Try the veal
23 April 2021 by David Bott
After weeks of slavish adherence to the principle and practice of the “start the week” meeting, I decided to play hooky for this one and turn up late. I had an hour or so to catch up with things before a quick chat with Obi-Wan about his plans for world domination using TICs as a Trojan horse and then Healthcare Man to prepare for our lunch appointment.
The meeting was a deputation from Chris Mason and Richard Archer (in person) and David Williams (down a phone line from Heathrow) about the Cell Therapies TIC. I was joined by Healthcare Man and (for some of the time) by TIC Boy (for less), and we answered a weird mixture of tactical and strategic questions. The UCL/Loughborough bid is probably the strongest that we can see, and with Cambridge apparently sitting this one out and Edinburgh blustering but having not much to offer – other than a large empty building and lots of ambition – the “competition” might be moderately painless. I ducked out for a bit to swap words with FL about Innovate but otherwise chewed 2 hours moderately productively and hopefully we smoothed the future path a bit more.
Next was a Strategy Partnership Group meeting. They have taken on a air of repetitive explanation, the only real change from the last one being the addition of Adrian Alsop, who started by commenting on the TechCity LaunchPad launch in less than complimentary tones, and thus endeared himself to me (not). I had received the briefing document 5 minutes before the meeting after asking what was required, and it seemed to be another description of the strategy. I had mocked up an extended Milliganesque diagram and Allyson had brought a 3 week old version of the strategy document but I think it’s true to say we were woefully underprepared. Adrian banged on about how “concept to commercialisation” implied a linear process. I countered that specifying a beginning and an end point did no such thing, but he wanted to make an old, old point, so we all indulged him. The feedback was basically saying “we would like the research councils to be mentioned more as a vital part of your strategy”, so I was glad to leave just as Debbie started explaining KTPs, KTNs, and TICs. Unless the quality of the meetings improves drastically, and the preparation support occurs, I see no point in continuing to waste time by attending.
Tuesday was meant to be a working from home day, but a set of circumstances involving my Mothers car, its MOT and life, meant I ended up spending 7 hours in Stratford upon Avon, taking telephone calls outside the theatre, by the river up by Holy Trinity and Starbucks (to recharge my phone batteries and coffee supply). First up was a call from Kevin Buchan of GE Healthcare about the visit Zahid, Penny and I are making to Amersham in June. Then came a long discussion with Finger Man – largely in response to a long, “clear the questions before the holiday”, e-mail. I got home in time for another call with Mat Hunter of the Design Council about Independence Matters (they are very proud), the new Forum for Innovation in Crime Prevention and general joining-up stuff. Since I had been thinking about my conversation with Obi-Wan the day before as I sat and watched people enjoy the sunshine, I started a quest to find what others regarded as key themes for concerted (and therefore possibly centre-based) activity. It’s amazing how Google finds the wrong things unless you specify your search properly, but that many of the things you find are just as interesting!
Wednesday was a London day, so I caught the half-term depleted train and met up with Finger Man for my first meeting – with Matthew Postgate of the BBC. We talked about the LaunchPad concept – Matthew is keen to collaborate on a Manchester-based creative and digital industries one and offered office space in his new Research building for some of the winners – and the community (or is it communities/tribes/clans) in the east end of London. We also talked about ICtomorrow and the quest to build it to be attractive to several communities each of whom wanted the other to make the first move – a sort of three-cornered prisoners dilemma. We also reinforced the TIC discussions he is having with David Way – I think Finger Man is involved in the next meeting. We were having so much fun, that we had to move outside the room to make way for the next meeting and perched in the pod area for another 15 minutes.
Next, I was expecting Nigel Bannister to talk to me about the Quantum Innovation Centre, so was a bit surprised when he turned up with a friend we know well. I remembered to count my fingers after shaking hands with him and not to get up and walk out as he described a purely private sector initiative in supporting start-ups which he ruined by asking for money from the Government! It turns out he is doing the rounds and Fergus was amusingly vituperative about his meeting! I warned FL because I am sure he will try every entrance!
I was expecting Richard Pugh and Carol Larkin of the Home Office next but a SNAFU meant all the Innovation Group were at lunch and no-one told me they were in reception. Nevertheless, we had a productive discussion about the new Forum for Innovation in Crime Prevention, and I suggested that we would be the logical choice of delivery agency since the ideas needed to be turned into products to have an effect. I contrasted the “hot products” competition, where the ideas are now being developed (and I think one is out in the wild) and the “drinking glasses” activity, where they bigged it up before there was a product and so it has now effectively died! They are also concerned that there are too many government people on the forum and asked for our help in adding business people. I accepted the challenge!
Then it was around to the Home Office to meet Brian Collins for lunch (his treat). Brian leaves his dual CSA roles in the middle of May (curiously about the same time he is formally awarded his gong) and we talked about his possible continuing role in Infrastructure UK and some academic activities. We also talked about some of the characters he will be glad to be leaving behind and those he will miss.
I left him to rush across London (therefore needing a taxi!) to meet Iqbal Gandham at the Landmark Hotel for what is rapidly becoming my signature meeting over tea and scones! Iqbal had met Finger Man and I in the steamy chat rooms of TechCrunch as we “engaged” with the meaner end of the Shoreditch Massive. He talked about the tribal nature of the TechCity communities and suggested that there really was a paucity of funding at the seed stage – pre revenue and pre traction – where small amounts of money could make a huge difference. That was why he liked the LaunchPad, although (along with Guy Kawasaki it has to be admitted) he thought that £25k aliquots with a proper follow-up mechanism would be more effective. He offered to set up such a fund and find at least as much money as we could put into it from private sources and organise a TechCity version of Seedcamp (which he inferred was seen as cliquey by many).
I made it home to have a Skype call with the young padawan. He has taken the chaos that used to typify the Emerging Technologies and Industries portfolio and is starting to put structure and order into it. We are now asking the question “will this area one day need a TIC to implement it?” just to confuse people!
Thursday was a Swindon day, starting with a preparation meeting for the next Governing Board meeting. We finished remarkably quickly, having distributed the various tasks we need to deliver – the weird, short week nature of the next time period liable to mean things get lost! Then we had the bit of the Moderating Meeting we missed last Friday, where the Directors talked about the Heads. Given the talent and commitment we have in most of our people, it is always difficult to differentiate and rank – and so we ran over again!!! Finally, we talked through the updated “we wills” and the strategy document and (largely because Lesley had decided Iain needed to leave at 3.30) we finished on time. Never cross that woman!