DeepTech comes to market?

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DeepTech comes to market? Science is discreetly stirring itself to bring innovations to market. Despite the difficulties of continuing to practice science alongside commercialisation, leading organisations are creating happenings that encourage entrepreneurialism.

 It is now four years since Steve Blank’s I-Corps programme startled the US’s science communities into focusing on bringing innovations to market, but not till very recently did Innovate UK support this kind of programme. So it is good to see the prestigious Crick Centre in London’s Knowledge Quarter offering to ten teams a 16-week London-based Accelerator programme this Autumn, each with a £40K ‘award’ with which to progress their business.

It is not easy for prospective applicants to learn from the internet what will happen on the programme or what they will get out of it (and there is a ferocious set of questions for applicants as to their suitability.)

‘The course includes’, says the description, ‘pre-accelerator, accelerator and post-accelerator activities designed to take founder teams from idea to Series A and beyond commercial launch.’ ‘Teams will have access to a network of global experts in all aspects of entrepreneurship, health sector knowledge, data science and investment strategies.  This network will provide workshops and mentoring to support the cohort helping them to maximise opportunities and address challenges.’

Innovate UK recently offered funding for this kind of programme to Imperial (around £1/2mn) for a dozen of its post-docs to take time out to participate in a programme focusing specifically on the customer development section of the Business Model Canvas. They were to meet a hundred experts in their field who could help them to make a real-world impact with their work. After an initial residential week, bi-weekly meetings were intended to encourage peer-to-peer learning, complemented by a series of Masterclasses and workshops; and time could be booked with business coaches and members of the management team.

Steve Blank’s more demanding I-Corps programme has been readily taken up by a number of scientific organisations in the US – with encouraging results, but its long-term effects are, like all programmes that involve change, very difficult to measure.

The Crick Centre has been hosting a regular series of ‘DeepTech Mixers’ (which will be incorporated in the programme), bringing together people highly engaged in this approach – engineers, scientists, VC partners, university researchers and startup founders – for presentations, panels, discussions, pitches and networking. These are designed to facilitate the exchange of ideas and encourage venture building and investment – by connecting startups with each other and with major organisations.

If programmes of this kind are right for Crick, are they not also right for Harwell, the Rutherford Appleton, the National Physical Laboratory, the Barbraham and others?

John Whatmore, October 2018

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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

 

New support for startups and scaleups in East London

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New support for startups and scaleups in East London
ENTIQ’s new innovation centre in the old Olympic Park will be a great new signpost but the peloton needs more than that: a new network is needed to spur incubators and co-working spaces to develop support services like this one –  for the growing number of young businesses.

ENTIQ is the innovation consultancy behind a new Innovation Centre on the new campus in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London. Jointly owned with an investment fund, it will provide support services for business development for: new product development – with prototyping facilities and a technology lab, entrepreneurship and business education, business-accelerator and -growth programmes, and back office and professional support.

                                                          Focus on local threads 

The Innovation Centre’s aim is to establish a cluster of up to 500 members and organisations as at Tech City in Shoreditch; and the Centre will work with companies big and small that are pioneering new technology in their fields, with an initial focus on Sport, Health, Fashion, Smart Cities and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Typical targets include improving engagement in sport; tools for preventative healthcare; designing intelligent and functional fabrics; applications that improve connectivity; and sustainability and mobility in urban environments.

                                                 This will be a gee-whizz park

It is expected to be a place for experimentation, design and performance – for entrepreneurs and big businesses alike – a launchpad for British-based scale-ups and a ‘soft landing pad’ for companies coming to the UK for the first time.

With its base in London, it could make a much needed contribution to the development and commercialisation of UK technology. It will be a centre that is carefully tailored to early-stage businesses and in particular to those that are pioneering new technologies, and one that also has on hand high quality support, provided proactively.

                                      Scaleups badly need this kind of leadership

While the number of incubators and particularly co-working spaces in the UK has been growing substantially (there are probably now several thousand), few offer services to their occupants to this extent, yet they are possibly housing the unicorns of the future.

Many of these are run by individuals who have little hands-on experience of business or of business support agencies; and their links with the business community are often tenuous. ENTIQ however, was co-founded by two people who co-created Level39 – the innovation centre in Canary Wharf; and ran the Cognicity Programme for Canary Wharf Group, a 3D Fintech Lab for Dassault Systemes, and a Blockchain Lab project among other specialist innovation programmes. Claire Cockerton is a serial entrepreneur, and Eric van der Kleij had been the founding CEO of TechCity.

                                                        A very tough task

Making a success for early-stage businesses in all sorts of developing technologies in a Centre like this could well be as difficult a task as if all the students in a university were reading completely different subjects. It will require a remarkably sophisticated feat of collaborative support – to help all of the different businesses to develop and commercialise their products or services. Or else it may have a high failure rate.

With the rise in entrepreneurialism, support for startups and scaleups has got more sophisticated as Accelerators have proliferated and diversified; and Growth Builder programmes have come on the scene. With new developments in support evolving continually, there is an urgent need to help incubators and co-working spaces UK-wide to be able to offer them to their occupants.

UKBI (UK Business Incubator – the sector’s trade association) was founded some twenty years, but collapsed several years ago. The time is surely right for a new network of hothouses (incubators, co-working spaces and their ilk), that will help its members learn from one another and from outside experts about the latest practices and approaches for providing support to young businesses.

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Some comparable initiatives
This will be a larger project than the Daresbury Innovation Centre (http://wp.me/p3beJt-Y), launched several years ago in the vacuum left when the bid for the new Synchrotron facility went to Harwell; Daresbury has a wider range of businesses on its campus, but without as much support; similar too to Harwell (http://wp.me/p3beJt-r), which has a large number of businesses on its site – many related to the technology of its Synchrotron, where good technical support is at least on hand; but there is scant business support; and not unlike Rocket, a Berlin funder and supporter of early stage businesses (http://wp.me/p3beJt-8U), or the newly opened Edney Innovation Centre in Chattanooga, seen by its civic leaders as ‘the gateway to the city’s command-ing new business enterprise’ (New York Times.)

See also: Design your own Accelerators: an analytical review for innovationeers – johnwhatmore.com 8 Dec 2014 http://wp.me/p3beJt-K

John Whatmore
September 2016

Space Catapult driving new markets

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Rolling out innovations – making use of a whole field of new opportunities
Subverting concern that in the UK we fail to exploit our technical leads, the Satellite Applications Catapult foresees a big future in space and is charting new applications for satellites and facilitating path-finding initiatives in technology, markets and finance.

Next week: Accelerating the adoption of innovations
Big changes are difficult to bring about. So far semi-public but independent bodies have been the spur behind them – with their ability to take radical approaches. Is it time for institutions and associations to take the baton?

With the rapid miniaturisation of components, the enhancement of data transmission, and the substantial decreases in the cost of launching satellites, there has opened up a starlit array of opportunities for startups to make commercial use of space satellites. InnovateUK has just launched its first technology demonstration satellite (TechDemoSat-1) – to piggy-back experimental payload and platform technology from academic and commercial organisations.

Views from space are finding new applications in city planning and inspection, agricultural productivity and natural resource management, transport navigation and management, weather forecasting and climate change, and site security, among other emerging uses.

The Satellite Applications Catapult’s main objectives are to bring different parties together to facilitate the development of the field – mainly in technology, markets and then finance.

On the Science and Technology Facilities Council site at Harwell, in addition to the Satellite Applications Catapult there are some 50 space businesses; and elsewhere there are centres of excellence in this field working in conjunction with Universities, notably in Scotland.

The Catapult is the source of information about the state of knowledge in this field, about experts – their expertise and about their needs, and about the substantial supply chain of technology providers. One of its main aims is to demonstrate what can be done. With a team of eight in business development, it is putting designers alongside entrepreneurs in creating startups; and it can bring organisations together to achieve the advances it foresees. Moreover it has the trust of its community.

The Catapult regularly hosts Hackathon-style events known as ‘Inventorthons’ – unique two-day event combining traditional technology development with an entrepreneurial spirit. Their objective is to enable groups of people to work together to solve a set of challenges derived by specific communities, organisations or individuals. They focus on using space technologies and data to identify how they can be used to benefit other markets sectors, eg. transport, healthcare, natural resources, emergency services, etc. And they are open to anyone who would like to participate – software developers, engineers, technologists, scientists, designers, artists, educators, students and entrepreneurs etc. Winners of each Hackathon are given the opportunity to work with the Catapult to develop their solution further.

The Catapult’s Co-space facility provides workspace is a vibrant, entrepreneurial environment that can be used by anyone from start-ups and small- to medium-sized enterprises to large organisations, as well as end-users and academic researchers (free till end 2015). Co-Space clients can use the facility to work together to develop new satellite-based services, technologies and applications, and also get access to valuable networking and business growth events. Where required, technical and business experts from the Catapult can offer mentoring support.

Focusing on technology, while there are two companies in the UK building nano (100Kg), notably in Scotland and Surrey, there are none building micro-satellites (between 10kg and 100kg). The Catapult has been working with InnovateUK to a programme for funds with which to build one so as to encourage existing and new companies in this field to do so.

Combating illegal, unregulated and unlimited fishing is a market that can benefit from satellite data. While there is the political will to do so, together with some funding, it is currently an extremely expensive approach. The Catapult has created a demonstrator (WatchRoom), and tested it in a delimited area – the Pitcairn Islands, and is now challenging satellite operators to change their business models and enter this field. While such operators have so far sold and managed satellites, the Catapult is encouraging them to become a service provider, and by doing so to open up a larger market for itself in this particular field.

The Accelerator ‘MassChallenge’, has selected two space startups for its first UK cohort, which will start in June and culminate four months later in ‘Demo Day’ for investors. One of them (WeatherSafe) is designed to help coffee growers to use satellite data to plant, harvest and sell their produce more effectively; and the second (Bird.i) aims to make use of under-exploited earth-observation data by making it available to the mass market.

The Catapult’s picture of Space in 2030 foresees the manufacture of advanced materials and biomedical products in space, the provision of high-level real-time global monitoring from space, benefiting finance, construction, transport and manufacturing – fostering new industries and becoming a major field of growth in our economy.

John Whatmore
June 2015