An Incubator with a strong development focus


AN INCUBATOR WITH A UNIQUELY SUCCESSFUL PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT REGIME Extensive and explicit support very carefully tailored to the needs of its particular participants aims to nudge young ventures towards developing sustainable businesses.

Cockpit Arts are hosting a half-day workshop – about Fostering Innovation in        Incubators etc on 27 June – for programme leaders and their ilk, for which a few places are still available. For the agenda and how to register see

Cockpit Arts is an award winning social enterprise and the only UK business incubator for craftspeople, housing up to 170 small businesses in two centres in London (many of them often part-time). It aims to help its occupants, whose average stay is around 5 years, to develop their businesses; and it also works with hundreds of craft businesses outside its centres and overseas through its training workshops and consultancy arm.

These businesses are provided with extensive support services (an in-house team of 4 alongside a bank of external specialists) whose objectives are to help talented makers grow their businesses  ‘to help them succeed on their own criteria.’

The services comprise workspace, onsite business coaching and business support workshops, selling and promotional opportunities, referral to specialist advisors and access to finance. This support aims ‘to help makers to understand and paint a pathway to creating their vision; and then to put building blocks (ie help on specific topics) in place to help them along that pathway.’

Candidates for the incubator have been required to have:

  • craft skills
  • a creative vision (aspiration and motivation), and
  • an appetite to work on a business model.

It is the third of these that is often the stumbling block.

Initial support consists of a diagnostic – exploring strengths and weaknesses, identifying key aspirations and measurements of success, and establishing short term goals. What are their core business visions and values.

The essence of the ongoing support consists in coaching – with programmes of: events/ workshops/presentations about such topics as pricing, branding, marketing, using social media etc; and one-to-one meetings, often contributed by associates and sympathetic experts. These meetings are of three kinds;

  • checking through their progress from time to time with the Head of Business Incubation;
  • working together with the Head of Business Incubation to crack an important issue, and helping them through that issue;
  • at least once a year, a partnership review with the Head of Business Incubation – a discussion about your own measures of progress – celebrating/commiserating; and discussing your next goals.

And people move regularly from one form of participation to another in the support available.

There are also Action Learning Groups that enable participants to critique and get feed-back from their peers, though every workshop has an element of this.

The biggest challenges are two: raising their entrepreneurship drive; and their overestimating what they can achieve (and being set back by that). They are inclined to keep their noses to their craft’s grindstone; as they are to avoid the risks in trying something new in the way of marketing: they are disinclined to get out there and sell! Moreover selling channels have been changing and these businesses need to be increasingly nimble. (Successes make a big impact on the entire community, like that of a ceramicist whose short video got one and a half million views in three weeks).

The Head of Business Incubation makes it his business to attend every workshop, and to feel the nature of engagement of every single participant. The intimacy of this is palpable, as is its continuity. (Some engage for a time, but then later need help to re-engage with the development process.)

The Business Development team consists of four people: one person manages the coaching support, one runs the events programme, and two provide the administrative support.

The most striking aspect of the support is the way in which it is constantly tailored both to individuals needs and to the changing markets in which these businesses aspire to prosper – a quality of support that few incubators match.

John Whatmore, May 2018 (


A workshop for programme leaders in Incubators etc


Fostering Innovation in Incubators A half-day workshop for programme leaders to exchange experience – on 27 June, 2018, at Cockpit Arts, Cockpit Yard, Northington Street, London WC1N 2NP.

Cockpit Arts, home to 170 small businesses, is an award-winning social enterprise and the only business incubator for craftspeople in the UK – with an outstanding support regime.

9.30 Introduction: John Whatmore, scribbler and former Nesta Associate

9.40 David Crump, Head of Business Incubation, Cockpit Arts. The issues and the approaches adopted in Cockpit Arts

10.15 Visit to the Incubator – meeting some makers

11.00 Coffee

11.20 Reactions to the visit – from participants

11.45 A panel of leaders from parallel fields tell us about their approaches and experience

12.15 Discussion – Fostering innovation in incubation: ways forward

1.15 Feed-back: What did you value most and who do you want to meet again?

1.30 Finish

Places very limited. Preference will be given to programme leaders in incubators and similar co-working spaces.

Apply to John Whatmore at, giving your organisation together with your role there.









An Accelerator like no other


An Accelerator like no other This NHS programme, more like a drip feed than the conventional injection, aims to identify and support individuals with outstanding innovations that will help with the NHS’s development.

The NHS Innovation Accelerator is a well recognised programme (now in its third year) for the uptake and spread of high impact, evidence-based healthcare. While the NHS’s current challenge is how to continue to help an increasing number of patients, and maintain and raise the quality of care, the link between quality and productivity, it is asserted, lies in innovation.

 Unlike other Accelerators, this is not a short-term programme: it is a fellowship – in several senses. Fellows are very carefully selected for their capability to scale their innovations; they work as beacons of their own special healthcare developments; and they are collaborators through a learning network.

It aims to support exceptional individuals – as ‘Fellows’ (who can be clinicians, academics, from charitable and not-for-profit organisations or from industry – SMEs or large corporates). The significant majority are from industry, despite the strong argument that healthcare professionals have a unique exposure to the challenges facing the NHS. They must have a passion for and commitment to scaling their innovations – for greater patient and population benefit, and for sharing their learning, insight and expertise widely. And they must be able to demonstrate valuable innovation, and to have had extensive involvement with users.

Each of the currently 36 Fellows, have been selected through a rigorous, multi-stage assessment process – involving many parties – in all, over 100 assessors.

It is widely accepted that these are complex markets where clinical guidelines, professional choice, personal choice, consumer purchasing and means testing cross boundaries with commissioning, buying and free at point of use services. And then every unit – hospital, GP practice, community centre etc has its own decision-making powers; so scaling up any innovation faces big challenges.

This year’s cohort (of 11) is targeted at more specific areas of need than previously eg mental health/early intervention/self care and education. The processes, the two sides of the coin – of finding out what is out there by way of opportunities, and of navigating and understanding the processes involved in delivering innovation – are getting better understood. But every new Fellow has to discover for himself/herself the ways through the necessary thicket of acceptances.

All Fellows are supported by a learning programme – hosted by UCL Partners, and co-designed with patient networks, Fellows, and Academic Health Sciences Network (AHSN) partners – to be agile and adaptive, to build on existing infrastructure, to be collaborative and to enable Fellows to test hypotheses about how to get their innovations diffused within the NHS.

Crucial help seems to consist in close support and guidance – learning from each other and from people experienced in the field.

Each new annual cohort joins the three-year programme, though commitment is renewable annually. Their initiation starts with a series of half-day meetings – of such things as one-to-one meetings with the core team (the programme leaders), pitch training sessions, and a speed-dating event at which they rotate around a series of desks where they explain their scaling strategy to two or three experts in eg research, commissioning, IT, marketing, finance etc., from which they get feed-back. (And they get to know each other.)

Each annual programme is launched with a major event, to which a wide range of interested parties are invited (Fellows and the core team hold a meeting in the morning and the public event follows on.)

The support programme is built round regular quarterly one-day ‘Sprint’ meetings, held in London, which are facilitated. These are described essentially as opportunities to connect with other Fellows, to reflect on and share insights, and hear from external speakers. Fellows also meet with programme leaders on a one-to-one basis every six weeks; and they often arrange to meet one another at other times; and there is a Fellows online forum.

They also have opportunities to meet up – two or three at a time – with specialist advisers (eg on health scanning/ business development etc); and introductions to local specialists can be effected through the country’s 15 AHSNs. Also there is a bank of 18 specialist mentors, with whom meetings can be arranged.

As the programme evolves, increasing emphasis is being placed on commercial expertise and commercial experts; on enhancing opportunities for Fellows to connect with and learn from one another; and on raising the profile of the programme – especially through its networking activity. Consideration is also now being given to some form of Alumni programme.

A very recent report (1) identified ‘conditions for the successful scaling of healthcare innovations’. Regarded as crucial were: having a supportive network of contacts that can open doors to key influencers and patient involvement; and harnessing insights of mentors, expert networking and demonstrating how innovations support national and local agendas [‘door openers’ and ‘mentors’]. Overcoming barriers to innovation diffusion, in a challenging financial climate, said the report, requires an agile mindset, a willingness to revise and adapt innovations, and skills in engaging clinicians to persuade them of the benefits [‘creative’, ‘adaptive’ and ‘persuasive’].

The NHS Accelerator reports that it is making an ‘unprecedented impact’ on the NHS and the people it serves: almost a thousand additional NHS providers and commissioners are now using these innovations, £40 million external funding has been secured, and 116 jobs created (as of January 2018). And its Fellows are helping the system to understand what the barriers are to innovation, where the opportunities lie, and how to alleviate some of the frustrations.

Methodologically this is not a classic Accelerator. Its closest relationship is perhaps to the Clore Fellowship Programme in the Arts, which is a learnt rather than taught programme – experiential and grounded in practice, in a peer group, and about building on your own strengths, values and style of leadership, with the help of fulsome support. And to Scotland’s CivTech programme for innovations in public services (which included two big problems in the NHS).

They all undoubtedly help their participants to deliver innovations, but the NHS Accelerator only tickles the generic problem of making it easier to introduce innovations into the NHS, an issue faced by many organisations and addressed as such first and foremost by Boards and management (2).

Afterthought: what would happen if Fellows already in the NHS were enabled to appoint local Associate Fellows, with similar support, but based on regional centres?

(1) NHS Innovation Accelerator Evaluation – Final Report, March 2018.

(2) Four things you can do to make innovation happen. Amy Muller/Strategos, April 2017.

John Whatmore, May 2018





Four things you can do to make innovation happen

April 27, 2017 by Amy Muller

In recent years the focus has been on creating highly efficient organizations that apply lean principles to both management and operations. We recognize it has become very hard for many companies to allocate time and resources to make innovation happen.  But fortunately there are ways to make innovation more efficient. Here we describe 4 simple things you can implement.

  1. Develop a plan and schedule for your innovation project – and manage it as a project. Innovation should be a structured process; not a free-for-all. The sequential steps of insight development, idea generation, idea elaboration, and experiment design can be managed using a variety of tools. This means providing clear objectives, tools and instruction, and setting intermediate milestones.
  2. Recognize that innovation is a social process. Innovation is more likely to result from structured group discussions than from solitary independent work; try to schedule lots of face- time for generating, elaborating, and reviewing ideas.   Some tasks, like insight research and interviews can be done independently, but bring the team together to synthesize and discuss the collected findings.
  3. Schedule “Events” to incorporate the ideas and expertise of a wider group of employees. Events can allow the Core Team to make rapid progress in many of the stages of innovation; especially in the idea generation phase and in elaborating business models.
  4. Provide a realistic way for your Core Team to dedicate some meaningful fraction of their time to innovation. Encourage the innovators to assess their priorities and workloads and to find ways to eliminate low priority tasks and to delegate other tasks to co-workers.  Provide formal “performance review” recognition for the innovation work.  Make it clear to employees that innovation is their work and they will be recognized for doing it.




Entering difficult markets


Helping people to learn about innovating into difficult markets – healthcare

A learning programme is offered by SetSquared to support healthcare innovators in the West of England – an intensive four days, open to healthcare professionals, health and life science academics, small businesses and public contributors alike (but you still need actual help from inside the NHS). 

This programme is for people who have seen an opportunity for a product or service that would have benefits in healthcare; and are ‘passionate about taking their proposition forward, and committed to delivering it’.

The course, conceived in partnership with and funded by the Academic Health Sciences Network (AHSN), and in future to be funded by Regional Development Funds, aims to provide

  • an opportunity to make a compelling pitch to anexperienced panel
  • a great way tonetwork with like-minded innovators
  • friendly environment to try-out your ideas, and
  • a chance to get continuing support from SetSquared to furtherdevelop your proposition.

It focuses on

  • customer analysis
  • building a business case
  • funding strategies, and
  • market analysis.

It has been run for three years and some 150 people have been through it, two thirds from companies and the others clinicians or the private sector. A high proportion of these have had solid enough propositions to go on to take their project forward.

 An introductory session enables participants to articulate their objectives and their greatest needs, and to identify the right optional modules.

Succeeding in the NHS This module explores how participants’ propositions should fit the ways in which the NHS addresses new ideas, including the promotion of internal innovation and the “selling” of external innovation. It covers both the formal processes, and how “decisions to use” and “decisions to buy” play out in the NHS culture.

 Building Clear and Credible Plans This module explores the key elements and components of different aspects of business plans – the thinking, research and analysis, and the presentational format and logic – that need to be part of a business plan that is convincing to investors (whether internal or external, entrepreneurial or socially minded).

 The Complexities of Commissioners, Customers and Users This module examines ways in which the Healthcare and social care are complex markets where clinical guidelines, professional choice, personal choice, consumer purchasing and means testing cross boundaries with commissioning, buying, and free at point of use services – in order to help understanding, identifying and navigating these market complexities.

Market Analysis This session focuses on understanding the NHS’s criteria – in its rigidly budgeted world, and quantifying the scale of the opportunity, including: the scale of the addressable market; how the product service is costed and priced; how to arrive at the right “price point”; how to assess the impact of direct competition; and how to make a realistic forecast of time to market and the speed of take up.

Collaboration and Partnerships The session focuses on opportunities that can be created through collaboration and networking – from working with larger corporations with their wide access to markets; working with other small companies – with synergistic products and services; engaging with clinical communities that are a direct source of test-beds and support.

 Communication and Presentational Skills This session helps participants to understand their target audiences and to articulate their key messages and their propositions in different contexts, with three panel sessions with their peers and an expert panel.

Feedback A personal feed-back session aims to help each participant to identify developmental needs across their business proposition and how they might be met. (Additional coaching and mentoring is also available.)

(SetSquared and the Wessex AHSN have also collaborated in offering an Innovation Surgery – a regular panel of experts to help and advise individual businesses, including those looking for development funds or research partners, and sometimes (frequently successfully) introducing them to possible providers.)

Even if you are abreast of all this, you still need the help of those in the NHS who can enable you to make your innovation work for them. You need ‘a supportive network of contacts that can open doors to key influencers and patient involvement; and to harness insights of mentors, and expertise in networking and demonstrating how innovations support national and local agendas. You need an agile mindset, a willingness to revise and adapt innovations, and skills in engaging clinicians to persuade them of the benefits.’ (NHS Innovation Accelerator Evaluation – Final Report, March 2018.)

See also: An Accelerator built entirely on relationships A programme to facilitate the adoption of digital technology in the NHS relied on the persistent building of relationships – to develop, trial and establish successful innovations.

John Whatmore, May 2018

Correction 9 May 2017

The course was co-designed with the AHSNs, funded by the AHSNs and ‘delivered’ by Setsquared (but with considerable AHSN input). It is run twice a year, once funded by Wessex AHSN, and then again funded by West of England AHSN. The healthcare content, NHS knowledge and background come from the AHSNs, either directly delivered or through AHSN speakers/contacts; Setsquared provide content with business start-up and general small-business/product development advice.



The Clore Programme for Leadership in the Arts


Clore’s Leadership Programme – a note

The Clore programme, founded in 2003, is explicitly for leaders – in the arts – with some experience behind them. A 7-month programme, it aims to provide opportunities for its two dozen fellows per annum with a bespoke programme of intensive leadership courses, workshops and other learning opportunities, mentoring and coaching, a three-month placement in another (different) organisation, followed by research (and later) execution of a major project of their own design. (It later spawned sister programmes – for social leaders).

An expert report (1) evaluating its performance (in 2013, ten years after the start of the programme) commented on the fact that in the arts sources, roles and even locations are becoming less specific and more collaborative as a result of the interactivity of the internet, and innovation more common, faster and more invasive. It also raised questions about the impact of the two dozen Fellows whom it supports annually, and the number of qualified candidates that it did not include.

Driven in essence by the reach of the Internet, the programme had been seeking to increase its emphasis on the leadership of creativity (as such) – by broadening its perspective – in a world in which boundaries are more fluid, sources, roles and locations in the arts less circumscribed, more flexible and less predictable, life more complex and insecure; but sharing and more collaborative. [I picture prize-winning students producing multi-media ten minute playlets at the National Theatre every morning for a week. Or Hull hosting a poetry competition for children inspired by the Royal College of Art.]

For the future of the programme, proposals included:

  • More emphasis on individual Fellows and less on structures and institutions
  • Greater emphasis on systems, networks, behaviours, technology, organisation and influencing
  • More about collaboration, management and self-management, contracting and commissioning
  • More understanding of entrepreneurialism
  • More understanding of technology
  • More input to the programme from outsiders including expert amateurs
  • More research
  • More pastoral care (for participants lives)
  • More influence outside the arts sector
  • A higher profile for the programme

The essence of these proposals was about ‘finding ways of creating [change] that we cannot foresee’.

(1) Creative Leadership: A future vision for the Clore Leadership Programme, Robert Hewison and John Holden

John Whatmore, April 2018

Innovation and changing peoples’ lives


Innovation and changing peoples’ lives. In a fast-changing world, helping people to make changes to their lives is at the heart of innovation. This programme of mutual learning brings people together who can help one another – easy to set up and run, and ideal not just for innovation centres and their ilk, but for groups of all kinds, such as job changers, patients, students, local communities et al.

Alcoholics Anonymous is the most dramatic of life-changing groups: its regular meetings, mutual discussions, exchange of commitments, and reporting back on progress are its backbone.

Participants in Accelerator programmes (around 12 weeks of intensive development for a dozen or so startups working alongside one another) regularly say that their best sources of help are other participants. At Watershed in Bristol they meet at lunch time every Friday and talk in turn about their progress, their problems and their plans. Notes of the meeting are then immediately circulated to ensure that everyone can identify and meet up with those whose issues chime with their own – to draw on each other’s experience.

Enrolyourself (1) is a 6-month programme of mutual learning – for people who feel a need to work on their ideas together with others who are on similar learning paths. They may be pursuing a new interest or venture, in a new role or job, or looking to add new skills and experiences.

The programme, curated by a learning organiser, is of weekly meetings, every alternative week being a meeting of the whole group, and in the weeks between, buddy pairs meet up. There is an initial kick-off week-end; and after two months there is a PowerUp day; and another after four months – meetings that regularly addressing learnings and build accountability.

Zahra Davidson (2) has nurtured this project, running two pilots before seeking funds to scale it up. In a competition at the Royal College of Art, she won the prize – of some funds, a place in the RCA’s incubator and support from Unltd – an investor in social entrepreneurs; and she is currently appointing her first cohort of learning organisers – in different parts of the country (whose interests include bringing together groups of professionals working on social impact, work/life coaches, and people from one field bringing their expertise into another).

At the Kick-off week-end, there are exercises to help people to get to know each other; skills and networking mapping, role playing, coaching training, and the principles of peer-to-peer learning are presented. The group – of ten people – divide into buddy pairs (who will meet by their own arrangement in the intervening weeks – if necessary by Skype) for mutual coaching, creative exercises and encouragement about their ideas; and they will plan their own sessions and how to capture their content. (Any who feel the need of an outside mentor are encouraged to find their own right person.)

The facilitated fortnightly meetings of the whole group are made up of Workshops (teachings) and Group Challenges (problems and opportunities), and are constructed so that responsibility for facilitation and organisation moves around the group.

At the bi-monthly PowerUp days, each person presents their achievements, their insights, their learnings and their plans – with five minutes to talk them through, then five minutes for questions, and five minutes to capture feed-back, ideas and contributions from the group.

The final week-end meeting is a chance to reflect, with peer assessment and feed-back, including about where next; and about the programme, which finishes with a ShowCase Event – a day or an evening.

Programmes of this kind – periodic meetups of a small group – have been around for some time, as of great help for tackling new issues – for their mutual support and learning. Uprising, a social enterprise, uses weekly meetings to embolden its young members; the Clore Leadership programmes enable similar exchanges of experience; Plato, a programme widely used in a number of countries but originally from Belgium, brings together small groups of similarly placed executives, as does the Vistage programme; and the Judge Institute Growth Challenge programme for CEOs of young ventures uses a similar format.

Collaborative learning programmes have not attracted academic interest perhaps because they differ from the standard model of pedagogy (teacher/pupil). But they are of increasing and wide-ranging interest in these times of constant change, including for new ventures; and an invaluable source of inspiration.



(2) Zahra Davidson at

John Whatmore, April 2018