From influenza to affluence

Oh dear, yet another week that got started somewhere other than Swindon.  Since it was half-term it looks like nearly everyone else missed it too!  Instead I made my way down to London to visit a company called Immune Targeting Systems (ITS) Ltd - – and the London Bioscience Innovation Centre.  ITS is an interesting company, since it promises to be able to deliver vaccines against mutating viruses – of the sort we are only too familiar with as various forms of influenza!!  Although I enjoyed the description of the underlying science and appreciated the commercial potential if they are successful, it was chastening to realise they knew very little of what we do and were stuck in the classic biotech company position of needing to validate their claims in first stage human trials before they can get the necessary finance to really develop the technology.  Since I was there, I also talked to the host organisation, the London Bioscience Innovation Centre -  Started as part of the Royal Veterinary College, it has rapidly evolved to be a successful operation providing biotech incubator space almost in the centre of London.  Conveniently sited next tot he soon to be built medical centre north of the British Library, they offer a first step for biotech companies that feel the need to be in London.  They have a link to the Welwyn Garden Centre based Biopark ( to offer a development pathway for companies that start with them and are very interested in linking to the recently announced bioincubator at Stevenage.

If Monday was a biotech day, Tuesday started firmly back in the transport arena.  The meeting with the BIS Automotive Unit and Ford was cancelled late the afternoon before (but hastily re-arranged for the week after next) so the day started with a meeting with Chris Aylett of the Motorsport Industry Association – - to follow up on a meeting that Fearless Leader had with him and some mildly negative feedback we had received through Lord Drayson’s office.  Chris is a fanatic for his area and his personal commitment comes through in all he talks about.  His analysis of the characteristics of those who work in motorsport (a single minded dedication to the task in hand and no interest in wider issues) was attractive but not born out by our experience of some of his members.  He didn't seem interested that several members of the MIA were involved in our programmes but was more keen to push the MIA as the only way of interacting with them.  He described some interesting sounding, engineering based, problem solving workshops he has run with the MoD but was largely dismissive of the UK based automotive industry and was not sure what he wanted from us.  I was not sure how best to work with the MIA either, but he obviously likes trashing people they don’t agree with, so it might be politic to keep the relationship positive.  

By contrast the next meeting was one that exceeded expectation.  When we had launched the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Programme, we had been contacted by DHL and had a couple telephone conferences and the intent to meet up, but it all came to nothing.  We had invited them to the Innovate dinner and they declined but opened up the discussion again!  As a result of meeting with their Director of Corporate Affairs, I now have an invitation to talk to their Transport Board, and invitation to take a party around their East Midlands Dispatch Centre one evening and the possibility that they will get involved in several of our competitions.  And the food was good.

The after lunch I met with Chris Fountain to start the budget process.  It was fun to discover that I am overspent on budgets I never set up in the first place but we are beginning the process of proper financial control, so it is worth the effort.  The final bit of the day was spent interviewing someone who wasn’t really up to the job but who could talk a lot.

Wednesday and most of Thursday were spent working at home to catch up with my e-mails.  Nick Appleyard’s twitter countdown the other week had prompted me to start cleaning up my inbox and filing things properly – I was down to 15000 items by lunchtime on Thursday, but it has now ballooned up to over 16000.  In the evening it was down to the Science Museum for the Economist Innovation Awards.  Aside from some very odd sponsorship, and some poor event support that lost most of Mark Zuckerberg’s acceptance video and loaded Ratan Tata’s with excessive hiss, the event went well.  The winners were all well established innovators so there were no real surprises and the ceremonial part of the evening was mercifully brief.  I sat next to the Head of Innovation Practice at the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement and (hopefully) added to our links into the DoH diaspora.  

Friday was a trip to MIRA Ltd – not the Motor Industry Research Association or similar, because they dropped their old title years ago as they sought to broaden their customer base.  The ostensible reason was the beginning of the Intelligent Vehicle Institute but since the guys from BT and Ericsson both didn't show, I got a personal sales pitch.  The first thing of note I discovered is that Limo-Green was mostly built at MIRA – although the body shell was from Jaguar, the range extender engine in the current mule was not from Lotus because it wasn't ready in time (so it’s a Volkswagen engine) and it was all put together in about 6 months.  I then took at look at their Intelligent Transport Systems Proving Ground - actually a hole in the ground, a hill being constructed and a lot of mud, but I also saw the plan at it looked about the right shape – one of the rooms were they test the large amounts of electrical stuff that goes into the modern car, a climate controlled wind tunnel where they were testing a CrossRail train and the crash testing laboratory.  They talked about their developing science/engineering park and generally seemed to know what they were doing.  I must be getting soft!  Since they were keen to press home the point that they were the principle workers on Limo-Green, they arranged for me to have a ride around Atherstone in it.  The luxury of a new XJ is truly impressive (if somewhat depressing in resource efficiency terms, the acceleration of the electric drive train (a foreign motor “because it just works”) awesome and the sound of the not properly insulated engine (which is mostly either on or off) a trifle disconcerting, but you can drive around in a real range extended electric limousine that has the carbon dioxide output of a small family car.  Not bad.  Not bad at all

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