Irritatingly, it is the message content that counts!
06 June 2019 by David Bott
Made it to “start the week” again. This is becoming a habit. Then on to my monthly update with Celia Caulcott of BBSRC – talking through Agri-Food moves and Regenerative Medicine. Celia is trying to build BBSRC, MRC and EPSRC into our “grand challenge” RM call – with money!! Next was another update on the Financial Services “Strategy” - it is moving in the right direction, but we need better resource in the area to be able to balance the wider picture and the detail. Not there yet. After spending some time trying to make sure that Gravel Pit II is on track, I went (following Emily's order) for a meeting with the LWEC people to prepare for the meeting next week. They are very much in the mode of having meeting to prepare for meetings so that the second meetings don't have to do much. Not like us at all! :-)
Tuesday was down to London. First up I was gate-crashing a Digital Britain meeting that Maurizio and Alex had organised with Kathryn Corrick (@kcorrick on Twitter). Maurizio and Alex were there to talk about the “unconference” input into the final Carter Report, Kathryn and Danny Shisler (@dannyshisler) where there to talk about the “New Deal of the Mind” - http://www.newdealofthemind.com/- and I was there to see if we could use Kathryn as a marketing “trainer” on things viral - http://kathryncorrick.co.uk/2009/04/19/a-course-in-spreading-the-word/. Being a creative meeting, it was held in a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi. I am getting the hang of this sector. Since it was a nice day, I walked back to Fortress Kingsgate with Alex for a lunch with Hazel Moore. Hazel has been one of our “friends” from the VC world for several years now and she is providing a development placement for the young padawan so that he can learn how Vulture Capitalists work this month – so I thought I would get my thanks in first. As well as discussing the state of the world she introduced me to 2 new web companies with neat takes on old business models - http://www.seatwave.com/ provide a credible alternative to ticket touts and http://www.borro.com/home brings to pawn shop up to date. The afternoon ended with me talking to a couple of people about the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation and Growth Team (IB-IGT) in London whilst the young padawan had similar conversations with another part of the BERR team in Swindon. We have compared notes to have similar stories beforehand – they hadn’t!!
Tuesday evening, I had a choice between seeing Bob Watson talk about climate change (again) or Tony Ryan talk about his latest venture into the twilight world between science and design. His basic pitch (joint with Helen Storey and funded by NESTA) was that clothes have high surface area and so would be good catalyst supports. If you could put the right catalysts into laundry aids, you could have people cleaning the air they walk through. The audience seemed to be largely from the design world, so they took a weird route during question, but Tony had, in attempting to convey the potential mixed up the reduction of NOx, the oxidation of organic compounds with nano-Titanium Dioxide – including a sidebar on self-cleaning windows – and the basic idea, so that people thought that everything produced more CO2and that the idea was therefore bad. It was a salutary lesson in understating where your audience is coming from and tailoring the presentation to them rather than enthusiastically telling them what you know.
The next day started with a slightly oddball meeting with someone from DECC who seemed to be responsible for public engagement on retrofit. She had latched onto Neil and we met here and Marie Niven (the DIUS person with an interest in retrofit) but I am not sure what we achieved other than honing our message. That was followed by our quarterly meeting with the Foresight Team. The nice thing about this group is that their remit is across all of government, they are grounded in science and technology and they like exploring ideas with us. We talked about their latest work on “Land use”, how their Sigma Scan work is progressing, then Neil, Meredith and Zahid blew them away with condensed content and activity.
The evening was spent at the Foundation for Science and Technology where the theme was “Can city managers make better use of science”. First up was Boris Johnson. An amusing speaker, who spent no time at all answering the exam question but produced some great lines on great London scientists and their impact on modern cities and some sideways swipes at other political parties. He was followed by Alan Wilson of UCL (who was who really wanted to see) http://www.casa.ucl.ac.uk/people/person.asp?ID=44 He provided an interesting way of cutting large datasets to understand what people do in cities but blew it by pitching for money for his latest project. Finally came Tim Allen (who Mark and I had met last week) who spent most of his time quoting Birmingham scientists to counter Boris’s London ones. Not the best meeting!!
Thursday morning was an early start to get to a 9 o’clock Swindon meeting. Ford had submitted a “large project” in the HVM call (which hadn't done well in the EoI stage if I remember correctly). Because they are an important inward investor we thought they deserved a second go, so we organised them to come and talk to us. The basic idea (as I understood it) is a factory simulator to allow faster set up and optimisation on new and modified assemble lines. It felt like they were several years behind other industries and the balance and cost of the programme needs a tooth comb. After that I sat in the back of the Innovation Platforms meeting for a couple of hours to catch up.
Heidi, Tim and I then went through an “out of competition” submission by Gordon Murray Design for interim funding to develop a wholly electric car – jointly with Zytek. I will admit an interest – I think this is one of the coolest things I have heard about, so I am offering to wrestle anyone who object to us supporting them. This was followed by a proposal from a consortium of large builders to build 12 new homes to Code Level 4 (the 2013 standard). Richard, Heidi, Cyrus and I talked through the options and came up with a plan. I think.
In the evening, Anne and I met the man who will start as Head of Technology on July 1st and make my life easier!!
Friday started with the Polecat workshop. We met Polecat through WebMission and they asked to pitch what they do to us a few months ago. Lisa got interest and so we tried their product – a semantic search tool for marketing. Their feedback – that we push ourselves as a business focused, vigorous and passionate supporter of innovative businesses but are seen as a safe and trustworthy government agency cause us to think hard about how we get our message out and what our message actually is. Could well have been the most important 3 hours we spent recently and a big up to Lisa for making it happen. We then had the second of our team-to-team meetings with MoD. This one started with one of the principals calling off because he was blowing up things on Salisbury Plain – what other relationship can use than as an excuse? They are having money taken away from them and feeling miserable. Fearless Leader managed to keep the joy out of his voice as he described the problem of having to spend £50m is a short timeframe and then we talked about SBRI and Innovation Platforms. On the basis of their questions, they don't actually have a rigorous, evidence based, decision making programmes and go with a lot with hunches and outside interests. During the meeting many of us were following twitter and the news networks as our sponsoring department ceased to exist about us! Finally, we met to discuss the next Board meeting and what we were doing at it. I then took the multi-part and long journey home by train. I must learn to plan my travel better.