It is better murder an infant in its cradle than nurse an unacted desire
04 September 2020 by David Bott
A Bank Holiday, so the week started on a Tuesday and FL humorously moved the location of the “start the week” to see if people were paying attention. Some, of course, failed and will be first against the wall when the revolution comes! One of the “not so good” bits of news was that the Stalinists in the Cabinet Orifice are trying to stop recruitment, spend on communications and spend on IT projects – or at least make them themselves the controlling body. This gives us lots of short-term problems and we are trying to work out how we can challenge or circumvent them.
This was followed by a series of internal meetings catching up with things before a status report on the development of the potential “water” Innovation Platform. We are getting a better and better understanding of the way the water and sewage systems work but it is still not clear to me that there is justification for a full-blown Platform in this area. It was followed by an Innovate 10 Steering Group meeting. On reflection, I am not sure what happened to August, since before I left on holiday, we seemed to have made a lot of decisions, but they weren’t implemented until last week. This has meant that Huw and (particularly but not exclusively) Mike Biddle have been impersonating blue-arsed flies since this meeting. It was then down to London for a Design Council related dinner. The background to this is the “bonfire of the quangos” aspiration of the current administration combined with the Dyson Reports not so subtle messages that the Design Council had outlived its usefulness. This caused Michael Bichard to ask one of the Council, Martin Temple, to conduct a review. Using an internal chair was not seen in the best light outside the direct community. FL had been interviewed by Martin, and David Godber and I had been tasked with looking at shared activities. FL had then been given the nod that we ought to talk to Sebastian Conran and Jeremy Myerson, who were the most commerciality focused members of the Council. Since they are both good friends of the Technology Strategy Board, and quiet acute on such matters, they accepted a vague dinner invitation with alacrity. We went through the basic ideas Godber and I had worked up – the Design Vouchers scheme to introduce design virgins from the technology community to relevant design companies, specific help on projects under the Innovation Platforms (like Independence Matters under Assisted Living), better integration of their Challenge Programme and SBRI and exchange or secondment of people. They liked Design Vouchers and added to the people idea, but didn’t comment much on the other 2 areas.
Wednesday saw a dawn in London and the early train down to Swindon (missing my breakfast), where I was lucky enough to grab a chance to talk to David Delpy about the Institute for Web Sciences idea. I explained how our ideas were developing and David moderately enthusiastically asked to engage. Indeed later he sent comments on our draft idea back by return and got Lesley to call Nigel Shadbolt, so I take that as more than passing interest.
Once at Camelot, we had a session led by the Comms team on what has gone right and how to extend it. It was fun remembering the Ultra Low Carbon Vehicles Demonstrator Programme launch, the Collaboration Nation Event and looking again at the Design for Future Climate Change “book” and we agreed to look at what the priorities are for communication. This segued into a meeting of the Executioners were we anticipated next weeks normal meeting – which has been given over to strategy – and looked back at the first 6 months of this (financial) year and what we have achieved. The afternoon was focused on three bits of writing I had committed to – a discursive introduction to the Innovate LaunchPad session, the notes of the Design Council dinner and the outline of how we might configure the Institute for Web Sciences. Soon it was time to go home!
Thursday again started in Swindon. First came a swift discussion with Anne Glover about my interaction with Seedcamp a few weeks ago. FL had forwarded my thoughts to Anne and Sara who had come back with what looked like diametrically opposed recommendations, so I was trying to work out what to do next! That meant I was late for a meeting I didn’t know I had, to discuss what sort of Governing Board members we might like to have in the next change. Since this was going in to BIS, we decided that “malleable people who took all our suggestions and demurred” didn’t seem the right tone, so we thought about our key areas of activity and what made a good advisor and left it at that. That led into a meeting to discuss how to handle the upcoming group of meetings with the Board to progress our strategic thinking. Because of all the changes, we have decided to try to get them to approve the proposal for an Innovation Platform in Stratified Medicine in early October, so Paul and Zahid are now engaged in the final stages of the process.
Next up David Way had convened a meeting for us to discuss the “sort of” proposal to turn the “about to stop” bits of Qinetiq at Malvern into the beginnings of a Quantum Technology Centre. Qinetiq had pushed this in the past – and they had even persuaded AWM to fund some of it – but it had died with the recession, change of leadership in Qinetiq and the demise of AWM. We decided it might have been a runner but too many factors made it wrong to proceed at the current time. Then it was time to interview someone. Given that we might not be able to recruit them it seemed appropriate that we saw one of the best people we have seen in a long time!!
Once again, the end of a Swindon day meant a trip to London. This time it was to see Hazel Moore. As well as being a trooper when it comes to Innovate appearances, Hazel had taken the young padawan on as an apprentice for a week and taught him the dark arts of being a Vulture Capitalist. Several others had asked if they could do the same, so I was intent on buttering her up. She had anticipated this and told me early on about a BVCA course that imparted the same experience (albeit in a classroom style) that they would run internally for us. I have given HR Woman the details. We also discussed how little money there was around at the moment and why we don’t work more closely with the VC community – since the natural and logical outcome of our support is that companies and projects reach commercial viability, their next step would be to raise money to make it happen.
Friday once again saw me travelling back from London to Swindon but a couple of cancelled meetings meant a more normal start and the ability to have breakfast at the hotel! The office was reasonably empty – although the car park was very full – how does that happen? – so I was able to do more focused work until the big event of the day. That was the first formal meeting with Richard Gillies of Marks & Spencer. As he observed, we have been flirting for some time and had cancelled a couple of earlier attempts for more detailed discussions but here it was! We started off with a recap of our history and statement of our current position from FL, and then started describing how we moved from being a technology-push funding agency to a challenge-led innovation agency! Not surprisingly, this rang lots of bells with Richard and we ended up trading stories of what M&S have done and what we have seen other companies – even from markedly different areas of activity – do. Given that Richards’ drive is sustainability, his aggressive profit motive may well confuse people but fits with our experience of what works. He has obviously studied other avaricious tree-huggers like Ray Anderson and we had an interesting discussion on whether a new business model for the supply suits could be adapted from the Interface one for carpet! The link between recycling or reuse and follow on purchase was one M&S are obviously thinking hard about. Richard also has an eye for our more noticeable activity – when we told him about Limo-Green he almost committed to buying one for his new CEO! M&S are involved in the Mini-E/Scottish and Southern Electricity project under the Ultra Low carbon Vehicle Demonstrator programme where M&S have charging points at their stores in the relevant areas. The next step is to present to Innovation Council at some point and engage at the programme level. It was interesting that he noted that M&S had been involved in a proposal to a recent competition but had been unsuccessful. Richard was sanguine about the experience and reasoned that they hadn’t had a good enough idea or hadn’t explained it well enough and that – as a taxpayer – he was glad we had high standards!!
The final act of the day was to offer help to Huw and Mike – and then thanks to a handy deity when they said they had it all under control.