Innovation Struggles

After a disappointing end to the Shell Springboard regional final last night, we didn’t win, I am trying to reflect on my thoughts about how UK innovation is ‘judged’ without sounding like a sore loser. Don’t get me wrong, I am bitter about losing and have been ranting away vocally for the last 15 hours but that doesn’t mean I haven’t got some valid points.

Firstly, let me genuinely congratulate the 3 winners from last night and wish them well for the journey ahead taking their ideas to market. Just because I wouldn’t have handed them the £40K doesn’t mean it isn’t deserved and I hope it will be wisely invested.

Secondly, I am very happy with our preparation for the event and felt the GenGame pitch was as good as it could have been on the day, maybe it was just the wrong competition for us at this moment in time. At the evening ceremony Stephane’s 2 minute pitch was worth the prize money on its own! We made it into the top 16 from a pool of over 140 innovative ideas and won a bottle of Moet so many reasons to be proud of our efforts.

So, enough of the pragmatic, positive loser bollocks!

How the hell in 2016 can a panel of so called energy experts award prizes to:

  • a water engine summarised as being so simple in its design that it could be deployed in emerging economies where the default arrogant attitude assumes all the people must be too stupid to cope with anything more complicated. This attitude makes my blood boil – have these people ever even been to any of these countries?
  • a technology that could improve carbon capture and storage from being a stupid idea to a slightly less stupid idea. Let’s support maintaining the energy status quo and burying all our shit underground.
  • a neat idea to slightly improve the aerodynamics of trucks that no matter how good an idea has absolutely no chance of ever being commercially exploited since the IP is 100 years old and has no business capable team behind it.

Amongst the 8 projects in the final I would genuinely not have chosen ANY of these 3 as winners and I wasn’t the only one thinking like this. So how does the old fashioned, jaded academic world of so called ‘experts’ make such crap decisions? Why were there no entrepreneurs on the panel? Why the hell do Shell delegate the judging completely to such independents when it is their money being dished out?

The first question is easiest to answer, they just don’t get it. They all come with their own experiences and have developed a world view based on them but seem unable to grasp the visionary leap of faith that is needed to ‘judge’ ideas that will come to market in a world very different from today. To cite a negative for GenGame they point out that they cant see how a ‘game’ can be made interesting for more than a month, well if they cant see it then I can assure them there are plenty who can. The makers of Candy Crush recently sold their business for almost $6 billion.

The second two questions need Shell and anyone else offering this kind of support to small businesses producing innovative products, to look long and hard at their assessment process and make some changes. The Shell team we spoke to were all better informed than the judges in my opinion and I hope they step up and make changes next year.

So if the next 5 years see the mass rollout of water engines in our rivers delivered by super aerodynamic diesel fuelled trucks lit by a resurgent fossil fuel power generation system that is pumping CO2 underground then I will have to eat my words. For now I will just blog them.

One thought on “Innovation Struggles

  1. I agree that these judging panels are often not very good at assessing innovative entrepreneurs and I associate that with a strange UK reliance on academics. What is it with academia? My family is full of them and they certainly know they are important and somehow magically impart that belief into well intentioned students for £9,000 per year which somehow mistically persists into grown up adult business life.

    Sadly, my view is that academics don’t start businesses, don’t care about business and don’t act in an entrepreneurial manner. What they do do is observe other people’s actions and write about it in papers. It is called research and is risk free; what entrepreneurs do is create stuff out of thin air and that requires vision, guts and creativity.

    Good day to you professor Plum.


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