I’m going to be taking a break for a couple of weeks from the end of today after what has been the busiest and one of the most challenging periods of my career to date. I can safely say I have never worked harder but it’s great to look back and reflect upon some of the things we have been doing at OneTech / Capital Enterprise since COVID-19 hit back in March.
Firstly, like everyone, we moved all our services online. Working in tech this was not as challenging for us as it was for some. We saw our reach explode overnight and wondered why we hadn’t delivered online before. But as the weeks passed, we started to look at questions of breadth vs depth. There is still a place for face to face provision in my mind and I’m looking forward to developing a hybrid model in the future. Particular shout outs to Lotta, Federico, FounderVine, UKBlackTech and YSYS for adapting some of our offline content so rapidly and so effectively.
Then, late March, with support from our partners at J.P. Morgan, Emma Obanye and I rapidly put together a StartUp Resilience Programme which launched on 1 April, offering 2-3 events per week, Accountability Circles and a great peer-to-peer community. Shout out here to Arianna and Elif at Capital Enterprise for some great organisation and moderation skills. Through this programme we have already supported nearly 400 people to manage the macroeconomic shock which is COVID-19. Thanks also to Emma Obanye and the amazing Mindful Team platform which supports this programme and to Andy Davis, OneTech’s Investor in Residence for his efforts in providing much needed support to the community.
At this point we realised that more and more ‘COVID-19’ hubs and support offers were popping up and it was becoming hard to navigate. Again, the wonderful Emma Obanye was quick with a solution – setting up our AirTable which enabled people to share their information in a central location and then to share the aggregated information back with their own communities. From this work, it was clear that some analysis was needed to identify ongoing gaps and challenges and we launched a refresh of the Business Support Research work Capital Enterprise did last Summer. With support from J.P. Morgan and in partnership with Newable and the London Growth Hub, over the course of the next 2 months we interviewed around 30 business support providers and assessed 150 schemes, culminating in a report launched at the end of June and available here. Special thanks here to Kyra Norman. The research itself will be published on Capital Enterprise’s site soon.
All this time, we were working hard in the background to help the government understand what was most needed within the startup ecosystem. John Spindler was one of the brains behind what became the Future Fund. I worked with several members of the WorkSpace Advisory Group and others in the sector to provide BEIS with evidence of what was needed and wanted by companies based in, and operators of, shared workspaces, writing or contributing to no less than 4 letters and participating in countless calls.
We are told that our efforts definitely counted for something and were delighted to see the Government launch the discretionary local business grants in May. But then of course came the hard part – how would local authorities administer these schemes; how would they use their discretion but still be able to help those in greatest need quickly? John Spindler and I quickly worked up a framework that we thought would work, or at least would help Capital Enterprise’s local authority members along the way. Since then we have offered advice to a number of local authorities, when asked, and directly administered the grants for 3 authorities, requiring additional temporary staff to be recruited and trained and others to be redeployed internally. A special thank you to Gracie Jones, Irene Frances and Darren Balcombe for joining me in this particular adventure 😉 & to Gracie, Georgina, Kyra, Ian, Laurel, Elif and Shan for undertaking this incredibly important work.
Oh, and Emma Obanye, Irene Frances and I also popped up a ‘local grants finder’ supported by the Growth Hub, to help all of London’s SMEs find details and status of their local scheme. And yes, I know that there are still some operators and many businesses / self employed people who still have not been able to access any financial support.
In & amongst all of this, I also oversaw the Mayor’s Workspace Accreditation Pilot, delivered brilliantly by my colleagues Naima and Gracie at Capital Enterprise (thanks both). On 1 July I’m delighted to say that our first workspace was recommended for accreditation and we are confident that the vast majority of the 12 workspaces participating in the pilot will do so over the next month or so. Feedback on this first phase has been overwhelmingly positive. We are hopeful that the scheme has a future and indeed I believe it is more important than ever in a COVID-19 context.
And then, of course, there is the ‘day job’ – Managing Director of OneTech, which is at a pivotal time in its existence and of course even more relevant and important than ever in the context of the Black Lives Matter protests which have followed George Floyd’s tragic murder. I have been working hard with the team to ensure that delivery continues, that we take time to reflect upon, and learn from, the past 2 years and that we secure funding for new activities from September 2020. I’m incredibly optimistic about OneTech’s future – watch this space – exciting announcements to come about that in due course.
In the meantime, we’ve been:
- Continuing to connect underrepresented communities to connect with opportunities in London’s tech ecosystem
- Launching a new Talent Incubator – AMAZING job Federico – as part of the Mayor’s Digital Talent Programme
- Delivering 2 Founders Weekends and no less than 3 pre-accelerators – through Founder Vine in South London, YSYS through FoundersDoor for young Londoners and FFWD London with The Accelerator Network
- Providing ongoing 1:1 and group support and mentoring through our Entrepreneur in Residence, Emma Obanye and our Investor in Residence Andy Davis
- Working with the great Check Warner and Julie Rabin at Diversity VC to pilot a Diversity Standard for the VC Community (more later….)
- Developing a specification for a new Angel Syndicate to be developed by a black-led organisation or group – the deadline for proposals was yesterday and I’m excited to see what comes out of this. Thanks to John Spindler for this initiative.
- Working with Dr Angela Dy Loughborough University to reflect upon the findings of the research she has been doing with them over the past 2 years and starting to consider what a programme of change will look like to enable us to implement the strategic recommendations of this work with Emma Butterworth. Huge shout out to Angela here for her patience & professionalism over the past 2 years and for an incredibly rich piece of research which I’ll look forward to sharing soon.
- Getting our own house in order in terms of consistent collection and use of data, systems and processes (MASSIVE thank you here to Kelly)
- Supporting Andy Ayim’s Angel Investing School by offering to pay for 5 places to help it attract people who may have financial barriers to participation
- Working across Capital Enterprise to reflect upon how we tackle diversity and inclusion across our many programmes (shout out here to Lotta and her lunches) and to work on our team values
- Documenting some of our successes through a video and series of founder stories which will be released over the Summer (thanks to Sally Kneeshaw, Iconic Steps and Cathy White for their work here)
I’m exhausted just thinking about it all now. It has been an epic team effort and I’m proud to have been part of it. This now feels like an acceptance speech, for which I apologise. Just wanted to share some thanks and appreciation more than anything else before heading away. I am so grateful for the amazing team and wider OneTech and Capital Enterprise network.
Now, off for a break. See you when I get back, hopefully fully re-charged and ready for the next bit….whatever it may bring.