Village Capital identifies issues and then builds teams to attack them

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Let’s try Village Capital’s proven model for tackling big problems in local areas

Since 2009, New York-based Village Capital has sought to tackle real-world problems in local areas, by using the principle of peer-selection, and investing and leveraging capital. It has sought to focus on big problems, and to tap directly into sources of expertise and of funding that relate to them.

Village Capital’s mission is to find, train and invest in entrepreneurs solving real problems. If MIT’s REAP works for entrepreneurship on a national scale (see www.johnwhatmore.com October 2016), VilCap works for it on a more local scale (see also my website Nov 2013).

It has concentrated on certain sectors, namely those that are about the essence of our future:

* access to opportunity for all communities (health, education and financial inclusion), and

* resource sustainability (energy and agriculture); and it has operated mainly in the US, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America,

It has several unique features:

  • it operates entirely by peer selection – of projects, methods and funding;
  • its projects have a sector specific theme that fits with local/regional strengths; and
  • it partners with any organisation that is committed to the same objectives.

Aside from the contributions to life in the places where it works, (which are effectively incalculable), it has supported over 500 ventures in 45 programmes, made 72 investments with a survival rate of over 90%, leveraged over $200mn of additional capital and created almost 10,000 jobs.

Examples include a company in Cincinnati which focused its programme on innovation in water; a company in Guatemala which focused on the future of its agriculture-based economy; and Philadelphia launched a financial technology programme building on its history of financial services R&D.

It is oriented towards social and public enterprise and its underpinnings, and bears little resemblance to the venture capital based model of the commercial startup world (with its idea-lite pop up entrepreneurs). And its methods run counter to the accepted wisdom of that world, in that it relies on expert entrepreneurs and collaborative working.

How do you find and train entrepreneurs are topics that currently concern Vilcap. The parallel here is: is the pool of lead investors/serial entrepreneurs big enough and/or sufficiently widespread; and how can the pool be grown. My work, supported by the then Department of Trade and Industry was clear but not easy to implement: they are essentially learners by experience! (Is failure a useful stepping stone?)

What better model could there be for the Scaleup Institute to espouse, and enable it to work with LEPs to revive the fortunes of run-down areas such as Grimsby, Toxteth or Tottenham?

John Whatmore, October 2017

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Organising your venture’s supporters

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Organising your venture’s supporters Priscila Bala of Octopus Venture Capital, (formerly Mentor Director at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute) has emphasised the value of advisers, and suggested how to set up and make good use of them.

Savvy enterprise start-ups understand the power of relationships. When it comes to entering new markets, gaining the support and endorsement of well-connected or local industry players can make all the difference. Advisory board members can fill knowledge and network gaps within your company or your own background – to help with product development or sales strategy or to introduce them to valuable clients, suppliers and investors.

An advisory board can be a bounty when you find the people who are experts at solving a set of problems you have, engage them with clear expectations and rewards, and turn to them whenever you have issues related to that problem. To find the right people, you have to be clear on what problems you want them to help you solve.

For example, Steve Blank [of I-Corps] suggests (1) that there are five primary types of advisory board members:

  1. Technical advisor: for product development advice
  2. Business advisor: for business strategy and guidance
  3. Customer advisor: for value proposition and positioning advice
  4. Industry advisor: for domain expertise
  5. Sales advisor: for market tactics and demand creation

Beyond these, it’s important that you identify the crucial challenges in your scaling up roadmap, to determine what kinds of advisors will be strategic to you, and which will complement your team’s skillset.

Go for ‘stars’! Advisory member relationships can work particularly well if the candidates you are courting are well-connected leaders in their space

Clarifying your objectives will also enable you to have you targeted conversations. For example, if your goal is to grow a base of customers in a particular vertical, try the following:

  1. Ask your customers or prospect customers who they respect.
  2. Ask your Board of Directors and industry connections for referrals.
  3. Have a point-of-view related to the industry, and build a profile and relationships based on your expertise.

If you are a first-time entrepreneur or an early-stage entrepreneur, there are often many apparent candidates but who won’t be valuable advisors for your business. Ask for referrals within the industry and spend time getting to know the advisor. Before formalizing any advisor relationship, ask for their input on a few demonstrative issues — how would they approach them? Who might they reach out to? What strategies have they seen in the past? What were the outcomes? Which risks do they anticipate?

Compared with Board members, you can focus the work and input of those advisors much more narrowly to their expertise, there is more flexibility on the time and level of engagement the advisor can offer and you can successfully engage a larger group of advisors within this mandate.

Most companies don’t engage their advisory board in meetings as a group; instead they reach out to specific advisors as needed, and set different frequency for those interactions.

Strong advisors are busy people. Since you likely will only have a limited amount of their time each week or month, be rigorous about setting agendas for each meeting or call, be explicit about actionable items between conversations (your action items and theirs), and send follow-up summary emails after every meeting. Some entrepreneurs find it helpful to use a running Google Doc shared with the advisor to keep track of ongoing notes together.

Ongoing feedback is another helpful tactic to successful advisor relationships. Mention to the advisor up front that you will want to spend 15–20 minutes in your third or fourth meeting talking through how the relationship is going to-date, and how you can improve your collaboration. Advisors are professionals, and should be receptive to feedback. Some relationships will work better with a set schedule of interactions; others might require more flexibility and unfold in “bursts” of support. Work with the advisor to find the style and cadence that works best for your partnership.

Compensate your advisors. In addition to aligning incentives and recognizing that expert time is valuable, compensation will make you more disciplined about the calibre of advice and support you are seeking and getting. It formalizes the professional relationship you expect from advisors, as it does your commitment to receiving their open and honest expert feedback, rather than having them tell you what you want to hear.

Advisory boards can be a powerful asset, accelerating your access to people and solutions that are key to your company’s success. Advisors can make strategic introductions, help you secure contracts or fundraise, attend strategic meetings with you, help you secure press coverage for your company or serve as a reference for your product or your work, and help you recruit other members of the advisory board or your team.

(1) My work at IdeaLondon came up with exactly the same analysis.

See the full article at: https://medium/octopus Ventures/how-advisory-boards…

John Whatmore, September 2017

 

 

Growth Builder’s first cohort

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‘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 http://wp.me/p3beJt-fn.

 

John Whatmore, May 2017

Re-shaping support for SMEs

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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

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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.

John

Top ‘innovationeerings in 2016

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 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. http://wp.me/p3beJt-dU

 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. http://wp.me/p3bejt-gJ

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. http://wp.me/p3beJt-dK

 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. http://wp.me/p3beJt-gB

 A revolutionised Accelerator Lab Helping corporates to work with innovative young companies to introduce innovations in the fast-changing retail field. July 2016. http://wp.me/p3beJt-fF

 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. http://wp.me/p3beJt-dw

 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. http://wp.me/p3beJt-i1

John Whatmore, December 2016

UK science has too few ‘hustlers’

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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) http://wp.me/p3beJt-dw

 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 (http://wp.me/p3beJt-bb)

 Advancing the development of synthetic biology  SynbiCITE (http://wp.me/p3beJt-e8) 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. http://wp.me/p3beJt-av

John Whatmore, December 2016