If you’re out on the wire, you might as well dance!
13 August 2021 by David Bott
Given that it was the dog days of summer, and that I had been to a large percentage of the “start the week” meetings recently, I decided to work at home this particular Monday! I now reckon I can get a morning’s work in before the telephone calls catch up with me, and so it proved. First up was a call with Security Boy and Finance Boy about the Home Office m-commerce project. We are collecting a select group of names to ask them what they see the problem as and what it would be worth to fix it. It’s coming together. Next was a (for me) unscheduled HR catch-up with Anne – there is something very odd about how Outlook randomly removes things from the calendar! After a quick lunch, it was back for a catch-up with Will before an interesting phone call with the guys from Castrol 2020. They have realised that they can't sell automotive lubricants forever, and so are addressing what Castrol could evolve into. They have a global brand, strong links to the automotive and engineering sectors and lots of money! They have organised their thinking into 4 streams (my notes on their words!) which they see as a series of steps, with increasing risk for Castrol – Next Generation Engineering (including activities like taking advantage of developments in materials science to offer new engineering systems and hardware monitoring and maintenance systems), Intelligent Operations (where they are talking about equipment maintenance, analysis and modelling leading to process optimisation and preventative maintenance), Responsible Castrol (where they are looking to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by sustainable business drivers – electric vehicles, bio-based feedstocks, etc.) and Smart Mobility (where they start with vehicle telematic systems and go with the flow). I had apparently talked to their lead guy at some meeting, and he was interested in following up on how we could help them make the change. Looks like we’re doing yet another “Cisco”.
Tuesday was a Swindon day filled with a meeting of the Heads of Innovation Programmes, where we went through the decisions we made last Friday and made sure we still believed in them and then had a long and very productive discussion about TICs. It was then into catch-ups with Healthcare Man and Sustainability Man before a small “riot in Swindon” moment and the chance to drive to Bristol Parkway to pick up my son, whose train had been delayed by riots in Truro – I am, of course, joking – it was one man sitting on a viaduct threatening to jump that closed Truro station for 4 hours!
Wednesday was the big day for us this week. It was the TechCity LaunchPad Investors Workshop in London. The LaunchPad had been announced by Willetts and FL in Shoreditch on 4th April, the competition had opened a month later, we had received over 220 2-minute videos, down-selected them to 41 and run a moderately normal second stage CR&D competition on them. We had 18 proposals we wanted to fund, 20 that we thought were pretty good and 3 companies had dropped out for various reasons. The novelty with this competition was that the 18 companies had a promise of £100k from us – if they could find the matching funds from private sources. They couldn’t use existing money, they had to be doing something new and out of their normal run of business – hence a workshop to help them find that money. The team had beaten all paths to sources of money but found the most response community was the Angels, and we had over 150 funders of various sorts registered for the event. We started with a few words from me about the process – to make sure everyone had heard the message as many times as possible – a nice overview from Sherry Coutu and then we handed over the stage to Finance Boy, who showed scarily effective skills as an event compere! Those with money had 8 minutes to state their case, those who did not had only 2 minutes. Between each group we gave them 20 minutes to “network”. It was truly intense. The opening had standing room only at the back of the room and when one presenter accidentally introduced the slide of his budget forecast as “here are my made-up numbers” he got a spontaneous round of applause – because everyone in the room knew what he meant! MD was recording talking heads pieces with people from both the companies and funders side of the street and everyone was networking like crazy! Half-way through the afternoon we got the message that Willetts would be a little late, so we started slipping timings, got Baron Eric from Tech City to say a few words and I tried to hang out my closing remarks for longer than they deserved. There were still about 75% of the audience in the room at the end! I was on my second question from the audience when Finger Man gave me the sign that his nibs had arrived, and I escaped to the front row as he gave a remarkably well scripted talk that highlighted some of my favourite companies from the day – it’s amazing how that happens! Finger Man then took him around the exhibits by the companies and he did his usual impressive interaction stuff. After 30 minutes or so he left to get ready for some debate or other than were having the next day, but many of the companies he talked to were positively preening! There are pictures of the debauchery that followed
and rumours about when Finger Man got to bed, but it was judged by most to be an extremely effective event and lots of people should feel good about that – Huw and his Penguins made it so no-one noticed what was going on, Claire and Grayling got us brilliant media cover, Nigel, Nick, Brian and possibly others made sure the number of investors in the room was more than credible, Helena, Mark and the ICtomorrow team made the video pitch front end work and Clare and the Competitions Team turned the second stage around in double quick time. It was a massively successful team effort. All we need now is for the investors to like the companies and we will have had real success, but it is difficult to see how we could have done more to advance our goals!
Thursday was another working at home day. It started with a brace of interviews left over from the day before – Computer Weekly and Business Zone – but then settled down into a real opportunity to catch-up. The weirdest call of the day was from John Higgins at Intellect asking about the separation between the ESPKTN and ETN – and whether it would cause a problem if Intellect sponsored ETN. I ran through the “single network” argument but am not sure what Intellect will do.
Friday was a London day and started with a meeting with Deborah Dawton, the CEO of the Design Business Association. Above a janitorial supplies shop on Old Street, you can guarantee that the members don’t think their association is wasting money on a flashy head office! We were joined by Jim Dawton, who is currently managing the Design Option project. Mostly it was about how we join up the design and technology communities, although there was a sidebar about how the Design Council still confuses its own aims with those of the community! There were also a number of points about providing support for small companies. Many design companies are small by choice and there is no real mentoring system for them – DBA have another one starting at the moment – but the problem appears to be getting them to realise they need help rather than sourcing the sort of help they need. This might apply to our efforts and those of the Business Coaching for Growth scheme. The Field of Dreams scenario appears to be flawed. On the Option front, it feels like we are pushing at an open door and, if we have a problem at all, it will be managing demand!
Next up was a meeting with Sharon Davies from DHL. I seem to have met Sharon several times over the last 3 years and, although the conversations are interesting and I learn more about the logistics industry every time, there never seems to be any follow through. This time it seemed to go better, with some signs of real interest from DHL – and especially once I started talking about the sorts of companies that we were now supporting under CADI2, particularly since a chunk of their business is managing supply chains for larger companies! They are keen for their Director of ICT to meet with our Digital team to see how they could work with us. Also, they talked about their consolidation centres – specifically the one at Heathrow where all the retailers are mandated to use the single, DHL run, off-site centre for their stock. They have another in Bristol, but the use of the centre is not mandated by the local council and so it does not have the same impact on traffic and emissions. They are increasingly interested in how this sort of logistics support might factor into our work on Future Cities and so have offered a visit to Heathrow to see how it’s done! Finally they wanted to engage with UKTI but see to be stuck at the wrong level and not getting anywhere. I put her in touch with the ever-friendly Bob Driver and have marked his card! And the food was nice!
I then walked up to Marylebone to meet up with Glenn Shoosmith of BookingBug. Glenn is still being distracted by the fame/notoriety caused by his rant at His Daveness and the Blond Angel at last years launch of Tech City, but is trying to get down to making money again. He gets my attention, because it was his idea to run the reverse funding model as part of LaunchPad. His original business idea – to be able to book sports venues all over London – is stalled because the Government has withdrawn funding from all the bodies he was negotiating with for backing (how ironic?). He has realised that one of our competitions is not the right place to push a project down the final mile, so was interested in how we could help connect him to potential backers – he only needs about £500k to do something amazing. We talked about the various Olympic sponsors, the more high profile companies in “gym” space and whether some kind of sponsorship by the DoH might help a system that makes it easier to book and try out a sporting activity (with its potential impact on long-term healthcare). Nice ending to end the week on – our money never on the table – just our place in the innovation ecosystem!