A heavy-weight investment in top entrepreneurial leaders


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




A workshop for programme leaders in Incubators etc


Fostering Innovation in Incubators A half-day workshop for programme leaders to exchange experience – on 27 June, 2018, at Cockpit Arts, Cockpit Yard, Northington Street, London WC1N 2NP.

Cockpit Arts, home to 170 small businesses, is an award-winning social enterprise and the only business incubator for craftspeople in the UK – with an outstanding support regime.

9.30 Introduction: John Whatmore, scribbler and former Nesta Associate

9.40 David Crump, Head of Business Incubation, Cockpit Arts. The issues and the approaches adopted in Cockpit Arts

10.15 Visit to the Incubator – meeting some makers

11.00 Coffee

11.20 Reactions to the visit – from participants

11.45 A panel of leaders from parallel fields tell us about their approaches and experience

12.15 Discussion – Fostering innovation in incubation: ways forward

1.15 Feed-back: What did you value most and who do you want to meet again?

1.30 Finish

Places very limited. Preference will be given to programme leaders in incubators and similar co-working spaces.

Apply to John Whatmore at john.whatmore@btinternet.com, giving your organisation together with your role there.









An Accelerator like no other


An Accelerator like no other This NHS programme, more like a drip feed than the conventional injection, aims to identify and support individuals with outstanding innovations that will help with the NHS’s development.

The NHS Innovation Accelerator is a well recognised programme (now in its third year) for the uptake and spread of high impact, evidence-based healthcare. While the NHS’s current challenge is how to continue to help an increasing number of patients, and maintain and raise the quality of care, the link between quality and productivity, it is asserted, lies in innovation.

 Unlike other Accelerators, this is not a short-term programme: it is a fellowship – in several senses. Fellows are very carefully selected for their capability to scale their innovations; they work as beacons of their own special healthcare developments; and they are collaborators through a learning network.

It aims to support exceptional individuals – as ‘Fellows’ (who can be clinicians, academics, from charitable and not-for-profit organisations or from industry – SMEs or large corporates). The significant majority are from industry, despite the strong argument that healthcare professionals have a unique exposure to the challenges facing the NHS. They must have a passion for and commitment to scaling their innovations – for greater patient and population benefit, and for sharing their learning, insight and expertise widely. And they must be able to demonstrate valuable innovation, and to have had extensive involvement with users.

Each of the currently 36 Fellows, have been selected through a rigorous, multi-stage assessment process – involving many parties – in all, over 100 assessors.

It is widely accepted that these are complex markets where clinical guidelines, professional choice, personal choice, consumer purchasing and means testing cross boundaries with commissioning, buying and free at point of use services. And then every unit – hospital, GP practice, community centre etc has its own decision-making powers; so scaling up any innovation faces big challenges.

This year’s cohort (of 11) is targeted at more specific areas of need than previously eg mental health/early intervention/self care and education. The processes, the two sides of the coin – of finding out what is out there by way of opportunities, and of navigating and understanding the processes involved in delivering innovation – are getting better understood. But every new Fellow has to discover for himself/herself the ways through the necessary thicket of acceptances.

All Fellows are supported by a learning programme – hosted by UCL Partners, and co-designed with patient networks, Fellows, and Academic Health Sciences Network (AHSN) partners – to be agile and adaptive, to build on existing infrastructure, to be collaborative and to enable Fellows to test hypotheses about how to get their innovations diffused within the NHS.

Crucial help seems to consist in close support and guidance – learning from each other and from people experienced in the field.

Each new annual cohort joins the three-year programme, though commitment is renewable annually. Their initiation starts with a series of half-day meetings – of such things as one-to-one meetings with the core team (the programme leaders), pitch training sessions, and a speed-dating event at which they rotate around a series of desks where they explain their scaling strategy to two or three experts in eg research, commissioning, IT, marketing, finance etc., from which they get feed-back. (And they get to know each other.)

Each annual programme is launched with a major event, to which a wide range of interested parties are invited (Fellows and the core team hold a meeting in the morning and the public event follows on.)

The support programme is built round regular quarterly one-day ‘Sprint’ meetings, held in London, which are facilitated. These are described essentially as opportunities to connect with other Fellows, to reflect on and share insights, and hear from external speakers. Fellows also meet with programme leaders on a one-to-one basis every six weeks; and they often arrange to meet one another at other times; and there is a Fellows online forum.

They also have opportunities to meet up – two or three at a time – with specialist advisers (eg on health scanning/ business development etc); and introductions to local specialists can be effected through the country’s 15 AHSNs. Also there is a bank of 18 specialist mentors, with whom meetings can be arranged.

As the programme evolves, increasing emphasis is being placed on commercial expertise and commercial experts; on enhancing opportunities for Fellows to connect with and learn from one another; and on raising the profile of the programme – especially through its networking activity. Consideration is also now being given to some form of Alumni programme.

A very recent report (1) identified ‘conditions for the successful scaling of healthcare innovations’. Regarded as crucial were: having a supportive network of contacts that can open doors to key influencers and patient involvement; and harnessing insights of mentors, expert networking and demonstrating how innovations support national and local agendas [‘door openers’ and ‘mentors’]. Overcoming barriers to innovation diffusion, in a challenging financial climate, said the report, requires an agile mindset, a willingness to revise and adapt innovations, and skills in engaging clinicians to persuade them of the benefits [‘creative’, ‘adaptive’ and ‘persuasive’].

The NHS Accelerator reports that it is making an ‘unprecedented impact’ on the NHS and the people it serves: almost a thousand additional NHS providers and commissioners are now using these innovations, £40 million external funding has been secured, and 116 jobs created (as of January 2018). And its Fellows are helping the system to understand what the barriers are to innovation, where the opportunities lie, and how to alleviate some of the frustrations.

Methodologically this is not a classic Accelerator. Its closest relationship is perhaps to the Clore Fellowship Programme in the Arts, which is a learnt rather than taught programme – experiential and grounded in practice, in a peer group, and about building on your own strengths, values and style of leadership, with the help of fulsome support. And to Scotland’s CivTech programme for innovations in public services (which included two big problems in the NHS).

They all undoubtedly help their participants to deliver innovations, but the NHS Accelerator only tickles the generic problem of making it easier to introduce innovations into the NHS, an issue faced by many organisations and addressed as such first and foremost by Boards and management (2).

Afterthought: what would happen if Fellows already in the NHS were enabled to appoint local Associate Fellows, with similar support, but based on regional centres?

(1) NHS Innovation Accelerator Evaluation – Final Report, March 2018.

(2) Four things you can do to make innovation happen. Amy Muller/Strategos, April 2017.

John Whatmore, May 2018





Four things you can do to make innovation happen

April 27, 2017 by Amy Muller

In recent years the focus has been on creating highly efficient organizations that apply lean principles to both management and operations. We recognize it has become very hard for many companies to allocate time and resources to make innovation happen.  But fortunately there are ways to make innovation more efficient. Here we describe 4 simple things you can implement.

  1. Develop a plan and schedule for your innovation project – and manage it as a project. Innovation should be a structured process; not a free-for-all. The sequential steps of insight development, idea generation, idea elaboration, and experiment design can be managed using a variety of tools. This means providing clear objectives, tools and instruction, and setting intermediate milestones.
  2. Recognize that innovation is a social process. Innovation is more likely to result from structured group discussions than from solitary independent work; try to schedule lots of face- time for generating, elaborating, and reviewing ideas.   Some tasks, like insight research and interviews can be done independently, but bring the team together to synthesize and discuss the collected findings.
  3. Schedule “Events” to incorporate the ideas and expertise of a wider group of employees. Events can allow the Core Team to make rapid progress in many of the stages of innovation; especially in the idea generation phase and in elaborating business models.
  4. Provide a realistic way for your Core Team to dedicate some meaningful fraction of their time to innovation. Encourage the innovators to assess their priorities and workloads and to find ways to eliminate low priority tasks and to delegate other tasks to co-workers.  Provide formal “performance review” recognition for the innovation work.  Make it clear to employees that innovation is their work and they will be recognized for doing it.




Entering difficult markets


Helping people to learn about innovating into difficult markets – healthcare

A learning programme is offered by SetSquared to support healthcare innovators in the West of England – an intensive four days, open to healthcare professionals, health and life science academics, small businesses and public contributors alike (but you still need actual help from inside the NHS). 

This programme is for people who have seen an opportunity for a product or service that would have benefits in healthcare; and are ‘passionate about taking their proposition forward, and committed to delivering it’.

The course, conceived in partnership with and funded by the Academic Health Sciences Network (AHSN), and in future to be funded by Regional Development Funds, aims to provide

  • an opportunity to make a compelling pitch to anexperienced panel
  • a great way tonetwork with like-minded innovators
  • friendly environment to try-out your ideas, and
  • a chance to get continuing support from SetSquared to furtherdevelop your proposition.

It focuses on

  • customer analysis
  • building a business case
  • funding strategies, and
  • market analysis.

It has been run for three years and some 150 people have been through it, two thirds from companies and the others clinicians or the private sector. A high proportion of these have had solid enough propositions to go on to take their project forward.

 An introductory session enables participants to articulate their objectives and their greatest needs, and to identify the right optional modules.

Succeeding in the NHS This module explores how participants’ propositions should fit the ways in which the NHS addresses new ideas, including the promotion of internal innovation and the “selling” of external innovation. It covers both the formal processes, and how “decisions to use” and “decisions to buy” play out in the NHS culture.

 Building Clear and Credible Plans This module explores the key elements and components of different aspects of business plans – the thinking, research and analysis, and the presentational format and logic – that need to be part of a business plan that is convincing to investors (whether internal or external, entrepreneurial or socially minded).

 The Complexities of Commissioners, Customers and Users This module examines ways in which the Healthcare and social care are complex markets where clinical guidelines, professional choice, personal choice, consumer purchasing and means testing cross boundaries with commissioning, buying, and free at point of use services – in order to help understanding, identifying and navigating these market complexities.

Market Analysis This session focuses on understanding the NHS’s criteria – in its rigidly budgeted world, and quantifying the scale of the opportunity, including: the scale of the addressable market; how the product service is costed and priced; how to arrive at the right “price point”; how to assess the impact of direct competition; and how to make a realistic forecast of time to market and the speed of take up.

Collaboration and Partnerships The session focuses on opportunities that can be created through collaboration and networking – from working with larger corporations with their wide access to markets; working with other small companies – with synergistic products and services; engaging with clinical communities that are a direct source of test-beds and support.

 Communication and Presentational Skills This session helps participants to understand their target audiences and to articulate their key messages and their propositions in different contexts, with three panel sessions with their peers and an expert panel.

Feedback A personal feed-back session aims to help each participant to identify developmental needs across their business proposition and how they might be met. (Additional coaching and mentoring is also available.)

(SetSquared and the Wessex AHSN have also collaborated in offering an Innovation Surgery – a regular panel of experts to help and advise individual businesses, including those looking for development funds or research partners, and sometimes (frequently successfully) introducing them to possible providers.)

Even if you are abreast of all this, you still need the help of those in the NHS who can enable you to make your innovation work for them. You need ‘a supportive network of contacts that can open doors to key influencers and patient involvement; and to harness insights of mentors, and expertise in networking and demonstrating how innovations support national and local agendas. You need an agile mindset, a willingness to revise and adapt innovations, and skills in engaging clinicians to persuade them of the benefits.’ (NHS Innovation Accelerator Evaluation – Final Report, March 2018.)

See also: An Accelerator built entirely on relationships A programme to facilitate the adoption of digital technology in the NHS relied on the persistent building of relationships – to develop, trial and establish successful innovations.

John Whatmore, May 2018

Correction 9 May 2017

The course was co-designed with the AHSNs, funded by the AHSNs and ‘delivered’ by Setsquared (but with considerable AHSN input). It is run twice a year, once funded by Wessex AHSN, and then again funded by West of England AHSN. The healthcare content, NHS knowledge and background come from the AHSNs, either directly delivered or through AHSN speakers/contacts; Setsquared provide content with business start-up and general small-business/product development advice.



Innovation and changing peoples’ lives


Innovation and changing peoples’ lives. In a fast-changing world, helping people to make changes to their lives is at the heart of innovation. This programme of mutual learning brings people together who can help one another – easy to set up and run, and ideal not just for innovation centres and their ilk, but for groups of all kinds, such as job changers, patients, students, local communities et al.

Alcoholics Anonymous is the most dramatic of life-changing groups: its regular meetings, mutual discussions, exchange of commitments, and reporting back on progress are its backbone.

Participants in Accelerator programmes (around 12 weeks of intensive development for a dozen or so startups working alongside one another) regularly say that their best sources of help are other participants. At Watershed in Bristol they meet at lunch time every Friday and talk in turn about their progress, their problems and their plans. Notes of the meeting are then immediately circulated to ensure that everyone can identify and meet up with those whose issues chime with their own – to draw on each other’s experience.

Enrolyourself (1) is a 6-month programme of mutual learning – for people who feel a need to work on their ideas together with others who are on similar learning paths. They may be pursuing a new interest or venture, in a new role or job, or looking to add new skills and experiences.

The programme, curated by a learning organiser, is of weekly meetings, every alternative week being a meeting of the whole group, and in the weeks between, buddy pairs meet up. There is an initial kick-off week-end; and after two months there is a PowerUp day; and another after four months – meetings that regularly addressing learnings and build accountability.

Zahra Davidson (2) has nurtured this project, running two pilots before seeking funds to scale it up. In a competition at the Royal College of Art, she won the prize – of some funds, a place in the RCA’s incubator and support from Unltd – an investor in social entrepreneurs; and she is currently appointing her first cohort of learning organisers – in different parts of the country (whose interests include bringing together groups of professionals working on social impact, work/life coaches, and people from one field bringing their expertise into another).

At the Kick-off week-end, there are exercises to help people to get to know each other; skills and networking mapping, role playing, coaching training, and the principles of peer-to-peer learning are presented. The group – of ten people – divide into buddy pairs (who will meet by their own arrangement in the intervening weeks – if necessary by Skype) for mutual coaching, creative exercises and encouragement about their ideas; and they will plan their own sessions and how to capture their content. (Any who feel the need of an outside mentor are encouraged to find their own right person.)

The facilitated fortnightly meetings of the whole group are made up of Workshops (teachings) and Group Challenges (problems and opportunities), and are constructed so that responsibility for facilitation and organisation moves around the group.

At the bi-monthly PowerUp days, each person presents their achievements, their insights, their learnings and their plans – with five minutes to talk them through, then five minutes for questions, and five minutes to capture feed-back, ideas and contributions from the group.

The final week-end meeting is a chance to reflect, with peer assessment and feed-back, including about where next; and about the programme, which finishes with a ShowCase Event – a day or an evening.

Programmes of this kind – periodic meetups of a small group – have been around for some time, as of great help for tackling new issues – for their mutual support and learning. Uprising, a social enterprise, uses weekly meetings to embolden its young members; the Clore Leadership programmes enable similar exchanges of experience; Plato, a programme widely used in a number of countries but originally from Belgium, brings together small groups of similarly placed executives, as does the Vistage programme; and the Judge Institute Growth Challenge programme for CEOs of young ventures uses a similar format.

Collaborative learning programmes have not attracted academic interest perhaps because they differ from the standard model of pedagogy (teacher/pupil). But they are of increasing and wide-ranging interest in these times of constant change, including for new ventures; and an invaluable source of inspiration.


(1) http://www.enrolyourself.com

(2) Zahra Davidson at hello@enrolyourself.com

John Whatmore, April 2018

Research-led new businesses need commercialisers


Research-led businesses desperately need commercialisers Few leading business people started their careers as scientists, yet the need for commercial support for research-led businesses is acute. How can this chasm be bridged? Innovators need to be identified; science entrepreneurs need to be hallowed; support needs to be tailored for and concentrated on young science businesses; and universities need to redouble their work to identify and foster their research that has commercial potential, and incubate and support more young businesses.

It has long been a concern that in the UK we fail to profit from the high ranking of our research. Yet there are far fewer commercial startups and spinouts in UK universities than in the US. What distinguishes Apple is the speed with which technical innovations are translated into commercial products.

As Innovate UK plans to focus more onto the commercialisation of UK research, the US ‘Science’ magazine (June 12 issue) writes up five stories about scientists who have or have not turned their hands to their own businesses, one of whom has become a catalyst for others to follow the commercial route. A second article discusses ways in which commercialisation of research has been encouraged in the US, including:

  • campus competitions to solicit valuable ideas
  • establishing university VC funds
  • university incubators, and
  • ‘accelerator’ programmes, such as the 10-week Innovation Corps programmes of the National Science Foundation.

Commercial-minded heads of labs The founder of one company tells about a knock on the door from a university tech transfer official who asked her if she had anything that could be taken to market. “We thought she was crazy”, but that person ‘took a shot’. A second company grew out of an I-Corps boot camp for would-be academic entrepreneurs that has been widely espoused in the US but so far only found a single adopter in the UK.

While the main interest of the majority of academics is research and teaching, some academics have a strong orientation towards business (who may become founders of startups) and others have some interest (who might become members of teams). So blanket programmes to encourage commercialisation are of little value. Successful commercialisation depends not only on having the ability to develop new technology but also on having the capacity to do so.

Jackie Ying was head of a lab at MIT where she encouraged her students to tackle issues that could have commercial appeal as much as scientific appeal, and helped them to realise their commercial capabilities as well as produce great science. She went on to become founding director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore where her objective was to spread the twin gospels of top-flight research and entrepreneurship that she had learned at MIT. Her record over the past 12 years suggests that she has done that: IBN has generated more than 300 patents, 80 licences, and eight startup companies.

Identifying real innovators One (personal and itself innovative) view of great innovators (in drug hunting) is that they are:

  • risk-takers with a dislike of the status quo
  • have an outstanding grasp of the cognate science
  • have a non-compliant attitude to formal organizational processes
  • hold strong scientific convictions which they express forcefully, and
  • are genuinely ambitious more for their [idea] than for themselves.

They will usually originate in academia, possibly from an experience in academic/industrial collaboration. This suggests a need to rethink the ways in which innovators are selected and managed.

Other research strongly confirms that you need to know a lot about your subject before you are likely to lead it into new directions; and that such leaders are visionaries/ideas people, who annex the help of others to turn their ideas into reality.

Support for innovators and commercialisers in academia MIT ‘s recent report (1) reinforces the well-acknowledged need for comprehensive eco-systems comprising [a culture of entrepreneurial] teams, [plentiful] risk capital, and corporate and university leadership; and it acknowledges that such systems are difficult to catalyse. MIT’s programme in Scotland has been focusing on two components, namely:

  • entrepreneurial mentoring, and
  • the development of a dynamic network for entrepreneurs.

Parallels with other fields emphasise the importance of working with early-stage ventures and providing support in the form of mentoring, training and access to networks (with peers, customers, experts and investors.)

Innovate UK is now offering to its grant winners the services free of charge of the Business Growth Service. This service gives access to a review with a Business Growth Manager, and thence to one of a choice of coaches, advisers and consultants, to help identify problems and formulate plans for the growth of the business. It should be made available on the same basis to all young businesses in Accelerators, incubators, science parks, innovation centres and tech hubs.

Daresbury Innovation Centre has expanded, as has the range and quantity of support available – together with its innovation network; but the minimal support available to the young businesses in Harwell’s incubators raises questions about the support for other businesses on the site, or at Culham or at other Science and Technology sites.

Short programmes like the I-Corps programme (which has been espoused by a number of government agencies in the US) that aim to provide intensive support for early-stage businesses (‘Accelerators’) are now common in a number of fields both in the US and the UK, though the only directly comparable programme in the UK is one adopted by Imperial College for startups based on synthetic biology. Isis, the Oxford University tech transfer office has just enrolled Wayra Lab, Telefonica’s Accelerator organisation, to set up a similar arrangement for Oxford University entrepreneurs.

Many unversities are already embraced by the IP group and other groups of VCs, but overall the emphasis on entrepreneurialism is minimal. Most universities have their own incubators, but the number of places in them is tiny in relation to the number of aspiring entrepreneurs ion universities. And while there is of course a wealth of technical support available in universities for their young businesses, they do not necessarily know what they need to know, with which mentors can help. Tech transfer offices have often been filled from university staff rather than from the commercial world outside; and in sharp contrast to the business world, support tends to be limited and to be reactive rather than proactive.

Structuring projects for commercialisation Whereas few Biotech incubators offer significant support, BioCity in Nottingham is unusual in that it runs a programme that seeks out areas with identifiable needs for innovation and aims to match them with innovators in a programme of intensive development. The Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst has adopted a different route in that it is positioned alongside GSK’s Laboratories and aims to enable its occupants to work with and make use of GSK’s scientists. The new Crick Institute in London needs to be as strong at bringing into use as it aims to be in research.

While Life Science VCs are said to need big pockets and a wide range of expertise to be effective, and tend to seek quick wins, in 2012 the Wellcome Trust launched a fund that aims to support developments that may be of strategic or technical importance, that seeks to identify important discoveries with potential to significantly impact the healthcare market, and not only to fund their development, but also to put management into place.

The European Space Agency is actively seeking to generate development projects in the range of £500k- £1mn investment that address major issues that might be solved by consortia of disparate organisations with the help of space-related technology (of which it currently has about 10 in hand in the UK). One such integrated application is attacking the recent sharp rise in the incidence of Lyme’s Disease, where the project entails a development plan for research into malaria in Africa and in the UK, GPs and hospitals in Scotland, and pharmaceutical companies.

If scientific collaborations play an increasingly important role in driving world leading research, the Nature Index of Collaborations database — with its focus on high-quality science articles — lends itself well to the analysis of collaboration patterns both between institutions and countries. It paints a rich picture of the global research ecosystem and yields insights into the power and impact of joint research.

Alas, the Queens Anniversary prizes ‘for universities and colleges that demonstrate excellence, innovation and impact – for the institution itself and for people and society more generally in a wider world’ hardly get a mention in the press to-day.

(1) Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme

John Whatmore, November 2015