No institutional support for startups and scaleups

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No institutional support for startups and scaleups

The CEO of the Art Fund complains that there is no support system for one of the oldest of functions – museum curators; neither is there in the newest of fields – the world of entrepreneurialism. The Clore Foundation runs a stack of programmes for leaders in social enterprise, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council has commissioned a programme for leaders in the Arts, but programmes for leaders in other fields of enterprise are rare.

Learning is essentially on-the-job; but there is no extensive form of support for on-the-job learning. There are several recent action-learning type programmes, such those run by UCL/RBS, the Judge Institute, Vistage (originally US); and Belgium’s Plato programmes provide another example. Steve Blank’s I-Corps programme helps scientists to identify and pursue opportunities for commerialisation. And there are a number of online programmes including Digital Business Academy and Dreamstake, and MIT’s new U.Lab.

There is virtually no networking/pooling of experience: Nesta initiated a twice yearly pan-European conference called Accelerator Assembly, which has since been taken over by Salamanca University. The Association for Managers of Innovation has existed in the US for a number of years, but there is no such networking function or organization in the UK.

There is no strong overall supporting institution: Praxis/Unico is focused on universities; UKSPA is focused mainly on the development of Science Parks; and UK Business Incubator died several years ago. The Scaleup Institute is in its nature focused on scaleups – on identifying routes to success together with leading examples.

Research remains uncoordinated. The Enterprise Research Centre at Aston University has developed a scoreboard and carried out research into the factors that support local enterprise, as have other organisations. The Scaleup Institute commissioned a major research project on Scaleups jointly at Judge Cambridge and Said Oxford; and Nesta has a very general and long-term research project about the effectiveness of support for startups, but does not focus on best practice. There is no large-scale university programme dedicated to research and especially to the development of enterprise and early stage business.

What is needed is an organisation that could lead or seed programmes for potential leaders of innovation across different fields (- the CBI, Nesta or ESRC?) – in industry, in science, in public services, in education, in health services, or whose first initiative was unsuccessful?

John Whatmore, January 2018

 

 

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A bespoke programme for private SMEs

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A bespoke growth programme for ambitious private companies.

ELITE is a platform of unique provenance designed to help the UK’s ‘most exciting and ambitious’ private companies prepare and structure for their next stage of growth.

Launched by the London Stock Exchange in 2014 and delivered in collaboration with Imperial College Business School, this programme – for the UK’s hi-growth private companies – is a veritable hothouse for growth.

Like other such programmes about which I have written recently, it is an extended programme of periodic meetings – this one an eighteen month, three part programme, consisting of education, discussion, business support, mentoring and access to entrepreneurs and business leaders as well as to the corporate advisory and investor community.

In the UK it comprises two cohorts a year, each of 15-20 companies (chosen for their growth potential) – the seventh cohort just starting; and involves seven modules of intensive meetings at the London Stock Exchange, each of one to one-and-a-half days, every eight weeks – normally for the CEO and the CFO.

The dominant theme is (not unexpectedly) capital. Other main themes are: strategy, talent and other key resources, governance, marketing, and packaging one’s story.

Get ready This section – of 8-days broken down into four modules, is aimed at providing participants with the operational skills –initially to review and reflect – about visibility, productivity and efficiency, and about cultural and organisational change.

In the Get Fit phase, all the suggestions and guidelines raised in the first phase are put into practice. Using a self-assessment test, the company can identify the areas for improvement to work on, and have the support of a group of professionals tailored to the specific needs of the company to consider how to embed changes in the business.

 Get value With the help of a select community of investors, professionals and companies, the participants will be engaged in initiatives for moving forward, such as exploring new funding options and new business opportunities – designed to boost the brand and ranking with investors, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders.

The ELITE programme was first implemented in Italy (where it also runs) in April 2012 and has now expanded all over Europe. Some 500 companies have participated in ELITE programmes across Europe, with an advisory and investor community of over 250.

John Whatmore, November 2016

 

How do other programmes compare?

All ‘scaleup’ programmes tend to be for small groups of senior executives in SMEs; they focus on key aspects of growth, and are structured for mutual discussions plus input from experts – at regular, usually monthly meetings over twelve months. (The following have all appeared recently on my website, http://www.johnwhatmore.com)

The Judge Institute’s SME Growth Challenge – a series of six bi-monthly workshops for CEOs of about a dozen hi-growth SMEs, delivered over 12 months – aims to develop each firm’s managerial capability.

The RBS/UCL Growth Builder programme is a 12-month programme for 48 growth companies to meet monthly, alternating between the provision of input and small group working, with meetings rotating around the premises of the numerous and various contributors.

10,000 Small Businesses is a programme offered by 5 UK universities for cohorts of c70 SMEs to develop growth plans. They meet together – in three separate session, each at a different location, with online learning between those sessions, and over the course of 30 days.

Plato, started in Belgium and now widely franchised throughout the world is for groups of c.15 senior executives from matched small companies – to meet regularly – each group with a couple of mentors from large companies – to support and help one another with their current issues.

Vistage, originating in the US, puts together groups, each of about a dozen senior executives in SMEs in the same local area, matched as far as possible. Meeting on each other’s premises, monthly or bi-monthly for a day at a time, they focus each time on the work of two or three members of the group.

‘ella forums’ is a leadership development programme designed to inspire growth in social enterprises, in which CEOs come together for monthly sessions, where they hear the latest thinking from guest speakers, share best practice, and receive coaching from experts.

 

 

A UNIQUE FORM OF SUPPORT FOR EXECUTIVES IN SMEs

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A UNIQUE FORM OF SUPPORT FOR EXECUTIVES IN SMEs

These mutual problem-solving and support groups for senior executives in well-established SMEs would be beneficial in every incubator, science park, innovation centre and tech hub. All they need is a good facilitator.

Next up: Oxford Innovations – a major source of incubator space in the South East, but one that provides meagre support for occupants.

‘Vistage’ forms groups of senior executives from SMEs, each group of about a dozen people, who meet regularly to help each other to:articulate their issues (‘what is your biggest pain point?’)

  • clarify their thinking (‘what is its root cause?’)
  • identify possible solutions (re-motivate/hire/fire?)
  • and to hold them accountable (‘What are you doing about it?’)

(- comparable to the Belgian Plato programme (see below.)

It now has some 1000 members in 70+ such groups in the UK. Big in the US where it started several years ago, it now operates in 16 countries with over 20,000 members.

Each group is of about a dozen senior executives, all with similar levels of responsibility. (Groups in the Plato programme are matched both for function (eg marketing/finance etc) and by industry.) Vistage runs some for large SMEs (£4mn+ turnover); some – on a smaller scale – for smaller SMEs; and some for ‘key directors’.

They meet on each other’s premises, normally monthly, for a full day, in which they draw from each other’s experience. The centrepiece of the day is for two (or sometimes three) members of the group to bring a key issue to the table, by:

  • stating succinctly what it is
  • saying why it is important
  • and indicating their ideal outcome.

Other members of the group then ask questions to get to the heart of the problem (diverse thinking being encouraged) until in a final round, each person proposes their solution. Only then does the problem-owner comment, and say what he or she will now do.

Most meetings will start with a presentation by a well-recognised speaker – on a relevant topic; and may finish with a general discussion on a common or topical issue. These groups have a life of their own, including an annual retreat; and this life is itself managed by the group.

Between meetings of the group, each of its members has a coaching session with the Chair of the group, focusing on their current major challenge; and helping them to make decisions about what they will now do. Those who were in the spotlight at the previous meeting will be asked what have they done since; and they will be asked again at the next meeting of the full group.

The nature of these groups consists in:

  • willingness to accept vulnerability
  • the sharing of issues, experience and ideas
  • and the acceptance of challenge.

Openness to these qualities is the overriding requirement for joining any group. Group Chairs have a crucial responsibility for putting groups together, for which they depend on their interviews, though some candidates may attend the Speaker workshop part of the meeting as a guest, and sometimes they join for a trial period.

Candidates come from several sources and have to be invited by the Chair – to ensure that they’re right for this kind of meeting and for the specific group. (To ensure openness and confidentiality, no group can include competitors, suppliers or customers). The fact that most group members sustain membership for long periods of time makes it clear that these groups have a role that is different to any other relationship in almost any organisation – whether with directors, colleagues or subordinates – essentially because of their intimacy (they could be said to be addictive and comforting – a bit like the confessional!)

The group Chair is of course responsible for sustaining the life of the group, for organising and facilitating the meetings of the group, and for the one-to-one coaching sessions between each of its meetings. Vistage carefully selects Chairs, and runs training and development courses and events for them. The expert speakers are equally carefully selected and only retain their Vistage accreditation if the members score them highly.

In addition to the group meetings and 1-to-1 coaching, Vistage also runs a series of exclusive keynote speaker events throughout the UK – to further support the development of group the members, but also to help them develop their teams.

It is evident that Vistage supports growth in the businesses concerned (apparently three times that of the average SME), just as it also helps to allay the stresses in those involved.

The main advantages of this well-established model (which is not unlike that of Action Learning) is that it:

  • focuses on major issues
  • brings to bear on them a wide range of thinking and experience
  • encourages decisions and action
  • enables close relationships with a number of fellow travellers
  • and provides comfort and re-assurance.

However, it does not necessarily provide advice related to the specific context of those issues (eg the sector), nor from people with closely related businesses.

January, 2016

A comparable programme:

AN OPEN INNOVATION LEARNING NETWORK – FOR SMEs AND OTHERS

I have just returned from a two-day workshop in Belgium about mentoring small groups of senior managers in SMEs, who meet together regularly to draw on each other’s experience, and with the support of mentors – a striking example of collaborative enterprise. Set up by a passionate individual in East Flanders Chamber of Commerce, it has been running for twenty years and has now been seeded in at least fifteen different countries. April, 2012. http://wp.me/p3beJt-H

 

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