Interacting with the outside is good but often dispiriting
08 August 2019 by David Bott
Only a slightly depleted “start the week” meeting despite the holiday season. Then a short session telling Fearless Leader all the cock-up's I had made the week before while he was studying sheep in Yorkshire. A few more internal meetings, a frenzy of signing stuff and then off to MIRA. I wasn’t exactly sure why, but several people had advised me to go a see what they were doing – so I did. Actually, it was an interesting session, in that MIRA and Coventry University (they of the Serious Games Institute and some seriously interesting design input in Assisted Living) are trying to set up an “institute” at MIRA. We talked through what they were striving for and although it sounded worthy, I was waiting for the punch-line. It never came. They don't want money – or at least they say they don't at the minute – but wonder what we felt about “centres”. Cue a developing speech!!
Tuesday was a trek across to Cambridge to visit Isentropic. Their chairmen had been quite persistent in asking to see me, so I thought I ought to make the effort for 2 reasons. Firstly, Isentropic are in an interesting field in their own right, but their chairmen is also associated with Ceravision - who failed to make the cut in a recent competition and were moaning a bit. Their technology is based on the Ericsson cycle – and I had to keep up with a fairly detailed thermodynamic lecture by their CTO before we got into the business plan. Their prototype looked to be full of innovative solutions to the practicalities of making a heat pump, but was down for maintenance when I visited. The basic problem lies in where they are in the development cycle. They have been going for a few years, they have a prototype and 5 people, but are running out of money. They are too early for Vulture Capitalists, they have been to the Carbon Trust (who funded some early work, but are now apparently not interested), they have talked extensively to the Energy Technologies Institute (and have now realised they are way too small for their programmes) and have nothing as security for a bank loan – even from RBS! Everyone said they should talk to us. They really need a short period of single company support to get far enough along to not be swallowed whole in a consortium. They claim that they have tried to understand our website and talk to people but get nowhere. I am not sure they would be good enough for funding, but the fact that they have no real way in – and that they represent a sizable group of early stage companies – worries me a bit. At the end of the meeting, Ceravision got raised. Luckily, Fil and Jools had got a copy of the feedback – which I have to admit is practically useless but does cover our butt – and I had talked to Nick and Mike. What they make is basically a microwave driven light source. They hadn't seen the feedback. However, when I asked my host whether he had approved the proposal, I scored because he hadn’t. I explained that lots of proposals failed because they don't answer the questions, and gratuitously threw in some safety concerns – and got away with it. That said, I am beginning to worry that I am seeing a pattern in our interactions with those who fail - we don’t feed their potential and think through how to help them – even in a minor way.
Wednesday was a London day. First up was the Network Security Innovation Platform Steering Group meeting. This was the first formally chaired by Tom Ilube, so we have completed the transition to an independent, business chairman. Along with various discussions about the programme, there was a lively debate started by David Matthewman of DirectGov, with some mega-points being made by the guy from the UK Payments Association and some strong counterpoints from the guy from Connecting for Health. There are some really interesting ideas now coming up in this area. I then wandered down to Future Focus where our ex-DIUS friends from BIS had tried to get everyone who had a programme to pilot or demonstrate something in the low carbon space. The first hour or so was a litany of uncorrelated initiatives. We had been persuaded to start with description of the Ultra Low Carbon Vehicles Demonstrator programme (final contracts offered), Retrofit for the Future (first stage offer letters out), the Digital Britain Test Bed(s) (competition launch imminent, money allocated) and the Assisted Living test Suite (in the implementation plan but several years off). We were followed by people from DECC and BIS with social housing plans but no money, DfT talking about how their initiatives dovetailed with ours, CLG talking about their plans for eco-towns (only notional money in their control), Energy Savings Trust (DfT and DECC money but not linked to anyone – good though), more BIS people who didn't know the first set..... After a tea break, many left so the second section to try to integrate the programmes was missing several key players. I think it was what an old friend used to call a “target rich environment” for us. I saw Richard, Neil and Nick all collecting cards and being charming.
Thursday was down to Swindon, where for a short time I was in charge. I couldn't find the white cat to stroke, so amused myself by sending messages to BIS telling them they were wrong (not really). I talked to John Brown about the developing Agri-Food story. He has suggested animal health needs to get added – luckily, our DIIA work gives us an in to the right people in DEFRA on this issue. Then a series of catch-up meetings, a session with Jools on Business Engagement and Innovate and then a bedraggled Fearless Leader turned up to collect the tokens of power. He also brought with him another man he had picked up – this time at a CBI dinner. The guy runs a personal care formulation business based in the South West. My time with National Starch meant that I could fake an interest in personal care and looking good without having to use any of the products (I have even attended a couple of CTFA meetings) and work with Quest Fragrances given me enough fragrance jargon to be dangerous, so we had an interesting discussion.
Friday was another day out on the road. First was my eagerly anticipated trip to Imagination Technologies. I took Maurizio and Mike as an excuse that we were doing work, but really I just wanted to worship. We started with a quick overview of what we do (Hossain had introduced some more new people to the growing interaction), then a strategic overview of what they did – actually both degenerated into question and answer sessions as we tried to understand one another drivers and goals. Then we went a looked at the kit – first the Pure radio stuff and how it was evolving from broadcast DAB to Internet radio (or both) and how the inter-connectedness of the home was starting to affect the way they designed their systems. Their “tuner” was capable of working through any network, broadcast, broadband, wi-fi, low power radio or power line. Their processor was then multi-threaded and so can handle any sets of signals power effectively. Their graphics, video and display chips are more dedicated but still able to multi-task. What this all means is that they have a very flexible sets of building blocks to assemble communications systems. They are obviously looking at healthcare and assisted living and power management in the home as potential applications and want to work with us to discover those markets. When I left – after the designated time but long before I could have – I met up with Declan from MRC – who lives nearby and was about to go off on holiday and wanted a final download of actions between us. They still seem more process driven and wanting to talk about things they are going to do rather than our more measured approach but otherwise we are getting the hang of working together. I also checked about the current “status of Borys” and it appears he is currently benign. In keeping with my run of bad travel luck, the 2 hours’ drive home turned into a much longer trip when the M40 ground to a halt about 3 miles short of junction 9. I assume it was serious because it took a couple of hours to clear.