Getting instant help from fellow startups

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Getting instant help from fellow startups The School for Social Entrepreneurs recently brought together a couple of cohorts of startups, each for half-a-day, to reflect together on the health of their business and on its future – with the help of a simple ‘game’.

 

I have just come across an intriguing approach to opening up discussions about startups’ problems and opportunities – with a touch of magic that gets beyond defences and is revelatory.

The test version of this process looked like a board game, but it simply provided hooks that encouraged the leaders of these startups to elaborate and then discuss the current state of their startup, and their thoughts about its future needs – in a reflective and highly supportive atmosphere. It met with rave feed-back (1).

In turn each participant was first asked to consider the current state of their business. They were invited to place a number of white counters on which were inscribed different but very common aspects of businesses (such as ‘Objectives’, ‘Talent management’, ‘Team spirit’) onto a board in one of seven interlocking spaces (a Venn diagram – of Customers, Employees and Strategy), and then to attach words to their actions and talk briefly about their reasons for so doing.

Each cohort was of around half-a-dozen startups; and the others round the room, who were on the same journey but with both similar and different backgrounds and experience, were then asked to help elucidate those issues and their future plans.

Next, the first exercise was repeated but placing the counters so as to illustrate where they would like their business to be in the future, then explain their reasons and elicit comments from other members of the group, as before.

Then they were asked to place red or green counters on top of key white counters (the green to indicate existing strengths for achieving one’s goal; and red to highlight those problems or weaknesses that must be resolved to achieve that goal); and finally each person identified the actions they would take to deal with the key issue confronting them; and was encouraged to state when they would do so.

In this particular event, most of the white counters tended to be placed in the ‘Customers’ section of the board, and most of the discussion was about finding customers and about customer wants and needs, but different circumstances elicit very different variations to these discussions.

Touching a counter seems somehow to turn its story magically into subjective reality; and the whole process enabled participants to get valuable input from fellow travelers in quick time.

Many are the recent support programmes that have been based on peer-to-peer group meetings: RBS’s Growth Builder, the Judge Institute Scaleup programme, the US-originated Vistage programme, the Belgian Plato programme and the very concept of the Accelerator.

They herald a great opportunity for sessions like this in co-working spaces and incubators, where they can provide not only valuable help from fellow travelers, but also links that will encourage them to meet again and continue to exchange valuable experience.

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(1) SSB the authors of this programme can be contacted through me. SSB would be interested to run a trial in an incubator – if you are interested please contact me at john.whatmore@btinternet.com

See also: 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. Oct 2016 http://wp.me/p3beJts-gB

 John Whatmore, June 2017

London Met’s Challenge Prize

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London Met runs a Challenge Prize in social enterprise for students in a number of FE Colleges across London

Recently three students were named the winners of the Big Idea Challenge, one of the UK’s fastest growing social enterprise competitions, run by London Metropolitan University. One an Italian and two Spanish – received a prestigious award from His Royal Highness The Duke of York in St James’s Palace.

Their idea? To modify an iconic London bus to create a mobile support centre, complete with showers, for the capital’s homeless. ‘Fresh Start: the bus that changes lives’ will now go forward to implementation – the prize for winning the Big Idea Challenge. Corporate sponsors are being sought to fund it, and the bus will soon be on London’s roads, making a real difference to real lives.

The recent Higher Education and Research Bill sought to challenge universities to work in new ways with schools and colleges, with closer relationships with business as part of the Industrial Strategy.

The Big Idea Challenge aims to get entrepreneurial spirits to come up with solutions to some of societies biggest problems. This year, London Met decided to extend its Big Idea Challenge to 17 colleges of Further Education across the capital.

The teams who progressed from the first round were brought to RBS’s headquarters in Liverpool Street and matched with inspirational mentors from the business world, such as Microsoft, RBS, Unilever and The Prince’s Trust, to develop their idea into a viable business.

John Whatmore, June 2017

 

WeWork, WeBuild, WeFund, WePlay

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WeWork, WeBuild, WeFund, WePlay WeWork is adding to its concept as a simple and extensive provider of co-working spaces – with a new and more highly supported incubator in London, an opportunity to win a prize and to have access to a funding pot, and a summer camp.

London is the first location for the relaunch of WeWork Labs and its first labs space outside of the United States. WeWork Labs: London Fields is a creator space located in the heart of London’s creative and startup hotbed Hackney. It gives its members exclusive access to targeted events and mentorships, in addition to WeWork’s worldwide network of creators across the globe. It will host 100 members at a preferred rate selected through a carefully curated application and vetting process.

WeWork’s Creator Awards offer UK entrepreneurs the chance to win investment of up to £360,000 and desk space as part of a £16m global funding pot to help small businesses. People who are “making a difference in their communities” and “pursuing their passions”, could apply. All applicants would receive free desk space in its facilities for two days per month for a year. Those who are successful would join the global finals in New York.

For years, one of WeWork’s most iconic events has been in an American summer camp. Members, employees, and guests spend these weekends-in-the-woods ‘from log cabin to lake dock’, making ‘invaluable interactions’ with lasting impact. A quintessentially English country venue for Summer Camp 2017 offers a getaway where individuals and companies of all sizes can come together from around the world to take a break in the great outdoors. The camp provides all-inclusive access to food and drinks, al fresco fitness, networking events, musical performances, relaxation, lake boating, team sports, and creative workshops.

WeWork looks more and more like an incubator every day!

John Whatmore, June 2017

Making science deliver: BioHub

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Making science deliver: BioHub – an outstanding new Incubator

BioHub has been assiduously building programmes of support and development for research based businesses. Other centres of science in the UK must follow this lead.            To follow: Who and what makes a successful incubator

 

BioHub, a new Life Sciences Incubator at Alderley Park, won the accolade of Biotech Incubator of the Year last year.

BioHub’s new Director, Ned Wakeman, has taken BioCity’s emphasis on the growing of its businesses to new levels. What makes it so special?

He has focused on creating and evolving a culture of development:

  • Getting collaborative support from related experts and serial entrepreneurs.
  • Focussing the businesses in the incubator on factors that make for business success – by introducing them to the well-recognised Business Model Canvas (Incubator Manager).
  • Introducing them to a programme of business development specialised to science-based SMEs that has become popular in the US – the I-Corps programme (Accelerator Manager) see http://wp.me/p3beJt-av.
  • Building a large cohort of experts to help and advise on each business’s evolving needs (Mentor Manager).
  • Developing BioHub as an outstanding centre of excellence.

He has initiated a North of England Life Science Accelerator (NELSA) in partnership with the N8 universities, the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA), two venture funds (Alderley Park Ventures and Catapult Ventures), MSP, and BioCity.

He is currently working on a new shared risk model of engagement between incubators, large corporates, and Innovate UK, that would address specific unmet needs, co-funded projects, corporate expertise, and structured incubation programmes, housed in the BioHub ecosystem to support their development.  And he is helping to building education and routes to finance.

The BioHub is currently home to about 200 bioscience businesses (though it will grow as Astra Zeneca moves out more of its staff to Cambridge). Of these almost a quarter are well-established life science enterprises with their own offices; and the rest are young businesses, for which there are excellent hot-desk areas.

Alderley Park is a research centre in transition: owned by the Manchester Science Partnership, until two years ago it was home to Astra Zeneca’s R&D. Its premises have since then been steadily transferred to Manchester Science Park and a lesser portion to BioCity’s new BioHub. (BioCity runs similar incubators in Nottingham and Scotland, at each of which there are also incubators in health, beauty and wellness.)

Ned’s Wakeman’s early career in the US was in bio-science. More recently he has worked in investment banking in London, focusing on bio-science. He is an energetic creater of the community that he envisions, and a formidable presenter; and has a weakness for wanting to deliver the benefits of science as much as to do science itself.

Concerns are regularly expressed that in the UK we fail to exploit the high quality of our research – science for science’s sake, rather than for its impact. The BioHub is a leading example of ways in which research can be turned into products with widespread benefits – by providing all sorts of support for doing so. Harwell, Daresbury and other leaders of science-based research in the UK should be taking similar steps. What stops them?

See also:

A long-established university-based incubator that is just now spawning off-spring

With a small residential staff, and access as needed to specialist experts locally, it offers flexible office space and provides services on the premises to small businesses with clearly viable ideas, with readily available support especially on marketing and fundability. Can it deliver support in the future to its new locations? Jan 2016. http://wp.me/p3beJt-c1

 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) http://wp.me/p3beJt-dw

 John Whatmore, June 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imperial’s new Maker facility

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Imperial’s brand new Maker facility – at White City

On Imperial’s new White City site (about which I wrote last), in addition to the Innovation-Hub, there is to be a new £5M prototyping and innovation facility: the Invention Rooms – open to college members, industry, SMEs and local community and dedicated to supporting the next generation of investors, entrepreneurs and tech leaders.

 There is already a network of six prototyping spaces, centred around the South Kensington Campus which support the activities of the Imperial College Advanced Hackspace (‘ICAH’). They provide access to metal work, wood work, additive manufacturing and 3-D printing, electronics and robotics amongst others. Its mission is to deliver skills, resources and people to support its users in the development of new ideas and their transition to other commercialisation networks within the university.

Already with nearly 2,000 members, it is growing at a rate of 100 new members every month, drawing members from all Faculties within Imperial College i.e. Engineering, Natural Sciences, Medicine and the Business School.

This growth, coupled with increased engagement with commercial organisations – from micro companies and SMEs to OEMs – and the local community, prompted the vision for the Invention Rooms on the new campus at White Cilty. They consist of four large areas:

  • a new hackspace that will extend the capabilities of the ICAH network,
  • a makerspace for local community engagement,
  • an expo-centre and
  • a co-working space on the floor above.

The new hackspace facility at the Invention Rooms (right next to White City Tube) will lead to co-location of the full prototyping ecosystem of the college: metal work to bio-hacking to microfab to 3D printing to electronics – a  place where engineers, medics, life scientists,  mathematicians, physical scientists – people with common  interests from inside and outside the university (like  Ford’s Techshop Detroit) in device prototyping, computers,  machining, science, synthetic biology, digital art,  robotics, automation or diagnostics can meet, socialise and  collaborate.

As prototyping technologies become de-skilled these will also feed into ICAH giving its stakeholders a competitive advantage in their enterprises. The goal is to become a hub for providing such partly-deskilled tools; speeding up the rate at which researchers cross boundaries.

The Invention Rooms is a distinctive venture, both in terms of scale and ambition, within a university environment: as large is its socialising and public events area; and as large again its ideation and prototyping space and its outreach community makerspace – co-delivering impact in the local area.

These are all complemented by a hot-house facility on the floor above. By providing touch-down desking, meeting rooms and mentorship, these will further drive co-location of college members with the public, entrepreneurs, SMES and industry partners.

A new prototyping space focussing on molecular hacking that will open in the nearby Molecular Sciences Research Hub in early 2018 will make an added contribution.

As these new spaces go live, the ICAH support team will continue to grow, from ICAH fellows, to Hackers in Residence, Advanced ICAH Fellows, ICAH technicians and ICAH management – ensuring that the ICAH community will benefit from an extensive team of experts as they develop their ideas.

John Whatmore, May 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

An accelerator partnership

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A partnership between a catapult and an accelerator launches a new programme

A partnership between an organisation whose role is advancing the development of an emerging technology and an experienced funder and developer of SMEs has launched a short accelerator programme for a small number of young businesses.

The Digital Catapult and Seedcamp have partnered to launch Augmentor, an equity free programme to support early stage tech businesses developing applications of immersive technologies. The ten-week programme will seek to help advance next generation virtual, augmented and mixed reality early stage tech companies by providing technical and business mentorship.

Digital Catapult’s centre in London will be available to successful Augmentor applicants as a space to work. Dr Jeremy Silver, CEO Digital Catapult said: “Immersive technologies are fast becoming a central part of the digital economy and there is a real demand for access to expertise and equipment in this space. Our new lab will help to provide businesses with access to state-of-the-art immersive technologies under one roof, providing a vital opportunity for them to refine their ideas and test products across the range of equipment on the market today.”

Dave Haynes, from Seedcamp’s investment team, commented: “Having invested in several immersive companies including Splash and TheWaveVR, we’re excited to be launching this initiative to develop a new wave of entrepreneurs solving problems with emerging technologies.

“We’re still on the frontier of what immersive tech can do and what founders need. And European founders will need an investment of both time, expertise and money to succeed. That’s how Seedcamp has been helping startups for years now. Augmentor is the first programme in London looking to bridge that gap for companies working with VR and AR.”

John Whatmore, April 2017

 

See also:

 

Big bets on big ideas – by philanthropists

‘Problem first, tool second’ is a maxim that is common among philanthropists, but far from common in the startup world.

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

 

Recent research suggests that specialised support programmes could facilitate the development of hi-growth SMEs

Recent research showed that the more successful teams in Accelerators tended to be existing ventures, with well qualified teams, focused on the adoption of their products/services, and on building their organisation.

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

 

 

Raising the Mentoring Game

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Raising the mentoring game

Stops and starts have marked the very slow progress of mentoring in the UK. As the ultimate beneficiaries of mentoring, funders of new businesses should be leading the way.

The big question is (and was) why hasn’t mentoring taken off in the UK. Its best known successes include Richard Branson (said to have four mentors). the Princes Trust, and in Accelerators. Two levers were touted at the recent Annual Conference of the Association of Business Mentors (‘ABM’), both winners of the ABM’s Award for Commitment to Mentoring, but both embryonic.

Two initiatives

National Mentors Day’s third incarnation, masterminded by the redoubtable Chelsey Baker, will take place in October 2017, as a seriously bigger, more widespread, much more inclusive and hopefully more impactful day. And Janette Pallas, now at the University of Warwick Science Park, received this year’s award for her pioneering work in creating ecosystems of support in incubators and their ilk – a way forward being strongly encouraged in two recent regional meetings by the Scaleup Institute.

Non-progress

It is now several years (2011 to be precise) since the government made a commitment to put 10,000 mentors in place; and mentoring was a key part of the government’s Growth Builder programme, started in   2012, but alas for some strange reason withdrawn in 2016. Mentoring is an integral element of recent scaleup programmes, such as the Judge Institute’s and the RBS/UCL programme, but the mentoring scene is necessarily local and its institutions fragmented.

                                                   Funders should take the lead

It would be good to see funders take the initiative (eg VCs and Angel Funds) and along with innovation centres and development programmes (where mentoring is usually mandated) work in partnership with sources of mentors like the ABM (eg running joint workshops). The likes of the ABM could encourage mentoring by appointing ambassadors, and running more awards schemes or prizes. What is needed is a campaign of the extent of the Public Understanding of Science.

John Whatmore, March 2017

 

A venture capital company that knows its onions – because it grows them

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Sovereign Capital runs its own academies – in the music industry

I’ve just come across an unusual set-up in the innovation eco-system: a venture capital company that runs its own academies for startups; but would you believe this: one of them is for song writers! It is as though a VC in Bioscience had set up its own entrepreneur school for potential CEOs in synthetic biology.

But why not? Song writing and bioscience used to be callings which had their own very specific origins, but both of which now demand business nous.

What is being taught? Isn’t songwriting something “you’ve either got…or you haven’t”; “they just come to you”, said one successful writer. But the pedagogues at the Institute of Contemporary Music say that popular musicians hide the fact that they have had to study their craft; that there are elements of songcraft (just as there are in creative writing) that can be taught – like where to put in a middle eight or a key change; and individuals can be introduced to writer’s works that speak to their own work. ‘We provide tools and a regime of learning and development – about production, performance and business.’ (See the video ft.com/rockschool.)

Importantly, students are helped to develop their brand and to monetise it – for example by making contacts. When they are ready, they get introduced to potential managers, publishers and labels. There are lots of panels, with guests from the industry – talking about digital marketing, how to analyse data, the demo-graphics of your potential fan base, and of course contracts; and there are regular Master Classes.

“We used social media to find out where people were listening to us, and where our potential market might be going”, said one band that had just organised a tour.

If programmes like this, which provide aspiring musicians with a variety of routes to using their talents in the music industry, are more common than they used to be, the presence of a venture capital group is a great deal less so. Sovereign Capital, ‘the largest and leading provider of contemporary modern music education in the UK and Europe’ (which inter alia owns the British and Irish Modern Music Institute with its branch in Fulham,) is described as a big player in this sector with some notable and much trumpeted success stories to its credit.

The recent Barclays Scaleup Report emphasised the importance of expertise in venture funding. There can be few better ways of developing that expertise than in having an organisation whose essence is the development and commercialisation of talent.

John Whatmore, March 2017