Thursday, 10 November 2016

A new directory of accelerators and incubators in the UK – make sure you're on the list

This post was orginally published on the Nesta blog
Accelerators and incubators play an important role in start-up ecosystems throughout the UK. In an effort to understand them better, Nesta has been actively involved in this field for a number of years, with activities ranging from research to investment to networks of good practice.
However, this space changes rapidly and data can quickly become inaccurate. With accelerators, in particular, the state of knowledge has not kept pace with their phenomenal rate of expansion. Indeed, simply tracking new programmes can be a major challenge in itself.
For this reason, Nesta is working with BEIS, the United Kingdom Science Park Association and artificial intelligence software provider Synoptica to create the most complete database of UK accelerators and incubators to date.
Our aim is to build a database that is open and available to all, as well as easy to update and maintain.

Why do we care about accelerators and incubators?

Accelerators and incubators support start-ups through the early and fragile stages of business. This support can – in theory – help firms avoid the mistakes of others, saving time and money and increasing survival rates. This, in turn, has consequences for job creation, regional development, innovation and economic growth.
This database will provide entrepreneurs with information about programmes and facilities to which they can apply, as well as helping to identify geographical areas and business sectors which may be underserved.

Why should people help us?

Contributing to this database is an opportunity for accelerators and incubators to increase their exposure to entrepreneurs and promote the services they provide.
However, in order for our database to have real impact and be as useful as possible, we need to collect information such as the location of programmes and facilities, any sector specialism and details of the services they provide.

How you can help

We would like your assistance in compiling this new directory. If you work for, or are involved in, a UK accelerator or incubator, please check that your accelerator or incubator is on our working list here.
If your programme or facility is not currently on this list, please fill in this short questionnaire to add it. If you are already on this list, we already know about you and will contact you in the next few weeks. Please also help us spread the word by sharing this survey with your network.
The full list of accelerators and incubators will be made publicly available in March, alongside a report containing a typology of accelerators and incubators and insights from our research.
If you have any questions about this survey or the research more generally, please contact Nesta's research team at

- See more at:

Monday, 14 March 2016

The Phone is Mightier

I suppose this is the perfect setting for this post, a Saturday afternoon in the sun from my mobile with a pint beside me and my 6 week old son strapped to my chest. The way we consume content has evolved so rapidly, why not the way we create it?

The stimulus for this post came from 2 sources this week- one a quote I read saying that money spent on HS2 (for those not in the UK, a high-speed train connecting London to the North of England) would be better served on providing better nationwide high speed internet; and two an image from a presentation I saw at an Innovate UK event at the Williams advanced material conferences centre that showed a horse-drawn fuel truck refilling a Ford Model T.

My point is this. Predicting the future is difficult, but is especially hard when we are doing so under the constraints of what we know and what has worked for us.  Just because there have been tremendous advancements in high speed broadband and fibre optics, doesn’t mean we should be seeing the future driven by this. Innovation means looking outside of what we know to find solutions.

The advancement of mobile tech has dramatically changed the profile of the kit we buy and where we use it. I am as likely work from my car as I am from an office fitted-out with the world's best network connection. But let’s face it, the UK mobile connection is atrocious compared to other regions. I think I actually get better coverage in the Canadian Rockies than I do on my train through New Malden. Investing in better wireless infrastructure and faster technology looks far more like the future than being locked to my office or commuting on a fast and poorly connected train. And before you argue that these trains are fitted with internet now, try to get online on them and download a file larger than this document.

One positive outcome of our failure to act on the future is that for the 1st time I see the possibility of developing nations that lack expensive wired infrastructure, to surpass the UK and other developed economies. Mobile -led tech from Africa is already starting to challenge some of the traditional tech and business models of the developed world. I think this is bound to continue.

Finally, it is a strong message from the UK government that we need better transport and home connections. If this isn’t making my case, I don’t know what is. Remember the 8 most feared words in the English language are: "I’m from the government, I’m here to help." We want our government supporting innovation (see Innovate UK) not driving it!

Stephen Mooney is a full time entrepreneur and part-time blogger on topics ranging from challenges facing start-ups, to pop culture to running. He is currently part of the UKTI's Global Entrepreneur Programme and CEO of Synoptica. Synoptica is a leading SaaS platform that helps organisations to uncover, rank and engage with innovative SME’s.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Lease or Buy? The J. Paul Getty Rule to Outsourcing

The oil baron J. Paul Getty is attributed with the quote "if it appreciates buy it, if it depreciates lease it" as his guideline to investment decision. For a guy that at one time was the richest living American, we probably should take his word for it. Plus, as a rule I tend to sway toward the advice of people with an initial as a first name (see F. Scott Fitzgerald, C. Montgomery Burns, P. Diddy). But can the principle of this rule be applied to start ups?

Of course when it comes to the day to day operations of a start-up, the rule is tried and tested. We don't buy our office space, we lease it. As a result there is a great business on flexible workspace that I recently blogged on. The business of leasing hardware has accelerated with the advancements of networks and the cloud. We are now almost exclusively leasing software through SaaS. Fortunately we stopped buying people and leasing them with the abolishment of slavery...

But joking aside, there may be some staff or services that you really should consider leasing, or outsourcing. I see too many startups show a hiring plan that includes incredibly expensive and unnecessary next hires who would likely be overpaid, underworked and frustrated. Sector driven outsourcing has pretty much become commoditised, with rent-a-CFO/CEO/CIO services abundant as well as accounting, PR, sales and marketing product suites and managed services available.

Whilst we can't directly attribute the Getty rule to outsourcing, here are some questions to consider:
  •  Is this hire core to my business strategy? The harshest example of this was a colleague who recognised that their dev shop didn’t need a receptionist so he replaced her with a bell-but perhaps that is downsizing more than outsourcing… The point here is you need to be ruthless in analysing your company’s strategy and what is important. If you are in dev mode you probably don’t need in house PR and marketing. If you are a consulting firm, you likely don’t need a massive IT team.
  • What is my current risk position? A bit of the ‘first, do nothing’ rule of medicine but hard to quantify. You need to constantly be measuring your company’s growth strategy with the ramifications of waiting a bit longer to hire.
  • What capabilities do I already have in-house? Sometimes giving new tasks to existing and under-utilised employees helps to recharge and discover skills that you didn’t know existed. I am not saying that you want your marketer writing legal contracts, but there may be some middle ground.
  • What is my current cash position: Can I afford either? What is the short and long term impact on cash flow?
  • What am I exposing? Am I risking my intellectual property ownership if I outsource?
  • What is the timescale of my decision? How long will you need this position or service for? Short term- lease, long term buy.
I am sure there are other guidelines I would love to hear from our commenters. Hope this helps!

Stephen Mooney is a full time entrepreneur and part-time blogger on topics ranging from challenges facing start-ups, to pop culture to running. He is currently part of the UKTI’s Global Entrepreneur Programme and CEO of Synoptica. Synoptica is a leading SaaS platform that helps organisations to uncover, rank and engage with innovative SME’s.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Rise, you're fired!

Lord SugarI attended the launch of Rise London last December - a re-branding of the Barclays accelerator, the banking giant’s flagship innovation programme designed to redefine banking through tech. The event took place in East London and was mostly attended by ambitious quasi-hipsters. The type with a sort of well-rehearsed but frighteningly egocentric career-pitch and a well-waxed lid. Potential candidates for Lord Sugar’s televised quest to find his next protégé - or so we are led to believe...

Sure, lots of people turned up to the launch and the beer and mulled-wine flowed in abundance: all things synonymous with a great event. But seemingly that’s all anyone was there for. I counted three Barclays staff, which hardly suggests the accelerator is an important initiative for Barclays. It left me with the feeling that perhaps their CEO Jes Staley does not truly believe this will re-define the business.

Arguably the launch of Rise wasn’t the main event. In June 2015, I was at another accelerator demo day, where the 2015 cohort pitched to two auditoriums of investors, tech journalists and other curious individuals from Silicon Roundabout. This event wasn’t about the firm’s strategy to identify and work with innovative technology companies. It was simply a great PR exercise to gain some advertising or press around the 10 lucky start-ups. And perhaps this holds the answer to many of these accelerator programs - they often seem more designed as a communication piece and less around finding the next great innovation.

Don’t get me wrong, some start-ups in the Barclay programme are gems. Take a look at Everledger and Basestone, who both happen to have obtained keen interest from Synoptica clients. However, if corporates like Barclays were truly dedicated to accelerating the adoption of new technology in their industry, they wouldn’t sponsor accelerators as their number one strategy.

At Synoptica, we believe this strategy is not designed to yield meaningful innovation results because it does not follow three key principles:

  1. Scalability: first and foremost, to find truly disruptive start-ups, you need to reach at least 1,000 global start-ups every six months, not 10! Who they are, what they do and how your organisation is interacting with them should be information that is shared across the organisation. It shouldn’t be limited to a small innovation team in east London or the Valley.
  2. Global: whatever your objectives, you’re more likely to uncover the diamond in the rough if your innovation programme has a global and multi-sector reach. You should even invite your competitors to participate in it, seriously. There is an estimated $1,500 billion spent on R&D annually. This means there’s more innovation in any particular field than any single person could ever know about. So start finding out about those clever technologies or processes that are being developed the world over and could help you as an organisation. To prove my point, the technology for collapsible prams is based on the design for aeroplane landing gear…
  3. Focus on the end-user: currently most accelerator and incubator programmes focus on getting start-ups investor-ready and place less emphasis on the product itself. Unfortunately, many corporate innovation programmes are following suit by partnering with (read: funding) these accelerators and accelerators. Consequently, they're supporting start-ups for their investment potential, rather than their product or service. This only encouraging the rise of the investor-driven start-up (see Skip Dat Pich). Thankfully, programmes such as ENDuRE are bucking the trend by helping start-ups focus on their products and the end-users, thus stimulating innovation across Europe.
I don’t want to propagate distrust in those corporations that support innovation without following these principles. It’s great that major actors in – occasionally archaic – industries such as finance, recognise the need to embrace disruption. Failure to do so would risk them falling behind the technology curve and re-live Kodak’s misfortune.

But in the case of Barclays, I fear we’re too close to ‘innovation-washing’ - I quite unimaginatively coined this term from ‘greenwashing’, please let me know if you have alternative suggestions!

And so for that reason Rise: you’re fired!

Charles Naud is innovation sourcing manager at Synoptica. Synoptica is a leading SaaS platform that helps organisations to uncover, rank and engage with innovative SME’s.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Thinking about the UK? Don't Just Relocate, Co-Locate

There has been quite a bit of press this year about the rising cost of basing your tech startup in London. Motherboard provided a good summary here, identifying the rise of multinationals wishing to have a place in Shoreditch and the emergence of coworking spaces across the city. As with all open markets, supply and demand has led to rising rent and there is no shortage of demand- there is something like 3000 companies/square kilometre in these postcodes now.

As was the case with Tech City, word of diminishing space and rising costs is starting to get out to international companies considering the UK as the logical place to take their company to the next level. For example, I recently had a discussion with an interesting Maltese cyber-security startup that was considering London vs a return to Italy for the next phase of growth. While the benefits that the UK offer (Entrepreneur's relief, competitive taxes and ridiculously good investment schemes) were very attractive, the threat of stifling operating costs was a real worry.

While these companies have a valid concern, they are overlooking a clear alternative path- co location.

This was the choice I made very early with my own company, Synoptic Technologies. As a startup trying to grow quickly without fundraising, cost containment is as important as access to customers. I also need access to IT talent and collaboration with leading academic institutions. The answer for me- The Surrey Research Park in Guildford and Central Working in London.

In a very cost-effective way I can have my proverbial cake and eat it too. I have an expanding team of talented developer on a research park that has allowed us to grow (moving 3 times in a year) while my sales and marketing team utilise the co-working spaces of London. Customers love coming to visit and get that Fast Company startup feel and I have access to offices all across the City as I need them. Both offer flexibility and reasonable costs-essential for my company.

There is also strong regional expertise that we benefit from. Surrey has the emerging 5G Innovation Centre that allows us to be close to innovation and expertise. Other regions like Birmingham which are an hour outside of London are recognised leaders in advanced manufacturing and nanotech. Finally,  we can't overlook the Golden Triangle and the growth of Manchester's tech community and Tech North.

Setting up in the UK makes a lot of sense these days. Availability to seed capital is at an all time high and there is great international talent and access to global markets. Further, valuations are going up and there are more acquisitions. If you are thinking about the UK don't despair- do yourself a favour and consider co-location.

Stephen Mooney
 is a full time entrepreneur and part-time blogger on topics ranging from challenges facing start-ups, to pop culture to running. He is currently part of the UKTI's Global Entrepreneur Programme and CEO of Synoptica. Synoptica is a leading SaaS platform that helps organisations to uncover, rank and engage with innovative SME’s.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Skip Dat Pich

In light of the revelation this week that Phuk Dat Bich was a hoax I was reticent to promote this blog title but felt it was too good not to.. please disregard if you are an Angel investor.

I had the opportunity to visit the SetSquared investor showcase yesterday and witnessed a very professional and well organised event. I expected nothing less from the Global #1 business incubator. Top startups with some truly disruptive ideas delivered polished, 5 minute pitches to would-be investors. I would be surprised if some of these companies weren't able to rise and grow to be the stars of the UK tech scene.

Glancing at the attendee list I noticed a strong representation from large, innovative corporates-something I also saw at the Web Summit a few weeks back in Dublin. Of course this makes sense as leading companies seek a competitive advantage by finding the next killer solution that could help their business. There are a couple of clear problems with this approach:

  1. There are too many investor pitch events and it takes too long to attend all of them
  2. Investment pitches focus on growth and exit- actions which are the antithesis for companies looking for solutions that can sustainably help their business
  3. They are missing out on the innovative solutions that have decided to grow without investment

What? A business that grows and shapes its product through customers? With the rise of the investor-driven startup this is becoming the path less traveled, but  these companies do exist. Finding them may not be as easy as rocking up to an investor event, but the fruit of doing so can be much more rewarding.

Stephen Mooney is a full time entrepreneur and part-time blogger on topics ranging from challenges facing start-ups, to pop culture to running. He is currently part of the UKTI’s Global Entrepreneur Programme and CEO of Synoptica. Synoptica is a leading SaaS platform that helps organisations to uncover, rank and engage with innovative SME’s.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

It's The End Of The Conference As We Know It...And I Feel Fine

I think it is my return to rainy Dublin, home of Joyce, Wilde & Co that has inspired me to pick up on the blog and get writing. There is something in the skeleton of this old town, almost a comfort in misery, that I think inspires the Irish to write (and sing and dance and drink). At times it feels there is little else you should do. Often there is an optimism that things will get better for a while, then go to shit… this is certainly the country where the term even-Steven came from.

Such was the way with the Celtic Tiger. The rapid awakening of the Irish economy through the 1990's and 2000's saw Ireland go from the basement to the penthouse of the EU with job creation, migration and the tech boom. Ergo, such is the way with the Dublin Web Summit, the reason for my being here this week along with 30,000 other tech punters. As an aside, I nearly called this article "Fake Tales of San Francisco" in tribute to the Arctic Monkeys song, but that's another story.

Perhaps it was my lack of attention, but I was surprised to learn that this would be the last year that Dublin would host this ever expanding summit. Talking to locals I heard a number of reasons, ranging from the summit asking for too much and the local hotels charging too much, but I feel it was simply that the Summit feels it has outgrown the facilities. This is my 3rd trip to this event over the past 5 or 6 years and the growth has been impressive. But the longstanding joke from my Irish friends, as you wait in long queues for registration, etc is that it is a tech summit with no internet access!

While it is sad for the Dublin economy that the conference is moving to Portugal next year, I don't see the future in these super summits the way others do. The Web Summit as an example, has such an emphasis on fundraising that I saw investors turning their badges around so as not to get swamped by the 1000's of social, marketplace, app and sporting solutions. Finding a truly disruptive technology (and not just one that investors like) is nearly impossible at these events, due to the 'noise' and gimmicks. 

And so, to the Web Summit I say go dté tú slán, and should you see the light and return to Dublin, it would be great to come back. Even-Steven remember.

Stephen Mooney is a full time entrepreneur and part-time blogger on topics ranging from challenges facing start-ups, to pop culture to running. He is currently part of the UKTI’s Global Entrepreneur Programme and CEO of Synoptica. Synoptica is a leading SaaS platform that helps organisations to uncover, rank and engage with innovative SME’s.