Growth Builder’s first cohort



‘Growth Builder’ builds and grows Forty high-growth business leaders have spent the past 12 months working together on their businesses, gaining vital knowledge to help them scale.

Upcoming: I focus next on two radical new incubators: BioHub at Alderley Edge, a recent winner of Incubator of the Year; and the new Incubator and Maker facilities at Imperial’s new campus at White City in London.

Growth Builder’s claim is that it is a programme designed by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs with the aim of helping established British businesses to take on the next stage of growth.

A collaboation between a number of interested parties, it offers an educational programme to a curated peer network of ambitious business leaders, along with access to introductions and networks through its cross-sector partners. It claims to be the first of its kind to work with Government, universities, entrepreneurs, risk capital and leading UK corporates (as is REAP, MIT’s Regional Acceleration programme – one of its sources).

This first cohort included businesses from the tech, manufacturing and retail sectors. Meeting monthly over twelve months for half a day at a time, the focus of meetings alternates between learnings; and then alternate months in smaller selected groups, discussion about how to apply the learnings – supported by accredited consultants/coaches.

Ben Fletcher, its chair (Professor of Occupation and Health Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire), commented that poorly defined objectives were a common focus – reducing their range, an important outcome; as was understanding the triggers of change; and that it takes time to effect changes back in the business. It was important to be able to assure participants of the quality of coaches and their reliability. Participants reported gaining valuable insights from the programme.

Growth Builder is now looking to recruit a second cohort in London during 2nd quarter 2017 and hopes to launch elsewhere in the UK later in the year, with the North East and South West of England among the potential locations.

See also: Progressive support programmes for SMEs – a must! In the course of their work the authors of the just published Barclays Report – on the scaling up of SMEs – participated in a new programme at the Judge Institute for CEOs of hi-growth SMEs, to which they give a nod of approval in their report. Innovate UK should promote this kind of programme – of which there are several similar. May 2016


John Whatmore, May 2017


Re-shaping support for SMEs


Making the most out of young businesses Lessons are arriving from all sides about early-stage businesses (Village Capital, Nesta, Scaleup Institute, Growth Builder, IDEO). What do they tell us? Shouldn’t Innovate UK be taking a bigger role in the support of innovation practice?

 Most striking is the extent to which Accelerators – a fast growing phenomenon – have become the province of corporates. They force new businesses to focus not just on good ideas but on important (commercial) issues; they know their own field – its problems and opportunities; they provide invaluable support; and they are willing and capable investors (Wayra Lab, Cisco, John Lewis, and many others.)

However, this does leave great swathes of the population and of the economy untouched by support for innovation eg the public sector, several industries, large parts of the country and the everyday lives of most people. The Nesta report identifies some; and Geoff Mulgan, its Chief Executive, has focused on others, not least in the public sector.

The main sources of funding for Accelerators are now Corporates, the Public sector and Philanthropics. Venture Capital is a source for only 8% of Accelerators (and 2% of Incubators). The Nesta Report reveals that in the UK both Incubators and Accelerators rely heavily on public funds – from a variety of sources (in many areas and sectors for a substantial proportion of funding and in some, completely.)

It is now well recognised that the greatest opportunity for the development of entrepreneurial eco-systems is in ‘sectors that have a deep and local focus’; and the Scaleup Institute is busily working with LEPs to help them to do so.

However, innovation strategy and practice are evolving; and there is still little experienced management of proactive support.

Recent research by IDEO revealed something surprising: neither a more traditional approach to product development – coming up with three good options, analyzing them, and choosing one to move forward with, nor the lean startup approach – taking a best guess, piloting it, and then pivoting based on what works – is the most effective way to launch a new product. Instead, when teams iterate on five or more different solutions, they are 50% more likely to launch a product successfully.

‘Entrepreneurial support organisations are critical infrastructure for cities, communities and for corporates; and they too need clearly articulated support’ says Village Capital, a major US philanthropic business. The most common form of support is mentoring, but the promotion and management of mentoring (and of support in general) is a role that is extremely rare, but much needed, and rarer in Incubators than in Accelerators. Moreover a different format of support programme is also emerging – in the form of regular monthly meetings – especially of hi-growth businesses – based round collaborative learning.

There is at present no body that adequately encompasses Incubators and Accelerators – to help steer policy, identify best practice, and foster training and development in innovationeering. Innovate UK should take urgent steps to create an appropriate KTN.

John Whatmore, May 2017

My brother, Richard


Richard could easily have been a character in a novel. It was said of the American humorist S.J.Perelman that before they made him, they broke the mould. But Richard never had a mould: his was an elusive character.

He knew exactly what he liked; he moved on from one thing to another in his life – with intermittent Walter Mitty like dreams; and he was quite undaunted by INexperience. He was always cheerful, and never worried or too busy.

He had the ability to get on well with anybody if he chose to, yet he was in a way quite private. And there were many to whom he was magnetic: he was engaging, amusing, irreverent and often a little mischievous – or worse! But never malicious.

His two greatest obsessions were: gossip –personified by the Daily Mail; and the Cash Register – especially when it went Ker-Ching!


When they first met, Ariel practically drowned him. Flustered perhaps, she failed to secure the ballast of her dinghy; and when it tipped them both out, Ariel swam courageously to the shore and managed to get someone to rescue the floundering Richard. He was evidently worth rescuing.

They were engaged for two years – apart in different countries – during which time, he wrote her some 300 letters (which she treasures); and they married in 1960. They lived very happily together for nearly 60 years with their very different lives; and their three children – as different from one another as were Richard and Ariel – here to tell you their own tales.

Richard preferred different names to those by which his children were christened – he felt that they should have names more likely to suit them as the film stars they were destined to be, like Bo-bo, Sam and Poppy were.


Richard at first followed our Father who was a mathematical scholar and a Chess Blue at Oxford and an eminent chartered accountant. Richard too qualified, but Accountancy was not for him.

His first job was a rather unlikely one – in a Canadian Bank; and when after two years they returned from this, the pair of them set off together, aiming to work their passage round the world.

They both wrote for local publications, particularly in Hong Kong; and broadcast together on Hong Kong radio a children’s story they had also written together. Certainly until quite recently you could see Ariels’s pictures on the walls of Macdonald’s in Hong Kong.

In many ways, he and Ariel could not have been more different: he – interested in business and in making money: she – in the amorphous world of the arts. Ariel says he painted some nice watercolours, but I am not convinced that he would have known what she meant.

Their world trip with its freedom, its adventure and its flashes of entrepreneurialism, united them as it typified them.

With Nick Mills, he then started to build a chain of what are known as Mags and Fags shops – in the Gloucestershire area, where they both lived.

The Chairman of a company with whom they were then having discussions, somewhat irreverently christened them Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men; but nobody quite knows why!

When they later sold that group of shops, Richard and Ariel moved to Jersey, and Richard retained the two or three that were in Jersey; and King Street News in St Helier flourished. Ariel has fond memories of tidying and hoovering the shops with the children on a Sunday evening.

He bought a big Bentley – which he once described as ‘an aggressive social gesture’; but when he scraped it yet again on the walls of the small lanes in Jersey, he sold it, explaining to those who would listen, that it didn’t fit on the roads here.

He invested in property; and some say that he then became the property king of Barnes in West London.

Never short of a new venture, he became a Director of ‘Film and General’ which produced the film ‘True Blue” – subsequently chosen for the Royal Command Peformance – which caused them to meet the Queen.

When the new local radio licences were being allotted, he got into radio, and with Richard Johnson started and ran Channel 103 and Bath Radio. And with his friend Michael Henriques, he became a Director of Coln Valley Smokery.

He went on to found PoundMagic here in St Helier, and then its sister in Guernsey. He always took a deep interest in the tactics of supermarket shopping. And in 2010 at the age of 75, he won the Jersey Entrepreneur of the Year Award.


But there were very much other sides to him. While he was at Oxford, Richard’s spicy wit suffused the gossip column of Isis, Oxford’s undergraduate magazine. The London social life of his good friend from Winchester, the poly-amorous Jinx Grafftey-Smith, with whom he shared digs, readily provided the necessary first–hand material.

He diced with death a second time when Jinx turned his car over in France with the pair of them inside – Jinx suffered with injuries to his shoulder, but Richard was unhurt.

When they returned to the UK from their world trip, he and Ariel continued in the genre to which they had contributed in Hong Kong and Sri Lanka, and wrote serious stuff for the then leading magazine “Time and Tide”.

He wrote the infamous book “Who slept with whom”. Though based only on published material, it never found a publisher, probably because Michael Winner threatened to sue the pants off him. Revised to include only the dead – who could not sue him – Ariel and I thought that the same fate had befallen this version. However, Ariel has just found it on offer from Robson Books, apparently published in 2004, and placed an order. Richard would have said: make sure you collect the royalties.

He wrote and circulated anonymously a complete spoof edition of Winchester’s old boys newsletter. It provided him with unmissable opportunities to take off all sorts of people like those who had given him and his friends constant amusement – in that somewhat traditional establishment.

So true to character were Richard’s take-offs that it was difficult to tell if his edition was the real thing or not. The clue was in the first line: the Headmaster’s usually rather subtle opening piece traditionally started with the words “The Headmaster writes…”. Richard’s edition started with the words “The Headmaster writes and writes…!

His play about Charles II who was crowned King of England here in Jersey, has been through several drafts; and he was keen to put on at Elizabeth Castle, but that has yet to reach the public.

Among his periodic flights of imagination, he once contemplated standing for the States of Jersey. He thought it needed root-and-branch changes. It would not be unlike him to have sent his ideas on to Donald Trump – he was a copious letter writer.

He wrote frequently to the Press; he wrote to our sister at her school telling her how to write a good essay; he wrote to daughter Sam when she graduated in Theology offering her the job of Archbishop of Canterbury.

He and Ariel were in effect a complete publishing house – working together on different aspects of each other’s writings, of which Ariel’s were perhaps the more reliable.

He was an avid reader of Private Eye, and you might have thought that he would write for Private Eye, but I don’t think he ever did. He was certainly a bit of a maverick: he was never a revolutionary, but he liked to play the world as he found it. He was full of ideas for impractical jokes.

In some ways he was like the old-fashioned amateur: he was a man of considerable talents that he was willing to apply to anything that amused him. He had what one person described as ‘a mad sense of adventure’. Work was never part of his vocabulary – not because he shunned it, but if it was interesting or fun, it would be pursued for its own sake.

*                                                                                Seldom less than competitive, he played and followed a lot of sport. Not only cricket, golf and tennis, but also Boules and Snooker, and of course Racquets.

With David Lowe, he won the annual Public Schools Racquets Championship in 1956, and I regularly pass their names and their photograph in the corridors of Queens Club in London.

He was a good golfer. Golf was in the family – our mother played off a handicap of one, and her brother off scratch. He spent a lot of time on the golf course while he was at Oxford, and nearly got a Blue.

After university, he played cricket with The Frederic E. Pickersgill Memorial Cricket Club, a team invented by Michael Sissons, the literary agent, and recruited largely from the London literary scene, for whom a good story-line from someone in the pavilion was worth as much as half-a-dozen runs.

He was a keen tennis player. Again it was in the family – a cousin had played at Wimbledon; and he was a keen promoter of Poppy’s talents on the court.

When we were young it was of course de rigeur to wear whites even at the local the tennis club, but not for Richard – who appeared regularly in dark blue shorts.

(It was rare to catch him in anything but a rugger shirt and shorts, but he did own a dark suit with highly conspicuous yellow pin stripes, and looked in it just like a member of the Mafia.)

He was pretty sure that on the tennis court he could beat Boris Becker – if only he could get his serve a little better! His serve disgusted him more than anything I ever remember!

Emergencies were never really Richard’s thing. I remember once arriving at his house in France and the TV would not get the French Tennis Open Championships. Heaven and Earth were moved until we could see some decent serving. He always had good fixers.

You knew – and he knew – that you could never beat him at Snooker on his own table in France. Unconfirmed rumours (as many of his articles might have begun) suggested that he once flew into Jersey a coach who might help him to chase his dream of a break of a hundred up.

*                                                                                            He loved life at his successive houses in the South of France, which Ariel made so beautiful – just as she did Les Aix here in Jersey. He would ease himself gently onto a lilo, paddle it out into the middle of the pool in the sun, where he would devour the Daily Mail. It was one of his greatest pleasures.

Those who knew him well loved his company – his sprightly wit – and he loved theirs. His family recall him jumping into the air across the lawn with his favourite sweets – Maltesers – in his hand, because ‘he couldn’t stay down’ as they were ‘lighter than air’.

Ariel and he were very close during the final few weeks and days of his life: she caring intimately for him despite lately her own crutches; and he deeply appreciative of all she was doing for him.

*                                                                                                    He lived a wonderful life – in all sorts of ways. We shall miss him terribly. But we have lots of golden memories of him to treasure – one of life’s more fascinating characters.


Top ‘innovationeerings in 2016


 Top ‘innovationeerings in 2016

 Five approaches in which identifying big issues is the carrot that leads the innovation process 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) March 2016.

 Support for startups and scaleups: the latest Six developments all designed to enhance interactions among and between the entrepreneurs in Accelerator programmes, their mentor community, VCs and relevant corporates. October 2016.

A Growth Builder programme for hi-growth ventures At last programmes are being initiated, based on the elements of the Accelerator but provided on a periodic basis, that fill a gap in aiming to help hi-growth businesses to grow faster. March 2016.

 Support programmes for young ventures in incubators New support programmes for scaleups are of a design that could easily be replicated in incubators and their ilk, and could help generate big steps in growth. October 2016.

 A revolutionised Accelerator Lab Helping corporates to work with innovative young companies to introduce innovations in the fast-changing retail field. July 2016.

 A lab head and product developer She encouraged her students to tackle issues that could have commercial appeal as much as scientific value, and helped them to realise their commercial capabilities as well as produce great science. (Science 12 June 2015) Feb 2016.

 Science has too few ‘hustlers’ Why do we have so few entrepreneurs to help bring the products of our scientific expertise into widespread use? Do places like Harwell and Daresbury do enough to identify and encourage hustlers like some of those about whom I have written. December 2016.

John Whatmore, December 2016

UK science has too few ‘hustlers’


Science has too few ‘hustlers’ Why do we have so few entrepreneurs to help bring the products of our scientific expertise into widespread use? Do places like Harwell and Daresbury do enough to identify and encourage hustlers like some of those about whom I have written (see blelow).        Next week: Synthetic Biology at Imperial helps to launch startup ‘LabGenius’.

 A promoter of collaborations to tackle serious issues Ian Downey at the European Space Agency (ESA) puts consortia together for innovative projects enabled by Satellite technology. To combat the recent sharp rise in Lyme’s Disease he had brought together researchers into malaria in Africa and in the UK, GPs and hospitals in Scotland, and pharmaceutical companies – in a project funded by the ESA at Harwell.

A lab head and product developer At MIT she encouraged her students to tackle issues that could have commercial appeal as much as scientific value, and helped them to realise their commercial capabilities as well as produce great science; and went on in the same style to found her own lab in the far east, whence came lots more startups. (Science 12 June 2015)

 Rolling out innovations: the Space Catapult Subverting concerns that in the UK we fail to exploit our technical leads, the Space Catapult is charting new applications for satellites and facilitating path-finding initiatives in technology, markets and finance. June 2015 (

 Advancing the development of synthetic biology  SynbiCITE ( is an ‘Innovation and Knowledge Centre’ several of which were established in the last few years to develop emerging technologies that have the potential to become major industries. Synthetic Biology – creating manufacturable agents by digitally engineering their biology – is in its very early stages: the Centre is still in the process of identifying commercialisable challenges (such as in chemicals, advanced materials, energy, health and environmental protection.) But even in these very early stages, it has already managed to spawn several startups, of which LabGenius is one – a business which is selling DNA to biotech and pharma for drug development (see next week.)

Steve Blank’s I-Corps Biotech Boot Camp Hallowed publication ‘Nature’ reported 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.

John Whatmore, December 2016


A bespoke programme for private SMEs


A bespoke growth programme for ambitious private companies.

ELITE is a platform of unique provenance designed to help the UK’s ‘most exciting and ambitious’ private companies prepare and structure for their next stage of growth.

Launched by the London Stock Exchange in 2014 and delivered in collaboration with Imperial College Business School, this programme – for the UK’s hi-growth private companies – is a veritable hothouse for growth.

Like other such programmes about which I have written recently, it is an extended programme of periodic meetings – this one an eighteen month, three part programme, consisting of education, discussion, business support, mentoring and access to entrepreneurs and business leaders as well as to the corporate advisory and investor community.

In the UK it comprises two cohorts a year, each of 15-20 companies (chosen for their growth potential) – the seventh cohort just starting; and involves seven modules of intensive meetings at the London Stock Exchange, each of one to one-and-a-half days, every eight weeks – normally for the CEO and the CFO.

The dominant theme is (not unexpectedly) capital. Other main themes are: strategy, talent and other key resources, governance, marketing, and packaging one’s story.

Get ready This section – of 8-days broken down into four modules, is aimed at providing participants with the operational skills –initially to review and reflect – about visibility, productivity and efficiency, and about cultural and organisational change.

In the Get Fit phase, all the suggestions and guidelines raised in the first phase are put into practice. Using a self-assessment test, the company can identify the areas for improvement to work on, and have the support of a group of professionals tailored to the specific needs of the company to consider how to embed changes in the business.

 Get value With the help of a select community of investors, professionals and companies, the participants will be engaged in initiatives for moving forward, such as exploring new funding options and new business opportunities – designed to boost the brand and ranking with investors, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders.

The ELITE programme was first implemented in Italy (where it also runs) in April 2012 and has now expanded all over Europe. Some 500 companies have participated in ELITE programmes across Europe, with an advisory and investor community of over 250.

John Whatmore, November 2016


How do other programmes compare?

All ‘scaleup’ programmes tend to be for small groups of senior executives in SMEs; they focus on key aspects of growth, and are structured for mutual discussions plus input from experts – at regular, usually monthly meetings over twelve months. (The following have all appeared recently on my website,

The Judge Institute’s SME Growth Challenge – a series of six bi-monthly workshops for CEOs of about a dozen hi-growth SMEs, delivered over 12 months – aims to develop each firm’s managerial capability.

The RBS/UCL Growth Builder programme is a 12-month programme for 48 growth companies to meet monthly, alternating between the provision of input and small group working, with meetings rotating around the premises of the numerous and various contributors.

10,000 Small Businesses is a programme offered by 5 UK universities for cohorts of c70 SMEs to develop growth plans. They meet together – in three separate session, each at a different location, with online learning between those sessions, and over the course of 30 days.

Plato, started in Belgium and now widely franchised throughout the world is for groups of c.15 senior executives from matched small companies – to meet regularly – each group with a couple of mentors from large companies – to support and help one another with their current issues.

Vistage, originating in the US, puts together groups, each of about a dozen senior executives in SMEs in the same local area, matched as far as possible. Meeting on each other’s premises, monthly or bi-monthly for a day at a time, they focus each time on the work of two or three members of the group.

‘ella forums’ is a leadership development programme designed to inspire growth in social enterprises, in which CEOs come together for monthly sessions, where they hear the latest thinking from guest speakers, share best practice, and receive coaching from experts.



The contribution of the “10,000 SMEs” programme


A small but effective contribution to Scaleup needs

New research shows that Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Programme is an effective growth builder, but it makes only a limited contribution to the UK’s Scaleup needs.

For leaders of small businesses from across industry sectors this is a ‘high quality, practically-focused business and management education programme’ during which every small business owner develops a customised Growth Plan to direct their organisation’s business strategy and expansion; and it provides networking and peer learning opportunities.

For the cohort of 70 small business leaders selected to participate in each programme (and there are firm criteria – which do include an indication of growth potential), the three-month programme (offered by five leading UK universities) is delivered over 100 hours. It is made up of ten days of residential learning in three separate sessions (each at a different location) in between which are periods of flexible online learning. Each session features education, discussion and peer-group work to enable individual participants to define their growth goals and pool their experience.

The success of the programme is ascribed to a blend of formal learning, mentoring, and peer-to-peer support, which includes:

  • specialist workshops
  • one-on-one business advising
  • business coaching
  • access to professional experts
  • ongoing support and guidance offered through networking with the resulting community of business leaders.

A just-published survey of past participants indicates that they enhance turn-over and go on to employ more people – more so than comparable businesses in a control group. In line with some though not all of the needs for successful scaling up indicated by the recent Barclays Report, they:

  • introduce new processes
  • use more financial data
  • source new suppliers
  • introduce new training opportunities
  • develop and launch new products/services
  • seek external finance

and above all they

* develop increased confidence.

The latest assessment report focuses explicitly on the successes of the small businesses that it has attracted. But it also ends on what is a sobering note: if the 33,000 other small businesses with profiles like those of the 933 participants to date were to show similar growth, while it would add £4.3bn to the economy, at this rate it will take years to reach just 10,000.

John Whatmore, November 2016