Variety is the spice of business
19 September 2019 by David Bott
Another week had to be started, so we did so. I then got 90 minutes to discuss the relative prioritisation of my objectives with Fearless Leader and we re-wrote the ones from the objectives cascade, so I guess I’ll have to propagate that through the system!! One way and another, I missed the lunch and learn and had to drive to Oxford. There I was taking part in a conference organised by Oxford Spin-out Equity Management (OSEM) - see http://www.osem.ox.ac.uk/- which seems to be the “we got them, now can we extract value?” bit of ISIS Innovation. I was due to close with an overview of “challenges” but it started with an Oxford professor who has spun out several companies talking about the gestation phase. We then got the stories of 5 spin-outs. The first has a challenging business model. They can restrict the spread of diseases such as Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever – see http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/dengue/for some background and gross pictures – by releasing sterilised male mosquitoes. There was quite a debate about who the customer was and how to monetise the product – or is it a service? Next up came Intelligent Sustainable Energy (ISC) - see http://www.ise-oxford.com/- with a neat product. There is a lot of focus about really smart meters, which can tell you which appliances are actually being used, but they mostly rely on a distributed sensor network and a lot of data communication. ISE’s product in different in that it only measures the main input feed to the house, but it “recognises” the different appliances by their consumption patterns. At the right price point, this might be an interesting retrofit option. Then came a company claiming that it had a killer app that was a high temperature sensor that Rolls-Royce would be using in their next generation engine. I think they are part of the EFE projects. They are therefore a direct competitor of Oxsensis, who make the same claim. Odd, or what? After a coffee/tea break came Oxford Gene Technology a micro-array based DNA analysis tool that seems to be choosing between product and service as its way forward. Finally came Oxford Nanopore Technologies. They had by far the best visuals, with a natty film of an enzyme cutting up the polynucleotide before the bases slipped through the nanopore to get measured. Their CEO is one to watch, articulate and committed.
Tuesday and Wednesday were the Governing Board Away Day. The actual event will be reported elsewhere, but notable components (for me) were finally getting the Sustainable Agri-Food Supply Chain Innovation Platform approved (well done Paul), realising that little country pubs that do rooms are not always a good option, playing with the sound system in His Spittleness’s new Porsche and us getting away without actually telling them what we would measure. I sincerely hope FL had his fingers crossed as he agreed to all the actions for delivery in November.
After 2 days it was good to get away, although driving to Leeds did feel like an extreme therapy. Wednesday evening, Brain had set out to organise a dinner with some local businesses, but what we got was a guy from Metalysis and one from Corus and a lot of Yorkshire Forward people who wanted a free meal – which they did pay for. Metalysis is an interesting company, having spun out of Cambridge with a process for making high value metals from the oxide (ore) cost effectively. They are at the beginning of their life cycle and seem to be making progress. Corus on the other hand are dealing with the problems of being an “old” industry – but one that everyone needs the output of.
The next day was a meeting focussed on manufacturing. It was organised by an interesting alliance of organisations including Business Link, Electronics Yorkshire, MAS, EEF, Leeds City Council and Leeds Chamber of Commerce. The first speaker was Barry Dodd, the founder and CEO of the GSM group – see http://www.gsmgroup.co.uk/. Barry is one of those speakers it is difficult to follow because he makes you think and you forget what you were going to say. He talked in terms of an innovation ladder, with increasingly difficult tasks to bring something new to the market/customer. Many of the “rungs” were demonstrated by the activities of his own companies. They chimed nicely with our own message of understanding the supply chain, adding value through service elements and open innovation, but he also added the concept of “local manufacturing”, where companies seek to minimise transport costs and maximise flexibility by working geographically closely to one another. I had spliced together a cut-down version of our introduction to the Technology Strategy Board lecture with one focused on manufacturing that I had stolen off the troops. The first bit required a bit of emphasis because they (as do a lot of the diaspora we talk to these days) knew very little about us and most of what they did know was out of date, but the second bit was a more theoretical retread of Barry’s messages so I did a lot of reinforcement. Brain says I ran over, but the chairman (who probably thinks I have something to do with giving out money) told me the audience was spellbound, so he had let me continue. Polite duplicity?
I then drove down the M1 saving petrol by doing 50 mph for most of the way – because they are doing road-works and I had to!!