I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant!
17 December 2021 by David Bott
I’ve found a new way to deal with Monday morning. I drive to Swindon, but leave immediately and catch a train to London – thus missing the “start the week” meeting! The reason was a last-minute invitation to take part in a discussion with UKTI about “international prioritisation”. Strategy Man and Strategy Boy were both already going, but UKTI chappies thought I might be able to make a contribution. I arrived at the PA Consulting extension to UKTI’s London base a bit early (their coffee tends to be quite good) only to be used as Colm’s show and tell with a Chinese deputation being sold the UK as a base for their expansion of Enlogic (the only card I got was from the EMEA President, and his company was set up as a shell early this year, all I could find that made sense was this – http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dong-mei-shi/3a/35/451) I gave a 5 minute spiel on the Technology Strategy Board because they had apparently got off the plane clutching the details of our “smart power distribution and demand” competition (see - http://www.innovateuk.org/content/competition/smart-power-distribution-and-demand.ashx). I left enough cards and went back to the main event – because everyone else was late, I was still the first one there! The idea was to agree a set of criteria between the various bits of BIS so that we could have a common priority list of nations to “do stuff with”. The starting point was the PA delivered, UKTI sponsored analysis of trade and investment opportunities. I think we were there to suggest a factor on UK capability and some BIS people (including Fergus) were there to do what BIS people do. I think it went well, but am not really sure.
After a slight detour to have unplanned coffee with an friend, I made it back to Swindon for a catch-up with David Way, a longer and rather interesting discussion with Catapult Communications Man about how to get the HVM CEOs on board, navigate the apparent BIS restrictions on communications and deliver everything on a shoestring, and then a chat with temporarily disabled Events Boy about the idea of a “festival of innovation” – that we have been kicking around for a year or two but not homed in on yet! The final task of the evening was a phone call to California with one of our potential Cell Therapy Catapult CEOs. Then it was an evening in the Swindon Hilton – every bit as exciting as you might imagine!
Tuesday was another two-bit day. I started with 2 Funders Panels – the first one on the “Internet of Things” showed again how we are getting people to understand the wider implications of digitisation of markets, and the second, on “The Implications of Near Patient Testing” showed us unpacking the issues of how a technological development could alter the mechanics and business models of healthcare.
Then it was a meeting of the Heads of Innovation Programmes. Not surprisingly, the major item was the next phase of the Catapults, so Mike joined us as we tried to understand what had – or had not – been agreed at the Governing Board meeting last week. We are still lacking a clear plan forward and there is a danger that we will use up lots of resource following a process path rather than trying to get to the right outcomes. As Em and her sidekick joined us to talk about the links to the Research Councils, Healthcare Man and I made our excuses and caught a train to London for another of those “could you just pop in a discuss what you’re doing” meetings that seem so popular these days. Everyone forgets they banished us to Swindon in 2007 and assume we’re on tap! This one was with George Freeman MP who is Willetts life science advisor. He wanted to know how we were going to manage the £180m, inaccurately named, Biomedical Catalyst Fund. We explained our logic in some detail to him and he seemed happy with what we were proposing. His main goal seemed to be to ensure MRC didn’t put too much of the money into academically driven projects but that the academic resource was used to support challenge led projects. We agreed to meet regularly and he offered to support our case for a back-end loaded funding pattern for our £90m! I wonder if he has the clout! I left on time and met up with FL, who was sheltering inside Portcullis House because he had no coat (he claims his Scottish ancestry enables him to not feel the cold!). We caught a cab out to City Hall for a meeting with Mark Kleinman (see – http://www.linkedin.com/in/markkleinman) – who had noted the bit about the location of the Cell Therapy Catapult and wanted to offer London’s support. We had already tried to get access to the existing thinking via UCL, but they had been negotiating for a bigger role, so this was a chance to undermine their negotiating position. It worked. The nice GLA/LDA people in the meeting spilled everything and offered to set us up with the developer for the London Docks site, and averred that they would help us negotiate a “reasonable” rent for an iconic building to be the centre of a life sciences cluster in the East End of London. As we negotiated the commuters at London Bridge, I lost FL but since I only just caught the train 15 minutes later than the one I had a ticket on, I wasn’t too broken up about it! I am sure he enjoyed his meetings and meals in exciting and cosmopolitan London whilst I had another Swindon hotel evening!
Wednesday was a full and complete Swindon day, and started with a much-delayed catch up with the acting Director of Human Remains. We talked about how to get the people we need to deliver the existing programmes and how we might add people to be able to effectively deliver the extra programmes we have inherited over the last 2 weeks. We also talked about the team-building event the team have persuaded me to run in the New Year.
After a catch-up with Jools about the end of the year and (yes, we have to plan it now) the early weeks on 2012, I joined my first EMT meeting for many weeks. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the “one dynamic team” atmosphere as we tackled issues together and in a collegiate way. Only joking!
We started with the “issue du jour” – what did the Governing Board actually agree to last week about Catapults? FL was quite adamant that they agreed to proceed with the 4 we suggested, although it was not amazingly clear to me how much they want to get involved in the process until we resubmit the final case for each one. It must be Christmas!
Then it was the case for the extension of the Innovation Platform in Low Carbon Vehicles. We had discussed this – complete with post-it notes – back in June and the team had been away consulting with all the stakeholder groups, but failed to explain what they would do in the next few years, so got a hard time and grudging approval to continue. We have to learn to “pitch” our case for support better than we do. In the last few months I have seen some inadequate cases for things that we know to have been successful or to have real potential – I guess we are all running so close to the red line that we have no time to stop and think whether we are explaining what we are doing as well as we should.
What really surprised me were the issues about the Smart programme. Because it is a responsive mode competition, it is more difficult to get appropriate assessors. Because it allows resubmissions, there is a question about whether to use the same assessors again or allow the new assessors to see the past comments (that presumable the proposer has responded to). And because we weren’t given enough money to continue the on-going programme, we are getting low success rates – which upsets the punters! It also seems that the time taken to go from Funders Panel to start of the project is as long as it is for the rest of our competitions but it is difficult to break out the causes. Add to that the fact that the renaming announced last Thursday (but widely anticipated) hasn’t reached our website (and still hasn’t 4 days later!) and you have a recipe for “robust” discussions (see – http://www.economist.com/node/21541767?fsrc=scn/tw/te/ar/makingmurderrespectable).
We squeezed in a short discussion on the analysis of tools, but once again, I felt that we did not give enough time to think through what we were talking about and I have a worry that I didn’t actually agree with what I saw, but couldn’t say because of the lack of evidence. I guess I must be getting old!
The drive home was longer that usual because Fossebridge and Northleach (both amusing switchbacks on the Fosse Way) had turned into pinch points because everyone was carefully driving down and up again through wet and slippery snow. I did wonder if there was a metaphor in that!
Thursday was an earlier than usual start because I had to get down to London for a coffee with Judith Clegg (see – http://venturingunlimited.com/team/ and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/8266769/Judith-Clegg-Start-Up-100-judge.html). We squeezed it because of what I got passed (by FL) next, but it was a nice chat about Glasshouse (see – http://www.theglasshouse.net/) and her new venture with Anil Hansjee (see – http://www.crunchbase.com/person/anil-hansjee) and how we could engage much more with the investor community. It seems that the LaunchPad in particular has raised our profile within that community and some of them want to play.
I had to leave because FL had passed me an invitation to an open data meeting (actually of the Public Service Hub, see – http://2020psh.org/ although they don’t keep their website up to date) that involved Francis Maude, Tim Kelsey and Nigel Shadbolt and promised to explain the role of the Open Data Institute in the area. I snuck in late, but got a word with Nigel who seems to be my new best friend. FM (who is definitely a Sith Lord) started by explaining that he was never without his London Bus Stop Live iPhone app (see – http://data.gov.uk/apps/london-bus-stop-live and http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/london-bus-stop-live/id474055708?ls=1&mt=8 although the cognoscenti say that BusMapper Pro is better - http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/busmapper-pro/id431558152?mt=8). He made all the usual “governments believe in transparency before they’re in government so we have to do this quickly before we lose our nerve” jokes and then left. Tim Kelsey then talked about how important he is, how the Treasury had made extra money available for the ODI (which is untrue, but that’s what transparency is all about) and how it will transform public services. He didn’t actually mention economic growth but made a lot about how citizens will have better information about those who govern them. Nigel ended up sounding like the best bit of the day as he name checked us, cited my recent blog on open data (see – http://www.innovateuk.org/content/blog/data-data-everywhere-nor-any-byte-to-link.ashx) and talked a lot about working with us. By the time I had to leave, I was feeling “comfortable”. Who knows what went on after I left though. I was chased out by an earnest young man who wanted to talk to me about his project, but I was in a hurry so just gave him my card and told him to write. I felt bad about that afterwards!
The reason I was in a hurry was that I had to get down to Tracy Island to rendezvous with Energy Man and Renewables Boy to meet some guys from Ricardo – because when FL met the head Ricardo dude the other week, neither of them knew that we were talking to Ricardo on a number of fronts, so we had to have this meeting to make them feel good about their contribution. Actually, although we knew about their intentions in energy, to discuss exactly what they were trying was useful and I think we all enjoyed the discussion. I had to leave the food to get across London to Euston to catch a train to Warrington, so a got a banana for lunch!
I arrived at the luxurious travel exchange that is Warrington Bank Quay to meet up with Brain and the car the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus had provided to whisk us to DSIC. Once there we met with a bevy of “managers” of various aspects of running both the STFC part of the site and the business outreach piece. For a couple of hours we learned how important our host was in the history of both Daresbury and Harwell, (I hadn’t previously understood that David Sainsbury asked him personally to save the two failing sites!) that they did lots of really important science stuff (quite often involving expensive computers or detailed analysis) and that they had built a seemingly successful incubator community on the edges of the old site. We also got shown around the Innovations Technology Access Centre (see – http://www.itac.stfc.ac.uk/) by Morlidge Junior. This is a neat idea, using the old buildings that once housed the experimental neutron beam lines as cheap but effective incubator space for laboratory based businesses. They took us out to dinner, but it was the same people talking about internal issues. Brain had tried to get some businesses engaged, but it seemed to be more about them impressing us that anything else. For the record, they talked a lot and didn’t actually seem to understand the idea of challenge-led activity when it came down to the wire!
Next morning we were driven back to the site for the Business Breakfast (see – http://newshub.daresburysic.co.uk/Event/Detail/1320) followed by a talk about us by us (see – http://newshub.daresburysic.co.uk/Event/Detail/1386). The breakfast was fun. Sustainability Man had driven from home (not that far away) to join us and we mingled and talked to a variety of local business leaders. I heard about everything from a new green truck engine (see – http://www.e-h-tech.com/) to an SaaS partner of Microsoft that seemingly had links to several of our activities (see – http://nttx.co.uk/it-services-introduction) and met quite a few who were just there to help others!
The talk was a variant of the “not the corporate” presentation and seemed to be a combination of stuff they knew and stuff they were genuinely surprised by. The questioning was mainly about Smart (I had rebranded my slide set!) and was mildly aggressive. Highlights of the open discussion were:
- Q. Why don’t we check if there are other companies operating in the field before we award grants (which really means why did you give a grant to my competitor)? A. Why didn’t you look for grant funding before you spent your own money and then complain that your competitors are more engaged than you?
- Q. Why does it take you so much time to give us the money once you’ve said we could have it? A. Do you really want people giving away your tax money without a few basic checks on who we’re giving it to?
- Q. Why do you give resubmissions to different assessors? A. Because there are arguments on both sides and we have decided it is overall fairer to do so!
Afterwards, we got some more pointed and personal ones. A guy from EA Tech Ventures (who had asked the question about resubmission assessors) came and bent my ear not about the basic issue, but about how we dealt with it. He felt that we were unnecessarily defensive and aggressive about our responses. It is always difficult to judge these things, and people who are turned down will rewrite all sorts of bits of history to make it someone else’s fault, but I did not feel that we were coming out of his story well. Then came another guy from a nanotechnology company who had put in a Freedom of Information request for the names of those who had assessed – and turned down – his application. He believed that – from the comments – one of the assessors had been his PhD supervisor with whom he is in dispute about the ownership of the intellectual property that is the basis of his company. He hadn’t thought to give us the potentially conflicted name and let us sort it out, he instead has become convinced that we are run by universities and didn’t care about business – and was telling everyone that!
After a forensic coffee break, we were taken to the virtual engineering centre and shown simulation of the inside of a Bentley and told they did things for BAe outside of Astrea but similar. This sort of thing was once novel, but I have seen too many companies with such set-up that I am more sanguine about the use of simulation as a sales tool rather than a true development tool!
Eventually Brain and I were driven back to Bank Quay (with the snow causing enough delays that we were grateful that the train was similarly delayed) and had to take our separate seats southwards. I had one more, slightly bizarre, meeting! I got off at Wolverhampton and met up with Richard Archer who we have just taken on part time until the end of March to help out Healthcare Man on the business development side of the Cell Therapy Catapult. Richard had been otherwise engaged supporting the birth of a grandchild earlier in the week, so had volunteered to drive from Cambridge to Wolverhampton and drive me back to Warwick so that we would have time to discuss his role!! So it was that we circumnavigated Birmingham through the Friday rush hour, discussing the recruitment of the senior team, the location, the relationship to the still very interested universities and so on. We were still talking when we got to Warwick so spent more time in a Little Chef have toasted tea-cakes and tea. Who says my life isn’t exciting and romantic?
He eventually dropped me back at my car and I made it home where, despite the forecasts, we had had no snow. I must talk to the Met Office about that next week!