Experience comes from bad judgment
26 September 2019 by David Bott
I am sure there was a “start the week” meeting, but it now feels so long ago that I cannot remember the details!! I think Simon joined us, and then stayed for the Governing Board Debrief meeting, where we went through Guy’s rough notes and tried to work out which actions we wanted to remember. It was interesting to try to understand Simons’ comments on governance and responsibilities – I am sure this game will run and run. I got a chance to spend some time with Simon and go through how I saw things, both historically and for the future. I also joined Tim and Geoff, one of Drayson’s Private Office team, as he began to realise what we actually did, rather than what he had thought we did based on DIUS/BIS impressions. Finally, we considered whether we should panic yet about Innovate – and I think we decided we would wait!!
Tuesday saw a slog down to London to take part in Seedcamp – at the request of Sara Murray, one of our new Board members. As I understand it, 3 years ago they raised several million pounds for a fund, but decided to spread it over 3 years, and combine a selection process, mentoring and a pitchfest all in one week-long event. I joined on day 2 of the final week of the third year, where there were about 20 companies, being mentored. First, I got to hear a talk by Eric Ries, which was excellent, and the panel discussion, which was supposed to be about marketing, but ended up being a geekfest on search engine optimisation programmes. I had been assigned to a strange mentoring group, with an urbane and relaxed British Angel, a corporate Google dude, a Spanish venture capitalist (I think) and an Israeli mentor from hell. All three companies we saw received very little help, but got to watch a few egos the size of planets argue over what they thought would be better business models for the companies. That said, the three companies came across as pretty weak. The first, who had developed an algorithm to test whether coders were good or not, wanted to set up an independent operation to sell testing directly to computer corporations. After a preliminary discussion on pricing strategies, we realised they knew nothing of how companies recruited using agencies – the Google guy almost single-handedly destroyed their model – or what their competition were up to. The next started more promisingly, as the company had an iPhone based app for distributing vouchers from nearly companies using geolocation. Although they seemed to have good links to the existing paper-based vouchers distributers, they seemed to want to become the power behind a lastminute.com exercise – where they would lose their brand and identity. We got an extra mentor for this gig and he told them they were useless. (Note to self, must look up the definition of mentoring, I didn't think it required dominance and reduction of the subject almost to tears!!) Finally came a 3 man team with an integrated communication platform – which required you to give up all your existing identities and use their platform. The Israeli dude lost his rag at their inability to not understand what customers might actually want.
The evening saw an Economist debate on ”cleaning up cars”. Julia King was there, along with Ken Keir of Honda, Michael Hurwitz, now declared as the head of OLEV, Doug Parr of Greenpeace, Tom Standage of the Economist and Graeme Sweeney of Shell. It was less of a debate than a series of statements of prejudice. Julia was strongly for electric vehicles, as was Tom Standage, Ken supported the Honda line on hydrogen, but did admit the challenges. The prize for bare-faced bravado was Sweeney’s assertion that neither would work and that liquid fuels were here to stay. Doug Parr stuck to his point that it was a difficult market problem and that Government action was required and Michael played the technologically agnostic card. The underlying science and technology took a back seat as they tried to undermine the others arguments – reminding me of the Monty Python sketch about an argument clinic http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teMlv3ripSM when they get to the point that this wasn’t an argument, it was just contradiction. They promised it would be on the web at some point, but it isn’t yet http://economistconferences.co.uk/event/cleaning-cars-energy-square-debate/64
Wednesday I made my way to Cambridge for the launch of the IfMs strategy for a sustainable industrial system. It was a good presentation, and you can download the mercifully focussed report here - http://www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/sis/ The audience consisted mainly of Cambridge and other academics and some of the companies who are case studies in the report. To get more impact, they should have gone to Leeds or Birmingham, where the sorts of companies they needed to impact on are based. It was nice to see the new, BREAMM Excellent IfM building though.
Thursday was the first day of the Cambridge Technology Management Workshop, which was focused on emerging technologies and therefore a good hunting ground for the young padawan and I. Good talks from Ericsson and CDT kicked off the event but then I had to slip out to meet EEDA with Mike Biddle – on his “can I get more RDAs than Tim O’Brien into a programme” quest. Finally, the evening was a curry with Jeremy Burroughes (CTO of CDT) and Eric Mayes (Business Development Manager of CDT) where they gave me their take on Mike’s plan. What was a little weird was hearing David Fyfe’s version of the company history, then Paul May (now at EEDA but once the CTO of CDT) and then Jeremy and Eric’s. They were all different and reflected the concept that there is not truth, and it probably isn’t out there – history belongs to those who write the books.
Friday started with Andy Haslett over-running talk on how important ETI was to the energy space, followed by Andrew Herberts over-running talk on how wonderful Microsoft is. The bit where he couldn't get a video to run on the PC was priceless!! The afternoon talks, but Jackie Hunter and I were, by comparison great on timing!! We took the opportunity to launch the Emerging Technology Steering Group and Andy Hopper accepted all the nice things we said about him graciously from the audience.
Leaving Downing College at just after 4 o’clock, I reached the end of Regent Street by 4.30 and was passing Girton by 5 o’clock – Cambridge is truly a good case for congestion control!!