If only all weeks could be 4 days and really productive
03 April 2020 by David Bott
I managed to make it to a “start the week” meeting, albeit late. The slightly late arrival was caused by a combination of more than usually heavy traffic at the Air Balloon (shades of Reggie Perrin) and waiting for the non-TSB employees to take all the parking places in our bit of the car park (but I’m over it now).
Afterwards, I had my obligatory catch-up with Jools to find out what I was doing, or should be planning to do, and a gentle piece of courageous networking by our second farmer. It is always nice to see new recruits realise how very good all our other people are! Then it was on to a final interview with a potential new Lead Technologist for EPES. Will had told me I would have to find something deeply troubling to stop him recruiting this one and I couldn’t, so we will!
A quick meeting to agree a common (and low cost) line on adding a nuclear brief to the EGS KTN portfolio was followed by a Funders Panel that covered the Composites Grand Challenge and the Informed Logistics competitions. The Composites one, which channelled a wide variety of companies and interests into a single 23 partner consortium with strong project management, will make some people in BIS very happy, but the ITSS one continues a tradition of not really reaching the community and hitting the quality line too early.
This was followed by a visit from a man from Nottingham University who had been told by Brian Collins that he should meet me. He was an “ambassador” for one of the Digital Economy Research Centres and he had nothing to say but wanted to be “known”. The final Swindon commitment was the first (if slightly premature) meeting of the magnificent seven (actually, there were only 5 but what the hey, we have decided that Will can be “Chris”!). Richard H and Julie S took advantage of the meeting to discuss capital and monitoring and then we got into moaning about IT support.
I then escaped down to London for a slightly odd dinner at the House of Lords held by the Edinburgh Centre for Climate Change. What (I hear you cry), there is no Edinburgh Centre for Climate Change! Correct, but they are planning one and this dinner was a chance for them to try out their ideas on a captive audience. As it was, I sat next to the putative director and opposite a man who works for His Spittleness, so we had an interesting evening debating what they might do in a more joined up manner – but with a strong business ethic!!
Tuesday saw an early start to get to Congress House for the first day of Collaboration Nation. For new readers, this was the next step in the development of our “beacons” process, where we had funded 69 (we had targeted 40 but been overwhelmed by the number and quality of the entries) with up to £25k to develop ideas. It was targeted at single companies deep into SME territory. Today they would feed back their results. Everyone was a bit tense, because we had never done anything like this before, because our risk register had a lot of last minute mitigation strategies and because we weren’t really sure what success would look like. The room was well over 75% full at 9.30 as Huw opened the event (but refused to do an airline stewardess demonstration of where the exits were) and the first 4 presentations, who each had 15 minutes, were all over the place with style and content. We then got into the “elevator pitches” and it started to work. Each of the companies got 2 minutes and one slide to explain what they had done to the audience (made up of all the winners and potential customers, collaborators and funders). It very quickly became apparent that some “got it” and some didn’t. The good ones realised that the slide could be a parallel communication route and hold the basic information and the spoken words could convey the excitement at their achievements and a specific request to audience for help to make the next steps. The truly bad ones said nothing on the slide and repeated it in the words!! We used a traffic light system and no-one ran over. The event was web-streamed live and tweeted by a professional (as well as a bunch of us amateurs!). After a couple of hours of this, my attention span started to decay, so lunch and a different approach – zoned by area and with 10 minute talks – were a welcome change of pace and format. Lastly, we closed with a “panel” made up of people from different expert groups and chaired by Will, answering questions about how to make things work. It is hugely noteworthy that requests for money were the least prevalent!!! The post meeting, alcohol fuelled, networking apparently went on for over 2 hours but I had to go off for a meeting with Cyrus, Peter and Paul to be persuaded that we ought to get more process based on competitions. I agreed because Cyrus was paying for dinner, but many of the ideas – such as deciding upfront what success would look like for the whole competition, making sure we had usable abstracts at the beginning of the competition so Lady Claire could assemble a press release without the current panic, and withdrawing the offer letter if the collaboration agreement isn’t signed within 3 months of it being sent out – make so much sense, it wasn’t that much of a compromise.
I was slightly surprised at breakfast to discover Will waiting for me. Although it turns out I did have an appointment with him, it hadn’t appeared on my BlackBerry (an increasingly common occurrence and one they can no longer blame on me having a Mac) so I almost missed it. The rest of the day, we did it all again – except this time it was all about Digital Britain. The audience was slightly larger and the twitter stream was more varied. There was a greater uniformity of approach and lots of the “winners” turned out to moan about the government rather than talk about what they had done with their allocation of taxpayers’ money. There was a similar spread of people who knew how to communicate but, whether it was because it was my second day or because the talks were more homogenous, I started zoning out earlier and so an invitation from Mike Butcher to meet him and Elizabeth Varley to discuss TechHub seemed a good diversion at lunchtime. I am not sure I bought the idea, which seemed to be a cross between an ICT incubator space and a club for the digirati, but promised to bring it to the attention of the right person within the Technology Strategy Board (I will brief you on your return, David!) The panel session ran a little differently, in that Anne Glover kept the panel answering questions that she posed for longer than Will had done and so the punch-drink audience didn’t have to think of too many questions to close out the session. We took the opportunity of the event to point out all the upcoming competitions in this space and once again, networking ensued.
As I took the long was home, I reflected on how far we have come as an organisation and that how much the last 2 days had demonstrated that we were trying new ways to reach the “right” companies in the UK and help them succeed. I think many of us thought that something similar run alongside Innovate would be a good idea but weren’t quite sure how it would tie into our current activity plans – something for a slow time consideration!!
So, having gone from London to home via Swindon on Wednesday evening, I caught the early train down to London on the Thursday, proving once again that planning is not my forte! The first meeting was with Terry Young from Brunel University. Terry is very involved with the health service and has been very supportive of the Assisted Living Innovation Platform. He has been steadfast in his belief that the NHS can be better organised and needs to understand how process affects efficiency. He has now been invited to IBM Almaden to give a paper on this subject (I don’t know whether it’s the same event, but for many years IBM used to collect about 20 top academics from around the world and invite them to a 3 day workshop, where they talked amongst themselves while IBM scientists listened in and invented the products of the future that answered the academics predicted needs.) We discussed how best to get a message across and he bemoaned the fact that no-one in the UK who is tasked with supporting academics research “gets it”. I did wonder who in our current Government would get it, or whether we should work with Big Blue to support this sort of work because companies would benefit in the long run.
My next meeting – of the Design and Technology Alliance was cancelled because Sebastian Conran was sick, so I sat in Tracy Island and tried manfully to master my Dell PoS. I cannot believe how slow it is, but realised that it is burdened with so much software that checks things it hardly has time for my keyboard inputs.
Then it was off to a meeting set up by young Alex – with BCS (not the British Computer Society but the chartered institute for IT that uses it’s name and logo), Google, Seedcamp and Entrepreneur Country. This all arose from a report Google did for BCS some time ago which never got acted on until Alex somehow got into the mix. It was a fascinating couple of hours as we tried to figure out how to work together without surrendering our own brand identities, how to join up our activities for the benefit of small companies involved in the ICT and Creative Industries and how not to confuse the punters in the process. One idea that did come up was to run a variant of Collaboration Nation at Innovate but with communities drawn from all the constituencies, and some process changes to reflect how Seedcamp works! Alex fingered me with the responsibility for making it happen so may be about to discover something about how hierarchies work (only kidding). On the way home, I realised that the train in the morning may have been empty but that I would pay for it on the way back, as the train was rammed with hordes of shoppers and children who had been to the Science Museum and Madame Tussauds!!