Other people’s priorities

This week, the week didn’t start with a “start the week” meeting.  Instead we had a “planning the tables for the Innovate dinner” meeting first, and then a “start the week” meeting.  Should we be more careful with our nomenclature?  We then squeezed in a discussion of the pay review and a small but important debrief on the last Board meeting.  I then had a couple of quick meetings about coordinating the Design Council activities and our SBRI work, how to work with the Institute for Sustainability and Retrofit for the Future and I was courageously networked before I got to leave.  When I got home, I had a teleconference with the CEO of younoodle - http://younoodle.com/ - who we had met through the WebMission process and who now wanted to talk to me about their upcoming launch.  What they are claiming is a tool for monitoring the value of early stage companies.  After a lot of questions from me, we agreed that a test would be appropriate, so we are going to get them to assess the value of the companies we are targeting with our regenerative medicine activities, and monitor whether the value of the ones we support increases faster than the ones we don't support.  Hell, we need all the real world metrics we can get!!  Then it was down to London so I could be there early the next day for....

Digital Engagement 2009!  This was held in Church House – see http://www.digitalengagementevent.com/ - and was focused on local government and digital engagement – or was it?  What I have learned is that digital inclusion is very different from digital engagement, that there is a divide between those who see it as a purely social (or do I mean political) problem and those who see the need to integrate the technological capabilities into the mix.  We started with Martha Lane Fox give a “I don't know about technology, but I do love kittens” talk - see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjxY9rZwNGU for what it felt like.  Having been dabbling in inclusion politics for a few years, we need to get off the “it’s not right” and “you won’t believe what is happening in Rickmansworth” and into real measures to ensure that we don't institutionalise our already existing digital underclass, although Fearless Leader will be pleased that one of the examples was from Bristol.  Next came a guy from Soctim - http://www.socitm.gov.uk/socitm/, who gave a talk full of examples of real activity that obviously wasn't acceptable to the twittering classes in the back row, who were beginning to get restless and looking to attack the “suits” on the panel.  Since I was on the panel and following this on twitter, I was becoming slightly concerned that I was in the wrong place.  Next up came a guy who seemingly chaired the Broadband Stakeholder Group but had the worst “aim low and you won’t be disappointed” approach I have seen for years.  I wasn't brave enough to follow the twitter feed whilst I was talking, but afterwards it looked like I had pleased those who see technology as part of the solution but been dismissed as a “someone who didn’t wear trainers” by the others.  It is the first event where I was aware of the potential effect of social media.  Much of the anger and cynicism I saw in the hash-tagged feed didn't translate into open debate and was wasted, but it does show that a modern speaker in this sort of area needs to be more aware of the environment than they used to have to be, I found this helpful blog on the subject http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2009/10/09/how-speakers-should-integrate-social-into-presentations/ – but too late for this event, but I think we need to bear this in mind for the future.  On reflection, I am schizophrenic about our participation in the conference.  On one hand, it wasn't what most of the participants wanted to hear, and they may not have listened to what we had to say.  On the other, we cannot preach integration of technology with society, both in terms of challenge and of uptake unless we get better at telling the what is possible and what the advantages and weakness are.  Much to think about!!!

Wednesday started in Slough.  It had to happen at some point.  The reason was to meet with Lonza Biologics.  They have a specific problem.  They have been on the Bath Road for 25 or more years doing contract chemical research and small scale manufacture and are one of the key suppliers in the new biological therapy area.  Their landlord has now told them that they are going to develop the site and that Lonza need to invest in new equipment.  Their head office is not convinced that further investment in the UK is justified.  They talked to local government, but they are (apparently) more interested in creating jobs in call centres than value in this area (memo to us all, remember metrics about jobs can drive the wrong sort of behaviour).  They suggested talking to national government.  They therefore talked to UKTI.  UKTI were sympathetic but have no money and suggested they talk to us.  Zahid and Robin went down, but it feels like they went straight to detail and the Lonza people didn’t understand what we do, and don’t, do.  SEEDA asked for a bit more of our attention, so I went with Robin.  It took about 90 minutes of intense discussion, but I think they now understand the ideas of focus areas, competition within them, grants for projects and can now continue the discussion about a relationship with us.

I then had lunch with Chris Towler and James Mallinson of Oxford Spin-Out Equity Management.  This was ostensibly a thank you for talking at their meeting the other week, but they took the opportunity to quiz me on the relevance of some of their companies to our focus areas and competitions – why was I not surprised?  Some interesting companies and I am sure they will send me lots of details on them!!  

Then it was on the BRIC meeting – http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/business/collaborative_research/industry_clubs/bric/background.html  I was hosted by a couple of senior guys from Avecia and Lonza (and the jungle drums had been busy for they knew all about my morning meeting) who explained why industry saw real value in BRIC.  As far as I understood it, BRIC uses a mixed industrial-academic steering group to ensure that a small amount of BBSRC money is used to support relevant projects and that these projects are discussed at semi-annual meetings.  It is this interaction which is really of most value and the only thing I got asked for all evening was help with introducing new, small companies into the community.   What we agreed was to look at paying a year’s subscription (£2k) for all the successful companies in the current regenerative medicine competition.  This idea was reinforced in the poster session when I saw the sort of work they are doing – a lot of it slap bang in the middle of our grand challenge/community building competition!!  I was carefully seated at a table of people from industry and had a great dinner debate about public engagement to ensure biologically based therapies don't go the way of genetically modified crops!!

Thursday was a Swindon day, with what felt like wall-to-wall meetings.  Several practice sessions for Innovate seminars left me feeling quite good about how our people are getting better at this sort of thing, with most being able to answer the obvious preparation questions, balancing data and vision, and finding a way to extract information and opinions out of their audiences.  I also had a teleconference with Daimler about their drive for standards for electric vehicles – both in terms of (physical) plugs and the data exchange standards that might enable you to choose what tariff you charge your car on.  Then there was a somewhat worrying teleconference with our Innovate host and Quadrant where it looks like a lot of urgent and hard work put into preparing briefing notes had been wasted.  It meant that Paul W and Huw had to become time lords for the afternoon to get the upgraded (and dumbed down) information Ms Kaplinsky requested to her before she went off to Portugal for a holiday.  The final telephone call was with Marie-Anne McKenzie, who apparently now has 4 ministers wanting to launch the composite grand challenge we are running for her – Mandelson, Drayson, Davies and McFadden, and (although they have no money for it) they want us to run a follow-on competition on composite recycling, and get involved with resolving the arguments over the siting of the national composites centre. 

Friday was another Swindon day, and it started with a great visit from Victoria Atherstone – see http://www.urbanitesandscooters.com/ - who had been put onto us by Doug Richard at the Governing Board dinner.  He told me she was an interesting person, he told me she was doing interesting things and needed help.  What he didn't tell me is that he is a shareholder in her company.  Her company imports Chinese built electric scooters into the UK.  Under normal circumstances therefore we would see her as the enemy!!  However, wants she wants to do it develop a hot swappable battery system here in the UK and use it to take over all the European franchises.  She is not very well integrated into the communities who can deliver what she needs, although she was aware of some of the main players.  I offered to do the “connection” piece of our mantra, and she was nice about me on twitter!!  The Innovate and Holly lunchtime meetings was quite useful but the main afternoon event was a Funders panel.  We had quite a discussion about the balance between operational effectiveness and broadening our engagement and if we follow thought on the ideas we agreed, then we will have added about 25% to our company database.  I was quite content about work at this point but still had to have a telephone call with EEDA about the Stevenage Bioincubator.  This is the jewel in Mandelson’s speech at Innovate but it turns out that someone had counted in our contribution to equipment to enable the tenants to have access to state of the art analytical and communication kit in with the brick and mortar money and now there is a funding gap.  BIS had blamed EEDA earlier in the day and now EEDA blamed BIS.  I assume that if it all goes pear-shaped they will both blame me for I am sticking strongly to what we have said all along.  This is old fashioned politics.

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