Monday, October 26, 2009

How to track new activities in the Technopole?

Viewpoint from Tim Minshall, Institute for Manufacturing and St John's Innovation Centre.

"So, which innovation activities should we get involved in?"

I asked a manager of one of the large firms that have moved to Cambridge as part of an 'open innovation' strategy whether he thought his organisation was sufficiently engaged with the numerous entrepreneurship and innovation activities within the cluster. He turned the question back to me by asking me which ones I thought they ought to be involved in. I started listing the obvious long-standing ones (such as Cambridge Network events, CfEL Enterprise Tuesday, etc) and some of the newer high profile ones (such as Silicon Valley Comes to Cambridge) but it occured to me that there are proably many more events and activities that I didn't know about. Contacting a few of my younger (i.e, those in their 20s and 30s) colleagues revealed, to my shame, a plethora of initiatives of which I was either completely unaware or only dimly aware. They highlighted activities including Cambridge Geek Day, Cambridge Tech Meetup, Super-Happy Dev Club, Women 4 Technology, BarCamp, Refresh Cambridge, Business Leaders' Network, beginspace, Cambridge Leaders' Academy, and more.

It was interesting to note who are running these events and activities. Some are 'old' organisations delivering new things, some are run by people who have been around Cambridge for a while and are now trying new things, and some are organised by people who are new to Cambridge and who see a gap in current provison of support and networking.

But, this left me with two simple questions: How can anyone in Cambridge keep track of all these new activities? How do you work out which ones are useful for what purpose? I am in the processs of updating the Cambridge Technopole website and report and so that it gives a more up-to-date reflection of what is going on within the cluster. Any comments or ideas on how to track what is going on would be most welcome ...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Lost Generation? Part 2

Viewpoint from Amy Mokady, Strategy Consultant, Director of i-Teams)

Recently I have found myself stating to a lot of people that Cambridge has the most talented and highly-qualified pool of unemployed that I have ever seen. The listener usually laughs and agrees when I explain that these are the mothers of young children who used to have high-flying careers, and who in many cases never return to full-time work.

They are the people like me, women who have been brought up and trained to do demanding jobs, and who have built successful careers pre-children, who loved working and saw their job as a key part of who they were. Most of us never expected to stop, but having stopped many expect never to go back. The reasons and circumstances are all different and varied. A few examples. Women who do return to work part-time only to leave because they "never see their children". Women who choose to return to work at a more junior level so that they can be genuinely part-time and not feel the responsibility to fight fires at other times. Women who return to work successfully part-time at their existing employer, only to discover how limited their options are when they look for a new part-time role elsewhere. And the counter example, which is fortunately now very well-accepted - women who return to work full-time leaving their partner to be the non-worker and primary parent.

This is not intended to be a tale of doom and gloom. Many parents find entirely new careers as a result, often in creative customer-facing businesses, and often self-employed. Others become school governors, NCT counsellors, and much-needed volunteers. In Cambridge two of our largest employers, Cambridge University and Addenbrookes, both have large numbers of part-time workers, and are able to manage this very successfully. And yet, even in this city, there are many many highly-skilled and experienced women who would love to work, if only the work could fit comfortably with their family responsibilities. The few organisations I know that are willing to work in this way are rewarded with loyal and talented staff, and frequently find it beneficial that those staff are working unusual hours such as evenings and weekends.

So this is a question and a plea. Why are commercial businesses, especially high-tech and high-growth businesses, not looking to make use of this incredibly-valuable resource? Why can we not develop management methods which allow staff to work more flexibly, both in terms of physical locations and times of working? With the internet and mobile phones, the technology is there. What seems to be lacking is the will and the motivation.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Lost Generation? Part 1

Viewpoint from Amy Mokady, Strategy Consultant, Director of i-Teams

As the students returned en masse to Cambridge University this week, the recent media coverage of a "Lost Generation" of students comes to mind. Are these students doomed to a lifetime blighted by a long unproductive search for their first job in the midst of a recession? Or are they still the world's Bright Young Things who will leave Cambridge without a second glance and head off to glittering careers in bigger, shinier places? In particular, will any of them stay and work here in Cambridge after they graduate, and help us maintain and invigorate the Cambridge Cluster.

Only time will tell, but in recent years the most common beliefs that I have heard stated are that graduates are only interested in going to work in the City, and that no-one stays in Cambridge on graduation because house prices are too high. Followed by the caveat that we clearly cannot address either of those problems so cannot do anything to retain more students on graduation, and ignoring the obvious contradiction between the two views (surely London's house prices are still higher than Cambridge's).

The situation is one that matters for the Cluster's mid-term future. So far the Cambridge Cluster has thrived on its culture of a succession of new start-ups, and people usually found new businesses in the place that they live or work already, with people that they already know. If our students view Cambridge only as a University, and not as a place to do business, then as a community we are wasting one of our most valuable sources of intellectual capital.

With this in mind, I set up a discussion group of recent graduates (both BAs and PhDs) to try to find out what was really going on. The results proved to be both interesting and helpful.

Firstly, we quickly erased the house price argument. All the people in the discussion had found a job first, and only then started to think about where they might live, and how much it might cost. Of more concern was where their friends would be planning to live and work, since generally they had moved into some form of shared housing.

Secondly, and more concerningly, none of them had actually intended to work in Cambridge after graduation, but had generally assumed that they would end up working in London. They had no visibility or exposure to the city outside the University, nor any interest in working here. Those that had accepted jobs in Cambridge had usually fallen into them accidentally, or had personal reasons for wanting to stay here. Their fellow graduates did not see Cambridge as somewhere to work, just as somewhere that they studied.

In our current highly mobile world, it is unlikely that any new graduates will settle in one location and stay there for their whole careers. If they stay in Cambridge after graduation, they may then move to London or New York or Berlin for their second or third job. If they leave Cambridge for their first job, then similarly they might well come back one day. However, they are unlikely to come back if they know nothing about the dynamism and excitement of Cambridge as a place to work, and the easiest time to make them aware of this must be while they are still here.

Fortunately this is a problem that can be solved, and will hopefully be a small step towards preserving the Technopole's long-term dynamism and growth. The EPSRC has sponsored a new group of 'Enterprise College Reps', undergraduates who will be tasked with telling their college compatriots about the Enterprise activities available to them, and also with forging closer links between the student community and local businesses. The first such College Reps are being recruited this week. Watch this space...