A major programme for new hi-flyers

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A major programme for new hi-flyers that includes an Accelerator
Public support for a major programme of development for a relatively large number of early-stage ventures, designed to identify and accelerate some world-class companies for to-morrow – from the Middle East. Why doesn’t InnovateUK do something similar?

Lebanon has a history of cultural development that is currently shrouded by the strife in the Middle East, and it has long-established international tentacles, so it is not surprising to come across a major commercial initiative from the Lebanon that is both far-reaching and high-flying.

Over a two-year period, teams will be brought to London for 6 months with the objective of grooming them – via partnerships, networks, mentoring etc – to become major global businesses of the future. Carefully selected for their promise, about half are already growing businesses, a third are early-stage startups, and the rest are at ‘product stage’

I spoke to two people who had just come to London for the duration of the programme, who were developing with US partners an algorithm for selling on the internet. They already had an investment of about $1mn from sources in the Middle East, for which they had given a substantial stake in their company, an amount that would provide them with a runway of about a year in which to achieve full commercialisation of the business.

The UK Lebanon Tech Hub’s Accelerator consists of a 4-month programme in Beirut with one-on-one mentorship and business support from international entrepreneurs and subject-matter experts for 45 carefully selected businesses – run by Babson Global. Fifteen of these will be selected to come to London for a 6-month programme and follow-on, which is designed to help those businesses to deliver their business plan – with training events, meetings, access to contacts and one-to-one mentoring.

The London office mirroring that in Lebanon is to be managed by PAConsulting whose role includes the Outreach programme and the Signposting Service as well as contacts and the support of mentors – sourced from various other organisations.

The Outreach Programme aims to understand business and innovation needs, and identify strategic opportunities for synergy with Lebanese and UK partners. The Signposting Service, available also online, offers opportunities, knowledge and advice on how to enter the UK and international markets – for Lebanese entrepreneurs, investors, academics and media professionals; and will facilitate action on significant business leads or proposed partnerships.

With the Capacity Building programme, the UK Lebanon Tech Hub will contribute to the development of Lebanon’s Tech Cluster with training events and master classes on a regular basis, tailored to the needs of individual businesses, with study tours, internships, and job shadowing for key entrepreneurs and investors; and with Tech talks, seminars, and workshops with internationally recognized tech entrepreneurs and experts.

The UK Lebanon Tech Hub is an international initiative kick-started by Banque Du Liban and the UK Government through the British Embassy in Beirut and with the active support of UKTI. The initiative is privately run and managed by UK-based PA Consulting. The programme’s objective is to open global markets to Lebanese entrepreneurs through the expertise, exposure and experience to be found in London, with the aims of growing Lebanon’s knowledge economy, its GDP and its job opportunities.

The striking aspects of the programme are the commitment by the Lebanese government and Lebanese institutions to identifying and supporting early-stage businesses that might have the potential to become the Microsofts or the Googles of to-morrow; and secondly the fulsome and collaborative nature of the development programme that is being run by a semi-independent public body. Why doesn’t InnovateUK do something similar?

See also:
A cluster-based ‘Accesserator’…
here helping to enable SMEs with innovative products to market to the big companies of this cluster; the process energised both by collaboration and competition Feb 2013 http://wp.me/p3beJt-3

Bioscience brings development expertise to bear on discoveries with big potential benefits
We are widely recognised for the quality of our academic output in the UK, but stories abound about the inflexibility and lack of commercial understanding of Technology Transfer Offices. The Wellcome Trust recently launched a vehicle for investing in spin-outs and start-ups for developing promising discoveries. March 2014 http://wp.me/p3beJt-8r

A model of support for hi-growth SMEs – Octopus Ventures
Octopus Ventures applies all the techniques of intensive development that are typical of Accelerators, but it does so at longer range. It invests in small businesses with potential for very high growth, and then it is set up to provide whatever support is necessary in order to achieve that potential. March 2015 http://wp.me/p3beJt-ap

John Whatmore
July 2015

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

National Virtual Incubator has untapped potential

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The National Virtual Incubator has vast untapped potential
It can provide intimate learning opportunities with specialist experts – without the need for travel: bringing together startups and experts that have interests in common with the flick of switch (and a bit of organising).

Cisco’s National Virtual Incubator is effectively a number of inter-connected local mini-studios, each strategically located in innovation centres such as science parks, incubators, innovation spaces and universities (currently 13 nodes). Their focus is on startups and early-stage ventures; and their aim is to provide opportunities to showcase and make use of each host’s activities and expertise. (Many solutions are inspired by similar problems from other domains.)

It was described as a bit like engaging with a TV – or as Skype-like conversations writ large, able to project several individual participants at the same time, or groups of participants, and to organise and moderate discussions among the participating nodes: participants can be as little two in each location and as many as a hundred or more. It has the potential to provide intimate learning opportunities with specialist experts – without having to travel more than a few yards!

Currently each month one node runs an event; recent ones include:
• Angels and VCs joining in an Investor Panel to discuss what they were looking for and what is on offer for investors in early-stage ventures – such as the EIS and SEIS schemes; to talk about pitfalls in raising funds and to offer their help.
• The Digital Catapult Centre has run in information session on MassChallenge with the University of Strathclyde and The Landing hub in Salford.
• The Swansea node ran an event on Big Data.
• Ten startups across a number of nodes came together to discuss the creation of mobile apps.
• The Sunderland node joined with InnovateUK to talk about the latter’s activities and offers, and about the launch of the local Digital Catapult Centre.
• And on two occasions, IdeaLondon has run events where customers were brought in and SMEs pitched their problems to them – looking for solutions.

It is ideal for bringing together those in the same field who are in different places (1); and for bringing together experts in some field with potential beneficiaries who are in another part of the country or even in another country (2) – a sort of magic conference.

Started less than two years ago, it is on a steep leaning curve. The hardware is provided by Cisco and the dedicated space and the management are provided by the local host. There is an NVI website, which is evolving and becoming better known; and each node has ‘lead’ participants who meet twice a year to co-ordinate the activities of the network and identify good examples to showcase [where leaders of Accelerator programmes, VCs, InnovateUK and the Digital Catapult could also have a useful contribution.]

(1) BT Labs use electronic conferencing facilities
BT Labs has equipped many of its development teams with large plasma screens, interactive white boards and video conference facilities (round one half of a circular conference table with the project team round the other half), enabling their members to conference or ‘hothouse’ (a sort of BT Hackathon) alone or with fellow teams eg in Ireland or Bangalore.

(2) ‘Mentor Managers’ can work miracles for startups
Above all else, early-stage ventures need their hands holding in their new adventures, but they have no idea about whose hands to hold. Mentor Managers find experienced and expert mentors by searching on the internet and linking up with them by Skype. http://wp.me/p3beJt-9R Jan 2015

John Whatmore
March 2015
Website: http://johnwhatmore.com