SETsquared tops Trumps

Aside

SETsquared tops Trumps 

The top Incubator illustrates the range of support that can be offered to young businesses.

Karen Brooks of SETsquared, a partnership of five universities centred on Bristol, recently rated ‘Global Number 1 University Business Incubator’, spoke at a recent ‘Knowledge London’ meeting of leaders of university incubators about the six programmes – at a variety of levels in the innovation pipeline and in various sectors – that SETsquared runs; and added that it was all about a mutual relationship with industry – understanding what business wants; and she commented that SETsquared had no academics on its staff.

The most striking contrast, I suggested at that meeting, between Accelerators most of which are branded ‘pop-ups’ (as c.12 week programmes) and Incubators many of which are in universities, is that the former:

  • are more involved with their businesses
  • provide more input and support,
  • have many more contacts with the business world.

But SETsquared is a leader in all of these respects.

At the Pervasive Media Studio at Wastershed, Bristol – a twelve month home to a dozen young businesses, over lunch together on a Friday everyone has to talk about their progress, about which notes are immediately circulated so that teams can meet up to learn from one another’s experience. Jim Milby, until recently a Director of Barclays Bank, who mentors at Startupbootcamp, insists on a weekly review with his team wherever he is a mentor. Paul Miller, one of the authors of Nesta’s The Startup Factories, and founder of Bethnal Green Ventures – a winner of a major grant from the Cabinet Office’s Social Enterprise Startups programme – holds a review once a week with every team in the Accelerator. At ‘Office Hours’, he asks the same questions of each team “What did you achieve last week, what will you do next week, what is stopping you; and what have you learned”.

Accelerators provide more input and support, especially in the form of mentors, notably with specific advice eg on design, potential customers, fundability etc – often in a ratio of four or five to every team. Techstars, Startupbootcamp and Wayra Lab all have around 150 mentors for each programme, (as does SETsquared,) among whom two or three are regularly attached to each team; and Seedcamp has even more.

As does SETsquared, they have many more external contacts with local practitioners, experts and entrepreneurs in businesses in the sectors in which their young businesses are involved, upon whom they can call for specific help. Moreover their leaders are often entrepreneurs themselves.

Incubators are still essentially providers of office space more than they are facilitators of business development, but it takes little (often only a canteen) to encourage their occupants, who are all on the same growth path, to draw from others’ experience and find the essential help that they often did not know they needed!

John Whatmore, November 2016

Advertisements

Red Riding Hoods should beware of the Wolf

Aside

Unilever and Canary Wharf both invite you to come and help them crack a world-wide problem, but… Corporates are seducing startups into giving them their good ideas, but the odds and the risks against getting your rewards are less evident than they should be. There is a solution. Next week: If you have a tough problem, try a Hackathon.

Here’s a new but increasingly familiar slant for startups – from a big corporate (Unilever). We’ll identify some specific key issues, they say, (in this case how data can be used to attract people to live more sustainably). You come along and work with our staff to suggest ways to crack such issues – at a Hackathon. Our staff will provide background – marketing, sustainability, IT and consumer research, together with one-on-one mentorship. One winner gets £5,000 in prize money, and may be invited to participate in a paid pilot with Unilever, with £31,000 made available to help develop and test their idea.

Level39 at Canary Wharf’s ‘Cognicity’ has launched a similar challenge. Smart City technology companies have been invited to apply for one of six streams – each about a specific aspect of ‘the city of the future’. For each stream, six teams were to be selected to enter an Accelerator with leading technology companies and Canary Wharf Group partners – to develop their technologies and solutions. In each stream, one would receive a £50,000 prize, and ‘pilot their solutions in the ongoing development of Canary Wharf and create a showcase connected city’.

It’s hard to tell whether these are impact enterprises or commercial ventures. Each competition has only one winner; and the costs and benefits of being involved in any pilot are unknowable. There is no mention of who owns the ideas nor who shall have the rights to them. And there is no one there to protect your rights. So if you have a good idea, you would be at risk of being seduced into a process in which, whether you win the prize or not, your ideas may have lost any protection.

Nesta, some time ago in an open innovation pilot, acted as intermediary for P&G by eliciting and selecting relevant ideas and then providing a period of support and development with the help of a VC for their originators (including ensuring adequate protection and the writing of a business plan) and enabling the best to be pitched to P&G. Ultimately, one of these was felt by P&G to have very considerable market potential. (http://www.nesta.org.uk/corporate-connect). This process, known as the ‘Air Lock’ is run regularly now for many different companies by its creaters in Nesta in ‘100% Open’: it builds up communication channels and trust, and it protects IP.

Young businesses in accelerator programmes run by organisations like Techstars and Startupbootcamp expect to get from idea to marketable proposition in 13 weeks (for which the latter take around 7% of equity in return). At that point they are in a position to negotiate with users as investors on a commercial basis rather than simply on the terms dictated by a corporate.

Accessing creative start-up talent is increasingly necessary for larger companies who want to capture the best ideas, people and technologies. As scouting by corporates for good ideas becomes more common, they must not be allowed to play the Wolf to Red Riding Hoods. They should recognize that they do not know what they will be able to catch in their fishing net: vagueness simply raises suspicions.

John Whatmore May 2015

Startups like Red Riding Hood should beware of corporate wolves

Aside

Unilever and Canary Wharf’s ‘Cognicity’ both invite you to come and help them crack a world-wide problem, but… Corporates are seducing startups into giving them their good ideas, but the odds and the risks against getting your rewards are less evident than they should be. There is a solution.

Here’s a new but increasingly familiar slant for startups – from a big corporate (Unilever). We’ll identify some specific key issues, they say, (in this case how data can be used to attract people to live more sustainably). You come along and work with our staff to suggest ways to crack such issues – at a Hackathon. Our staff will provide background – marketing, sustainability, IT and consumer research, together with one-on-one mentorship. One winner gets £5,000 in prize money, and may be invited to participate in a paid pilot with Unilever, with £31,000 made available to help develop and test their idea.

Level39 at Canary Wharf’s ‘Cognicity’ has launched a similar challenge. Smart City technology companies have been invited to apply for one of six streams – each about a specific aspect of ‘the city of the future’. For each stream, six teams were to be selected to enter an Accelerator with leading technology companies and Canary Wharf Group partners – to develop their technologies and solutions. In each stream, one would receive a £50,000 prize, and ‘pilot their solutions in the ongoing development of Canary Wharf and create a showcase connected city’.

It’s hard to tell whether these are impact enterprises or commercial ventures. Each competition has only one winner; and the costs and benefits of being involved in any pilot are unknowable. There is no mention of who owns the ideas nor who shall have the rights to them. And there is no one there to protect your rights. So if you have a good idea, you would be at risk of being seduced into a process in which, whether you win the prize or not, your ideas may have lost any protection.

Nesta, some time ago in an open innovation pilot, acted as intermediary for P&G by eliciting and selecting relevant ideas and then providing a period of support and development with the help of a VC for their originators (including ensuring adequate protection and the writing of a business plan) and enabling the best to be pitched to P&G. Ultimately, one of these was felt by P&G to have very considerable market potential. (http://www.nesta.org.uk/corporate-connect). This process, known as the ‘Air Lock’ is run regularly now for many different companies by its creaters in Nesta in ‘100%Open’: it builds up communication channels and trust, and it protects IP.

Young businesses in accelerator programmes run by organisations like Techstars and Startupbootcamp expect to get from idea to marketable proposition in 13 weeks (for which the latter take around 7% of equity in return). At that point they are in a position to negotiate with users as investors on a commercial basis rather than simply on the terms dictated by a corporate.

Accessing creative start-up talent is increasingly necessary for larger companies who want to capture the best ideas, people and technologies. As scouting by corporates for good ideas becomes more common, they must not be allowed to play the Wolf to Red Riding Hoods. They should recognize that they do not know what they will be able to catch in their fishing net: vagueness simply raises suspicions.

John Whatmore April 2015

Business Growth Fund adds network of advisers

Aside

The Business Growth Fund adds a network of advisers
Entrepreneurial young businesses need access to strategic support and advice: the BGF’s scheme enables them to find advisers with experience, and willing and able to give time to offering the advice they need. Achieving successful matches remains a difficult task, as does providing the comprehensive regime of support that is often needed.

The Business Growth Fund has gone down a new track (where the banks never went) in providing business support in the form of advisers for its customers; and other funders are even more active in the support of their investments. By enhancing the chances of their customers’ success, not only are they meeting their objective to support business growth, but they are also protecting their own investments.

‘In the corporate world, non-executives might be associated with a dry, formal governance role, but for entrepreneurial businesses, the job is wider – adding experience, networking and credibility. The BGF considers the role of non-executive so vital for its investee companies that it has built up a network of 3,000 experienced executives nationwide who are willing to spend a few hours a month working with a growing business.’ (The Times 26.1.2015.)

‘One of the concerns we hear time and time again from entrepreneurs’ quotes the article, ‘relates to the lack of access to strategic support and advice – ideally from someone who carries the battle scars of business and has come out the other side. The biggest barrier, they say, is gaining access to these people.’

One such adviser quoted in the article said that each company demands about two meetings a month and approximately six phone calls. ‘A decent non-executive will set a business back about £40,000 a year, although the adviser shouldn’t need the money. If they need the job they are the wrong person.’ But much depends on the company. (1)

One beneficiary commented: ‘It was a case of a headstrong entrepreneur finding the world a difficult and risky place who realised he needed some help – a voice of experience, who had been there and done that, someone who could pour oil of troubled waters.’ Another had brought in someone who ‘is a good sounding board for my business…and has been superb at building relationships with our investors.’ Achieving a high rate of growth calls for support in many different areas. (2)

There is no hint of how the Fund is managing these liaisons. Some managers of mentoring simply see their role as that of introducing mentors and mentees to one another, but the recent conference of the Association of Business Mentors illustrated how variegated are the needs and how unpredictable is the role: matching mentors to people and to their needs is a sophisticated task. (3)

Accelerators (like Techstars, Seedcamp and Startupbootcamp) and VCs (like Octopus Ventures) have highlighted the importance of mentors for early-stage businesses, and in providing access to them from the outset. They keep their eyes on the development of the business all the time – for new obstacles and new needs for help and support; and are ready to search for contacts whom they can introduce, sometimes from within the cohort or portfolio, and sometimes from elsewhere in their industry – or other industries.

The Business Growth Fund’s initiative is a first step in establishing a comprehensive regime of help and support for the businesses they fund.

John Whatmore
February 2015

See also at ‘Applied Creativity’ http://johnwhatmore.com.

(1) I interview the ‘best mentor’ in Startupbootcamp’s FinTech Accelerator
In and out frequently, he steadily evolved his role by offering the wealth and breadth of experience of a life-time’s work in a top bank – clarifying progress and problems, acting as a sounding board, offering experienced insights, and marshalling help. http://wp.me/p3beJt-9P Dec 2014

(2) I am a fly on the wall at an Accelerator’s Mentor Day
The day provided the programme’s entrepreneurs a free-form opportunity to meet mentors and for them to learn something about each other. It suggested to me five different mentor roles. http://wp.me/p3beJt-8N Sept 2014

(3) Mentoring: great benefits, but considerable problems
The benefits and the problems are well recognised. Several different routes are evolving, and four distinct approaches to the managing of mentors have different benefits and different problems. http://wp.me/p3beJt-9E

Open Innovation’s innovations

Aside

Open Innovation’s innovations
Corporates are articulating their needs and opportunities for innovation; and using intermediaries to search for innovators with ideas, and to provide candidates with a period of intensive development.

Innovation has been the top priority for corporates and their CEOs for a year or two now, but it has proved tough to deliver. Searching the firmament for young stars that might support life while one’s colleagues get on with the existing business is a lonely task. So Scanning the periphery requires altogether different tools and the mindset of an enthusiastic poly-math. Revolutionising an established business is a rare feat.

For at least the last decade, the rapid evolution of enabling technologies has provided competition with a new source of opportunities. Now the nature of innovation has produced another stimulus to technological competition. ‘Disruptive’ innovations threaten not only to outdate single organisations (eg Kodak) but to reshape entire industries (eg publishing).

So organisations are now looking for their new products and services, processes and business models across the entire spectrum of technologies; and their research and developments functions are turning into search and deploy functions, whose task is to scout for new technologies that might serve the functions and customers of the business in entirely new and different ways – before their competitors do so for them.

The knack is of course not only to identify some new invention that might lead to marketable new products or services etc, but also to be able to develop it rapidly into a useable or commercialisable form and bring it to market or into use. These distinct aspects of the open innovation movement can be seen in the more systematic and extensive use of scouting for interesting ideas; and in the use of periods of intensive development for potential candidates.

Several organisations have adopted the approach of articulating their needs and opportunities for innovation, and inviting interest from entrepreneurial talent. A consortium of corporates in the Food and Drink Industry assembled a shopping list of areas in which innovative ideas were sought, and then ran a day with the Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing to which interested parties were invited for discussions. BAe has run a similar day under the auspices of the KTN; and Philips (with techUK) has just invited interest from people and organisations with potentially innovative products or ideas in the areas which they have identified as among their needs and opportunities for innovation.

FinTech Lab London was sponsored by a group of banks whose interest was in developing possible new products by participating in an Accelerator (with Accenture) – in which carefully selected small business were brought together for 13 weeks of intensive development and introduction to relevant people in the banks – a model that other clusters will undoubtedly follow. Startupbootcamp has recently run a similar Accelerator in London under the Fintech banner – for SMEs with IT products that might be of interest to financial institutions. Other examples include Traveltech, Wayra Lab (Telefonica) which runs a continuous programme of Accelerators – each of 16 weeks, John Lewis, and Barclays Bank. (As short periods of high intensity, Accelerators have an application process that is open to all, but is usually competitive; they provide pre-seed (subsistence) funding; they focus on small teams, not on individual founders; they provide fulsome support, with intensive mentoring; and work with cohorts or classes rather than single businesses; all in exchange for equity.)

BioCity’s latest initiative in Nottingham combines a search process with a development programme, and we will probably see other clusters, and perhaps other organisations following this route in the near future, and looking to established intermediaries, perhaps local organisations working in partnership with local incubators (franchised by Techstars or Startupbootcamp?), to help them organise their searches.

John Whatmore
January 2015

Mentoring: great benefits, but considerable problems

Aside

Mentoring: great benefits, but considerable problems
The benefits and the problems are well recognised. Several different routes are evolving, and four distinct approaches to the managing of mentors have different benefits and different problems.

Among the benefits that mentors are recognised as offering are their contributions from personal experience, their specific knowledge and expertise, and the contacts they can bring about. Among complaints about mentoring are their uncertain availability, the fact that they may offer conflicting advice, and their potential for incompatibility. Above all, confidence and trust are quintessential factors in the equation. Entrepreneurs are on an express train and they don’t want to be held up by being mis-routed down branch lines.

The managing of mentors has been seen as no more than simply putting them in touch with potential mentees. As yet there have been no serious attempts to manage cohorts of mentors in order to overcome the problems mentioned above, though Startupbootcamp has set great store by the quality of its mentoring; Seedcamp and Techstars great store by their ability to find you just the expert you need; Healthbox has set out to offer advice to startups about making effective use of mentors; Wayra Lab encourages its teams to form non-executive boards; and startup eRipple is seeking to facilitate and enhance the matching process.

What kind of mentoring regime do you espouse? There are at least four different approaches, each with different benefits and different disadvantages:
The reactive: if an incubatee wants some specific help, a mentor with the appropriate expertise can be found. This depends on the incubatee’s inclination to use mentors, on his/her perception of needs for help, as well as on the effectiveness of the linking process. (Bethnal Green Ventures, Bathtub 2)
The proactive: helps incubatees to identify the kind of help they need from moment to moment and can wheel up a mentor appropriate to that need. This approach adds in the expertise of the regular supervisory facilitator – to help identify the often rapidly changing mentoring needs of inexperienced entrepreneurs, but it depends on being able to wheel up not just the right expert, but just the right mentor for this team. (Techstars, Seedcamp)
The mentor programme: a regular programme of mentor visits, each with a different expertise. Useful for those incubatees who happen to need that kind of help at that very moment. (Canary Wharf’s Level39)
The mentor attachment: where a single mentor is attached to each incubatee/team for a duration. More a coach than a mentor, there will be few people who can provide effectively for all of the rapidly changing needs of entrepreneurial teams eg for experience, expertise and contacts. (Birmingham Innovation Campus, BioCity, Wayra Lab – encourages its teams to form non-executive boards; but how are they managed?)

With eRipple I am working with a number of mentees to understand how effective was the mentoring that they experienced and what made it so.

(1) ‘Getting advice in early-stage ventures’ describes the different sources of support and advice that entrepreneurs find valuable – in Accelerators. http://wp.me/p3beJt-96
(2) ‘I am a fly-on-the-wall at an Accelerator’s Mentor Day’ includes descriptions of different roles that Mentors play. http://wp.me/p3beJt-8N

John Whatmore
December 2014

Innovation Officers with a range of tools to help managers at the coal-face in delivering innovations

Aside

Corporate have tended to look for their innovations more to acquisitions of early-stage businesses than to internal developments, perhaps because of the difficulty of the latter; but Innovation Officers are evidently developing their tool boxes and shifting their targets to achieve greater success.
Evidence has for some time been indicating that Innovation is the top objective for organisations and their CEOs, but what they are doing about it is less evident. Appointing an Innovation Officer is one such response, so it was interesting for me to be a fly on the wall at a recent conference of Chief Innovation Officers (run, rather surprisingly, in a deeply old-fashioned style!)
Such people often faced the impossible option of either attempting to change the entire culture of the organisation – a vital but entirely impossible job without the total commitment of the CEO, or of diverting funds towards developing new products, a task likely to be killed by the existing divisional Barons. So it was a dead-end job.
Many of the conference presentations demonstrated a range of other roles – including the support of those Barons in terms of their own objectives – helping them to achieve outcomes that would deliver their bonuses. One of them: delivering a process that would elicit new ideas; another the use of an online facility to aggregate questions and knowledge on current issues; another the bringing together of groups of people (from both inside and outside the organisation) to identify and wrestle with issues and deliver solutions; and another to help the Barons to enhance their existing services, especially with new perceptions, new ideas, new skills and new kinds of support.
Yet another was that of Tesco Lab’s dozen or so members, with their 6-week projects. It has a number of strings to its bow, including new products, product design and development, open innovation, hackathons and supplier workshops, and even culture change. It relies on delivering new products that would clearly benefit the entire business, like a mobile app that enabled all staff to interrogate stock levels, locations, delivery expectations etc; and another (fascinating) gadget – a pair of google specs with which the wearer could read the barcodes of items running short, and re-order them for subsequent delivery.
One outstanding address was that of Lee Burton, Director of Innovation at Stanford’s School of Engineering, who presented a comparison of the culture of Silicon Valley with that of European businesses, highlighting the latter’s key ‘missing catalysts’. While Europe’s economies are supported on science-based cultures, Silicon Valley’s is an innovation-based culture – and in its economy ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast!’ Comments from the floor countered that Europe has to develop its own particular approach to innovation culture. Speakers suggested that innovation units were busily growing, and Lee Burton reflected on the time it takes (maybe three years) for units like Tesco Lab to move from ‘push to pull’ – from pushing their ideas into the organisation to the organisation seeking to pull out ideas from the unit.
A small number of corporates have tasted the concept of the Accelerator (short, intensive programmes designed to help a small number of teams with fulsome support to develop their ideas for a new business into marketable propositions), but only Telefonica has done so wholeheartedly, establishing its own Accelerators in around a dozen countries – apparently with success in terms of new products for itself.
However, there has been a feeling that such Accelerators (as those of Johnson & Johnson, Banco Sabadell, Barclays, John Lewis et al) will be less attractive to startups because if their venture does not receive further funding from the corporate, the sponsor’s subsequent support will be indifferent, whereas the likes of Techstars Europe and Startupbootcamp rely on their reputations for launching as many new businesses as possible from each cohort of startups.
Accelerators supported by clusters such as Fintech Lab London for the banking industry have been more attractive – to SMEs from all over the world, but while the Fintech world is beset with rapid change (not least from Apple), in this field before they are adopted new products require a great deal of testing – not least for reliability and security, and across the entire organisation.

John Whatmore
October 2014