Support that needs to be proactive

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Support that needs to be proactive Founders sometimes know little about the fields which they are aiming to enter – or about business. Those who manage any kind of co-working arena need to be able to link their young businesses with people whose experience and expertise meet their often fast-changing needs.

Brent Hoberman once described life in a startup as like throwing yourself off a cliff and learning how to build an airplane on the way down. ‘Every week a new issue about which you had never thought before’, said one founder. So how can young businesses be supported to help them identify and find solutions to problems they have never encountered before?

The Director of incubator Sussex Innovation Centre – an experienced expert in young businesses, makes himself available in the café every morning for an hour or so – for anyone to come and discuss a problem.

YCombinator, Watershed Bristol and Entrepreneur First all require their young businesses to meet weekly where a member of each team has to talk to other members of their cohort about their problems, their progress and their plans (notes are circulated afterwards at Watershed to the entire cohort).

The mentor manager of one recent cohort at Startupbootcamp’s Fintech accelerator made it his business to meet each team in the cohort once a week, and ask about progress and problems – each week with a different member of the team.

Wayra Lab, an accelerator (for scaleups) requires its young businesses to have regular monthly meetings with their shadow board, that includes two outside ‘directors’ – a schedule that is being adopted by most growth programmes – for their peer-to-peer meeting groups with advisers.

At BioHub, (last year’s Biotech Incubator of the Year) – home to 200 young businesses, the Incubator Manager aims to meet every team once a month; at the Tramperies, proximity to existing trade businesses makes access easy to experts on many topics. At Cockpit Arts’ incubator – home to 140 young businesses, many of them avail themselves of peer-to-peer ‘action learning’ meetings, regular discussions with the team of business coaches, and referral to specialist advisers. But I know of some incubators that do not have mentors with whom you might be put in touch.

The essence of informal meetings like these is that they are different to Board Meetings in that they are not so much about policies, organisation and management as about current obstacles and how to get over them (why is progress slow; what makes the product fail occasionally; who are the best customers for this product) issues that frequently occur in young businesses, and where appropriate experience and expertise can make a timely and vital contribution.

The problems for the accelarator or the incubator are how to stay abreast of each business’s current problems and how to bring the best help to bear onto each problem.

Paul Miller at Bethnal Green Ventures simply asks weekly of each startup in his accelerator programmes:

  • What have you achieved last week
  • What will you achieve next week
  • What is stopping you, and
  • What have you learned.

Thibaut Rouquette, Mentor Manager at Startupbootcamp could find someone with the necessary experience from among the large cohort of its mentors to whom he had close access; and if he could not find an appropriate expert, he would use Google to search recently held conferences in order to find the name of an expert, and then e-mail to ask him or her to have a conference call with the startup – from which other help might follow.

Priscila Bala of Octopus Ventures commends finding and nurturing relationships with individual advisory board members; but for startups and their ilk, it is someone in the accelerator or the incubator who has to provide the necessary nexus.

John Whatmore, July 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SETsquared tops Trumps

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SETsquared tops Trumps 

The top Incubator illustrates the range of support that can be offered to young businesses.

Karen Brooks of SETsquared, a partnership of five universities centred on Bristol, recently rated ‘Global Number 1 University Business Incubator’, spoke at a recent ‘Knowledge London’ meeting of leaders of university incubators about the six programmes – at a variety of levels in the innovation pipeline and in various sectors – that SETsquared runs; and added that it was all about a mutual relationship with industry – understanding what business wants; and she commented that SETsquared had no academics on its staff.

The most striking contrast, I suggested at that meeting, between Accelerators most of which are branded ‘pop-ups’ (as c.12 week programmes) and Incubators many of which are in universities, is that the former:

  • are more involved with their businesses
  • provide more input and support,
  • have many more contacts with the business world.

But SETsquared is a leader in all of these respects.

At the Pervasive Media Studio at Wastershed, Bristol – a twelve month home to a dozen young businesses, over lunch together on a Friday everyone has to talk about their progress, about which notes are immediately circulated so that teams can meet up to learn from one another’s experience. Jim Milby, until recently a Director of Barclays Bank, who mentors at Startupbootcamp, insists on a weekly review with his team wherever he is a mentor. Paul Miller, one of the authors of Nesta’s The Startup Factories, and founder of Bethnal Green Ventures – a winner of a major grant from the Cabinet Office’s Social Enterprise Startups programme – holds a review once a week with every team in the Accelerator. At ‘Office Hours’, he asks the same questions of each team “What did you achieve last week, what will you do next week, what is stopping you; and what have you learned”.

Accelerators provide more input and support, especially in the form of mentors, notably with specific advice eg on design, potential customers, fundability etc – often in a ratio of four or five to every team. Techstars, Startupbootcamp and Wayra Lab all have around 150 mentors for each programme, (as does SETsquared,) among whom two or three are regularly attached to each team; and Seedcamp has even more.

As does SETsquared, they have many more external contacts with local practitioners, experts and entrepreneurs in businesses in the sectors in which their young businesses are involved, upon whom they can call for specific help. Moreover their leaders are often entrepreneurs themselves.

Incubators are still essentially providers of office space more than they are facilitators of business development, but it takes little (often only a canteen) to encourage their occupants, who are all on the same growth path, to draw from others’ experience and find the essential help that they often did not know they needed!

John Whatmore, November 2016

A part-time Accelerator – generating the next leaders

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A part-time Accelerator – generating the next leaders
A charity has faced an excruciatingly difficult task in steadily scaling up its very part-time programme for helping young people to learn to be leaders

Next: nothing more while you are on holiday – till September 2, when I shall be writing about InnovateUK’s new mission statement and its implications.

‘Uprising’ was established in 2008 under the aegis of the Young Foundation and with government funding, with the aim of getting talented young people whose backgrounds make them under-represented in powerful places to take leadership roles in communities.

Undertaking the personal development of some 400 young people at a time, to help them in a role in which many people struggle, and which they might well not otherwise have sought, might be seen an overwhelming goal, not least for the limited resources and experience of a charity, itself a startup.

An award-winning leadership development programme with a role of Ambassadors that many charities would die for, it has 2,700 alumni, operates in seven cities, and has now reached the point where it manages without any government funding. Each cohort is of 45 young people; and there are currently nine cohorts running simultaneously. It generates in a very high proportion of its intake the confidence and belief that they have the power and skills to change issues that affect them and their local community.

The programme is designed to provide participants with the knowledge, networks, skills and confidence to take on leadership roles. Far from intensive, it is 9 months long and consists of a 3-hour meeting, once a week, with the first three months devoted to learning about leadership as such, and to enhancing leadership skills; and for the following 6 months participants work on a project [a format that is very similar to the Clore Programme for Leadership in the Arts] in small groups, often a social action campaign, for example to encourage young people to vote, to alleviate social exclusion caused by language barriers, or to support single parents.

In the first period, during which each participant will have a coach, they will hear from local councillors and MPs, and the likes of head teachers, police officers, social work leaders and business people – what they do and how to influence them; and sessions to help them develop their project management, fund-raising, communicating and networking skills – how to get to meet people and develop and retain relationships (‘all the stuff you don’t learn in school’!) After six weeks and for the duration of their project, each participant will have a mentor. Personal relationships are seen as of the essence in their journey.

Local managers now have the guidance of a manual to help them in running their programmes, which may nonetheless be adapted to local needs and local interests. With so many events and happenings to be organised and so many people involved, there is the constant worry that someone may not have been contacted, informed, booked or briefed; and the CEO feels that she is in constant ‘check-up’ mode, especially when there has been a high turn-over of staff. (And continuity of funding is an issue that is always with her.)

Connectivity is a current issue. Not only is it a part-time programme, but there are numerous occasional contributors, and semi-involved supporters – in all nearly 4,000 people – participants, mentors, coaches, speakers, alumni and staff, and most of them in different locations. A Customer Relations Management system is being installed that will include everyone, even suppliers, in order to facilitate communications – most of which must be by e-mail. And Twitter and Facebook constitute an important medium for maintaining a sense of coherence and the ethos of the organisation.

It is not just the alumni but what they then go on to achieve that is the full measure of this programme’s success.

John Whatmore
July 2015

See also below for three other examples of periodic programmes, two of them in social incubators/accelerators:

Innovators in education: The Young Foundation’s third education/incubation cohort
A programme of intensive learning sessions, the teams supported by staff, mentors and coaches and the Foundation’s network, with access to up to £150k of social investment – a model for non-residential Accelerators. May 2015 http://wp.me/p3beJt-aW

An Open Innovation Learning Network – for SMEs and others
I have just returned from a two-day workshop in Belgium called Plato, about mentoring small groups of senior managers in SMEs, who meet together regularly to draw on each other’s experience – a striking example of collaborative enterprise. May 2012. http://wp.me/p3beJt-H

A Social Enterprise Seed Camp
Bethnal Green Ventures [BGV] is a unique new venture of Social Innovation Camps, itself a commercial social enterprise started several years ago by two individuals, and now offering a variety of short accelerator-type programmes (of up to a week long) of social camps and in a number of different countries. BGV is now just starting a second round of 13-week accelerators – for technology-based social ventures in the UK. Feb
2012. http://wp.me/p3beJT-V

A non-residential Accelerator – in Education

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Innovators in education: The Young Foundation’s third education/ incubation cohort
A programme of intensive learning sessions, the teams supported by staff, mentors and coaches and the Foundation’s network, with access to up to £150k of social investment – a model for non-residential Accelerators.

Most Accelerators have so far been residential, but the more these programmes move up the value chain, the more widely spread are the established businesses likely to be in any cohort. This is a model for such programmes in the way it brings the teams together for repeated periods of intensive development work, and with the option of using a communal space; and in the way it attaches to each team mentors in key roles.

The ‘Young Academy’ is an initiative by the Young Foundation (‘YF’) which has a long and enviable record in supporting social ventures, this one in pioneering the development of innovations in education under the aegis of Round 2 of the Cabinet Office’s Social Incubator Fund.

Its third cohort of the programme about to launch – for around ten to fifteen early-stage ventures all of whose projects are focused on reducing inequality in education. The previous two cohorts have worked with 17 projects, including one working to better enable access to employment and another to reinvigorate the careers advice available in schools. All but one of the ventures from the two earlier cohorts are surviving and thus contributing in various degrees to this objective – in terms of impact, extent and reach. The objective is to get these ventures up to a level where they are reliably revenue-generating; with a strong emphasis on rapid proto-typing and testing eg in a school.

Like YF’s earlier programmes, this one – a 6-month programme starting in late May – brings participants together regularly for (mostly) two days every two weeks at the Young Foundation offices in Bethnal Green, London – for two day-long learning sessions at a time. Of the 12 learning sessions (through May, June and July), the first 6 include the mapping of the target audience and understanding the winning of work (with commissioners, buyers and funders). The second 6 are more about turning things into reality. August is expected to be for refining and testing, including project management, future finance and pitching; and the teams will come together for Demo Day in September.

The programme provides monthly ‘Check-ins’ (progress meetings with two YF staff), a ‘strategic mentor’ (in loco chair of trustees) whom they will meet on average for half-an-hour a week, and a ‘coach’, (in loco chief financial officer, and hands on supporter of financial skills) whom they will meet on average for 2 hours a week, and access to YF’s invaluable array of contacts (and there is a mentor pool of 30 or 40 people). Like other YF programmes, it is non-residential, but unlike other programmes, though like many other Accelerators, there is now a common working space available to participants.

YF expect most of the 50 or so candidate teams will be around 1-2 years old, perhaps already have a small turn-over and have couple of members in the team, but there will be a wide range.

This ongoing YF programme is funded by £1.5mn from the Cabinet Office’s Social Incubator Fund, formally evaluated by New Philanthropy Capital, and match funded by UBS, by Bank of America, and by the Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Foundation.

Other similar YF venture support projects include The People’s Accelerator – which aims to support campaigns for social justice to become sustainable (the recent pilot was funded by Citizens UK and The Centre for Justice Innovation), ‘Transition’ – a series of workshops for a wide range of social innovation projects funded by EU; and a project to develop socially sustainable cities.

See also

US non-profit ‘Village Capital’ has a different perspective on social enterprise: objectives first, resources next
Village Capital sees capital as a resource in the service of its mission rather than as a determinant of new businesses; and puts projects and teams together on the basis of what will best achieve the social objectives it espouses. November 2013 (http://wp.me/p3beJt-6K)

Three pieces of Pixie Dust: Bethnal Green Ventures ‘accelerates’ six new social enterprises
Intensive support, lots of interaction (‘the kitchen a vital place’), and pressure to deliver make up the Pixie Dust. October 2012 (http://wp.me/p3beJt-2i)

Managing support for early-stage ventures

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Managing support for early-stage ventures – a fast emerging role
In Silicon Valley support is everywhere, and it is increasingly immanent in London’s entrepreneurial world, with some high profile examples – promoted by a new breed of support managers. But there are other areas where it is still a distant prospect. Join us in exploring how best to manage support.
Next week: The Future of Innovation – nuggets from the Deloitte Annual Survey of organisations’ views – about how they will do it and what kinds of things they will do.

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The most distinctive features of Accelerators (as short periods of intensive development for small groups of early-stage ventures) are the proactive nature and the amount of support that they provide for the businesses they nurture – especially in the form of mentoring (in many programmes mentors are in a ratio of at least half a dozen per team), yet many startups and SMEs even in Incubators and Science Parks are lucky if they have a single one.

Mentors tend often to be appointed simply because they provide a hand to hold, so is it failure to match mentors to individual needs that holds mentoring back? While the Business Growth Fund normally appoints a couple of Directors and then on their advice from time to time finds appropriate experts, advisers and mentors (http://wp.me/p3beJt-ak), the London Stock Exchange has launched its Elite programme of support with Imperial (http://www.lseg.com/elite), one or two VCs like Octopus Ventures (http://wp.me/p3beJt-ap) have evolved sophisticated regimes of support; and Accelerators like Startupbootcamp (http://wp.me/p3beJt-8N) and Bethnal Green Ventures (http://wp.me/p3beJt-2i) are highly proactive in the management of their mentors and of their programmes.

One of the most telling accounts that I have written recently has been about what startups in Accelerators said they valued most (they cited: supervisory facilitators, proximity to their fellow travellers, access to their various mentors, and the inspirational speakers they met (http://wp.me/p3beJt-a7)). I am running a project whose aim is to learn more from those on the receiving end about what it is that works best in terms of support for early-stage ventures – e-mail me if you are interested to participate.

Entrepreneurs may be passionate and determined people, but they do not necessarily know what they are missing. The managing of support is a new role: it entails keeping in very close contact with developing businesses, understanding what might help them at different moments, the ability to corral a host of potential supporters, and to bring supporters and entrepreneurs together successfully (see http://wp.me/p3beJt-9R).

Help us! We are looking at ways in which people who play this evolving role can contribute their experience to its development – on topics such as building a bank of supporters, identifying startups’ needs, finding specialised experts, matching mentors to startups, curating cultures of inclusivity, and programme management. If you are interested to participate in this, please e-mail me.

John Whatmore
March 2015-03-20
john.whatmore@btinternet.com
http://johnwhatmore.com

Stories from the front line

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Stories from the front line: what Startups value most in Accelerators
What they get out of ‘Office Hours’, group lunches, others on the programme, their first meeting with mentors, mentor slots and other events.

Short periods of intensive development for a small number of carefully selected teams are turning ideas into marketable propositions: ‘Accelerators’ bring these teams together to work alongside one another, and they provide structured support and a wealth of mentors. I asked some Startups what was their magic.

“The weekly session with the Accelerator staff [known as ‘Office hours’], who always asked you:
What have you achieved in the last week?
What are you planning to do next?
What is stopping you?
What have you learned?
This forced you for example to think about what were the bottlenecks; and sometimes they would offer answers, and sometimes not.

“Monday’s group lunches were valuable – where each team had five minutes in which to give an update about their project; followed by a speaker – often an entrepreneur who talked about his or her own experience in developing their project.

“Talking to other people on the programme – people who were working beside me, or who were working with a similar technology but a different system (there was one who was one or two years ahead of me in terms of stage of development), or who were working in the same field and with interesting technologies.

“Mentor meetings were extremely valuable. At the initial speed-dating meeting, the mentors were in groups of two, three or four, and each team had five to ten minutes to present their project – to each group of mentors, and then got responses, advice or contacts from each mentor – exhausting but great!

“On offer were two or three slots with mentors most weeks. They gave us advice, contacts and evaluation. One told us how to approach one potential user, who to talk to, what to say and how to say what we had to tell them. Another introduced me to someone who in turn introduced me to the business development manager in a potential user organisation.

[There is now a different approach: a weekly meeting of staff considers the current mentoring needs of teams, and potential matches from the mentor bank, all or most of whose members are known to someone in the staff team.
Mentors are now divided into those whose contribution can be expected to relate to a single problem and those who are longer-term contributors; and those whose main experience is in investment join the teams for ‘Office hours’ only in the final third of the programme.]

“Every Tuesday a different ‘mentor’ would give a talk about their special interest: design, social impact, investment, marketing, pricing etc – the most valuable of these for me was marketing.

The comments are from meetings I had with participants in a Bethnal Green Ventures Accelerator programme in 2013. I would very much like to hear others’ experience about what they got out of Accelerators (mailto:john.whatmore@btinternet.com).

See also at ‘Applied Creativity’ http://johnwhatmore.com:

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

I am a fly on the wall at an Accelerator’s Mentor Day
The day provided the programme’s entrepreneurs a free-form opportunity to meet mentors and for them to learn something about each other. It suggested to me five different mentor roles. http://wp.me/p3beJt-8N Sept 2014

Three pieces of Pixie Dust: Bethnal Green Ventures ‘accelerates’ six new social enterprises
Pervasive mentoring, proximity (to one another – getting people to interact on their own terms) and pressure to deliver – but all created by a leader with empathy, experience and contacts – with top people who have ‘done it before’ http://wp.me/p3beJt-2i Sept 2012

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

An Accelerator Workshop

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Accelerators – a Discussion Forum                                                                          under Chatham House Rules                                                                               Wednesday,18 June, 2014                                                                                                    at IDEALondon, 69 Wilson Street, London EC2A 2BB

An opportunity to meet up with people involved with early-stage projects – Incubators, Science Parks, Enterprise programmes and Accelerators – to learn about and discuss the experience of those involved with Accelerators.

At IDEALondon, UCL’s new incubator in Tech City (where we will have a tour), two Accelerator leaders and a mentor/investor will tell us about their experience; we will discuss problems and opportunities – in problem-solving mode – and what makes for a successful Accelerator; and a Guru will offer us a picture of what Accelerators might be like in 2020.

To book a place, see below.

AGENDA

9.30 Coffee and registration.

10.00 Introductions: John Whatmore.                                                                         Participants: your role and your interests in Accelerators?

10.30 Jessica Stacey, joint author (with Paul Miller – see below) of Nesta’s recent report Good Incubation, will give a quick overview of the different applications and approaches of Accelerators that we are seeing; and the opportunities they present.

11.15 Coffee

11.35 Paul Miller, Bethnal Green Ventures (and joint author of Nesta’s report Good Incubation, and of Nesta’s earlier report, The Startup Factories), will join Simon Jenner, Oxygen Accelerator, and Stuart Hillston, a multiple mentor and investor, to discuss the best and the worst of their experiences – on topics such as: recruiting good candidates, delivering an effective programme, mentors and mentoring, relationships with funders, and setting up and running an Accelerator.

12.45 Buffet lunch followed by a short tour of UCL’s Incubator

2.00 Kate Stuart-Cox, an expert facilitator in problem-solving will discuss with us ways in which aspiring entrepreneurs (and others involved) might be helped to solve problems.

2.30 Group discussions: what in your experience is best about Accelerators; and what are the downsides.

3.15 Tea

3.30 Group discussions continue: what are your plans for the future (changes, developments, innovations); and what is holding you up?

4.00 Groups report back to a full session.

4.30 Final session: Nektarios Liollios, CEO of Startupbootcamp Fintech, just launching here in London, has run Accelerators in a number of cities throughout the world, and is a leading expert on them. He will speculate about the future of Accelerators: might they become the universal approach to generating innovation; and if so, who will lead their adoption; and how might they differ in different circumstances?

5.00 Finish

Cost: £245+VAT = £294.To reserve a place, (places will be limited)e-mail john.whatmore@btinternet.com. Your place will be confirmed on receipt of payment – either by cheque to the Centre for Leadership in Creativity,

138 Iffley Road, London W6 0PE, or by bank transfer to the Centre’s bank, HSBC, sort code 40-03-21, account no 62065010.