A WTF sort of week!
07 May 2021 by David Bott
Of course, Monday was a Tuesday this week and because everyone thought FL wouldn’t be back, we didn’t plan to have a “start the week” meeting. We did have a TIC update, but then we went into a Governing Board preparation meeting, which time seems to have wiped from my memory. I think we were given time off for good behaviour, so I snuck in a quick update with Anne about the fluid HR situation and took the inevitable call from Andy Goldberg after FL handed him off to me about this years Medical Futures dinner, but then it was off to what was billed as an Executioners Strategy Meeting, but started as a continuation of the mornings meeting. This too over-ran, so Cyrus and I had to miss the Competitions Progress Meeting. One way and another I got to the end of the day not really sure what had been accomplished, but the drive home up the Fosse Way was gorgeous and the back roads were bursting with foliage, so I got home in a good mood! That was punctured by an e-mail thread where the nice Comms people at BIS were suggesting delaying the announcement of the Cell Therapies TIC activity, which we were planning for the World Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Congress, which is being held in London next week. After being beaten up by Number 10 for not being fast enough, having a 2 week delay imposed on us by the Government itself felt like adding insult to injury, so I sent an intemperate reply!
Tuesday was our long planned Innovation Programmes workshop on “cities”. The whole idea of making sure we understood and agreed what we meant by convergence on large people habitation systems had come up months ago and we had decided that only if we all got in the same room and thrashed it out would we be able to make real progress. Although almost derailed by the TIC imperatives, and slightly stymied by being allocated a room too small to fit us all in, we were there. There is a tension between the Government adopted (and almost totally meaningless) nomenclature of “smart” cities, Sustainability Man’s use of the soubriquet “sustainable cities” and the dawning realisation of the enormous reach of what we were trying to define, so we had a go and then moved on from the naming challenge! We explored what the market(s) might be – agreeing in the end that the level of aggregation and the (more conventional” market definition might be a useful matrix to fill in. Much progress was made and now it remains to be seen if we can capture that in a document!
Mid way through the afternoon, we felt brave enough to tackle the long (but not complete) list of potential TICs to down-select to the number pre-ordained by the Governing Board and designed not to overwhelm out limited resources. We went through the process once to ensure we didn’t come to blows, and then were joined by the TIC team to go over our thoughts. There are areas of real agreement, some ignorance and some mild disagreement, but mostly we have a workable list.
Next Finger Man and I made our way up to the North side of Regents Park to meet with Eric the TechCity Baron, and Robin Klein and Reshma Sohoni (sporting a large rock on her left hand and suntan from her honeymoon!) of Seedcamp. We have tried to find ways to work with Seedcamp before but they always seem to fall foul of our limitations for action and their strict adherence to the way they do things. Eric had decided he wanted to build Seedcamp into his Eastern Empire in some way and we were his chosen vehicle, so we talked around the issues until we came up with a possible solution – that one of the TechCity LaunchPad winners would have a place on the Seedcamp event in September. We need to work out the logistics – presumably we will have a couple of Seedcamp assessors on the team – but it might well mean that at least one of our winners gets their matching funds!
Finger Man went off to consult with the young padawan and I joined Eric meeting Errol Damelin, the CEO of Wonga. It was a challenging meeting since both of them expressed the opinion that grants are a bad way to support companies and so I had a debate about how every market was different and that each had a unique problem – and that grants were a sensible way to address that part of the development cycle. I gave examples and got argued with for an hour, but at least understood if not sympathised with their points. I don’t think I converted them though! Eric bought me a pizza at the nearly Gordon Ramsay gastro-pub to make amends for both meetings! While I was waiting I had a long phone call with Willetts private office about the Cell Therapies TIC announcement, and began to get them to understand how we (I?) felt about the proposed delay and how it was against everything we had been told.
The next morning, it was down to Swindon. Meetings with Karen to discuss how we tackle the next round of area “strategies” was followed by a catch-up with David Way. Then it was yet another Governing Board preparation meeting. Given that we have so many preparation meetings, it is mildly disappointing that we never seem to be that prepared for what they ask us. Maybe we aren’t preparing in the right way?
After a quick download from Jools of the things BlackBerries are bad at the communication of (like tickets!), it was into our regular catch-up with BBSRC. It does seem to be a balanced and productive relationship at the moment.
Then it was down to London. Our growing relationship with the “design” community through the KTN, the Assisted Living work with the Helen Hamlyn Centre and our spats with the Design Council mean that we get to go to some of their (otherwise) closed door meetings. The young padawan, the Media Dominatrix and I were therefore all at the British Museum for a fascinating debate between Sir Christopher Frayling (academic superstar and ruthless self-publicist) and Deyan Sudjic (a beguiling combination of ennui and gnomic insight). The proposition was that design was a practical subject and theory should be developed and expressed by practitioners, not by academics or critics. They started with a deconstruction of the interaction of designers with the industrial revolution and got struck there too long, bandying snappy put-downs about the celebrities of the day (Morris was an “early socialist wallpaper designer”). Towards the end they got into the changes that had happened in the 1980’s and early 90’s and closer to our world. The move of design from a vocational education approach to a more academic one was decried by both protagonists, but no solution was advanced. I think there was veiled criticism of the Design Council for being complicit in the change, but little else. The young padawan has begun to see what we should be doing at the interface and was last seen engaging heavily with people wearing black polo necks and one earring. I was hungry!
Friday was the Digital Shoreditch Summit and our chosen event to open the TechCity LaunchPad (what has acquired a number – 1 – presumably to reinforce its experimental nature?). The Media Dominatrix was on fine form, brigading Nick and I into interviews between our talks, and the whole Digital team came out of it well. We are getting better known in this space and location and seen less as Government apparatchiks and more as ill-informed but well-meaning bureaucrats (trust me, that’s an upgrade!). I kicked off with a short talk with 3 messages – i) that Government really are trying to help, ii) that as a spin-out from a large conglomerate, whose main shareholder had changed and who were trying to make us produce things that we didn’t think would succeed in our market we might have experience in common with them, and iii) that we could see more opportunities in the digital market than they seemed to – and it didn’t appear to bomb. Jeremy Silver appeared next in his other guise, and was followed by a more academic analysis from the London Metropolitan University before Michael Acton Smith (still channelling Jimi Hendrix) talked about how Moshi Monsters was moving into Toys ’R’ Us territory. Then it was Sarah Wood of Unruly Media, giving a good demonstration of the role of the “creative” in the apparently necessary triumvirate of creative-geek-entrepreneur that makes up many Shoreditch companies, and Mo Firouzabadian of Buongiorno who described how unco-ordinated mobile living wasn’t an option! At this point, a variety of interviews with Reuters, the Telegraph, V3 and C21 Media meant I had to miss what sounded like fun talks from SapientNitro, Last.FM, NESTA and Merism. I was just about to go and support Eric the TechCity Baron and Finger Man when the Telegraph woman persuaded me to do an interview for a future BBC programme (no, honestly, that’s what she told me!) and so I missed Eric but caught his new mentor-in-chief Kevin Eyres (sadly, not the Kevin Ayers from Soft Machine many of us had been expecting, but the one from LinkedIn Europe!) and saw Finger Man ask the whole room who was sleeping with one another. Another nail in the coffin of the Technology Strategy Board as fusty bureaucrats! I made my excuses and left!
Back in sleepy Swindon, I had a meeting with Emma the Goth Heidi about the upcoming Siemens meeting, where Sustainability Man will be in charge but assisted by the lovely young padawan, and about how we need to find ways to ensure the best academics are connected with the best companies long before they get to jointly entering competitions! I hung around in the EPSRC soft cushions area for a while listening to senior people discussing the TSB unknowingly eavesdropped before my final meeting with Declan in the MRC – he is living in John Jeans office and rattling around in the space. Guess what? He wanted an update in the Cell Therapies TIC!!! We also discussed the progress on Stratified Medicine Innovation Platform and the Regenerative Medicines competitions. I then drove home and slept!