Whither Accelerators

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Whither Accelerators? The COO of Startupbootcamp IoT, one of their three London-based Accelerator programmes contemplates the future 

Programmes are now commonly run with several different corporate backers, often providing substantial inputs to the programme

Programmes have become longer: once 12 weeks, now often 16 weeks

There is an increasing pre-occupation with after-care

Programmes are increasingly focused on specific fields eg Fintech, Insuretech, IoT etc

‘Office hours’ as weekly meetings with each participant – about their progress, their problems and their plans – remain at the heart of Accelerator programmes

Mentoring (by experts, unpaid and voluntary) remains a major element in Startupbootcamp programmes [as it does in Seedcamp and Techstars programmes; but is often vague or minimal on some programmes]

Programmes are tending to take less equity in their deal with participants.

Programmes are increasingly focusing on later stage businesses

Leaving space for pre-accelerator programmes, such as I-Corps, The Oxford Foundry, The Accelerator Network, (and online programmes) as contributors to early-stage startups, sometimes now offered in Incubators.

Development Labs are appearing – that facilitate the development of technology (Startupbootcamp and Imperial among recent examples)

Programmes are increasingly available in many parts of the UK

Startupbootcamp [and Techstars] run programmes all over the world – SBC now runs 22 programmes in 14 countries

The field remains a collection of independent programmes, with little interaction between them.

John Whatmore, October 2018

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The National Theatre’s Studio – a powerhouse of creativity and innovation

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I visit a uniquely successful Open Innovation incubator – in the Arts

If innovation is of the essence to the performing arts, the ’Studio’ of the National Theatre – which has a unique reputation as a powerhouse of creativity and innovation – seems to be a playground of collaborative experimentation – like no other. Seemingly best described as a semi-curated space for creative collaboration, by artfully managing to bring together those who might in some way contribute to one another, it readily attracts people who can benefit from the simple safe spaces that it offers in which to experiment, ‘to dream, to work, to sweat over ideas that aren’t ready and to hone stuff that is nearly there’ – a vibrant, active, welcoming place for unexpected and interesting things to happen for a wide range of artists in the nation’s performing arts. See http://goo.gl/fHcjP

Related posts Incubators in the Arts (2011) see http://goo.gl/hldCrWatering Holes – the BBC’s creativity labs (2010) see http://goo.gl/9l2ov

The National Theatre’s Studio is a building beside the Old Vic that used to be the latter’s paintframe, but is now a unique powerhouse for original work in the performing arts in the UK. It was described to me as a ‘development house’, like a semi-curated playground for people whose ideas look to the curators as if they might burgeon there, whose essential ingredients are ideas, potential and space.

Nicholas Hytner describes it thus: ‘The Studio is the National Theatre’s engine room. It’s also an irreplaceable resource for the whole of British theatre. Actors, directors, theatre-makers of all sorts – and above all writers – use it to dream, to work, to sweat over ideas that aren’t ready and to hone stuff that is nearly there’; and it does so ‘under the radar’, where there is no explicit objective or goal, thus allowing them ‘to fail’ – from which further development, the next idea, or the next project might emerge.

About a third of its work is for the NT, a third for the wider theatre sector across the UK, and the remaining third on ideas that seem to have a future but have not yet found it. And its work encompasses people who play most if not all of the roles in theatre, from actors to writers, composers, designers, directors and producers and even including researchers and historians.

Primarily it is about creativity via collaboration and collaborative experience. Some of what happens in the Studio takes the form of semi-curated collaborations (eg writer with composer, chef with actor, established writer with abstract performance artists).

The core staff – of under ten people, each with dramatically different backgrounds and experience are above all else interacters and matchmakers, ‘playfully curious’, and lateral thinkers with associative minds. They are very active in going out and seeing work, to learn about everything that is new in the arts world, that seems to have potential and that might succumb to collaborative development.

And from the knowledge that they acquire and from their considerable experience, they invite people to get in touch and pitch their needs – individuals, groups, even organisations that have open minds and collaborative cultures, with a view to their spending time in the studio – often in unlikely and unpredictable pairings – just to see what happens from their workings together, or to develop some work-in-progress.

These opportunities for experimentation are much sought after and the pressure for space is considerable, putting heavy responsibility on the expertise and experience of the staff for making decisions about the allocation of spaces. Directors, designers and actors are readily attracted the 500 yards from the NT itself often just to draw inspiration from or to contribute to the playful atmosphere that the Studio exudes (everyone gets the same daily fee.)

The Studio contains two separate performance studios, the smaller of which is furnished with digital technology and comprehensive rig, and for movement, but without the prospect of much scenery; and is more suited to working on ideas and concepts. The second is larger and more like a theatre space where ideas for theatre are experimented with in terms of how they might be portrayed and how they come over. The third space is generally used for reading scripts aloud (although the room is currently being used as the ‘War Horse’ production office, a ground-breaking production that was substantially developed at the Studio.) These spaces are used primarily by writers, directors and producers trying out their ideas about something, simply to see what happens if you do it this way or that – without any particular goal; and thus, the failure to make it work is neither here nor there, except as perhaps representing a milestone in progress, from which a new problem or opportunity emerges.

There are other spaces – of various sizes: a smaller room, currently being used for two weeks by a small young group with a new idea but no home base in which to work it out together; and yet smaller ones (with no ornamentation – Peter Brooke’s The Empty Space being a universally pervasive theme) – one currently occupied for several weeks by a writer, and another by an historian writing a treatise on Gender in the Theatre. And then a further section of the building houses the Archive of the National Theatre. There is a small and carefully tended roof garden, described as a ‘thinking space’. And there are office-type rooms, meeting rooms, break-out rooms, dressing rooms and music rooms.

On the ground floor, there is a kitchen and a Green Room, and an area where every Thursday sees a significant but totally informal joining together – to eat lunch and to talk, when some group will show a performance-in–progress, which will be followed by lively discussion and comment, (and which will often spark new projects).

The Studio also has an educational role. It runs a programme for Staff Directors (one of whom is attached to one of the three NT theatres) to provide them with the opportunity to learn craft from an NT director, as well as occasionally to develop a project of their own. And there is an annual two-week course for some twenty emerging directors, chosen on the basis of recent work that the staff members have seen, in which specific experts contribute to their development, and which helps them to benefit from meeting their peers. And the Studio works in this context with the individual departments at the NT (Literary/Casting/Music etc)

As to the future, the closure for six months of the Cottesloe Theatre, the smallest of the NTs three spaces, has led to an opportunity to use the Square – the space formed by the L-shape of the National Theatre – for performances of a different kind. In temporary buildings, they will be smaller, shorter runs, and less dependent on scenery and technology, and hence simpler and more experimental, and that might carry over into the Cottesloe itself. As such, they take a place in the current fashion for performance art that pervades many genres, inspired in part perhaps by the overbearing developments in personal communication.

With many champions, the Studio has a unique position among a small number of discreet organisations that play a similar role (eg Arts Admin and Metal), but none so comprehensively or so egregiously.

Related posts Incubators in the Arts (2011) see http://goo.gl/hldCrWatering Holes – the BBC’s creativity labs (2010) see http://goo.gl/9l2ov

Copyright 2012 John Whatmore

Y Combinator is open to all online

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Y Combinator’s online Startup School was available this year to anyone and everyone Startup School is a free, 10-week, online course designed for any startup founder who would like to get help through the earliest, most difficult challenge of starting a company.

This year it was open not just to selected applicants but to any and every single applicant (some 15,000). And for the first time ever, $10,000 in equity-free funding was being offered to 100 of the most promising companies that join and complete the course. Those companies would also receive a video interview with a YC partner later in the year for advice or aid in applying to a future YC batch.

‘The most important thing is that you will have a group of fellow founders to connect with so you can support one another. Unfortunately, we’re still constrained by number of advisors who volunteered to lead each group, which means some groups won’t have an advisor. But having peers in a batch is what founders tell us is truly special about YC. We’re going to give you instructions on how to organize the group yourself and get nearly the same experience.’

Founders could choose to join the Startup School community and meet with an advisor on a weekly basis, or to simply follow along with the course by watching the lectures and materials. In both cases, the class was completely free.

Startup School lectures are delivered live in Mountain View, California at Y Combinator’s headquarters and then made available for viewing online. The speakers include YC co-founder Paul Graham, YC Partners like President Sam Altman and CEO Michael Seibel, as well as notable founders from the startup community.

Last year, over 13,000 companies applied to participate in Startup School, and 95 YC alumni volunteered their time to advise over 2,800 of those companies participating across 141 countries.

Throughout the 10 weeks, founders built their products, talked to users, created local communities, and launched their companies. 1,587 (56%) of the companies completed the course, and, since then, 38 of them have been accepted to the core Y Combinator program and received YC funding.

Stripe (‘online payment processing for internet businesses’) was giving startups discounted payment processing and an invitation to Stripe Atlas to incorporate and open a company bank account.

In addition, startups would have full access to deals and credits to a variety of other services, including Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Clerky.

Y Combinator’s goal is to help everyone, regardless of who or where they are, to start their startup. The materials from this year’s Startup School, like those from previous years, will remain online after the course finishes as a permanent resource for all startup founders.

John Whatmore, October 2018

DeepTech comes to market?

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DeepTech comes to market? Science is discreetly stirring itself to bring innovations to market. Despite the difficulties of continuing to practice science alongside commercialisation, leading organisations are creating happenings that encourage entrepreneurialism.

 It is now four years since Steve Blank’s I-Corps programme startled the US’s science communities into focusing on bringing innovations to market, but not till very recently did Innovate UK support this kind of programme. So it is good to see the prestigious Crick Centre in London’s Knowledge Quarter offering to ten teams a 16-week London-based Accelerator programme this Autumn, each with a £40K ‘award’ with which to progress their business.

It is not easy for prospective applicants to learn from the internet what will happen on the programme or what they will get out of it (and there is a ferocious set of questions for applicants as to their suitability.)

‘The course includes’, says the description, ‘pre-accelerator, accelerator and post-accelerator activities designed to take founder teams from idea to Series A and beyond commercial launch.’ ‘Teams will have access to a network of global experts in all aspects of entrepreneurship, health sector knowledge, data science and investment strategies.  This network will provide workshops and mentoring to support the cohort helping them to maximise opportunities and address challenges.’

Innovate UK recently offered funding for this kind of programme to Imperial (around £1/2mn) for a dozen of its post-docs to take time out to participate in a programme focusing specifically on the customer development section of the Business Model Canvas. They were to meet a hundred experts in their field who could help them to make a real-world impact with their work. After an initial residential week, bi-weekly meetings were intended to encourage peer-to-peer learning, complemented by a series of Masterclasses and workshops; and time could be booked with business coaches and members of the management team.

Steve Blank’s more demanding I-Corps programme has been readily taken up by a number of scientific organisations in the US – with encouraging results, but its long-term effects are, like all programmes that involve change, very difficult to measure.

The Crick Centre has been hosting a regular series of ‘DeepTech Mixers’ (which will be incorporated in the programme), bringing together people highly engaged in this approach – engineers, scientists, VC partners, university researchers and startup founders – for presentations, panels, discussions, pitches and networking. These are designed to facilitate the exchange of ideas and encourage venture building and investment – by connecting startups with each other and with major organisations.

If programmes of this kind are right for Crick, are they not also right for Harwell, the Rutherford Appleton, the National Physical Laboratory, the Barbraham and others?

John Whatmore, October 2018

Costa’s Chatty Cafe scheme

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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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Ten trends in Business Nurseries

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Ten trends in Business Nurseries

Co-working spaces growing in number; and providing increasing support

Startups declining in number, (despite apparent continuing increase in self-employment) with a higher proportion in tech fields

Entrepreneurialism continues its attraction; but focuses on founders more than followers

Increasing use of Competitions and Prizes

Growth in Accelerators dominated by Corporates

Startups continue to be idea-focused, with a slight shift towards a problem/opportunity-focus

Investors increasingly focusing on businesses that are near to market

VC industry needs bigger and more expert players

Support continues to be undervalued; and under-managed

In terms of economic benefits, to-day’s focus is now as much on Scaleups as it is on Startups, but the scene is foggier

 

John Whatmore, July 2018

 

 

Incubator spawns Accelerator programmes

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Incubator ‘DMZ’ spawns specialised Accelerator programmes and wins accolades for Toronto

Toronto is proving to be a hot spot for boosting businesses, with three local incubators and accelerators now ranked among the world’s top university-backed launchpads for startup companies.

​The Digital Marketing Zone (‘DMZ’) at Ryerson University, known for supporting Canadian tech startups like marketing company #paid, credit education company Borrowell, and photography website 500PX, has been ranked the top university-managed tech incubator in the world, tying with Bristol’s SetSquared.

Another local business launchpad, University of Toronto Entrepreneurship, took fourth place in the recently announced rankings. In the category of university-linked accelerators, the York Entrepreneurship Development Institute took the top spot, with three other Canadian accelerators rounding out the top four.

Since 2010, DMZ has incubated roughly 300 startups that have raised close to $400 million and created more than 3,000 jobs. Over the last few years, it opened an office in New York City, developed a sales accelerator program, and forged partnerships with banks and companies like Facebook to develop accelerator programs in digital news, financial technology and early market validation for women-led founders.

Sam Seo largely credits the Ryerson incubator with the success of his tech startup Livegauge, launched in 2013, which provides sensors for marketing events so companies can measure the level of engagement from passerby. The company now has more than $1 million in annual sales.

“I had a business idea to launch, but not really a plan to commercialize the business,” he said. “After we got into the DMZ for the first three years or so, they really helped us shape the business.”

John Whatmore, July 2018