From celebrity to minority

Another Monday morning, another early morning drive through the lower end of Cotswolds and another “start the week” meeting.  Can life get better?  With FL in Scotland, David Way ably took charge and we finished in just under 30 minutes, so we got a chance to refill our coffee cups before the TIC Update meeting. We continue to balance resources to deliver on the promises other people are making on our behalf whilst not dropping the “day job” ball – but only just!  Then it was time for my “this is where you’re going” meeting with Jools before meeting another fresh, young person who has joined the throng.  Next came another chat with Debbie about how we join up the KTP programme with the rest of what we are doing and a ”Huw the Event” led Innovate 2011 meeting.  This was mainly about engaging a wider tranche of the organisation and resulted in the usual confusion, facilitated word mangling and eventual progress.  Then it was a Building Performance Evaluation Funders Panel.  I realise that the way we are running BPE results in more meetings and work, but it also makes sure we keep in touch with how our earlier investments are progressing.  Highlight for me in this meeting was the fact that the Stevenage Bioscience Incubator – where we are paying for the general equipment and sustainability aspects – is now being assessed and monitored under BPE – so we are taking responsibility for feeding our children!

Then it was down to London, slipping Bond-like into a dinner jacket and making my way to the Medical Futures Dinner at Old Billingsgate.  Since this was the exact venue the BAe Systems Innovation event had been held in the other week, I assume it is now the venue du jour?  The history of our involvement is interesting.  We flirted with Andy Goldberg and Medical Futures a few years back, but we didn’t have a strong portfolio in the healthcare area at the time, and Andy had his preferred business model.  I think we gave him some money, but am not aware of anything resulting.  Andy had hit on FL a few months back and – given our changed circumstance – I thought a spot of re-engagement might be worthwhile.  Accordingly, we sponsored a table at the event – with the proviso that he filled it with TSB sponsored companies who had engaged with Medical Futures and so could build “on the ground” links between the two organisations.  When we eventually were told who was on our table, I thought Andy had slightly reneged on (or forgotten) our agreement.  True, we had Helen Lee from Real World Diagnostics (see - and a couple of guys from RMS, but other than the empty seats, I got to spend the evening with Healthcare Man and Chris Mason!  The projects were interesting and relevant, but unstructured and so difficult to cover off.  The other thing that I was uncomfortable with was that – because the event was co-sponsored by the Starlight Foundation – the awards were given out by actors from Holby City (okay, marginally relevant) or East Enders (presumably they had opened supermarkets during the day and this was how they make money in the evening?)  The other celebrities managed to misunderstand the products and puff their own charities, so I left moderately depressed with the “selling” of medical innovation.  Plus, I would bet we don’t hear much about the products being implemented because of the make-up of the audience.  Really disappointing!!

The next morning the downbeat mood was perpetuated.  The first meeting was with the BVCA.  The back story is that we were put in touch with them about 6 months ago and discussed the “education” of companies who had our support on how they could get more (other peoples) money when their project finished.  BVCA wanted to sell us their existing course (they have a training arm) and we wanted a more balanced exposure.  Nigel put together something from several sources but the BVCA seemingly didn’t want to play and so Anne Glover took their slot.  This meeting was a little bit of a moan by them that we hadn’t treated them with respect (or something).  They really don’t seem to get that we didn’t wanted to buy (or endorse) what they are selling and so we parted just about on speaking terms.  Then it was down to catch the first half of an Automotive Council Technology Group meeting.  First up with Andy Analysis from ETI, who insulted the intelligence of everyone for 10 minutes with generalities before getting into some really interesting stuff – and then refused to share the slides.  Great PR for ETI there.  I left to meet with Strategy Man (not Process Man, he is very keen that he isn’t Process man) to discuss what his new team is doing and how we get a bit more structured about the Away Day output teams, now we’ve decided to do something with them.  Good meeting.  Then it was off to the City for the UKTI ICT Marketing Strategy and Implementation Group Meeting.  Larry Hirst has the aspiration to be the John Bell (of committee nobbling fame) of ICT – but none of the skills or patience.  This means that Larry knows the outcome he wants but the committee rarely give it to him. The goal here appears to be that this committee evolves into a more general one to support UKTI activities.  They call the wider use of ICT “Technology” – with the obvious and predictable confusion.  I explained our “digital services” competency model and Larry seized on it as an example of what he was trying to do – so we debated nomenclature and the resulting confusion – and then the necessary communications campaign!

Then it was back to the hotel bar for a quick meeting with some of the _connect team.  This was mainly to report back on the UKTI _connect progress, but strayed wider.  On UKTI, we are still unpacking the back story and the presumed previous commitments to suppliers, but the opportunity of having a shared digital platform with the other main Government agency that supports UK companies is too big a prize to screw up.  I was therefore giving them a bit of hard time about missed deadlines and such-like.  It then emerged that we have both throttled back our spend on _connect to comply with Cabinet Office, reprioritised the work to address competitions process needs and suffered an unexpected speed problem.  I came away worried.

The final task of the day was to take Sebastian and Michael to dinner – to discuss a variety of issues but increasingly in partial fulfilment of payment for their work on TIC branding.  We have made real progress and David Way has signed off their idea and they were keen to find out what they had to do next.  They gave me the “reflected passion” presentation across the restaurant table. They call it that because they see themselves as capturing and codifying the ideas they heard from David and the Heads they met on 7th April and then reflecting back the passion they heard to make a difference.  I thought it important to get FL to see this view and started to make arrangements for one or both of them to meet him ASAP.  They then asked about our wider media engagement – because they think our presence in the outside world is amazingly bad – and how they could engage with that.  Sebastian had seemingly met the Media Dominatrix through the Design Council (ALIP work?) and suggested Michael met her.  I agreed to arrange and sent e-mails and texts on the spot!  Then we got onto our design “not vouchers” scheme and both expressed strong support.  The final point they made was discomfort with the naming of DALLAS, but they accepted it was too late to change and that anyway brand name can be made to work if sufficient effort is put into articulating and communicating the underlying values – so there’s our task!

Wednesday started better.  Anne Glover had put someone she knew onto us and I met him in (remnant) sceptical mood.  He has a track record of helping SMEs get funding and grow, but has been out of the loop on a specific project for some years and might be a bit out of touch, but he obviously thinks like a funder.  Given the impact Nigel has recently had on our wider financial interactions, having another person who understand the weirdness of funding monies might be a bit useful for the “journey” work, so I have suggested he works for Strategy Man for a couple of days a week to test out the hypothesis!

Then Strategy Man and I walked around to the Home Orifice to meet the hierarchy of the new sciency bits.  It was a quite a relaxed meeting and Alan Pratt proved to be an imaginative and thoughtful person.  Strategy Man took lots of notes while I meandered through examples of what we do – which they seemed to understand.

Then it was a penance lunch with David Hughes.  He has been openly critical of the Technology Strategy Board since he left the DTI in 2006, and it seemed appropriate to accept his offer of lunch at the IoD.  I got there to find we were three – with Bipin Parmar of the Chilli (see – and that it was really just a shakedown for funding for the Chilli!  So sad.  Luckily, I had a cast iron excuse to leave a bit early to make it the Nissan Design Studios in Paddington.  It a little weird to get to in a taxi (I was running late) but we found it.  Nissan had invited a number of Government stakeholders including ourselves, BIS Automotive Unit, OLEV and UKTI to see what they had done with their IDP4 project.  They walked us through the Blue Essence project.  Starting with the Essence show car of a couple of years ago (see - they have restyled it to fit the hybrid Lotus Evora hybrid platform. They took us through the design stages and showed how they had first won the contract to do the development in an internal Nissan competition because of our co-funding, then leveraged the connections they had built up through the whole Innovation Platform, and then (and this they were obviously very proud of) they have added 16 new suppliers of electrical and low carbon components and systems to their supply roster.  They will make 2 demonstrators and 1 show car to be debuted at the Geneva Motor Show next year – and want to work with us to maximise the publicity and media attention to the UK low carbon back story.  At last the week started looking up!

Then it was back to central London for a Foundation for Science and Technology event on public data and its use in healthcare.  In truth it was a bit of a wash-out, with Paul Boyle giving a thinly disguised puff for the Scottish Longitudinal Study (see - and the ESRC (he is the new CEO) and Stephen Penneck giving a promotional talk for the Office of National Statistics and a defence of the National Census (he is Director General of the first who carried out the second).  Dougal really needs to brief his speakers better.  The one bright spot of the evening was Baroness Onora O’Neill, a spiky philosopher, who challenged just about everything with snappy one-liners and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the law in the area.  The depleted audience was down to the core of statisticians, healthcare leaders and a few Lords who sleep through the lot but have a nice dinner.  I was so disappointed with the level of information and debate that I made my excuses and missed the free dinner in favour of work!

The next morning it was down to Swindon for a clearing of the Compleat obligations, then a planning meeting for the next Governing Board meeting.  Since I have a pass out to speak at the British Business Angels Association Summit and Strategy Man is coming with me, we had little skin in the game, so we had a short meeting.

In the afternoon, we had a proper Executioners meeting, where we talked about the goals and composition of the improvement project groups, whether to apply for charitable status or not and a proposal from the BIS Automotive Unit to manage an RGF proposal.  Then we got on to an IT update, which was mainly about _connect.  I pursued the questions I had asked on Tuesday about the apparent delays in implementing aspects of the system.  We had been told in February that _connect-Me would be operational in June.  It is now scheduled for August.  We got more information on the impact of the lesser spend rate caused by the Cabinet Orifice on the progress of critical parts of the project and we agreed to re-instate the original expenditure limits and prioritise the projects for maximum effectiveness.  

We then discussed the recent increase in “complaints” about the lack of responsiveness of the Business Support Group (which Cyrus promises will get better with proper management) and the recent spate of “delayed” project starts caused by our increased rigour of financial due diligence.  Apparently, we are mostly just applying our own rules more effectively, but the limited resource available to do this means we are getting seriously behind and so project starts are getting delayed.  I am not sure we got a resolution to this, but we gave it airtime.  If we do not fix these interaction problems, then the current accusation that is growing in the community – that we are regressing to a DTI like bureaucracy – will be proven correct and 3 years of hard work will be wasted.  The end of the meeting saw me run off to catch a train into London to take part in the “We Own It” Summit dinner.  On the way, I had a telephone chat with Mani about the progress of our case to take a small amount of the anticipated underspend on TICs this year and “invest” it to double the size of the fund for TechCity LaunchPad.  It’s a bit like drawing teeth, and unless we get a response soon, it won’t be worth doing because of the disruption to the process.

The “We Own It” summit is all part of our engagement with Astia, but the full enormity of what we are attempting became apparent over dinner.  There were 100 or so people in the room to see Sharon Vosmek, the CEO of Astia, in discussion with Cherie Blair, and I counted 5 men.  I was luckily sitting next to someone I knew, but spent most of the evening answering the questions “why are you here?” and “what are you doing to promote the cause of women in business”.  The first answer (that I was asked) seemed to at least stave off too much aggression, but since we assess paper project proposals, I truly do not know if we fund men and women led proposals equally – perhaps we should see.  After a while Sharon came and “anointed” me by having a conversation, but I still found some real anger (released by alcohol) with how women are treated in business – and even by other women!  Cherie was a great speaker, and although she was obviously promoting her book (see – for the paperback!) she made some great points, the most interesting of which (considering the event) was that men and women working together was the optimum structure, and that anything less than 30% of either gender resulted in an ineffective culture.

The next morning, I made my way back to conference proper.  It is the second in a series, planned to span 10 years, to enable women to take a fuller part in business.  The first real talk, by Baroness Wilcox, was a great start.  Mixing stories of her induction into the family business, selling fish on the quay in the early morning, with less convincing statements from her brief, she made many points that needed to be made – that talent and stupidity are not gender attributes and some times positive action can lead to poorer performance, that it is about providing opportunity and not promotion and that diversity is a powerful weapon in the arsenal of innovation.  Then it was time for the panel.  Sharon had “selected” me to be part of a panel discussion entitled “How does your country/culture of origin impact entrepreneurial behaviour?”  Moderated by a seriously heavyweight Washington lawyer, we started with a treatise on the symptoms of inequality from a French academic.  Then we heard witness from an Indian entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley.  Then it was my turn.  The question was why British people regard failure as an impediment to future activity.  The answer – that we are as much embarrassed by success and disappointed by failure – at least established that I might tell the truth!

Arriving late is possibly a sign of failure, but Tom Kosnik, who had slept in and missed the start of the panel, came up with an observation that everyone agreed was at the core of the answer – that the customers of most companies are comprised of men and women and that understanding all your customers was that important that a management team composed of men and woman was probably the best way to achieve success.  There were stories that even women on the funding side are wary of funding too many women led companies in case they fail, that the insidious prejudice that drives the fraternity culture of banking actively demoted women led companies, and that there is still not enough hard evidence to build a case on either side.  The action points that came out were about building a pipeline – all the way back to getting more women into science, technology, engineering, mathematics – AND business, and building communities that could provide the right supportive culture.  There was a side issue about mentoring in that mentoring, like the NESTA owned statistic that 6% of UK companies generate 5-% of the employment growth and the apocryphal 50% of the marketing budget that is useful can only really be viewed in hindsight.  This led into a discussion about collecting and extrapolating data about the involvement of women in historically successful, high growth companies.

Dodging the rain, I made it to my final tryst of the week, at the British Business Angels Association.  This had come out of their involvement with the “how to get money” workshop a few weeks ago and the contrast with the BVCA could not be more stark.  Whereas the BVCA were only interested in what they already did, the BBAA were asking how they could get more engaged, help the companies with support and even extend the TechCity LaunchPad by having pitching sessions for those who did not make the final cut.  I appear to have a pass out from the next Governing Board meeting to speak at their summit, so I was really interested that they were so friendly!!

I caught thee train back to find my car (in Swindon) and then drove home – in time to take a call from baron Eric asking whether we had nailed the extra £1m for the TechCity LaunchPad yet and pondering whether he could get the Chancellor to announce it – because it was putting Government money into a credible growth area.  Watch this space!

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