The trucks haven't bothered me this week - I have been performing rheological experiments with gluco-polysaccharides in vaso-constricted bio-tubes!
02 March 2018 by David Bott
The week didn’t start well – I was coming down with a cold by Monday morning, but the recruitment of a nurse to work with Graham Worsley started to cheer me up!!
Tuesday saw the follow-up visit by Graham Hitchen – the guy employed by the Design Council to manage their relationship with us. He sat in Meeting Room 2 (or is that B?) from 10 until 3 and we threw people at him. He seemed genuinely impressed, if not a little overwhelmed. He will come back a couple more times and produce a map of all the potential overlaps which we can then sort and action.
I also squeezed in the third of the “media” pitches. It was basically good – I liked the idea of using cartoons but not the one of using Jimmy Saville – and I understand that they got the gig.
I then went down to meet Simon Bennett of Qinetiq in London. We had met at the IoD Dinner a few months back and I asked him why they didn’t second really sharp people to us. Like many organisations they have a “fast stream” who could benefit from a short spell with the Technology Strategy Board and who would give us a bit more short-term people flexibility. Anyway, his first admission was that he hadn’t persuaded either the HR department of any of the “CTW” people to want to spend time with us, but he said he hadn’t given up. He then moved on to what I suspect he really wanted to talk about anyway. Qinetiq are going through a fairly large “right-sizing” exercise brought about because their main paymaster has changed their priorities. This means they are “outsourcing even more of their fundamental work and moving into much more applied research”. That leaves them exposed on their “technology platforms”. Simon working at Malvern, one of these is sensors. He then went on to justify an interest in quantum systems, from sensors up to computers. Qinetiq have been hatching a plan to build a “campus” at Malvern, and work jointly with Oxford and Lancaster Universities – and Birmingham and Warwick because of locality – to build a centre of excellence in quantum systems. Qinetiq are prepared to put a certain amount of money and resources into this and so, apparently, are AWM, but they would like central support. Simon has been talking to Keith O’Nions and he has suggested that the Technology Strategy Board would be a sensible place to start the engagement. What worried me was that I found the idea basically quite sensible. We need to move beyond have regional centres of excellence to national ones, and the idea of a football club mentality “buying” the right scientists and technologists to work on this campus might enable to UK to work in this area – already identified several times as a possible growth area.
The next day I was chairing the selection of Innovation Awards for the Royal Society of Chemistry. There are 3 separate awards. The fairly obvious “entrepreneur of the year”, the “creativity in industry” award – designed to recognise those who have stayed on the scientific side of the tracks and not been seduced by the power and money available to managers – and the “teamwork in industry”, which is about what it says on the label. This year, we had 5 possible entrepreneurs. As is usual, several were too early. We have the working principle that you cannot be judged to be successful as an entrepreneur unless you have made some money. The winner was easy to choose, but we spent some time discussing an entry from a guy who has set up a chemical logistics company, combining safety and trucking to build a junior version of Eddie Stobart. It was neat to see innovation associated with the chemical industry that didn’t actually involve much chemistry – other than knowing what chemicals would react if the containers leaked. He had also risked his own money and was making some!! The “lifetime award” was again easy – but mainly because there was not real opposition. Over the years, we have seen the fields for this award diminish – and hope that isn’t because less scientists stay to act as reservoirs of experience and role models for the young! The teamwork one had 7 entries this year. A couple were re-treads, but there were two we really liked. One showed better use of all the available resources – both in the company and in the co-operating universities, but the winner had also changed their business model and moved downstream to capture all of the value.
Early evening was spent sitting next to Richard Halkett of NESTA is a small room in the House of Commons listening to the Design Council making its case in front of Ian Pearson. Having heard their schtick several times now, I am struck by the fact that I hear the same few examples every time. As we build our case studies, we need to avoid getting stuck on our favourites, but mix them up to emphasise our breadth of interactions. Star of the evening for me was Eddie Obeng (of Pentacle – and just to prove the world is full of coincidences, under Pentacle’s people, I found Andy Burnett, the guy who facilitated the Network Security sandpit!!). Richard had to run back to DIUS because he has been drafted in to help Charlie write bits of the DIUS strategy. There seems to be an interesting “its’ not my fault” game going on between the various protagonists in the story of the various “innovation related” strategies!! As the Design Council meeting finished Pearson was whisked away to his next appointment. I had to walk to the same place – at the other end of Whitehall – to join the Excellence with Impact “party” run by RCUK. It was very full, and my late arrival meant that I had to stand an engage a nice lady from Wellcome in conversation. Aside from being another cold sufferer, she had the distinction of being the only person all evening who didn’t want money from me!! It was a great networking event – David Clark of WMG providing me with more insight into the machinations of the UK automotive industry. The evening ended with Paul Mason, Richard Jones (the EPSRC’s Senior Strategic Advisor in Nanotechnology) and I in a small Thai restaurant just off Trafalgar Square discussing the next days Which event on nanotechnology (where Richard would be talking – see his subsequent write-up at http://www.softmachines.org/wordpress/)
The next morning, I had signed up to NESTA’s breakfast on “Public Services – Balancing Innovation with Delivery”. Since I knew Paul Mason was in town, I convinced him to get up early and experience a NESTA breakfast. It was an interesting discussion. Allan Mayo didn’t say a word, an ex-colleague from ICI (who introduced himself as the Senior Innovation Advisor for DIUS) made a surprisingly good comment but then went on too long so that most had missed it, and the guys from the Innovation Unit managed to disagree with the speaker from the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit. One thing that did strike me was the varying definitions of “innovation” that were obviously in play. The audience seemed to be mainly those in public service whose job was to promote innovation and not the people who don’t get it, so there was a fair amount of back-slapping that we were okay really.
Next up was another meeting of the Chemistry Panel of the Research Assessment Exercise. Aside from the looming need to read and grade 300 papers, my lack of any real academic credibility had meant I had escaped onerous duties up until now, but they have just twigged that – firstly – they are expected to say something about the impact of the subject outside universities (perhaps drinking champagne and being told that “excellence with impact” was the motto of RCUK the evening before had an effect?) and – secondly – somebody put me on the panel and ought to share their pain. I now have the job of reading all the department overviews and grading them for industrial and government engagement. I may well not survive this task.
Feeling like David Golding said I looked by now, I decided that getting up at 6 to make it to the first RDA meeting which wasn’t actually expecting me was above and beyond the call of duty, so I popped some cocktail of analgesics, anti-inflammatories and vaso-constrictors and went to bed. Today I have been catching up on e-mails and trying to work out what kind of monster we have created with the second Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform intervention.
Keep the faith!!