BDC becomes the centre of the universe and I get 20% of my Warhol time
16 October 2020 by David Bott
Monday started with the trip to park my car at Swindon and the obligatory “start the week” meeting, although it mostly felt like a “day before Innovate” meeting. After a bit of catching up with Jools to make sure I went to all the right places during the week, we went into a rehearsal for the ICtomorrow section of the main stage activities. Fearless Leader had been persuaded to play himself 4 years hence, interviewing the CEO of a digital media company who had been successful because of their involvement with ICtomorrow. FL had decided he wanted to use an iPad as his script (as though Jobs won’t have replaced it with another neat toy I will have to buy at least twice before then!) so after we all agreed the script, I visually amplified his bits and transferred them on to my iPad (with Guy’s as a back-up and then a piece of paper – guess which EA doesn’t trust technology?)
After a pleasant PRP with Energy Man, it was down to London to see what I could do to help in the final stages of Innovate. On the train down I got a number of e-mails, but 1 in particular is worth noting. It was from Fiona Fox at the Science Media Centre and was about the first in human stem cells trials in the USA. I dashed off a basic “it’s an important step, but only a step and there’s lots to do before we can get this sort of treatment from our GP” response and thought no more of it. Down at the Business Design Centre, it felt liked marginally controlled chaos. Huw was still smiling, so I didn’t worry but wandered about getting a feel for the place. About 5 o’clock, I got a call from the SMC asking to approve my quote for inclusion in their press release. I did. The team assembled about 5.30 for “attaboys” from FL and His Spittleness, and my phone rang. It was the BBC wanting me to do an interview on stem cells. I hurriedly engaged the Media Dominatrix in the negotiations and pulled out my notes on stem cells. MD extracted lots of media information from the BBC and then called Fiona to get any more background while I wondered what I had done! A taxi collected us at 7 and we got down to BBC Millbank at 7.30 – to be told that I was on at 8.13. While we waited, MD explained what was going on around us and made me practice responses to probable questions. I watched Nick Robinson do a talking head and then walk out past us. It was beginning to feel a little surreal. As they wheeled me into the room, I had to admit to being a bit let down. It’s basically a cupboard full of electronics, and the great view of the London Eye behind the interviewee is obviously added afterwards. I didn’t even get an earphone! The moment came and went with frightening speed and MD told me I had been okay. We were back on the streets by 8.30. At this point I got a number of texts – which tells me that I mostly know sad people who sit and watch the News Channel in the evening.
Next morning, it was up early for the business breakfast. I note that nearly all of us took advantage of the included hotel breakfast to make sure we did eat! We made sure the ICtomorrow stand was up and running and entertained Ed Vaizey on his way to the business breakfast – he had come to announce it after all. Once in the breakfast room, we had a few words from FL, then His Spittleness before Vaizey stood up, ignored his carefully crafted speech and winged it more or less on subject but a bit light on content. I do wonder what the civil servants who busy themselves writing these speeches think of this approach! I got a chance to see a few old friends, but mostly it was a blur. Then it was out to the event proper. His Spittleness was on fire with his speech – he has been known to “do a Vaizey” but obviously he had assembled words that chimed with his own feelings about business, government and technology and showed why he is our chairman. I thought the guy from Atkins was less impressive and we sorely need keynotes to astound, so need more planning for next year – this last minute rush stuff is great for the adrenaline rush but not for posterity! I was spared heavy duties on the day so got a chance to wander around (FL has admitted he was jealous of this!) and was somewhat bemused by how many people I didn’t recognise came up to introduce themselves to me. I thought the LaunchPad bit went well – but was disappointed by the size of the audience, both for the keynotes on the main stage and in general for the Sustainability stage. MD and I met with the extended Polecat and UKTI tribes at lunch to discuss the Future Health and next Web Missions, and I talked to punters both happy and upset at various times. Willetts basically pre-announced what tasks we were getting but forgot to mention how much money we were getting to discharge them and was a good bit positive about us in general terms.
At the end of the day, Sustainability Man and I had to slip away to join the Living With Environmental Change Business Advisory Board (LWEC-BAB) dinner. Our guest was Richard Price, the DEFRA economist (last minute replacement for Bob Watson who was in hospital) and the discussion of how we could economically value ecosystem services was quiet high level – although interestingly, many of those whose business might be linked to them seemed to enjoy the opportunity to test their arguments in a non hostile environment! At one point, I noted that Sustainability Man was having the same problem as me – stopping his head drooping into the dinner plate – tiredness I assure the reader!
Next morning, we reassembled – with added members – for the meeting of the LWEC BAB proper. After the handle-turning bits and some indications of group aggrandisement, we got down to business. Richard talked about the planned SAF call on Sustainable Protein and the Resource Efficiency one and got broad and almost enthusiastic support, then NERC had brought a couple of their theme leaders in to describe the next planned academic activities that fit under the LWEC banner. I think these were less in tune with the goals of the meeting, but we tried to be engaged and supportive. A rather amusing comment from NERC (that they wished our SAF call had been more integrated) made me point out privately that working with BBSRC and DEFRA was integrated and it was they that didn’t join things! The report back on infrastructure (started at the last meeting) seemed to go no further than “there are a lot of committees and we don’t understand how they all interact” which again didn’t hit the spot for several members. The final section – on business engagement – was a small triumph for the Environmental Sciences KTN, who described their academic capability locator. This will be largely superseded when MatchMe comes online, but is a good start. Finally, Richard passed around a handful of our case studies – for which there was much approval, but some wishes that they could be more business focussed. (One person described them as “a bit aren’t puppies lovely”!)
Back to Tracy Island for a discussion with the young padawan (whose head has now shrunk and who has stopped giving impromptu presentations on stratified medicine in pubs) about what we focus on in development next, given necessarily transient nature of their work. I was just settling down to plough through the backlog of e-mails when I got a call from someone in Business Environment bit of BIS who wanted to talk to me about infrastructure. We discussed how the 5 threads of infrastructure (energy, water, waste, transport and telecoms) all have different market characteristics, different timescales, different perceived importance in people minds and so on. I wish I had written it all down – or could even remember his name! Since David Godber was off work with bronchitis I didn’t get a chance to catch up on the coming and goings at the Design Council, so the young padawan and I finally went off to a seedy space-ranger bar for an inexpensive tapas meal!
Next morning was to have been a thrash down to meet Quentin Wilson in Swindon, but he cancelled as well, so I fixed (through twitter and thus irritating Jools) to meet Graham Brown-Martin at the allegedly trendy Shoreditch House (actually, reading the tips on 4square, it’s a marmite sort of place). Graham had talked to Digital Man, the young padawan and was in the process of being converted from a “you are a government agency and thus useless” to a “you know what you are talking about and care” viewpoint on the Technology Strategy Board. I went along to reinforce his transition!
Then it was back to Tracy Island for a meeting with Mitchell Leimon (who seems to be something of a “closer” for BIS) and is now piloting the “rare earths” paper on their behalf. I say that because it seems to have ownership in DEFRA (resources are an environmental issues), the FCO (most of the value resources are owned by foreigners) and BIS (these resources are necessary to be able to make money). Apparently, they had hosted a dinner the evening before for 6 Cambridge professors, but the first 10 minutes of our meeting – where I parroted output from the Chemistry Innovation, Environmental Sciences and Materials KTNs – had more content that the whole previous evening. I gave them a whole stack of contacts and retired to watch the fun.
I quick catch-up with Transport Man – before he went off to Holborn to submit his Chinese visa application – led to a meeting down at DfT to discuss what we do next under LCV. Michael Hurwitz and I had talked a few months ago, we had bounced ideas around the LCV Steering Group and Andrew and the team had met with the OLEV team a few weeks ago. This was to bring it all together and start implementing a plan. DfT are still unsure how the overall departments stands in the CSR and how the low emission activity sits in the priority list alongside other high profile activities, so they struck me as a bit down.
I rushed back to the hotel to meet with FL for one of our regular catch-ups. He had a list of about 10 items, so we overran a bit.
Then it was down to the Royal Society for the Labs to Riches event. It was really a gathering of the great and the good to which we gained access because we had money. John Bell was very nice about the Stratified Medicine Innovation Platform, David Sainsbury was busy telling Nick Buckland that we needed 4 regional offices to operate in the new world, Graeme Reid was a bit downbeat about the CSR settlement in his area, it was nice to see Richard Friend and talk about the old days (he is apparently writing up the history of conducting polymers), David Clark was in unctuous mode, and Keith Burnett kept stroking my arm (I think he’s been on one of those psychological motivational courses, because it was the supporting around the elbow approach!). Peter Williams managed to make it sound like the Royal Society Enterprise Fund had single-handedly saved the UK economy and Brian Collins gave a prize to a man from Sheffield who can blow smaller bubbles that anyone else using a device that looks distinctly like a flux capacitor. It shows what you can do with a 350-year track record and enormous confidence in your organisation’s capabilities.
Friday required a trip back to Swindon for a series of meetings. From the standard review of the last Governing Board meeting – with sub analysis by FL of the beneficial presence of the Board, the EMT and the Chairman – we segued through a longer than necessary strategy discussion and a review of Innovate – and only finished 45 minutes over time!
David Way and I passed a useful 60 minutes trying to unpack the real criteria for TICs and agree whether just extrapolating the suggested ideas or “resetting the system” were the right approach for the long term – and whether our political masters would tolerate a proper thought process or wanted a quiet life. I then met our new Financial Analyst, had a phone call with Digital Man about ICtomorrow and other related things and heard from Lee about what _connect is planning to do next – if they deliver than we will be able to counter the criticism that it’s a poor shadow of Linked-In at the moment, with none of the reach! Since my car was actually in Swindon, I then drove home.