Intensity with a hint of style
30 April 2021 by David Bott
Monday was, of course, a Tuesday this week, and since it was the final Tuesday of the month, I was otherwise engaged with another commitment to a small company. It gives me a fascinating insight into part of the world we are trying to support but usually only provides contextual stuff. However, a rumbling dispute over a KTP has given me fresh worries about whether we truly understand what our tools are designed to do and whether we police their use. The problem is that OAS set up a KTP with Oxford University a few years ago as a means of getting to know more about the use of their technology in photovoltaic cells. At the end of last year, the KTP supervisor claimed that he had invented the OAS prior art of the company and started to make financial claims. It then emerged that Oxford University KTP agreement vests all the developed intellectual property in the university and not in the company – and they claim all their KTP agreements are the same. For a tool designed to transfer knowledge, this feels a bit off. What is particularly odd about the situation is the OAS is an Oxford university spin-out and therefore the beneficiary of both sides of the argument is the same. It is therefore even more than usually depressing to hear that this is now consuming about 50% of the CFOs time!
I escaped at lunchtime and made my way into London for a meeting teed up for me by Finger Man (a conversation he had had at BAFTA, don’t cha know?). It was with a company called Pembridge – see http://www.pembridge.net/. They seek to provide support and access to finance to start-ups. They were very interested in our new tack in the digital space and basically wanted to help the companies on the LaunchPad. We had a very interesting conversation about public sector morals and I suggested they got a bunch of their competitors together and made the offer as a group. I did wonder how this crossed with our entrepreneur support programme (or whatever we are calling it) where we are evaluating universities to provide similar support – and why we didn’t think of using this sort of group? Do we really believe that universities know more about the practicalities of the start-up scene than people who have gone through it?
My final commitment of the day was to be wined and dined at the top of the Gherkin by a (senior) man from IBM who wanted to get more innovation into “analytics” and engage more with the UK innovation community. I avoided the obvious question about his route in! The food and wine choice were excellent and I think I just about remember getting back to the hotel! I hope the guy got value for money in my answers, because I doubt I’ll remember them!
The next day was always going to be crowded and busy. I met with FL at breakfast to go through the issues for our first meeting – with Willetts. We had been briefed and documents provided to both us and “himself”, and we spent an hour practicing all the likely question (we could imagine). We were put off for 15 minutes from entering the inner sanctum by a panic over a surprise speech he had to give in the HoC. When we got in, he cheerfully wrote off what had been a bit of a nightmare for us with a cheery “Steve’s a bit like that” and moved on. We talked about the strategy document first. He repeated that he wasn’t going to “second guess us” or “teach us our job” but did imply in several ways that the document wasn’t that exciting and maybe needed a bit more “content”? We then got onto the TIC document, which he basically trashed. The first point – that we were drafting – he told us with lose everyone’s interest and probably any vestigial support for us! We explained the ease with which the early selections had been made (because we had been building the communities for years), the difference between picking 6-8 centres and having the potential for (say) 20 and he got visibly excited – “why don’t you say these things in the document?” he asked. FL also explained our growing differentiation between “pre-TICs” (where the end game is a TIC but we need to build the community and actually identify the major opportunities and barriers) “normal TICs”, (which correspond to the Hauserian model (think electronics corporate laboratories of the 1970s)) and “end game TICs” (where we probably ought to have had a TIC but didn’t, so all we need is the final finishing off of the links between science and commerce).
He really liked (what is truthfully) Sustainability Man’s first pass at a plan to move into smart cities – “Data rich and well argued” and bought into the need to build a community by small and early interventions. So, it’s a Pre-TIC then.
We then got into a discussion about the Institute of Web Technologies (Shadders has skilfully modified the name to place it more firmly in our territory but otherwise failed to listen to any of our other inputs on content!). Willetts mentioned that “some oddly named American woman” had explained the future of the internet more clearly than TBL or Nigel ever did and suggested we talked to her about helping Nigel make the case! We ended up over-running by more than the start had been delayed, so I believe we scored points, but then, what do I know?
I did have a break planned (to finish off the piece for Research Fortnight FL had stiffed me with at the end of the preceding week) but FL had to meet with Richard Parry-Jones and, mindful of the attempted ambush at the Automotive Council, press-ganged me into being his support. In truth it was a polite and measured lobby movement, with Richard keen to make sure that “automotive” sector got its fair share of our money, rather than any specific land-grab. That said, his point about the brand value of having a TIC in any sector in terms of attracting international support and investment was well made.
At this point a left FL and RPJ and sauntered through the crowds of royal tourists to meet Rhona Allison of the Scottish Executive for lunch. It was basically a re-run of the previous Monday’s meeting with the UCL-Loughborough posse but focused on the potential Scottish bid for the Cell Therapies TIC and with less content and more political aspects. In hindsight, the prospectus has given us lots of “room for manoeuvre” but also chews time explaining things we take for granted internally to people outside who simply want to get their hands on the money!
Next up was a reunification with FL for a meeting at the Royal Institution. This was born of stuff ICI did with the RI many years ago about the link between science and everyday products and services, and the Head of Programmes using the effective relaunch of the RI after La Greenfields departure to move the RI into a space with less competition. As always, they tend to waste time impressing potential “victims” with the history, although it is amazingly distracting, but we eventually got to the proposal – they want us to endorse and supply content for their new “channel” to links science to the real world and excite society about STEM. We agreed to work up a proposal. No, FL agreed that I would help work up a proposal!
Next it was a rushed taxi ride across London to the headquarters of Intellect. This was the result of a couple of interactions, one fairly formal that got dealt with a week or so ago and one more troubling in that it showed up a profound lack on understanding on the part of our SoS and a lack of support from a several major ICT companies we thought were our friends. This meeting with the Director General, the COO and Director of Strategy (see - http://www.intellectuk.org/our-staff) consisted of them all sitting and asking questions as FL and I went through the (sort of) standard introductory slide pack. It was a fascinating insight into how we both see the world, the overlaps and differences. Then they went through their strategy (which I did find, rather like ours many years ago, confused different aspects of markets, technologies and hygiene factors). Nevertheless, there was much to talk about and after 2.5 hours we repaired to a restaurant in Charlotte Street to continue the discussion for another 2 hours over “modern Japanese” food. By now I was noticing the effects of the previous evening and FL was complaining of a headache, so we didn’t go on and paint the town red – well at least I didn’t, I can’t speak for FL!
The next morning a met Daniel Tenner (@swombat) and Pauline Sygulska (@payah) of Grant Tree – see http://www.granttree.co.uk/about-us.html) for breakfast. Daniel wrote one of the first defensive blogs about the TechCity LaunchPad – see http://eu.techcrunch.com/2011/04/09/why-british-geeks-just-cant-bare-to-look-a-tsb-gift-horse-in-the-mouth/). Grant Tree was set up to help start-ups access any and all forms of support. They are big fans of our progression in the Digital space and just wanted to know how they could help us reach out more. We discussed _connect, the KTNs in general and the LaunchPad. A great discussion and I expect them to blog more about how wonderful we are – and it only cost £41.90 for 2 breakfasts!
I then meandered down to Swindon, where I found the office very much in “end of term” mode. Cyrus was in jeans and cracking jokes. We had a rather diminished Innovate Steering Group which seemed to talk about everything but Innovate, played with the ETI Virtual Board papers (once I actually managed to get hold of them!) and had a long chat with Suzy about the model and making sure it is what everyone needs to do their jobs. It has been pointed out that our website structure is now 2 iterations behind our strategy in the programmes area!
I was then visited by a now imminently ex-Carbon Trust person who we would like to use part-time to support the Energy field and the development of a TIC in the area. He was a little surprised when, 30 minutes in, I suggested that he would be contacted by our Head of HR next week – apparently the decisions making process in CT is a trifle tardy. Another point in the legend of the TSB, I feel!
Then Healthcare Man and I took a telephone conference with the head of the Californian Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a $3bn US operation – see http://www.cirm.ca.gov/). I was playing the “why are you big guys interested in little ole us?” game and came to believe that what Healthcare Man has done over the last 3 years and (particularly) because of the TIC announcement, we might just be unwisely seen as knowing what we are doing. We agreed to some low-level knowledge exchange and the possibility of a UK-California Summit/Workshop early next year and escaped a by now deserted office for the long weekend!