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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Organising your venture’s supporters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Whatmore, September 2017

 

 

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