content, and
• establishing regimes for sharing private data.
There are currently some twenty topics, and each project might take between 6 and 18 months; and there is a permanent invitation to come in and wrestle with a problem with those who are working on it in the Catapult.

The research area is mainly made up of rows of desks, butted up to one another, but there are parleying seat spaces, sticky note spaces and small group spaces, as there are meeting rooms of all sizes, from very small group right up to conference size.

It is this latter section that is the encounter area. Intensive marketing about the topics being addressed via the many contacts – of all involved including the large Advisory Board and their contacts (gatekeepers) and via social media has brought over five thousand visitors in the first four months of the Catapult’s existence to the large number of events held there – sometimes several a day, the prominent of whom are invited to add their names on a huge Signature Wall!

Around two “Pit Stops” (for ‘refuelling’) are to be held each month (each of 2 to 5 days duration,) which bring together cohorts of SMEs and startups with a prototype at testing stage with possible collaborators and partners – larger organisations and device manufacturers, university researchers and deep domain experts – to solve problems and do business. Their aims are:
• to refresh approaches to creating breakthrough digital products;
• to benchmark services against industry standards and peers;
• to boost performance metrics; and
• to obtain exclusive access to partners, new markets and funding opportunities.

Pit Stops are designed to provide in-depth advice and interaction with high calibre experts and partners, providing hands on help with your specific issues around growth and scaling. Sessions are designed to provide insights and consultation around design, user research, software development, security, personal data, trust and privacy, big data / data science / machine learning and architecture.

These Pit Stops – of value to CEOs, CTOs, heads of business development as well as researchers – are focused and facilitated, and include parallel sessions of workshops, demos, talks, pitches and 1:1 sessions – to fire up new solutions and directions. (Some Pit Stops are closed ie on behalf of individual organisations and with specific invitees.) A recent Pit Stop was on digital health and included 35 innovators from startups and 40-50 mentors (including investors, successful entrepreneurs in that space, people from the NHS and Department of Health, experts in design, psychology, personal data and security.)

Despite the extensive reach of this location, Neil Crockett is clear that other centres are necessary if the Catapult is to achieve adequately wide-spread outcomes, the first three of which (in Brighton, Sunderland and Bradford) opened in March. Each one is a cluster including local enterprise partnerships, universities and local innovation organisations.

If data comes in digits, Neil’s infectious enthusiasm is an all-embracing spirit that fills the Centre and inspires his way forward, which he describes as like landing on the moon – constant adaptation.

John Whatmore
February 2015

If you have a tough tech problem, try a Hackathon

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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

Are there any limits to the scope for Accelerators

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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. http://www.nesta.org.uk/project/i-teams

John Whatmore
April 2015
http://johnwhatmore.com

Startups: test your judgement

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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 (mailto:john.whatmore@btinternet.com)