DeepTech comes to market?

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DeepTech comes to market? Science is discreetly stirring itself to bring innovations to market. Despite the difficulties of continuing to practice science alongside commercialisation, leading organisations are creating happenings that encourage entrepreneurialism.

 It is now four years since Steve Blank’s I-Corps programme startled the US’s science communities into focusing on bringing innovations to market, but not till very recently did Innovate UK support this kind of programme. So it is good to see the prestigious Crick Centre in London’s Knowledge Quarter offering to ten teams a 16-week London-based Accelerator programme this Autumn, each with a £40K ‘award’ with which to progress their business.

It is not easy for prospective applicants to learn from the internet what will happen on the programme or what they will get out of it (and there is a ferocious set of questions for applicants as to their suitability.)

‘The course includes’, says the description, ‘pre-accelerator, accelerator and post-accelerator activities designed to take founder teams from idea to Series A and beyond commercial launch.’ ‘Teams will have access to a network of global experts in all aspects of entrepreneurship, health sector knowledge, data science and investment strategies.  This network will provide workshops and mentoring to support the cohort helping them to maximise opportunities and address challenges.’

Innovate UK recently offered funding for this kind of programme to Imperial (around £1/2mn) for a dozen of its post-docs to take time out to participate in a programme focusing specifically on the customer development section of the Business Model Canvas. They were to meet a hundred experts in their field who could help them to make a real-world impact with their work. After an initial residential week, bi-weekly meetings were intended to encourage peer-to-peer learning, complemented by a series of Masterclasses and workshops; and time could be booked with business coaches and members of the management team.

Steve Blank’s more demanding I-Corps programme has been readily taken up by a number of scientific organisations in the US – with encouraging results, but its long-term effects are, like all programmes that involve change, very difficult to measure.

The Crick Centre has been hosting a regular series of ‘DeepTech Mixers’ (which will be incorporated in the programme), bringing together people highly engaged in this approach – engineers, scientists, VC partners, university researchers and startup founders – for presentations, panels, discussions, pitches and networking. These are designed to facilitate the exchange of ideas and encourage venture building and investment – by connecting startups with each other and with major organisations.

If programmes of this kind are right for Crick, are they not also right for Harwell, the Rutherford Appleton, the National Physical Laboratory, the Barbraham and others?

John Whatmore, October 2018

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A heavy-weight investment in top entrepreneurial leaders

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A heavy-weight investment to create a cohort of top entrepreneurial leaders for Scotland Many of to-day’s big problems require entrepreneurial talent to manage them, but few managers have experience of managing entrepreneurial projects. This is a programme whose aim is to turn mid-career expertise into entrepreneurial talent.

Scotland’s next generation of business leaders will benefit from entrepreneurial learning in a programme designed to develop future business leaders across all sectors – corporate, family businesses, the public sector and the third sector – delivered for the first time by Strathclyde Business School.

This six month leadership development programme which is one of a number of related initiatives by the Saltire Foundation, is led by Entrepreneurial Scotland in partnership with Babson College in Boston, USA – a world leader in entrepreneurial development.

The programme is for people who are at a turning point in their careers and have the mind-set and ambition to become entrepreneurs: they may be starting a new business, entering an entrepreneurial business or joining a business that is looking to become more entrepreneurial. It aims to instil entrepreneurial thinking and strategic leadership – by giving participants access to toolkits and techniques with an entrepreneurial perspective.

The approach is described as facilitated learning: delivered by the business school faculty together with industry partners, with the help of mentors and advisers, and consisting also of networking and peer-to-peer learning.

A ‘lively’ two week section involves field trips, case studies and introductions to others involved in Scotland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Participants will have already spent nine weeks in Boston and Silicon Valley learning from some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs with the aim of helping them to acquire the skills they need to become entrepreneurial leaders.

Upon returning to Scotland they embarked on individual projects within their own organisations or a sponsor organisation. This is followed by two weeks of residential training, and then participants go back to their projects before graduating from the programme. But they remain in contact, connected online for master classes, able to network, to continue to exchange experience and contacts, and in a post-course Linkedin group.

Nineteen experienced entrepreneurs from a wide range of backgrounds (a scientist, a barrister and a musician among them) made up the cohort, the selection involving extensive profiling undertaken by Insight, a Dundee-based organisation, together with Entrepreneurial Scotland, a network organisation based at Strathclyde.

Strathclyde Business School will be looking to see whether they have achieved their business outcomes; whether they have successfully made the transfer to an entrepreneurial function; whether the programme has indeed unlocked and unleashed their entrepreneurial potential; and whether the programme has renewed their love of learning and development. The post-programme assessments are made by Entrepreneurial Scotland, but ‘life changing’ is a commonly quoted outcome. The programme for the next cohort is now to add entrepreneurship masterclasses, delivered by top professors and local entrepreneurs at different stages of business growth.

The programme costs £32k per person, but many of the participants have been able to attract sponsors. The award-winning Diageo Learning for Life programme funded a place for a candidate from the licensed trade in Scotland; and leading organisations LINC Scotland, Cultural Enterprise Office, and Social Investment Scotland also backed individuals on the programme.

For more, see https://www.sbs.strath.ac.uk/feeds/news.aspx?id=1131

John Whatmore, April 2018

 

 

Building specific eco-systems

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Building specific eco-systems Introspection by Village Capital in New York yields insights into the roles and activities of entrepreneur support organisations

 Most entrepreneur support focuses either on the founder or on the investor. But it is important to identify the specific role in the middle of the “Pioneer Gap”: the ecosystem builder, says a report for the Kauffman Foundation by Village Capital in New York. The people who run accelerators, incubators, seed funds, and other entrepreneur support organisa­tions (ESOs) play a critical role in their communities’.

(Village Capital works by identifying real-world problems, and finding, training and investing in entrepreneurs, and building communities around them and their ventures – to improve opportunities for growth and success. Since 2009, when it opened its doors, it has supported over 500 ventures in 45 programmes.)

The report ‘s special contributions are around the qualities to select for and to work on in founders; and on enhancing mutual understandings between startups and funders. And Village Capital’s comments on their latest inclinations (at the end of this paper).

MIT is not alone is asserting that accelerators contribute to local development, stimulate economic growth by bringing jobs, financial opportunities and people to their area of operation.

One of the report’s findings is that programmes that are sector specific raise more funds, attract better entrepreneurs and are more likely to run, and to succeed. Significantly, they attract more targeted and more useful mentors and partners.

Few entrepreneur support organisations find that they can pay for this work in full, says the report, and need to find/use revenues from other sources, such as consultancy or other services, grants (from private or public organisations), or from other benefits that they provide (eg meeting local needs).

In designing their curriculum, ESOs should be clear about their objectives: to what extent are they about product validation, developing strategic partnerships, creating quality jobs, solving sectoral problems or making money as quickly as possible. They should use measurable targets.

In curriculum design and in selection, while most accelerators rely simply on advertising their programme to attract applicants, evidence strongly

suggests that quality is more important than quantity, that you should look to draw on sectors that your accelerator will hope to stimulate, and aim to find matches between entrepreneurial potential and business type (can Myers Briggs tests help, asks the report). ESOs should strive for transparency, collaboration and communication, and peer feedback.

Village Capital’s research examined eight common characteristics of founding team members:

  • Acumen – knowledge of business and market
  • Adjustment – emotional and psychological adjustment/self control
  • Ambition – need for achievement; drive to accomplish
  • Originator – individualistic; spontaneous decision-making style
  • People-focus – perceived level of concern for people
  • GRIT – confidence, resilience, perseverance
  • Persuasion – perceived ability to get things done through others
  • Team build – perceived ability to energise, motivate and inspire team members

And added three riders:

  • Spontaneity has a negative correlation with successful leadership
  • Self-awareness has a positive correlation
  • Female founders outperform their male counterparts.

The report stresses the importance of founder awareness in curriculum planning – in terms of

  • self-awareness
  • actionable feedback (including from peers)
  • realistic milestone planning.

Village Capital’s founding philosophy is about peer selection and ranking, in order to mitigate investor bias (and skewed power dynamics), to empower entrepreneurs, and to evaluate startups and startup leadership on their own merits (eg in terms of market potential, team strength, founder coachability, go-to-market strategy, traction and execution.).

VilCap has put a lot of work into building tools for the better assessment of teams and companies – especially in terms of venture investment readiness and awareness. This has included a definitional matrix – of stages of progress, designed to help entrepreneurs and investors use the same language, entrepreneurs to become more self-aware, and to enhance entrepreneur-investor conversations.

Village Capital’s model now emphasises

  • spending less time on the curriculum and more on teams working on their own;
  • emphasising networking and collaboration (eg in your sector);
  • startups should focus on developing com-munications, networking and organisational structures; and less on financial skills;
  • mentor quality and matching are the keys to success;
  • peer investment selection.

The VilCap Model is available as a toolkit – for those seeking to make use of Village Capital’s knowledge and experience.

See:

* VilCap.com – Reports. A year of Vilcap communities: how ecosystem builders can best help entrepreneurs succeed, 2016.

* And a previous blog of mine about Village Capital at https://wp.me/p3beJt-lN Oct 2017.

John Whatmore, March 2018

Creating local and regional growth hubs

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Creating local and regional growth hubs to match local needs 

Silicon Valley’s may be outstandingly the world’s best of entrepreneurial eco-systems, and London’s outstandingly the best in the UK. But can local areas aspire to create eco-systems of support for young ventures for themselves? (Next up: Building specific eco-systems – Village Capital in New York’s extensive experience is revealing.)

*

The authoritative 2016 Scaleup Report focused on aspects of scaling up (ambition, team building, partnerships, management systems, and identifying core competences and strengths – especially in relation to new markets and new opportunities). The following paragraph, from a recent Scaleup Institute’s report, comments on ways for getting there.

‘Scaleup business leaders most value locally-rooted resources to foster their growth. They want more local solutions tailored to their needs: more peer-to-peer networks where they can meet their counterparts, easier access and deeper connections to local educators, university research facilities, and UK collaboration partners whether that be in local authorities, large corporates or Government.’

But is available support as widespread or as strong as it needs to be; and is there enough local collaboration. Is the pool of lead investors/serial entrepreneurs big enough to provide advice about growth; and how can the pool be grown rapidly. Here are two examples.

Spark2Scale, a support programme created by the Business Growth Hub in Leeds is a business growth scheme which combines workshops, collaborative masterclasses, personal mentoring, peer-to-peer problem solving and bespoke business support from specialist Hub advisers, tailored specifically for aspiring ‘scale-ups’.

Its second cohort, recruited in mid-2017, aims to tackle the barriers faced by scale-ups in areas like Rochdale that are keen to grow, but which often lack the experience or confidence to take their business forward – by instilling a positive, ambitious, and confident scale-up mindset in those companies which participate.

It starts with a one-day workshop – to help participants develop their strategy; followed by one-to-one support towards delivering a comprehensive strategic plan. Next are three peer-to-peer half day workshops, led by industry specialists – in Finance, Digital Marketing & Growth Hacking; and additional one-to-one support and workshops are available. The programme, which is hosted at the Chambers Business Centre in Oldham, culminates in an evening celebrating success.

Innovation SuperNetwork in the North East was set up as a neutral broker to increase collaboration between parts of the regional innovation eco-system. Run by a specially formed company and championed by the North East LEP, SuperNetwork brings together over 50 different organisations and links to over 5000 businesses.

It has three strands: it runs competitions for the provision of support in specific fields (‘Innovation Challenges’); an access to finance programme connecting businesses with investors (‘FinanceCamp’); and a regional innovation conference (‘VentureFest North East’). And it aims to upskill business support organisations and encourage collaboration between them (‘Innovation Practice’).

The SuperNetwork’s Innovation Challenge takes challenges identified by large organisations and connects them with local small businesses – biomedical catalysts, the charging of electric vehicles and smart phones, and public space TV among current challenges. Its Finance Camp strand runs a programme of preparatory workshops that lead to one-to-one meetings with investors (it will run five investor training events in 2018, each in a different location in the area), and it runs a major investor conference in the summer. Its VentureFest is an annual meetup with a variety of speakers, workshops and other encounter activities.

Its most powerful role may lie in its aim to develop a presence as a cluster in the field of early-stage ventures, to which individuals and their organisations can become attached; and to provide opportunities for them to network so as to benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience.

Time will tell how well these examples will succeed; but time is of the essence: what could help them evolve even faster?

 

John Whatmore, February 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

Building ‘local’ eco-systems to support innovation

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Building ‘local’ eco-systems to support innovation Nesta’s recent report The State of Small Business highlights networks – among key levers of influence, as does the recent report from the Scaleup Institute. Hubs, like Scotland’s CivTech programme can be supported by online networks like MIT’s U.Labs which link groups together effortlessly.

‘Business networks are an important source of resource and advice for SMEs’ says Nesta’s recent report (1). ‘From the perspective of local authorities, business networks…can be established and maintained with relatively little financial commitment’.

‘Network theory points to how networks can provide an SME with cost-effective access to external resources – and many of those interviewed for this report (both SMEs and local authorities) highlighted the practical benefits of sharing knowledge and experiences with peers.’

‘In effect, cooperation through business networks gives small firms economies of scale without diseconomies of size.’ And research has shown that access to business network support among SMEs has a positive relationship with business growth.

The recent Scaleup Institute’s report (2) adds that ‘Scaleup business leaders most value locally-rooted resources to foster their growth. They want more local solutions tailored to their needs: more peer-to-peer networks where they can meet their counterparts, easier access and deeper connections to local educators, university research facilities, and UK collaboration partners whether that be in local authorities, large corporates or Government.’ And recommends that ‘local stakeholders signpost effective mentorship programmes and matchmaking programmes between peers and non-executive directors who have scaled businesses before.’

The Scottish Government’s CivTech programme (3) – for making use of outside expertise for developing new solutions to persistent public issues – made use of  MIT’s U.Lab (4). This programme invites people ‘to form Hubs (any place where course participants meet and learn together) and coaching circles (self-organised groups of five that set their own meeting times and use Google Hangout or Skype to engage in a structured deep listening and dialogue process)’. For the Scottish Government and its CivTech programme, it has proved itself a useful networking tool. ‘We found it to be one of the most effective learning experiences we’ve ever had,’ reports one participant. ‘It builds skills we need in working collaboratively and co-producing outcomes with others; it is a highly participative approach – anyone can take part free of charge; it builds on people’s and communities’ assets and strengths; and it champions the use of improvement science.’

References

John Whatmore, December 2017