From Lab to First Adopters

When it comes to finding Product-market Fit (PMF), entrepreneurial vision is helpful but insufficient. Landing on the moon may be the vision but it requires precise and completely accurate calculations to actually get there.

To increase the probability of finding PMF and to accelerate the process requires the systematic and thorough application of a particular toolset in a stage specific way. Those pioneering tools are: detailed hypothesis building, market engagement and application discovery, analysis and rapid iteration, and validation.

And, of course, the crowning evidence of PMF for product companies is that first set of deals that proves your ability to generate significant revenues at a high gross margin by solving a high value challenge either in a way that no other product can or in a way that is much more effective and efficient. The right set of ‘first deals’ demonstrates market acceptance and pull, and sets in motion a pattern of accelerating revenue capture (traction).

For broader platform companies, the ‘first deal’ challenge involves working with a broader ecosystem to identify applications and build products around your platform that achieve market acceptance. While the goals are the same as with the product company (see above ), the difference here is that there are potentially several different applications that we can apply the technology to. The skill lies in choosing the right initial applications that can have a multiplier effect with regard to: revenue generation; industry acceptance; and technology scaling.

‘First deals’ are different in nature and require a different pioneering skillset than those that follow in the growth stage. To generalise, they are harder to win, demand greater intensity, consume more attention, require more face-time with the ‘customer’, take longer, need a broader more cross-functional consensus within the ‘customer’ organisation, and are substantially more valuable than those that follow.

Whereas with ‘known’ products, resistance is likely to emerge early, curiosity for ‘the new’ means issues are likely to emerge later. For the venture organisation, where the mis-allocation of resource can be an existential threat, a long but ultimately fruitless engagement is deeply problematic. Curiosity is a powerful lever for stimulating engagement but also a trap sprung by the seductive charms of early interest. The challenge is to convert curiosity into opportunity early by creating a stage gate that gives the counterparty a clear choice between disengagement or a meaningful commitment that signals interest has been transmuted into an opportunity. All too often the issue lies in the lack of leverage that a technology company can bring to bear to ensure adherence to a stage-gated process. It is of course the evidenced and transparent promise of the technology that should support a more symmetrical interaction. Once established, the best way to ensure leverage (this is most applicable to platform technologies) is to have multiple competitive companies in the same industry all in the same process which creates an urgency to progress and conclude a deal within a desired timeframe with the carrot (should one be necessary) being some form of preferential access to technology which moves the competitive advantage needle.

At least from the perspective of the technology company, ‘first deals’ are based on no direct precedent. Practice is being formed and enacted for the first time. The execution capability is embryonic. Experience may accelerate the process when wisely applied but it may also hinder progress by adhering to modes of action applicable to different contexts. Generalised knowledge can be useful but is trumped by context specific insight. The goal for product companies as they move from ‘technology visionaries’ and ‘early adopters’ (who will adopt largely on the technology’s potential) to ‘followers’ is to evolve a practiced capability built on: fast learning and systematic iteration to distil what works; a creative process mindset; and extraordinary maniacal attention to ‘customer’ detail.

At each stage, a fit-for-purpose process must be created, tooled up, and optimised. Pooling expertise early into specialist jobs (embryonic functions) is important and is a precursor to scaling. One of the huge advantages of following this type of approach to designing and developing process, whether you are pioneering a product or a platform application, is that it quickly highlights the really critical steps in the process and what is needed to engineer successful outcomes. Those critical steps are nearly always conversations. The end goal is a series of repeatable actions – the smartest and most efficient way executing deals in these formative stages of the product’s lifecycle.

What is critical about building the execution capability is that it is foundational. It sets down the templates for others to follow. A great house cannot be built upon poorly built foundations. Starting over is a difficult and expensive job. Bad habits and poorly defined sub-optimal practices become embedded. A restart will almost certainly require the recruitment of new people. Success is ultimately only measured by results. There may be many ways to tackle a challenge but it pays to select the best way.

Carbon capture, capacitors and a trip to Paris: a first week at RIG

The first week at any new job can always be overwhelming. The brain goes into overdrive taking on board a flurry of new names and faces, company rules, and procedures; all while simultaneously trying to stay calm and remember everything. Although this all definitely happened to me, I will choose to sum up my first week at RIG in one word: exhilarating.

I quickly became acquainted with every individual of the RIG team through lengthy discussions of their respective projects and backgrounds. I immediately discovered that there is certainly no shortage of brilliance here. Even lunchtime conversation was dominated by an intellectual debate about how to best survive the London tube morning rush hour (answer? Get yourself a bike!). I was briefed and asked to assist on three projects; each more different than the next. The projects varied from carbonation of waste residues, to AgTech, to solar power and energy storage. In fact, I left the office on my first day with a textbook on capacitors, much to the delight of my chemical and engineering friends.

On the following days, the whirlwind continued when we landed in the heart of Paris. In the space of 24 hours, I ate croissants, attended the CemLab event, where James delivered a presentation on Carbon Capture technology and met with some key figures of the cement industry. Right away during the networking segment, I was challenged to answer industry-specific and speak confidently about RIG. Immediately after, we dragged our luggage to the other side of the city and witnessed Ffion getting into the ring to iron out the terms and conditions of a partnership. I was left impressed and motivated to one day run a meeting of that sort on my own.

Back in London, the learning curve continued to steepen for the rest of the week. I was given a crash course on RIG CRM protocols, market research process, and client acquisition. There is no doubt that RIG favours a dynamic work environment and one can expect to be thrown in at the deep end, but I have always been a firm believer that full-immersion is the best way to adapt. Overall, I went into the weekend with one text book, half a notebook of acronyms, one trip to Paris, and seventeen points on my to-do-list – c’est la vie!

Rapid Innovation Group Portfolio On Track to Raise More than £15m

A recent survey of our portfolio of companies showed that, at the end of the third quarter, companies we are working with are on track to raise more than £15 million from equity, debt, and grant instruments.

Credible evidence of commercialisation activities and its early success is critical to attracting capital from any source – funders need to be able to justify their decisions and deliver engaging narratives to their investors.

In 2018 Rapid Innovation Group has worked closely with a number of its companies to raise capital from grant sources – we are finding an increasing volume of both government and private grant capital is chasing a static / slow growing volume of truly revolutionary companies, making this non-dilutive source of funds a particularly exciting seam to tap into.

Rapid Innovation Group Partner Founds Distributed Ledger Business

David Gates, partner at Rapid Innovation Group, has today founded a distributed ledger company to work on developing technology and practices to support the implementation of this exciting technology into chain of custody businesses.

David’s work will be part funded by Innovate UK, the UK Government’s innovation funding agency, as well as an equity investment from a private company which is seeking to find a reliable vendor for this type of technology. The company is trading as Saffron Traceability, as is currently seeking chain of custody and traceability businesses that wish to explore this exciting new domain.

What is IP? And how to best leverage it?

We at Rapid Innovation Group are in the business of IP commercialisation. When we disaggregate that term, the most debate within the company, and a healthy debate it is I must add, is what does the term commercialisation mean. Is it sales and revenue generation at its most basic, or is it something far more fundamental than that? That’s a topic for another time and for someone with a little more nuance than me to tackle within our firm.

Instead I thought I’d write about what we mean when we talk about IP. Historically at Rapid Innovation, IP has been about the strength of the patent portfolio which we felt automatically granted a certain form of defensibility to our clients. However recently, I’ve been involved in a few engagements where what constitutes IP has had a rather more murky definition which has led to a more evolved position on IP in my thinking:

  1. One of our clients is doing a series A fundraise at the moment. They have a significant breakthrough in combustion technology and their business model is to develop and integrate it with large industrial collaborators, with the view to licensing to generate long-term revenue streams. One of the investors who is currently investigating them invests purely on the strength of the IP position. Our client has 7 patents across multiple patent families. Nevertheless, and despite NDAs, our client has not yet got to the stage of sharing their detailed designs because that is where their real technological differentiation lies. So where is their IP? In the patents, or in the design which is only briefly alluded to in the patents?
  2. Another client has licensed their IP to a company that has built large industrial plants using their technology. The core patent has expired but the license persists – both parties know, and will freely admit, that while much of the core technology is in the public domain, it is the secret knowhow and process knowledge that allows the licensee to profitably run the plant. How do you quantify that know-how? How do you protect it? How do you price it? Either way, their defensibility lies in that secret know-how. That plant cannot be run profitably without their process knowledge and know-how.
  3. A third client has a space heritage but like in the previous case, the core patent for their technology has expired. As such they have developed some process, and application patents. Fundamentally though, they do not have IP that protects the application, only their unique efficacy. What they do have is an emerging market with a clear need, a defined way that the market will adopt the technology, and a better product / design than their competitors. As such, their strategy is very much focused on selling this to as many customers as quickly as possible, and to find the right manufacturing model that will protect their design. Their defensibility lies in their commercialisation strategy, and their speed to market which is something that smaller, more agile companies are well suited to. They are very much a “deep-tech” company but are they an IP company – I don’t know and quite frankly don’t care as long as we have a product and a strategy that will fundamentally build market defensibility and long-term growth.

These are just a few examples of the extent of the diversity of challenges that have to be overcome “IP companies”, and while this is very generic, and fails to take into account several other hugely important contextual factors, it does provide a starter for six.

If you’ve got secret know-how and no one can reverse engineer your product / process when they get their hands on the product, then manufacture. This has two benefits as 1) it minimises IP leakage and 2) Allows you to price at the level you want as your customer has no way of knowing how it is you manufactured the technology and so is more willing to pay on the value of the problem being solved as opposed to imposing a cost plus model on you. Conversely, you shouldn’t dream of licensing in this scenario as you leave yourself open to your secret knowhow getting into the public domain and run the risk of your licence being compromised. Alternatively, if you’ve got a strong patent position, then license away as it’s pretty easy to see if someone is infringing on the patent.

Chester Karass said, in business as in life, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate. The IP corollary is that your IP is only as strong as your wherewithal to protect it. Which for early stage companies with limited financial and even fewer legal resources is not very high. That’s why I’m a firm believer in the best piece of IP advice anyone ever gave me – keep secret what you can keep secret (and manufacture if no one can reverse engineer it) and patent what you can’t!

 

 

 

Summer internship: the first week

It feels like yesterday I was searching for internships for summer. I wonder what it was that captivated me about Rapid Innovation Group- perhaps it was the use of “entrepreneurial” in requirements. Knowing me, it was probably “keen sense of humour”. Both haven proven to be true of the working atmosphere.

It’s the beginning of day 5 at the office and here I am, writing a blog about my first week here. Truthfully, it already feels as if I’ve been here much longer than that. Upon reflection, I’ve realised just how comfortable I’ve felt in the office; there was no “settling in” period- completely contrasting with my experience of living in London for the first time, where I think my settling in period may last indefinitely!

Since day 1, I’ve been completely integrated into the team. Peter spent a couple of hours giving me an overview of the work Rapid Innovation Group does and introducing me to an Agtech company I’ll be working on with him. Immediately, I was invited into meeting calls. On meeting calls this week, I must admit I’ve been happily surprised when referred to as a “colleague”, not simply an intern. This week I’ve mostly done market validation work in the agricultural sector: it turns out that a love of mine, spinach, may not be so good for you after all as it’s especially prone to absorbing carcinogenic heavy metals from the soil. Bad news for salad lovers out there.

However, alongside this I’ve experienced a very steep learning curve and an ever-increasing workload. On my first day, it felt like I was learning a completely new language: acronyms, business-style talk and the specific vocabulary of the sector I was working in. This is where I feel I fit in well to the small-business entrepreneurial culture: whereas plenty of people would feel intimidated or overwhelmed by this, I’m finding the challenge thrilling. The ambitious and driven side of my personality has been fully grasped by working here. What is very interesting and unique about Rapid Innovation Group is that, in a team of generalists, each person will also develop a detailed knowledge of a specific industry for a client not afar from expert level. We must learn to adapt very quickly to new situations. With my next task being market validation of the baby food global market, perhaps I will be the office expert on baby food. Not quite as exciting as renewable energy solutions, but important.

Studying Biochemistry at university gave me a good background for the AgTech/ Biotech work, however when Simon introduced a FinTech company in the field of Instant Payments, I found myself thrown into the deep end of banking, CSMs, RT1 and investment. I knew very little about investment, however Simon taught me a solid background in the field and now I know about pre- and post-money valuations and the golden “10x” figure that investors chase after. Here I feel I’ve got to introduce a slightly corny link- my mentors here have invested in me a lot this week (though they assure me it’s for their own future gain).

 

I’m looking forward to getting to know the team members more and find out about what they’re working on, as well as learning more about a wide range of industries. They’ve got the balance right here: smart and knowledgeable but ready to seek advice, hardworking but can still have a laugh throughout the day. Let’s see what the next 7 weeks brings…

Rapid Innovation Group Company Reaches Agreement in Principle From Private and Public Investors

Global Traceability Solutions GmbH, the operator of the largest traceability network in the world, has recently confirmed an equity investment from a number of public and private sources.

The funding will allow it to step beyond its core markets in timber and timber-related products into a number of exciting new domains in which it has secured anchor partners.

More information is available from www.global-traceability.com

Now for your first task, I want you to…

Hi, I’m Sheikh, RIG’s shiny, new intern. Here’s my story:

It all started with a late-night, prospective email from a sleepy undergrad, no doubt tired from all the procrastinating he did that day. Not 12 hours had passed and I was sitting across from David, still baffled he had caught the first train from London to come and interview me. Though if you ask him, he’ll have you believe he happened to have important business in my engineering department that day anyway. In any case, I did well to convince him, and Shields on a subsequent interview, of my many transferable skills. Perhaps too well…

 

On my first day, I was deployed to Canterbury. With only David and Sam (the Commercial Director) assisting me, I was tasked with exploring a partnership with an accomplished, Soviet scientist with a (potentially) dark matter detecting nanotechnology. It was decided that I would be in charge of the most important part: taking minutes. David and Sam handled the simpler things like talking the company through the variety of exciting things we could do together to commercialise the technology, showcasing parallels with successful, previous partners and exuding an aura of confident competence. After the meeting, Sam informed me of the corner office and pair of PAs that awaited my arrival back at the office. Two weeks in and still unable to find my office, I have settled for one of the hot-seating desks next to everyone else.

 

However, in all seriousness, my first two weeks have far exceeded my expectations. My first day was the perfect introduction to RIG. I got to see two very experienced Directors explain to a prospective partner company exactly how RIG adds value and accelerates the growth of innovative technology. I also had two train journeys worth of time to interrogate them on all the exciting things the firm is working on. On my second day, I was allocated a laptop and instructed to do a SWOT analysis on all the high-tech companies we’re working with. This quickly got me up to speed on how RIG was helping each partner and got me talking to all the people at RIG who were in charge of the various relationships. The remainder of my first week consisted of identifying state-side venture capital firms for an advanced materials company and trawling through research reports and elusive patents. Coincidentally, I had already done some work with this company through a student society a few summers ago. The week was rounded off with the chance to work with the CEO (and veteran chemical engineer) of one of our exciting partner companies on a corporate restructuring and brand narrative project.

 

I expressed an early desire to do more work on business development and Shields happily obliged. My second week involved pairing up with an intern two-weeks my senior to present approach proposals for two prospective partner organisations. The confidence and responsibility afforded to us by Shields was empowering and indicative of how encouraging the flat-hierarchy at RIG can be. Other symptoms of the meritocratic culture are the opportunities to work closely with the firm’s management on things like internal corporate strategy and colleagues keen to share their accumulated wisdom at any sign of struggle or curiosity.

 

A two-week dose of acronyms, World Cup speculation and metal-organic frameworks later and I’m still standing strong. Next week, to make space for a brand-new intern, I’ll be shipped off to Aberdeen!

 

Industrial waste, CEOs, and air-con politics: 2 weeks at RIG

RIG summer intern, Alex Crichton-Miller, tells us about his first 2 weeks with us:

Come Monday, I will no longer be the only intern in the office. I feel rather like an only child who, on finding out they will have a younger sibling, cannot help but feel a tinge of regret that it will no longer be simply me. The team at RIG is a very close-knit unit, reminiscing about antics on away days more than a decade ago as often as they argue about the most appropriate way to approach a client. I have been exhilaratingly swept up in it all from day one, meeting with clients and being asked to contribute right away. So these first weeks have flown by in a haze of acronyms, action registers and Gantt charts, cups of tea and arguments over the air-con (a divisive issue in the office to say the least).

As well as sitting in on meetings to get an insight into the breadth of work RIG does, I’ve been working on two things that couldn’t be more different: one, an ongoing piece of market validation for Ffion on industrial waste streams (which has promoted LinkedIn and EU legislation to the top of my ‘most visited’) and the other a piece of management structure work with a new client. In our two 4-hour kick-off meetings with the latter’s CEO, I managed to simultaneously type a Word doc longer than my thesis and catch an aircon-induced cold. It was certainly an experience, made still more intriguing by the chance to really let him talk about the organisation he runs, and then go away and brainstorm how we could solve his challenges.

RIG’s business model means that we have to wear a lot of different hats, which can be confusing when you’re trying to pin down at least one of the tasks you’ve got to do. The best thing about being here so far has been that, even though it’s tough, everyone that works here treats the world like an opportunity for deeper learning: I’ve been given tips on organisation, presentation, recycling, and even punctuality (for my sins!) by partners, helping me better navigate the choppy waters of small company culture. Some of that was put to the test yesterday when I attended the Rushlight Summer Showcase – where a huge array of Cleantech companies put themselves on show – and was required to go out and try and make contacts, get business cards, and talk persuasively about RIG. The jury is still out on where I did a good job, but being plunged into the deeper end of things is what makes it such a pleasure to intern here.

Helping to commercialise early stage technologies means that you can be doing one thing on one day, and something completely different the next. That might make an intern feel unnerved, but luckily the people around me have the ability, experience and (crucially) warmth to make that a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Bring on the next 6 weeks!