Costa’s Chatty Cafe scheme

Aside

Costa’s Chatty Café scheme: a ‘water cooler’ for business nurseries

Learning from each other’s experience plays a big part in Incubators and Accelerators, so I am often surprised that some of them have no cafeteria-type space for encouraging participants to meet and hob-nob with one another; and others make poor use of such spaces.

Costa (of coffee fame) has just launched its Chatty Café Scheme, which provides Chatter and Natter tables, designed to encourage people to sit [together] and chat with one another over a coffee (the idea inspired by their sociability).

London’s 18th Century Coffee Houses were both more numerous and chattier that those of to-day – specialised as they were by field, trade or topic – for information, transactions or just gossip.

Y Combinator and Watershed in Bristol both have their participants meet regularly for a meal, at which each person has to talk about their progress, problems and plans; and you can then button-hole someone with a similar issue and pick their brains.

The offices of Uden Films in London were designed with cafe facilities at both ends of every corridor, where everyone could both make and drink their coffee.

 Where Accelerators and Incubators do provide cafeterias, their tables are usually arranged for people who want a quick coffee, perhaps with their colleagues, rather than for making acquaintances. Using Costa’s innovation could encourage more hob-nobbing.

Nottingham university’s incubator provided a complete kitchen/diner (with long table and benches), where participants could both prepare and eat or drink together, prolonging the time they spent there and thus their opportunity to hob-nob.  It was no accident that the Incubator’s manager was a delightful and chatty matron, and probably a good cook too! (Where providing board games might work in a Costa, juicy business updates might be more attractive to entrepreneurs.)

‘Free coffee’ mornings and ‘free beer’ evenings bring people together, but they depend upon chance in a way that purposed groups do not.  Action learning-type groups like those of Vistage (for comparable executives in business) and the Belgian Plato programme (for CEOs of comparable small businesses) offer a similar model. These provide opportunities for participants to talk briefly about their progress, problems and plans, and for others in the small groups to offer ideas from their own experience – an approach that has been adopted at Daresbury’s Innovation Centre.

Speed-dating is often used to help entrepreneurs to identify mentors who seem likely to be able to help them. Several new websites have addressed the issue of how better to enable people with reciprocal interests to get together: Bumble Bizz is ‘designed for networking and mentoring’; Mastodon calls itself ‘a decentralised social network’; and Nextdoor is ‘a private social network for your neighbourhood community’.

In a good conversation, you never know what you might get out of it! Costa’s innovation could lead to whole new tranches of support for young businesses in Incubators and Accelerators.

If you are doing something similar, would you let me know how it is going?

John Whatmore (john.whatmore@btinternet.com) 

October, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Making use of existing IP to start new businesses

Aside

The Future Business Pre-Incubator (‘FBPI’is looking to find ways of leveraging the UK ’s (and Europe’s) technologies into new businesses, and so contribute to economic growth. With YCombinator and Techstars in the US focusing on internet businesses, FBPI is looking to see how to combine UK (and European) entrepreneurialism and support with IP that has been generated by some of the world’s leading scientific academic communities.

          Last Autumn, FBPI held a week-end at Oxford ’s Said Business School whose objective was to see if groups of business people, engineers and scientists could come up with ways of commercialising some of the publicly funded IP that was presented. Out of eleven ideas, one group registered a new company the following day, which quickly found ongoing funding (and is likely to take space in the new European Space Agency (‘ESA’) Incubator at Harwell); one more is in negotiations to license technology and has applied for the ESA Incubator, and two more are awaiting feedback on the technology before continuing their application.

The recent rapid growth of start-ups in the US, especially in internet businesses, has not been matched by anything remotely comparable in the UK . FBPI asks how we can create similar heightened levels of activity in other regions and industries; for example, how to exploit the differential capability that Europe has, by focusing on science and technology and engineering based businesses.

FBPI notes that the traditional software/mobile incubator follows a US model in a segment where Europe does not have a competitive advantage. What this network does is focus on existing patented technologies, to which entrepreneurial talent, expert mentors and seed-funding can be applied. All of these, FBPI notes, are available locally. The Thames Valley area is one of Europe’s largest hi-tech clusters, with a number of outstanding scientific facilities at Harwell alone, and is close to the regional HQs of three large mobile Telcos; at Oxford it has two universities and two Business schools; it has one of the world’s largest science parks and two other significant ones, the European Space Agency incubator and the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Innovations Technology Access Centre.

FBPI sees its process as an open market that connects ‘knowledge pools’. Supporting the development process from its beginning and up the escalator of growth, it will aim to seek entrepreneurs among local institutions and communities; it will seek access especially to ESA’s, CERN’s and other IP portfolios; it will run start-up week-ends designed to identify commercialisable IP and match it with appropriate entrepreneurs; it will enable prospective new businesses to have suitable accommodation in incubators; it will ensure that cohorts of mentors from academic and commercial institutions are available; and it will seek to ensure that development capital is readily available. In addition it will seek to collaborate with or franchise an Accelerator brand, that will help to validate its regime.

Having tested the efficacy of the start-up week-end to produce IP that might have commercial potential, FBPI is now seeking to replicate these, by catalysing 20 such week-ends over the course of the ensuing two years, each one in a different area; for which it has pitched for £300k funding from the Technology Strategy Board and other funders.

John Whatmore                                                                       March 2013

The Centre for Leadership in Creativity

London