Helping young businesses to create partnerships

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Helping young businesses to create partnerships

Finding a partner can provide a big step forward for a Scaleup, but in a disruptive world it is like looking you-know-not-where for you-know-not-what. Mediators are few and far between, but Nesta has shown a way forward; and Accenture has been a pioneer. Incubators and their ilk need a wide range of contacts on hand if they are to help with partnering.

For a young business with the potential for high growth, a ride on a partner can clearly generate a big step forward. A defining feature of SMEs is their lack of resources, says the recent Barclays ScaleUp Report: they need to leverage external resources, for example by alliances with established companies – which can:

  • help you develop your product
  • introduce you to markets
  • support you with funds and funding, and
  • enhance the value of your business.

Unilever’s European Open Innovation Manager’s search for new supply chains for example, starts with entrepreneurs and IP, for which he then looks for development grants, and partners – like Siemens, Akzo Nobel, Croda or Syngenta, who will adopt and use the new technology in order to deliver product to Unilever.

Nesta, some time ago in an open innovation pilot, acted as intermediary for P&G by eliciting and selecting relevant ideas and then providing a period of support and development with the help of a VC and enabling the best to be pitched to P&G, one of which looked like a winner – a process of building up communication channels and developing trust, now run regularly by its creaters ‘100% Open’.

Nesta’s recent ‘Scaling Together’ Report (March 2016) contains 37 ‘tips for corporates’ on how to develop relationships with such young businesses, but not a single one for the latter – on how to find and work with a corporate. Except perhaps the briefest of stories about the good luck Bill Clee of Asset Mapping had when his endless networking efforts eventually led to his being offered a place by Cisco in incubator IdeaLondon.

The current tide of disruption suggests that potential partners are increasingly likely to be found in surprising places; and, unsurprisingly, intermediaries have played a part in recent examples – such as:

*         Accenture’s Fintech Labs at Level39 (http://wp.me/p3beJt-3), where 8 to 10 young businesses are invited from all over the world to participate in an Accelerator development programme, sponsored by a dozen major banks, each of which provides a chaperone to introduce them to key individuals in their bank.

*         Accenture’s latest version of the Accelerator Lab, (millenial20-20.com) launched with a razzmattaz of a major conference on the future of retailing, complete with a store of the future, where some eight innovative businesses were selected for eight weeks together at The Trampery co-working space in Shoreditch; and the dozen major retailers (Argos, Sainsbury’s, Kingfisher, Specsavers, Dixons/Carphone – among others) were invited to presentations and discussions with them over the period of their residency.

For Accenture these were experiments in creating processes that would support major changes in sectors, whether disruptions or major challenges.

Often a mentor with wide experience and a big address book is a valuable mediator (one mentor was able to suggest ten possible customers for the technology of a business he was mentoring!)

These stories highlight the importance for incubators of having well oiled contacts with corporates that are on the look-out for entrepreneurs and IP, where partnerships might generate highly productive alliances for growth.

Dreamstake (http://wp.me/p3beJt-6H), online home to more than 15,000 young businesses of which 2,000 are technology based, now offers access to 50 VCs, 800 technology angel investors and to top influencers in the London technology scene as well as to successful founders in Silicon Valley – through its DreamLab Ventures initiative. But most incubators offer little more than office or desk space.

John Whatmore, October 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A flurry of specialised Accelerators

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A flurry of specialised accelerators – in partnerships with leading organisations Accelerators are increasingly being targeted at special sectors. Set up in partnership with leading organisations – in fintech, fashion, communications, the arts, traveltech, future cities, restaurants, grocery and ‘ideas’ – they provide expert support to their entrepreneurs. Nottingham’s BioCity offers a model for clusters, catapults, incubators, science parks and innovation catalysts alike.

Both Accenture and Startupbootcamp have recently run Accelerator programmes in Fintech, for up to ten teams – drawn from worldwide, each programme under the auspices of groups of banks – Accenture’s at Level39 at Canary Wharf, and Startupbootcamp’s at the Rainmaking Loft.

The Trampery’s Fashion Lab, in partnership with the London College of Fashion, is designed to support early-stage fashion designers as they innovate their business, products and services as well as providing expert guidance in the fields of finance, legal, manufacturing and marketing.

Publicis, in collaboration with the Trampery, has developed an initiative called ‘Publicis Drugstore’ around a new innovation facility in the heart of London’s Tech City, available to all Publicis clients, to help multinationals and high-growth enterprises work together to spearhead innovation and change. It consists of a suite of services and products from ‘supper clubs’ and ‘meet the makers’ workshops, through coding classes and hackathons to fully managed incubator programmes.

Fish Island Labs is a small short-term workspace in a remote part of East London set up by the Trampery in partnership with the Barbican for a community of some thirty emerging practitioners in different disciplines – artists, technologists and designers – to work creatively together and with new technologies, enabling them to cross boundaries.

The Trampery’s Traveltech Lab is a new, a well-designed working environment in central London that provides a global springboard for startups working in travel, tourism, hospitality and events. They will be supported in looking for investment, alpha customers, promotion or resellers, with privileged access to senior industry executives, investors, mentors and media through London & Partners network; and regular socials and events bringing leading figures in to offer advice and inspiration.

Level39 recently launched its Cognicity Challenge – seeking applications from smart cities technology companies in its quest for ‘the city of the future’, whose the first two streams are about Sustainable Buildings and Integrated Transportation. From the applicants to each stream, six startups are to be selected to enter 12-week accelerators and work with leading technology companies and Canary Wharf Group teams to develop new smart city solutions, the winner receiving a £50,000 cash prize and the opportunity to pilot their solutions in the ongoing development of Canary Wharf and create a showcase connected city.

Kitchenette is a 12-week pop-up Accelerator that aims to coach people who are looking to start a restaurant. Pop-ups like Street food, market stalls and Supper clubs provide opportunities to develop your product ahead of any full-scale launch, and the programme includes a residence at the Kitchenette restaurant in Ladroke Grove. Participants have mentors including advisers from among existing restauranteurs, property developers and investors.

In partnership with Bathtub 2 Boardroom, the Grocery Accelerator is another similar approach – just launched, for brands in food and drink with hi-growth potential. The six month programme (non-residential) includes close mentoring and coaching from industry experts, with input from Ocado, senior buyers and specialists in branding, product development, logistics and finance, with the bonus of a three day trip to the States’ largest food fair (New York).

Second Home Accelerator at Brick Lane, is a startup community primarily about creative agencies, fashion, design, art and finance, whose common theme might be ‘ideas’, which is what Rohan Silva, its creater and founder of Tech City, is best known for. Big companies, he says, want to be next to small ones, to be close to innovation. Second Home is equipped to a high spec because startups should not have to endure the ‘crappiest digs’ when ‘Google is spending £1bn on its new HQ in Kings Cross as a beacon for talent.’

Last year, BioCity, a Biocience incubator in Nottingham, set up a novel Accelerator in partnership with Nottingham City Council under the government’s Cities Programme, which sought to bring together issues in local clusters with people who had viable ideas and to help them to develop those ideas over a period, some of which might end up in BioCity – an aggregation of partners that should inspire other cities and their clusters. http://wp.me/p3beJt-8A

See also in Applied Creativity (http://johnwhatmore.com):

Stories from the front line: what Startups value most in Accelerators What they got out of Office Hours, group lunches, others on the programme, their first meeting with mentors, mentor slots and other events. http://wp.me/p3beJt-a7 Feb 2015

I interview the ‘best mentor’ in Startupbootcamp’s FinTech Accelerator In and out frequently, he steadily evolved his role by offering the wealth and breadth of experience of a life-time’s work in a top bank – clarifying progress and problems, acting as a sounding board, offering experienced insights, and marshalling help. http://wp.me/p3beJt-9P Dec 2014

Good Incubation: the craft of supporting early-stage social ventures
Models, methods and types of venture, together with some views about the future.
www.nesta.org.uk/publications/good-incubation April 2014

Making it big: Suggested strategies for scaling social innovations
An analysis of destinations, routes and strategies, together with some stories.
www.nesta.org.uk/…/making-it-big-strategies-scaling-social-innovations
July, 2014

Open Innovation’s innovations

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Open Innovation’s innovations
Corporates are articulating their needs and opportunities for innovation; and using intermediaries to search for innovators with ideas, and to provide candidates with a period of intensive development.

Innovation has been the top priority for corporates and their CEOs for a year or two now, but it has proved tough to deliver. Searching the firmament for young stars that might support life while one’s colleagues get on with the existing business is a lonely task. So Scanning the periphery requires altogether different tools and the mindset of an enthusiastic poly-math. Revolutionising an established business is a rare feat.

For at least the last decade, the rapid evolution of enabling technologies has provided competition with a new source of opportunities. Now the nature of innovation has produced another stimulus to technological competition. ‘Disruptive’ innovations threaten not only to outdate single organisations (eg Kodak) but to reshape entire industries (eg publishing).

So organisations are now looking for their new products and services, processes and business models across the entire spectrum of technologies; and their research and developments functions are turning into search and deploy functions, whose task is to scout for new technologies that might serve the functions and customers of the business in entirely new and different ways – before their competitors do so for them.

The knack is of course not only to identify some new invention that might lead to marketable new products or services etc, but also to be able to develop it rapidly into a useable or commercialisable form and bring it to market or into use. These distinct aspects of the open innovation movement can be seen in the more systematic and extensive use of scouting for interesting ideas; and in the use of periods of intensive development for potential candidates.

Several organisations have adopted the approach of articulating their needs and opportunities for innovation, and inviting interest from entrepreneurial talent. A consortium of corporates in the Food and Drink Industry assembled a shopping list of areas in which innovative ideas were sought, and then ran a day with the Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing to which interested parties were invited for discussions. BAe has run a similar day under the auspices of the KTN; and Philips (with techUK) has just invited interest from people and organisations with potentially innovative products or ideas in the areas which they have identified as among their needs and opportunities for innovation.

FinTech Lab London was sponsored by a group of banks whose interest was in developing possible new products by participating in an Accelerator (with Accenture) – in which carefully selected small business were brought together for 13 weeks of intensive development and introduction to relevant people in the banks – a model that other clusters will undoubtedly follow. Startupbootcamp has recently run a similar Accelerator in London under the Fintech banner – for SMEs with IT products that might be of interest to financial institutions. Other examples include Traveltech, Wayra Lab (Telefonica) which runs a continuous programme of Accelerators – each of 16 weeks, John Lewis, and Barclays Bank. (As short periods of high intensity, Accelerators have an application process that is open to all, but is usually competitive; they provide pre-seed (subsistence) funding; they focus on small teams, not on individual founders; they provide fulsome support, with intensive mentoring; and work with cohorts or classes rather than single businesses; all in exchange for equity.)

BioCity’s latest initiative in Nottingham combines a search process with a development programme, and we will probably see other clusters, and perhaps other organisations following this route in the near future, and looking to established intermediaries, perhaps local organisations working in partnership with local incubators (franchised by Techstars or Startupbootcamp?), to help them organise their searches.

John Whatmore
January 2015

Accelerators attacking bigger issues?

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If Accelerators can support hi-growth SMEs as well as startups, can they also be adapted to focus on tough problems and emerging opportunities in all sorts of fields?
While Accelerators have been ‘big news’, they have tended to focus on apps or websites. But initiatives are afoot to focus them onto bigger issues. As twelve-week curated programmes of intensive development for a dozen carefully selected startups – with a lot of support from mentors, Accelerators have spread rapidly and attracted a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs with ideas for new businesses, though many of them have been no more than new apps or websites. Now attempts are afoot to focus the interest of aspiring entrepreneurs onto bigger problems and opportunities. The first two below – Cambridge’s Open Innovation Forum and Harvard’s Healthcare Challenge – are essentially introductions to emerging opportunities for new businesses; the next three – BioCity’s new Accelerator, FinTech Accelerators and Village Capital – are about tackling bigger issues – a longer pathway. All are providing the links between talent, knowledge and experience that are the essence of clusters.
If you are interested in this and would like to be put in touch with others who have similar interests, e-mail me at john.whatmore@btinternet.com

A group of corporates in the food industry in Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing’s Open Innovation Forum, is about to run its third event (www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/…/open-innovation-practitioner-forum/‎) – a veritable market place for serious entrepreneurs with adaptable technologies – at which pitches are invited for propositions for new products – from SMEs, B2B companies, startups, entrepreneurs or university-based researchers and organisations. Among innovation needs listed on this occasion are for sustainable packaging, reclosing systems for metal cans, sugar reduction solutions and anti-counterfeit technology.
Harvard Business School together with the Harvard Medical Centre has announced the Harvard Healthcare Challenge whose aim (see forumonhealthcareinnovation.org/) is to find healthcare innovations that will disseminate faster – a recognition of the need for speed in healthcare developments – innovations that are credible, can show demonstrated evidence of their value; have a compelling dissemination plan; and are at the cusp of scaling. Finalists will gain access to 150 senior health care leaders at an invitation-only conference where they will discuss their scale-up plans and have an opportunity for one-on-one discussions with health care leaders at networking events.
With support from Nottingham City Council, BioCity (http://wp.me/p3beJt-8A) is breaking new ground in creating an Accelerator whose projects are generated by identifying and bringing together a technology, an articulated unmet need, a key user/expert insight and/or an entrepreneur – of each of which ‘there are many, but mostly found in isolation’. It starts with a series of themed events, of which two such have been ‘wearable technologies’ and ‘the gamification of healthcare’. It then offers a series of one-to-many events and ad hoc coaching to test the viability of early-stage ideas through a process of customer discovery and evidence based business model design. This is followed by a rolling 3-month Accelerator programme with intensive coaching to help opportunities build their business and, if necessary develop an investment proposition.
In a tough but dramatic call, consortia of banks have recently sponsored three Accelerators for SMEs in the financial services sector. Accenture’s two FinTech London Labs (http://wp.me/p3beJt-3) at Canary Wharf’s Level39 and Startupbootcamp’s FinTech (http://wp.me/p3eJt-8W) at the Rainmaking Loft have brought SMEs together from all over the world with the aim of creating new products which will be of interest to the banks, who are seeing their market attacked by the arrival of mobile payments systems that leave them out of account.
Village Capital (http://wp.me/p3beJt-6K), a US-based charity brings aid and innovation together: it has sought to put the achievement of social objectives as the over-riding determinant of the various processes of innovation in which it invests its aid funds. Projects tend to start with a vision – a vision of how things might be, and then move on to issues about how realistic and how realisable such a vision might be. It then looks for entrepreneurial talent in people who are already working in the field in question who are likely to be acquainted with the problems and the people concerned. Village Capital has sought to have funds readily available – on an unconditional basis – for its 12-week programmes, each of 10-15 teams with different but relateable issues.
Innovationeering of this kind may be riskier, take longer, and be more expensive, as is suggested by the Royal College of Art’s 2-year Accelerator programme (http://wp.me/p3beJt-4u) which is confined to projects which involve engineering or design: its teams do not always endure, and it is financially difficult to maintain.
But clusters are not necessarily closely located, though they do all have points of intensive interaction: of experience – as in the fortnightly races of Formula 1; of knowledge – as at universities and related industries; and of talent – as in commutable regions. But they are not simply about connectivity, but collaboration – bringing people with different backgrounds to work together to create something new – what conductors, impresarios and directors do in the arts (as at the National Theatre’s Studio, where we hope to hold a small workshop in the near future – see below (1)).
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation in partnership with the Shell Foundation has been exploring methods to transform the markets surrounding an innovation – a significantly more all-embracing task –
which I will follow with interest.

(1)The NT Studio brings together writers, designers, performers and directors for short periods in the hope that they will spark off one another (see http://wp.me/p3beJt-f).
(We are planning to hold a small workshop there in the near future – for incubator leaders and leading mentors to see this ‘sparking off one another’ in action. If you are interested, e-mail me.)

John Whatmore
October 2014
john.whatmore@btinternet.com