Economies of diversity

In business you hear a lot about economies of scale — the idea that if you produce or consume a lot of something you can expect it to be cheaper per unit. But I’ve been wondering recently about whether there’s a different kind of benefit you can get from deliberately trying to create diversity in a group.

I first started thinking about it in relation to our cohorts at BGV. Part of the point of accelerator programmes is that they give you an economy of scale. Paul Graham and the Y Combinator team’s initial realisation was that you could make 10 small investments for the cost of one traditional angel investment and that the teams needed many of the same things which you could provide in bulk. It’s the same for us. We’d be a very expensive way to invest £150k in a single startup but spread across ten it makes more sense.

We’re also able to leverage more expertise and valuable connections for the teams because of their diversity — they all work in different subject areas. It’s classic Mark Granovetter where ‘the strength of weak ties’ is really important. A team working in urban planning can help a team working on primary education because they know people who work in that world — maybe not well, but often those relationships and introductions are the most useful. Having a diverse group of founders on the programme also helps us avoid too much groupthink because people have genuinely different experiences and skills.

Bikes work

I’ve been cycling to work pretty much every day for six months now. For some reason I chose one of the coldest, darkest, windiest days of the winter to start and now we’re in a lovely warm stretch with long summer evenings so I’ve seen most things that London can throw at you. A few things I’ve noticed:

  • It really doesn’t rain that much in London especially in the mornings
  • There are some hilariously bad bits of ‘cycle path’ around the city which stop and start without any warning
  • Pumping your tyres up makes a big difference
  • The number of cyclists seems to increase almost every day — the Old Street ‘pelotons’ that build up just before 9am are now often 30–40 bikes strong
  • There’s a lot still to do on safety — and it’s better to choose safe routes over more direct routes in a lot of cases
  • Cycle theft is still a big problem — I’m very lucky that I can store my bike in a secure area at both ends of my commute. Hopefully things like this will help though.

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Only connect — making networks useful

I’ve generally tried to live by the adage of “always learn from people who are better than you” and yesterday we helped launch the Accelerator AssemblyÂ — a network for EU tech accelerator programmes which we’ll be co-ordinating along with our friends at Seedcamp, Techstars, Seed-DB, Nesta, Startup Weekend and Howtoweb.

It shows how much accelerators have developed in the EU in the last few years — first of all that now there are enough of us to have a network but also that the European Commission sees accelerators as an important part of their work to boost growth. Accelerator Assembly is part of a broader initiative called Startup Europe which is about to launch a new €100 million fund for European startups.

The important thing, as with all of these kind of networks, is making it valuable to everybody involved. We’re still working out the right mixture of online and offline and the best ways of swapping ideas but I hope it gives us all the chance to be open and honest about what works and what doesn’t in the way we support startups.

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Cakes and computers — remembering LEO

Google very kindly invited all the new BGV teams over to their London HQ yesterday evening for a ‘Celebration of the UK’s Computing Heritage’ which was great fun. We got to hear from many of the people who brought the internet into the world both from the US (Vint Cerf, one of the creators of TCP/IP) as well as the teams at the National Physical Laboratory and UCL in the UK.

I think my favourite story though was that of LEO or the Lyons Electronic Office which was the world’d first business computer back in 1951. Many of the team that built it were there last night and they justifiably got a standing ovation.

BGV Summer 2013

Today is a pretty exciting day for me as it’s day 1 of the Bethnal Green Ventures programme. Over the next three months we’ll be working very closely with the ten teams who made it through our selection process and trying to help them get off to the best possible start. It’s very early days for all of them so we can’t say too much publicly about what they’re all up to but this list gives you a hint or two:

  • Benkyo Player — making educational video subtitles searchable
  • Commonplace — generating user-centred neighbourhoods and cities
  • Fluency— equipping young people with digital skills
  • KNRYÂ — saving lives in the emergency services
  • Open Utility — enabling peer to peer energy trading
  • Playlab London — building game to help sufferers manage the effects of panic attacks
  • See What I Mean — a communication tool for people with dementia
  • Savvify— empowering and exciting hard to reach groups about technology
  • Trackwall — educational and immersive games for school children.
  • WriteLaTeX — a complete cloud based approach to scientific publishing

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