Another way to discover disruption?

Innovation is a precious thing.  It needs constant support while it develops and then help into the commercial world.  Providing the right sort of support is important.  Different markets work in different ways and at different timescales and so the support mechanism needs to be appropriate.  However, getting started in almost any field basically needs money to make things happen.  That money starts the process of development.

If you talk at any length with venture capitalists, they will tell you that the quality of the team is as important as - if not more important than - the idea they are trying to develop.  This is apparently particularly true for small companies.  As we have tried to develop our selection mechanisms to give the right sort of support to business, we have always had this in the back of our minds.

At our Collaboration Nation events earlier this year, we tried out a form of retrospective selection.  The competition had been in the autumn of last year and we had been looking for innovation proposals in both underpinning technologies and the digital world and would provide 75% funding, up to £25,000, for single companies or small consortia to develop their ideas.  We were inundated with proposals.  We had allocated enough money for 40 proposals on technologies and 80 proposals in the digital space, but we had almost 600 applications in each!  In the end , the quality of proposals was so good that we funded almost 160 projects.  The final part of every project was to present the results of their work at Collaboration Nation just before Easter - not just to the other project teams but also to venture capitalists, other funding bodies, large corporates - anyone who could help develop the proposal further.  As we all watched the 160 presentations over the 2 days, it became apparent that the point about people was very true.  There were a number of presentations that made you sit up and take notice - the energy and commitment of the presenter sucked you into the idea and made it more real, more exciting.  There were others that you had to work at to get excited - especially after the first 50 or so - but were worth the effort.  Unfortunately, there were some that made us question our selection process.

As we look back on those presentations, we also noticed that those who excited us on the day seemed to be getting more traction in the wider community to develop their proposals.  It looked like their enthusiasm was infectious!

It was with this sort of background that we approached the design of the small competition that will culminate at Innovate 2010.  The idea was simple.  First we would break the competition into 4 sections covering our focus areas - digital, healthcare, energy and sustainability.  We would focus on ideas that could be truly disruptive - things that could change the market they were addressing.  Then we would get people to put in a short video explaining why they thought their idea should be funded.  That would act as a first hurdle into the competition.  Although circumstances also dictated speed, we thought that a compressed timescale would be an additional hurdle.  We opened the competition on Monday 5th September with a closing date of Thursday 16th - a mere 12 days to compose, record and upload a two-minute video encapsulating the basic idea.  But we didn't want a full business plan or the underlying intellectual property, we just wanted what used to be called an "elevator pitch".  We thought we might get a couple of hundred but the final day saw a deluge that took us to 548 after taking out the duplicates.  Teams of assessors worked through the following weekend to select out the top 15 proposals in each area.  These are now being put through a more conventional selection process where they submit a written proposal answering our four selection criteria.  This will select out the top three in each section who will go on to the live event at Innovate 2010 - but more of that later.

What has been interesting is the response of the various communities.  Each area has ended up with a similar level of entry - the lowest was 114 and the highest was 167.  Most feedback we have heard has been positive - companies and people appreciate that we are trying something new and have responded adventurously!  There have been sceptics.   At least one person who wrote in thought we were trivialising innovation and compared our competition to the X-Factor!  It is not at all comparable - although if we have injected even a small amount of the excitement which that activity generates into innovation, then I think we will have done well.

In any competition, narrowing down the field is uncomfortable for all concerned. In this case we have 548 video entries and only 60 proposals will go through to the next (written) phase.  That means that 488 companies and people will be disappointed.   I am sure we will get some who will look at the other entries and feel that theirs was "better".  With those, we commiserate in advance.  However the selection process used assessors who are familiar with our normal processes and are experts in their fields.  They were responding to the first two minutes of the videos (yes, some people submitted videos that were over the specified two minutes and so we only assessed the first part - to be fair to all those who made the effort to condense their message).  The video was as much about getting the idea across as the idea itself.  Being clear and concise when giving a short pitch is critical - ask those who go to any venture capital pitchfest.  If you have been successful, well done!  If you haven't, look at the videos that were successful - we will be publishing a list of those who are proceeding to the next phase because we are proud of them - and see whether you can see what the assessors saw and find something to learn from it.

All who entered should now know the result.  Those who are progressing to the next stage have until Thursday 30th Sept to submit their written proposal.  This will be assessed in a normal manner and three proposals in each section will go forward to Innovate 2010, where they will pitch to decide which one gets the full £100k.  Presenters get a little more time on October 12th, but not much.

Good luck and I'll see you there!

 

Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:08

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