I think I just beat Vanessa Carlton
18 September 2020 by David Bott
To be honest, I have not been looking forward to this week for a couple of months now, so the “start the week” meeting was a bit of a low key way to get going! I then went on to an Innovate10 Steering Group meeting, where the main topics were the progress of the LaunchPad competition and what we should do if we were underwhelmed, the need for back-up speakers if our BIS Ministerial connections failed to deliver and the question of continuity and communication – and who was responsible for it. To avoid too much stress, by the end of the week we had 548 (after de-duplication) entries to the LaunchPad but I don’t think we resolved the other issues! I then met with our Head of Human Remains to discuss how we comply with (or circumvent) the current set of bizarre instructions from BIS (who look to have the Treasury hand up their backs). Lunchtime was interrupted by a phone call from Bob Driver (UKTI) who wanted to discuss how to better align priority-setting activities. I was amused to discover that he had no idea about DECCs current process, so I have introduced two bits of real government to one another. I then went through a couple of “catch-ups, first with David Way and then with FL. The FL one was interesting in that we spent most of the time talking about people rather than activities – a healthy sign! There was then a review of the KTP transition from AEA to us. Every time I learn something new about KTP I wonder how it has survived for so long without strategic intent but am heartened by the thought that it now has going into it. The final meeting of the day was the continuation of the epic “what are we going to say to the Governing Board on 22ndSeptember?” meeting. We thrashed around on international strategy for an hour before I had to leave to take an LWEC related phone call but they did eventually finish – by deciding to not to highlight international at the Board meeting! The phone call, with Colin Drummond and Richard Archer had been caused by Richards offer to resign almost immediately he had joined based on what he saw as a complete lack of understanding by the LWEC principals of how business works. What we agreed was that we need to be “firmer” with our research council colleagues about our frustrations with said people and start to take a more proactive role in agenda setting and action oriented minutes! I had a quick word with Government Man before heading off to my designated stopping place for the night. When I got there I discovered that Centrepoint had booked the wrong night – and that their “confirmation note” was meaningless. Luckily, the nice man at the Marriott paid for my dinner and found me a room at the De Vere, so I didn’t have to sleep in my car or disrupt my carefully oriented travel plans for the week.
Tuesday morning saw me on a train to London – and racing FL in an event that has already passed into Twitter obscurity, although it generated some humour for others in similar positions! The first appointment was a double-header with FL and Marie-Anne McKenzie to discuss “manufacturing”. There are still some discrepancies between what various parts of BIS tell us, but I think we are sufficiently aligned with the BIS manufacturing agenda that we will continue the good working relationship that we have had over the last 3 years without breaking sweat.
Then it was off to Seedcamp to look at entrepreneurs in their natural environment. It is always a joy to realise that there are so many people who want to make money and don’t see a government grant as the obvious first step. Arriving at lunch enabled me to catch up with some old friends before the panel discussing “marketing”. It was interesting how similar issues arise no matter how big or mature the company is – building relationships, understanding needs and so on, not rocket science but the stuff of long-term success. There was an interesting debate on whether this sort of activity should be shared between team principals or localised in a single person – and what that person should be called!
On the way back to BIS, I had a quick phone call with Monika Preuss of OSCHR to make sure there were no traps in wait for FL at the upcoming OSCHR meeting – he had been mildly ambushed over “stratified medicine” last time. Then it was into a meeting with Brian Collins. We talked about the background machinations over TICs, the continuing activity outside DfT over ITS policy and how the CSTs infrastructure ambitions might play out. At this point I discovered a voicemail from His Spittleness summoning me over to see him. Since we had a multi-body meeting with FL at 5 o’clock, and it was 4.30, I got a cab (sorry, Chris, HMV and all that) and arrived in time to buy him and FL a drink (it was a direct order from a superior officer and I knew it was against the rules, but I just had to do it). We were meeting to prepare for a dinner with Tim Yeo, Lord Deben and a collection of sustainable business friends, and Graham wanted to rehearse both format and content. Actually, it was quite fun. Then we decamped down to the City Inn and awaited the arrival of the various forms of great and good. It was a good evening. Yeo turned out to be a bit taciturn and disengaged, but Deben was an enthusiastic source of information and hungry to learn more. Our business friends did us proud, subtly highlighting where we had made a difference and encouraging us to go further – with the implicit need for more resources to do so. His Spittleness, FL and I retired to the bar afterwards and reflected and planned more – with the obligatory baiting of the junior person!
Wednesday saw me off to Euston and FL off to St Pancras, but sharing a taxi to save money. My 150 minutes took me to Lancaster and short taxi ride (no alternative) took me to the Associates Meeting of the Chemistry Innovation KTN. I can remember similar events for the Crystal Faraday Partnership. All the sponsored students, their academic and industrial supervisors gather to share experience and information. I got to judge the first half of the student project presentations (disappointing more for content than style) and give an “attaboy” after dinner. I talked about what innovation was – and wasn’t – and deconstructed our assessment criteria with more detail and a couple of attempts at humour. Several people talked to me afterwards, so I couldn’t have been too bad.
The next morning, the 6 o’clock taxi failed to arrive but a quick phone call to Mike Pitts (waking him up I admit) caused him to go to Maureen Laughton’s room and sort out the problem. Any rumours caused by Mike being seen leaving Maureen’s room at 6.15 am can thus be countered by us all! I caught the train with a minute to spare. Another 150 minutes – more sleepy than the previous day – saw me back in London and making my way to Marlborough House (although by the long way around as the normal entrance was closed for the “garden party to make a difference”) for a meeting entitled “The FT Investing in Innovative Design and Technology Summit”. I arrived too late to see Jonathan Porritt kick it off, but the panel on “building a more sustainable future” was interesting for some of its insights but ultimately disappointing because most of the panel seemed to be professional pundits rather than those engaged in making it happen. The bright spot was Rick Fedrizzi of the US Green Building Council who at least grasped the scale of the challenge and moved beyond the usual inanities.
After a coffee break it was Mark Selby doing a puff for Nokia. If it hadn’t been for his factoid that there are now more mobile phones than toothbrushes on the planet, he would have been a total waste of time. Next up was a panel on “collaborative and design-led innovation” that Communications Man had volunteered me for. Nice chairing by Nick Jankel from wecreate got the best out of a panel made up of Dax Lovegrove from WWF, Hugo Spowers of Riversimple and a very quiet Thomas Mathen from Rand Ingersoll and well as me. Nick did away with long set piece introductions and we got straight into questions from the audience. It was a full session with questions on why as well as how. I think I managed to get all our standard points in about our journey from technology fixated funding agency to challenge-led innovation agency.
To keep up the furious pace Jools had set me, I had to leave after lunch, catch a train to Swindon and then drive to Falmouth. I got there about 7 o’clock! Jools had chosen the hotel in a part of Falmouth I didn’t know, but having stayed there I can recommend the view from room 113!
Friday morning saw the short run to the Tremough campus of the Combined Universities of Cornwall (CUC) where I was speaking at a meeting on “environmental research, business and innovation in South West England” courtesy of Nick Buckland, who volunteered me for this one!
I gave a variant of the “there are lots of challenges, don’t be scared because I am from the government and here to help you” talk, which seemed to go down well. I was followed by Michaela Kendall from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health http://www.pcmd.ac.uk/research/index.php?group=38, but who mainly wanted to talk about how her company, Adelan, that doesn’t seem to have a website and which she seems to run with Kevin Kendall of Birmingham University. Her beef was that when Adelan was set up, the DTI funding programme was “run” by Rolls-Royce, Alstom Power and British Gas and small companies like hers never got funded. I don’t think she has gotten over this and kept coming back to the issue during her talk. She also told me that she had applied to be an assessor but had been turned down, another sign of the nepotism and intrigue that obviously bedevilled government programmes. I think we should send Energy Boy after her! What was worrying was that it sounded quite a neat technology and she seems to be gouging European money to work in Turkey!
Next up was Paul Lunt, from the Earth, Ocean and Environmental Sciences bit of the University of Plymouth http://www.plymouth.ac.uk/seoes. He had been an academic, then a commercial environmental consultant and now was back training the environmental consultants of the future. He seemed to know his stuff and was refreshingly balanced about the relative merits of academics, consultants and businessmen.
After the coffee break came a poor presentation by someone from the Peninsula Research Institute for Marine Renewable Energy (PRIMaRE) http://www.primare.org/ who used data to try to prove that the best academic institutes around the world got the most industrial funding (citing numbers 2, 6, 24, 137 and 212 in world rankings) and then letting on that his job was to take companies up an escalator of engagement that resulted in more money for the university! My host from CUC was sucking through her teeth during this one! Nevertheless, they need to be linked into the national activities and ought to twin with Scotland ASAP!
The last talk was by Matthew Owen of CCB Research Cornwall College http://www1.cornwall.ac.uk/ who gave a great little talk on how investing in not felling tropical rain forest was a growing carbon credit approach and that it was being driven by corporate CSR programmes rather than investors!
The panel session that followed was insightful. The room was mostly full of well-meaning academics and the one business guy who seemed to have wandered in challenged the academics to take some risk as he did every day – to help him.
I was then whisked off to take part in an interesting discussion between the various leaders of CUC about how they could do more to help Cornish companies. They already have Oxford Innovation involved (obviously Oxford has an outpost in Cornwall!) and are beginning to do all the usual things. Their problem is that their universities are neither world class nor well connected into the higher growth end of business, so they will need to keep doing what they are doing for a long time before they get the results their desire or deserve.
On the (extremely long) drive home I took a call from Sharon Vosmek and Rowan Gardner of Astia. They were seeking to get us more involved in their “Doing it Right” meeting in London next year, which I agreed in principle to do – though I did say that I doubted we could give money these days, but would willingly help with effort. Astia could be a useful front end to expand our reach into UK based entrepreneurs (or even just people who want to start companies and make money without calling themselves anything special!). They were also quite proud of securing a grant for $500,000 from the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation - http://www.astia.org/content/view/1994/856/ - and are now trying to secure equivalent support in the UK/Europe since the Kaufman money is solely focused on the US. They are basically looking for any ideas so if you have a friend with that sort of money to invest in a good cause, let me know and I will pass it on! Because I was hands-free, I asked that they recorded and shared out agreements, so I am now awaiting a potential stitch-up! That call passed most of Cornwall.
After a stop for petrol, another call from Richard Jones at Sheffield http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/physics/contacts/richard-jones.html passed most of Devon discussing how the University of Sheffield could have an innovation policy. I think I agreed to critique their document, which could spell the end of my friendship with Richard and Tony Ryan!
For the record, I drove 529 miles (7.51 tonnes of CO2), travelled 518 miles in trains, and about 38 miles in taxis (total 0.02 tonnes of CO2). Just goes to show!