Tuesday April 28, 2020
Have we reached the tipping point?
Last week Westminster for the first time in in its history conducted PMQs differently. The MPs were a little slower than the rest of the UK at adopting video conferencing, but despite this, perhaps Westminster is a good case study from which we can learn from.
Despite the PM confirming that there would be no immediate changes to lockdown restrictions, I’ve been asked several times how I think COVID-19 will change what Eagle Labs (and other incubator and co-working spaces) do medium to long term.
Since social restrictions were announced all of our 25 co-working spaces have temporarily closed and we've switched to alternative ways to help the start-up ecosystem. Eagle Labs, and others like them, have introduced a range of webinars and virtual events, we’ve shifted our learning programmes to online delivery and all of our support and mentors are using video conferencing. We’re not changing what we do, but how we do it. This is a notable shift for us, our ethos has always centred on bringing people together in the physical environment.
And while Westminster may seem a strange comparison with Eagle Labs, I think there's some patterns that read across into the tech ecosystem.
MPs have had to stay home, like the rest of us, away from the hustle and bustle of their London "head office". Last week the MPs used Zoom for PMQs (ironic given the security concerns), and immediately gone were the commons chamber shenanigans; what we saw was notably different; a serious, less raucous affair, where words appeared more objective than ever, as the impact of body language, emotion and rhetoric possibly reduced. Whether that last sentence is true, my reading of PMQs suggested there was no dilution of constitutional effectiveness. Just a different approach. But what about the various committees, meetings and back room negotiations? From what I can tell they’re also using Zoom and like many large multinational corporates, managing to keep their business going without the need for a head office.
So what’s the tenuous link between MPs and Eagle Labs?
I’ve seen some extraordinarily positive things come out of Eagle Lab remote and virtual working.
Collaboration across virtual teams and across multiple organisations hasn’t diminished from what I’ve seen. On the contrary, Eagle Labs have positively experienced new opportunities; we’re working with UCL, Edinburgh Uni and Codebase on a Healthtech response initiative. This continues to present interesting opportunities to work with others (large and small) as we assess the innovative ideas that could help the NHS. We’ve also seen first-hand the collaboration going on cross industry to prepare lending and funding schemes to support businesses of all sizes. These things are highly complex yet have been developed across many organisations and all remotely. Earlier this week I talked to a partner who runs an innovation centre who believes his projects have actually gained momentum since the change of working. I believe the common thread across these three examples is an acute focus on a target or outcome.
What is more difficult is the reduced social fluidity from co-locating with others which in turn impacts spontaneity of discussions and prevents those serendipitous opportunities. It’s also much more difficult to get access to quick and ad hoc support if you’re not in the same location as someone who you know is typically super busy (or just difficult to get hold of). And depending on your home arrangements, there can be negative consequences from a lack of social interaction, fun and sense of community.
So when the fog lifts, what will revert to type and what will change medium to longer term? My guess is that this depends on the pace of restrictions lifting as I assume that the longer this continues, the more normalised remote and virtual working becomes and, possibly, the greater the long term impact from social distancing will be.
SARs, the closest comparison I have of a modern day pandemic, lasted around 8 months (at peak). And whilst the countries impacted like Hong Kong don't immediately appear to have different working practices vs. the Western world (who haven't previously experienced this type of virus), if you look closely enough (via Google for me) there appear some differences engrained in their society.
The sacrifice medical workers made is still, and rightly so, revered by the Hong Kong public. They also celebrate the resilience of city to bounce back. The population remains very health and hygiene aware and see it as their civic responsibility to take public health recommendations seriously. The wearing of face masks, you may have noticed, is quite common. Interestingly the scars of the ongoing meticulous public cleaning are there to be seen in elevators all around the city.
For several years now the technology to enable remote and virtual working has been available to use but it hasn't yet created a step change in way we have worked. People have preferred co-working and co-location – doing things “face to face”.
So is this the societal tipping point that will dramatically change things? The technology has existed for a while but arguably it hasn’t really had a real problem to solve. Now we may have a real use case.
When social restrictions relax and we are free to head back to cities and co-location and co-working, will people return to their previous ways or will they stay working remotely?
What is clear is that the individual circumstances will play an extremely prominent role. With a possible vaccine not being available for a reported 12-18 months, those deemed vulnerable, or who have family and friends in this category, may have ongoing restrictions which means that they choose to stay remotely connected. Even those who choose to co-work, a proportion will be thinking differently about their proximity to others and other hygiene factors that they may not have considered previously.
So what does this mean for Eagle Labs?
I feel the social characteristics of the start-up ecosystem will for the foreseeable future have a need for physical spaces to meet, to learn, exchange ideas and to share a beer, wine, or a soft drink. Over the last 5-10 years co-working spaces have proven critical for startups and their teams to co-locate, to collaborate with likeminded businesses and to quickly learn from others. And Eagle Labs are committed to continue to offer this across the UK.
However, remote working and physical networks are not mutually exclusive. We don’t need to choose one or the other, in fact as we move forward I think there will be a need for both, and I believe there is an opportunity for greater innovation in technologies that allow the effective mixing and collaboration of the two cohorts: those who prefer to co-work and those who choose to work remotely. Our development roadmap will certainly contain a blend of the virtual, digital and physical and we’ll be watching carefully for how we can best continue to support our members and the broader tech ecosystem.
Final thoughts. Positive things have result from this crisis. Not least that an entire generation, if my parents and in-laws are anything to go by, have been able to adopt video calling to stay in touch. And perhaps more seriously, a bunch of corporate senior execs may now question the expense and overheads of their head offices.
Monday April 20, 2020
Today (Monday 20 April) was an important day for startups across the UK with the announcement around Future Fund and Innovate UK.
You can read more about it here, but in summary:
The Future Fund, delivered in partnership with British Business Bank, will offer startups bridging loans of between £125,000 and £5m
There will also be £750m in grants and loans for smaller businesses focused on research and development.
It is much needed support for the UK tech startup community and covers a gap that the other schemes including CIBILs had left. It’s also an initiative that we know has been positively shaped by many across the industry and while I had hoped that this was coming, like most, the details of the scheme were only made available once the announcement was made on Monday.
My focus now is to find ways in which we can help our community access these schemes if they need it. We’ve made a start, but would love to hear more from you on what you think.
Our starting point is to support with:
- Online content providing insight into eligibility
- Webinars with Barclays and industry experts
- Funding readiness programme, supported by Capital Enterprise
While the crisis has created many, many challenges across the world, it has also created some opportunities which we can be optimistic about.
Eagle Labs is proud to be supporting UCL, Edinburgh University and Codebase in identifying startups with innovative solutions that can be used to help the NHS cope with unprecedented demand. So far we’ve had over 100 ideas submitted to our HealthTech response initiative by startups from across our network of which several have been shortlisted for testing.
The attitude, ingenuity and motivation of our partners and the startup community is nothing short of amazing and I feel quite privileged to see and hear what is going on. This includes the insight of two professors who are combining working intensive wards with reviewing innovative ideas from the HealthTech Response partnership. Click here to find out more.
Co-founder Eagle Labs
Tuesday April 09, 2020
So we're three weeks in. Or is it four?
I find its easy to lose track of time when my routine is so rigid. Perhaps its easy to get frustrated about what social isolating means you can and can’t do. But I have noticed some positive consequences of working from home.
First and foremost, I’m getting to see my wife and two children a whole heap more. The nature of my job has meant that I’m normally only in the house to share a meal with them once a day (if that). However at the moment I’m managing three!
I’m also enjoying getting to see my colleagues in their natural habitat. We’re all used to seeing colleagues in the office but I don’t think you know someone until you see their children / partner / pet stroll past or interrupt a video conference. And while I was a bit self-conscious about it to start with, it has normalised itself pretty quickly and it’s nice to be regularly reminded that everyone has a life outside of work.
The rationing of outside time has also focused my mind on exercise and I’m probably doing more now than I was before this started. Thankfully we avoided February monsoon season. Let’s hope the weather holds.
While working from home has quickly assumed a degree of normality, for me at least, I realise the implications of COVID-19 are being keenly felt by many across the tech startup community. And for others, there remains a huge degree of uncertainty.
We recently asked over 100 Eagle Labs and Rise members how they were being impacted by COVID-19 and how Barclays could support. Perhaps unsurprisingly, around 80% of them told us that their main concerns related to cash flow and reduced productivity. And over 60% asked for our support with fundraising and virtual networking.
We're using this data to help us shape how we can best support. For example, right now we're working on:
- a range of virtual events and programmes related to fundraising and government grants. This week we hosted an event with our partners, Capital Enterprise, to talk through UK Government COVID-19 funding initiatives that startups may be eligible for. And we have more in the pipeline
- expanding our mentoring programme to ensure we’re reaching more of our community than we’ve ever done before with leading experts in the startup tech sector
- releasing a number of exclusive member offers for innovative products and services that will help startups manage their cash flow, deal management, as well as their health and wellbeing, to name a few.
While we work on these, we're also acutely aware of possible funding and cashflow issues faced by many of our members. And while the Government is working hard on the CIBILs scheme, we recognise that this may not be appropriate for many tech startups. What we also know is that this is an evolving situation and there are a number of organisations from across the sector working very hard on identifying and developing a solution to help address this gap. Cross-sector collaboration is definitely there and I hope we’ll see some additional support in the near future. To help inform this work, we’d encourage you to complete the following survey being undertaken by Local Globe – survey link.
We’re working hard to stay connected to our members during this uncertain time and to provide you with the support you need.
If you have any ideas how we can help more, please do get in touch with me directly.
Co-founder Eagle Labs
Wednesday April 01, 2020
Challenging times can bring out the best in us.
My name’s Jon. I run a startup business created by Barclays called Eagle Labs. We help businesses connect, innovate and ultimately grow and we have 25 business incubators spread across the UK supporting around 500 startups.
This weekend was my first opportunity since COVID-19 reached epidemic status to pause and take stock of what’s happened (to date) and how it unfolded.
I expect most people have their own personal experiences, and perhaps like me, see the last 2-3 weeks as a bit of a blur to say the least.
The increase in the rate of pace of change over the last 3 weeks was quite incredible. Whether you work in a large corporate or run a startup, you’ll have had to consider what it meant to you, your family, colleagues and possibly customers, and maybe all at once. For me at least, it was the first time I’ve had to consider all of these in a leadership role during a period of such uncertainty.
At times it can feel overwhelming. But fortunately I work with a great team who helped me think through what it meant for my colleagues and also our startup members. Having a team who is close to your customer is always important, but even more so during uncertain times. The team were able to help recommend a number of things that we felt could make an immediate difference. For example, where Eagle Labs operationally manage a site, we’ve been able to freeze memberships until the end of May, a position that we will continually review. We’re also shifting all of our programming, support and community engagement onto virtual channels. Meaning the mentoring, accelerator programmes, community events and specialist workshops our members have access to will all continue via things like Zoom, YouTube etc. But we’ll also make them available to everyone across the UK at no charge.
Whilst these are challenging times, I’ve noticed, like many others, how the UK is leaning in to support one another and it’s encouraging to know that when a real challenge arises we can work together to make good things happen.
I was really proud that Eagle Labs were asked to support an initiative with Edinburgh University, UCL and CodeBase to try and identify innovative ways to help the NHS. Through our network we’re trying to make a difference in any way we can.
We’re committed to keep listening and learning and hope that we can find ways in which we can best support you and your businesses to move forward.
Stay safe, and please stay connected.
Co-founder Eagle Labs