Swindon then London then Swindon then Wroughton then London then Inkberrow
23 May 2019 by David Bott
Another week had to start, so I was there in Swindon on Monday morning. After the obligatory tour de table, we carried on under the banner of a briefing meeting for a Board meeting that had, in fact, been cancelled to discuss the output of the MNT Centre Review and its impact on our support for centres/clusters. As is usual, we quickly discovered that our mental models were all different and that we need to spend more time explaining what we meant before we decided what to do, but that’s life, so we did so.
I then wandered off to Didcot to visit a company whose CEO had been consistently hitting on Fearless Leader, so he had arranged a visit. This had been postponed once, so this time, I was back-up. Lucky thing too, because he had to go off to London to meet a civil servant, so Appleyard and I rendezvoused at the company. I should start by saying that the underlying technology is really cool. They are part of the remains of Bookham, so know a thing or two about photonics. They started with a challenge – at a KTN meeting some years ago, the now CEO heard a guy from RR say that they needed a pressure sensor that could operate at 1000oC. They basically take 2 slivers of sapphire, etch a pit into one of them, stick them together and then polish one side until it is a membrane a few microns think. They input a laser beam from the “thick” side and expose the “thin” side to the pressure. The cavity acts as an interferometer and Robert has married your Aunt. Now the bad news. Their presentation of the technology was shambolic and amateurish. They gave a presentation which ran over, were too easily distracted by our questions and didn't stick to their message and the tour of the labs was...oh, words fail me!! It was this sort of visit reminded why the default setting of most VCs is to suggest replacing the CEO!
I made it back to Swindon to park and then headed into London for a 1 to 1 with Fearless Leader.
The next morning, we headed out to BBC Media City. This meeting was the linear descendant of the discussion we had with the Future Media Institute crowd a few weeks ago but was also informed by FLs visit to the Salford Media campus last week. The BBC have now decided that their “southern” R&D centre will be at White City, so the FMI is now languishing in the long grass. Instead we discussed how we could work with the BBC – as a public body with responsibilities in the digital economy and media space. I came away with a series of actions, so the meeting must have been a success. It was then a trip back to Swindon, first for a meeting with the Devices for Dignity Healthcare Technology Cooperative. Those with memories might remember a few weeks ago, Zahid made me go to Whitechapel to meet the Bowel Function equivalent – with my resultant fear of doctors carrying anything that looks like a gun. This was an entirely different experience. Their only challenge is the sheer scale and “sprawl” of their area and we discussed how they might prioritise and engage with other activities to provide the necessary resourcing.
I then had a final interview with a potential new ITTSS person and a preparation meeting with Allyson and Em on the next LWEC Partners Board meeting before ending the day.
The next day I was spending the morning tagging along with Neil's visit to the Science Museum site at Wroughton. He had originally arranged this as a means of getting stuff for our display are, but it had ballooned, and Paul W and Huw were also there to see if this might be a useful venue connection and David G was there to remind himself what technology looked like (or something). All the Science Museum guys had their best suits on and explained the various things that hadn’t gone according to plans over the last year. This had left them with a meeting that they desperately wanted us to partner with them on and an upcoming bill for refurbishment tor replacement of some of their storage facilities. Although it was fun to poke around hangars full of old stuff, much of which I remember from my early career as a trainee scientist, and look at rare books from the early days of science (which, for the record, pre-date my experiences with the ICL 1902 and SeaSkimmer) I cannot really see the value for us in engaging too heavily with these guys.
As with the rest of my week, the next task was to go down to London. The first reason was a catch-up meeting with Bill Maton-Howarth of NIHR. Bill is our main link on Assisted Living and Detection and Identification of Infectious Agents and has been part of the SBRI engagement. We went through the various ongoing activities, talked about our plans for Stratified and Regenerative Medicine and discussed the 2 HTCs. I then spent some time being talked at by some guys from Finmeccanica that FL had given my phone number to and moved the plans for GP2 along a little bit before moseying down to the Royal Society for the launch of the MRC Strategy. Given some of the interactions over the last few weeks, this was an important meeting for us. Borys said neutral things about us working together, John Bell said nice things and David Cooksey must have talked to someone before the meeting because he mentioned our plans for stratified and regenerative medicine with enthusiasm. The major criticism was reserved for NICE and the NHS. Sally Davies gave a spirited explanation of why the NHS weren't as good a lead customer as they could be and outlined the changes that had been made since the Cooksey review. Andrew Dillon, the CEO of NICE had been brave enough to attend the meeting but blew it by giving a meandering and unimpressive defence of what NICE did. OLS got some stick as well but people forgot to mention us and so FL and I decided we had achieved a score-draw.
The next morning, I had breakfast (at his request) with Paul Smith of ETH. He talked about the MNT Centre Review, advised us to stiffen our backbones and call the mess a mess but averred that he had enjoyed his interaction with s and would do it again. Actually, I think he mainly wanted to boast that he had seen Eric Clapton at the RAH the night before!!
I then attended (at Heidi’s request) the 2nd meeting of the Assisted Living Innovation Platforms Steering Group. It mostly went well but there was a fair degree of unhappiness at some of the decisions made during the assessment of the recent competition. The focus was the Smart Care Distributed Environment and we had tried to assemble consortia that spanned the supply and usage chains. This mean that several of the consortia had clinicians and GPs in to provide a “test” of the technologies under development. Unfortunately, these “tests” had been referred to as “trials” and had been excised by the assessment panel as being unnecessary and unfundable. I had caught some backwash of this in my inbox, but this was the first time I had observed that it might be a systemic failure of our process. The unfundability seems to derive from the fact that clinicians and GPs are already paid from the public purse and lack of necessity from poor briefing of the assessors and the (correct) understanding that the sample sizes were too small for proper “trials”. I think we need to work through with NIHR how we can cover off this potential hole in our support armoury before we too much more in the healthcare space, or we will upset more people and not achieve our goals.
I then met up with FL for a meeting with GSK about their “bioincubator” proposal. This has been rattling around for about a year seeking government (and other) support and we were trying to find out the most effective way we can support the activity within our own aims and toolkit.
It was then down to Swindon again for the magical evening at the Cricklade Country Club, although not drinking because I had to drive home did put a crimp in my enjoyment!!
Friday saw me taking my car to the local dealer - while they took me to the cleaners. I will never again lend my car to Cyrus. They needed to replace the warped brake disks because someone had been “using their full potential”. While they were working our new ways to charge me, I was fielding phone calls about the DIUS Innovation Awards, our next meeting with Foresight, the Delivery Plan and someone who wants a job.