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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France’s new Incubator

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France opens a giant new Incubator Aiming to attract in the next month a thousand young ventures to its halls, France’s vast new incubator (a refurbished train depot in Paris called Station F), has just been opened by President Macron (‘preaching to the choir’ as one correspondent called his speech’). It provides all sorts of spaces for young businesses that ‘have a business prototype and a path to growth’, together with other related organisations.

Station F is the brainchild of a French billionaire from the tech startup world and his project manager, a lady with a serious background in a variety of startups – who has focused on health, finance, education, and even fashion. It is supported by France’s increasing efforts to become second only to the UK in startups in Europe; and it is backed by Facebook and Amazon.

Its young ventures still face likely problems – in attracting talent, and around French attitudes to risk. Questions hang over the incubator itself and its sheer size, and the extent of the necessary eco-system in Paris. And later in their life they face France’s tough labour laws.

In 2014 the French government started a sprawling programme to support tech, in which 13 cities were designated hi-tech hubs; and it supports the growth of French startups in dozens of foreign cities. The French government has created numerous investment vehicles and offers loans and grants to fund startups and accelerators on easy terms. France has created a special tax status for innovative new companies; and Macron has pledged to do more about exemption form wealth tax and liability to capital gains taxes. ‘While more venture capital is flowing into France, the levels still lag Britain, Germany and Israel’; but France’s angel network is only a quarter the size of the UK’s, reports the New York Times.

The rationale for housing startups in incubators is that they have great opportunities to learn from their fellow travelers, and increasingly so from those in the same field as themselves. Claimed to be the largest incubator in Europe (and more than four times the size of Imperial’s new incubator at its White City campus – just completed, which is likely to take months to fill; see link below), making Station F into an effective growth community will itself be an innovative task for those who run it (like ENTIQ – see below.)

What makes Silicon Valleys’ eco-system so effective is perhaps the intimacy of interactions between early stage ventures and those with related expertise and experience. In Accelerators (and in some UK incubators), mentor cohorts are large and their management is proactive. But they take time to set up and are difficult to manage effectively (see link below – BioHub).

Facebook set up an artificial intelligence hub in Paris several years ago to recruit talented engineers at France’s elite universities; and is now anchoring a programme in Station F called Startup Garage, which will mentor every six months 12 budding tech entrepreneurs in health, education and other fields. In exchange for coaching, Facebook will observe how the startups approach issues like privacy, and identify cutting-edge tech trends.

Despite the gross hype around the grand Station F, one French citizen is reported as commenting: ‘France can definitely become a startup nation: the potential is there’.

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See on my website: johnwhatmore.com:

 Imperial White City to house vastly more space for young businesses With four times more startups and scaleups than on its South Kensington site and on ten floors, managing collaboration among a wide spectrum of parties and across big spaces will be a new and hugely challenging task. May, 2017. (http://wp.me/p3beJt-k0)

Making science deliver: BioHub – an outstanding new Incubator BioHub has been assiduously building programmes of support and development for research based businesses.  June, 2017 (http://wp.me/p3beJt-k4)

 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. Sept, 2016. (http://wp.me/p3beJt-gu)

John Whatmore, July 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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