23rd – 27th March 2015

Monday was a day in the office starting with working through the budgets for the Sustainability team and cleaning up accruals as we hit the year end. I then joined Nick Cliffe for the briefing webinar for the second stage of the Recovering Valuable Materials from Waste competition. We were joined by the new lead for Resource Efficiency at EPSRC (a co-funder of the competition) and we found the time to have a side conversation on building a cross-cutting sustainability theme: in my case experience of it for Innovate UK and in her case how it might be done in EPSRC.

I then managed a very quick chat with Natalie Waugh on the communication plan for Resource Efficiency before joining our Portfolio Management meeting. There we saw a demo of the new interfaces being developed for our applicants and assessors to make their lives easier. The whole project is being done with user input and I was impressed how quickly and how well the project had progressed. During the journey home I joined a call on where we interface with the skills agenda – particularly in areas where innovation is changing a sector such as construction.

Tuesday and Wednesday were holiday for me as I celebrated my wife’s birthday and tried to finalise buying a house. The latter ended up with us accepting a rabbit as part of the deal. My negotiation skills are failing me!

Thursday started with a series of calls as I planned meetings for Friday and Monday and chased up more financial stuff. I pulled together my presentation for Friday (and subsequently removed a lot of the slides) before jumping on a train to London. In the evening I caught up with the indefatigable Jamie Burdett of McCann and mainly talked about Worn Again where he is still involved as well as potential future collaborations. That and babies – we’re both soft hearted daddies.

Friday brought the Clean and Cool Showcase where we brought back alumni from the now five past Missions. In the past we have done a reunion catch up but this time we invited partners, sponsors and potential investors in to hear the companies do their snappy two minute pitches. To level the playing field we then had selected partners/sponsors do two minute presentations on how they can help. That of course included me and I must admit to rambling to a three minute explanation of how select what areas to invest in and how those four questions (Size of market? Why in the UK? What timescale? Why is public money needed?) relate to what we ask applicants and what investors want to know. We are trying to help companies describe their business model better and think hard about the drivers of the opportunity they describe. As the sustainability lead, my job is to ensure environmental and social drivers are considered by everyone.


The event was fantastic with the companies doing a brilliant job of telling their stories and lots of fascinating insights from across our family of support for these cleantech heroes. We also heard from some new companies doing exciting things as diverse as engaging children (and the public) in urban planning using Minecraft (very important skills-wise in a digitally-led future for the construction sector) to providing toilets as a service that generate drinking water and charge your phone as well as deal with your waste!


Stat of the week:  Low-carbon industries saw a record turnover of £122bn in 2013, with an annual growth rate of 7.6% since 2010, according to Government figures

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 60 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


16th – 20th March 2015

I’m writing this week’s blog on Wednesday evening at San Francisco International airport as I return home. Rather than go through the last few days since a number of Clean and Cool alumni flew back out Saturday as a follow up to the recent Mission to pitch at the Cleantech Forum, I thought I’d instead note a few of the lessons we think they and we have learned.

Kissing frogs

With hundreds of people and a legion of investors, getting to talk to the right people and to then find one of them who might have an interest in partnering/investing/trialling with you there will be a large amount of conversations that go nowhere. We are always amazed however at the frequency with which the unexpected contact turns out to be the most helpful. We keep trying to give our entrepreneurs chances for this ‘organised serendipity’ by organising meetups and side sessions and having a broad invite list.

Frogs or toads?

Of course it helps if you have researched any investor you talk to. Are they investing in your type of business? What stage are they at with their fund? Are they early on so can take longer term punts or near the end and looking to invest in near break-even, post-revenue businesses? Not doing so won’t impress and can seem desperate. Also think about VC versus angel versus corporate etc…

Be human

Investors often relate they will prioritise a good leader or team over a good idea. People invest in people and VCs are looking for companies led by committed individuals. Putting a bit of yourself into your pitch helps reveal this. Also important is to appeal to all types when resenting – just because you love numbers and information heavy slides it doesn’t mean they will respond in the same way.


Many small companies fail due to a lack of focus (I can say this from personal experience). Be clear about your true addressable market and make sure the story of the company aligns with this.  Don’t go listing every opportunity for your technology if that confuses how you are going to make money first. Be realistic about how you fit into the overall system in that market – the total size may be huge but how much of it will fall to you?


Try and be clear on when you will break even (become profitable), how much you need to get then (and when you need it) and what you will be doing on the way. Bringing a lot of early stage companies out means some will be tracked by investors. They be looking to see how you fit to that plan. The same story repeated in a few years’ time won’t impress. They’ll also be trying to work out when and how an exit might take place.


I’m pleased to say the Clean and Cool companies had a very productive week with some setting up customer trials, others meeting interesting potential collaborators and many starting ongoing conversations that will lead to new capital. There were some very well-known names in the mix of potential customers, collaborators and investors so we hope more exciting news will follow.


Stat of the week: Drought-stricken California only has one year of water left, Nasa scientist warns

Week’s travel carbon footprint: 4000 kg CO2 equiv thanks to more international flying

Mike Pitts

9th – 13th March 2015

Monday I travelled to Swindon for a full day in the office. It started with a Heads of Theme meeting dealing with operational matters. With the boss finally having a holiday I’m doing more of this for the Sustainability team. I then joined Nick Cliffe for the briefing webinar for the Circular Economy: Business Models competition before meeting with Mike Biddle about programme budgets and plans for our Innovation Programmes offsite team meeting (which I am designing). After a pile of paperwork I finally headed into London for the night for meetings the next day.

Tuesday I went into BIS and after discussions over SBRI and Defra leads at our Environmental Data event, I met with our Director of Communications, Linda Wallace and leads at BIS for the Sciencewise programme. Both will be involved in our offsite team meeting as we look at societal needs and concerns as well as economic evidence for our programmes. Sciencewise (despite the name) exists to help policymakers involved in science and technology hold dialogues with the public.

Wednesday I prepared for the second stage of the Clean and Cool Mission as we head back to San Francisco with a number of the Mission companies to pitch at the CleanTech Forum and follow up leads from the first stage. I also took a call from a student at the RSA who had developed a fascinating technology to enable a sensory interface with electronics. He needed some advice on where to go next and I was able to connect him with a friendly IP lawyer as well as point him towards our Smart Materials competition and support from the KTN.

Thursday was spent in phone calls. The first again related to the offsite team meeting. I then joined a meeting on the projects going through to the second stage of the Recovering Valuable Materials from Waste competition. Finally I joined a call to plan our work this year refreshing our strategy on water. This topic sits right across our programmes and updates to information will be useful for many areas. In between calls I finalised a video on our Horizons tool and prepared all the paperwork for the return to San Francisco. With a Saturday departure, I took Friday off to at least spend one day with my family.

Stat of the week:  DECC figures show that UK solar generation almost doubled over the last year, with approximately 5GW of capacity installed by the end of 2014, compared to 2.8GW at the end of 2013. UK solar capacity doubles in 2014
This week’s travel carbon footprint: 40 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


2nd – 6th March 2015

A four day week in London started on Monday at the Hub Westminster with Charly of Long Run Ventures learning about my whole brain thinking preferences. I learned that my past awkwardness in working with scientists (leaded research teams as a trained scientist myself) stem from my preference for holistic, big-picture thinking rather than process and data. We have been using the approach to help our Clean and Cool Mission companies understand the need to appeal to all types of thinkers in their pitches and dealings with potential investors and partners to get their messages across.

I then worked with Ollie Graham to prepare a film summarising the Horizons tool for my colleagues and a shorter version for external audiences to help them use it in preparing applications to us. The tool helps innovators consider environmental and social drivers of market change – so better understanding the context of business opportunities. I eventually blundered my way through both scripts before joining a meeting on our latest competitions by phone then working on the forward plan for the Sustainability team in the evening.

Tuesday Nick Cliffe and I launched our Circular Economy: Business Models competition at the Resource Event and made ourselves available on a joint stand with the KTN all day to answer further questions on the call. We were ably supported by Anna Warrington of Forum for the Future with a well received explanation of the ‘value networks’ concept and Gerrard Fisher of WRAP on what needs to be considered in a business model for the circular economy. The whole event was organised by Catherine Joce of the KTN who did a fantastic job of helping connect companies and advise them throughout.

I managed to find the time to join M&S in a short open innovation workshop collecting ideas for two of their steepest circular economy challenges – increasing clothing return rates in their Shwopping scheme and design principles for shop fittings.

I then headed into central London to meet up with some of our Clean and Cool Mission companies as we prepare for the CleanTech Forum in two weeks and their pitch slots to investors. We worked through their updated pitches and then joined with Stephen Marcus of Cleantech Group for tips on getting the most from the Forum itself and a bit of a general catch up into the evening.

Wednesday I was back at ExCeL for day two of the Resource Event where we had a briefing for another competition – this time the Building Whole Life Performance call from our Low Impact Buildings team. Another busy day followed meeting potential applicants for both calls and others interested in how we can help. At the end of the day we were delighted to host ModCell as they announced they had achieved PassivHaus accreditation as well as the Q-mark that means high street lenders can provide mortgages for their straw bale buildings. They have just build seven in Bristol and these have had more enquires than the developer has ever experienced. It was great to hear just how much we’d been able to help them overcome all the barriers to market entry.

The team then joined the Scottish Enterprise reception (on a boat on the Thames) before heading to the Green Building Council birthday party at the Crystal. We then had dinner together making the most of a rare chance to catch up.

Thursday morning Nick and I went to Defra to talk through there recently published growth analysis: Resource management: a catalyst for growth and productivity and where we fitted in. We then raced to join the last day of Resource and field plenty more enquiries at the stand. The whole three days were fantastic for seeing so many companies and experts from the circular economy world and catching up on where they were and making new connections for them. Heading home I just managed to squeeze in a quick meeting with one of my new Energy team colleagues before finally leaving London.

Friday I caught up with all the emails and calls I had put off throughout the week.

Stat of the week:  nearly 25% of waste electrical and electronic equipment taken to household waste and recycling centres could be re-used, worth around £200m gross a year

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 38 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


23rd – 27th February 2015

I took Monday so the week started on a train to London Tuesday morning to join my colleagues for a meeting of the different Heads of thematic areas. I get to join as I deal with the forward plan for Sustainability and I also have the brief to plan the next of our twice-yearly meetings of all the Innovation Programmes staff. At these we work on forward strategy and input our ideas after healthy debate with each other. In April we will get together to look at our plan for the coming financial year as well as new ideas for the next 5 years of the new Government post-election. I have been given the challenge to have us understand it and communicate it from the perspective of economic value (as a taxpayer) and of societal value (as a citizen). The meeting was highly enjoyable and a lunchtime chat with Kevin Baughan (Director of Technology and Innovation who heads up this area) led to an excellent outline plan for the day.

After the meeting I caught up with Vicky Pope of the MetOffice as we talked through plans to help companies use publically funded environmental data and models to understand externalities affecting their business and markets. Our recent competition on this had a great response and we are keen to make use of the UK’s leading expertise and facilities for this.

Wednesday I travelled on to Swindon and our office but started with a call from Natalie Waugh in our Communications team on priority messages for the coming year from the Resource Efficiency programme. I then caught up with our Events team about the Collaboration Nation event we will hold to round off the Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data projects in June. I then joined Nick Cliffe for a briefing of our assessors for the Recovering Valuable Materials from Waste competition which closed as we were talking. We were keen to stress the proposals should be seeking to get the most value from waste streams and we wanted the company with the problem (dealing with the waste) to be involved as well as participation from the potential end-customer of the resource to define the quality and consistency needed to make the business case stack up.

From there I sat down with the Finance team to work through all the team budgets and current forecasts to check everything is on track. I then joined a call on a planned showcase event for our Clean and Cool Mission companies along with organisations that can help them, specifically potential investors. The alumni network we have of 80 fast growing (and high potential growth) SMEs in the cleantech space is an asset we want to grow and support further beyond the Missions. I then had time for a quick chat with our social media lead on how we use Twitter to reach out and highlight our activities and events before heading to my train home. On the way home I had the chance to catch up with Mission alumnus Perpetual V2G who have had a very successful trial saving Sainsbury’s a lot of fuel cost in their truck fleet. Looking forward to seeing them next week.

Thursday and Friday I worked from home to blast through paperwork on our competitions, transfer important files onto our new cloud system, and background to upcoming contracts. I also had calls with two journalists for future pieces on the Missions and investment routes for companies. The week ended with the Sustainability team meeting.

Stat of the week:  More than half of waste going to landfill is from the construction sector

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 48 kg CO2

Mike Pitts



16th – 20th February 2015

As will always happen occasionally when you are a parent of a young child, I found myself having to change plans and work from home at the start of the week. My wife was ill and I needed to look after her and my 5 month old son. I managed to join all the calls I had booked and work through a lot of emails – even some of them got handled at 2 am!

By Wednesday I was OK to travel again and given the locations I was heading to, took the rare option of the car. I started with a meeting at WRAP in Banbury with Liz Goodwin to align plans on Resource Efficiency. I then collected Rick Holland from Leamington Spa railway station and our Head of Energy from Evesham as we all headed to Broadway in the Cotswolds for a training course the next day.

We were there to spend the whole of Thursday getting media trained. It was a fascinating day and I learned a lot about how to get messages across well. Being live recorded doing a print, radio and TV interview with trained journalists helps you understand how to come across more clearly and the exercises to improve diction felt silly but worked.

Friday I continued to catch up on emails. Driving rather than train travel means limited chances to keep up!

Stat of the week:  The waste sector added £6.8bn in gross value to the economy in 2013 and supported 103,000 jobs according to a Defra report

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 79 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


9th – 13th February 2015

I started the week travelling to Swindon for a full office day beginning with a meeting about the interface between the KTN and the thematic areas in Innovate UK. We’re still working to get full alignment and sharing the way each area works across to KTN is helpful is seeing where we could be and what could be achieved. After catching up with various colleagues (those informal conversations only achieved by being in the office) I joined the Heads of thematic areas meeting as we worked through the latest actions, mostly to better manage project finances.

I then sat down with James Taplin, Simon Hart and our Finance partner, Nicola, to draw up budgets for next year and agree an approach to managing non-grant spend. James and I then jumped on a train to London with the boss and Nick Cliffe. We all split in different directions once there but it was good to catch up informally while travelling. We sympathised with Nick’s challenge to be vegetarian for a year by detailing our best recent meat experiences.

I was in London for an early starting meeting on Tuesday – a workshop with EPSRC on their Living With Environmental Change programme and where it should go next. Attendees were researchers from across the EPSRC communities and I was disappointed to hear a lot of suggestions from academics own perspectives and such a focus on climate change rather than environmental change. It was also interesting to note none seemed to know what a Catapult was but viewed them as important anyway. Nevertheless some interesting challenges were synthesised and I particularly liked the focus on better understanding environmental and social externalities at different granularity (time and scale – i.e. how do they affect my city, business, house...) and research on system integration.

Wednesday was spent at home catching up on plans for our Environmental Data Collaboration Nation event and the internal offsite day for the thematic team. Thursday I was back in London and spent the day at the Cleantech Innovate event which we were sponsoring. The format is 36 companies doing 5 minute pitches. It makes for a long day but it is always fascinating (I go every year) to hear about new businesses and see ones we know well present their work. There were four Clean and Cool Mission alumni and Libertine won the overall prize fresh off the latest mission. Some (other) pitches that stood out for me included:

Solarbox – turning phoneboxes into solar powered phone charging points

Adaptavate – with a closed-loop plasterboard replacement that regulates indoor air moisture and cleans the air

Kelda Showers – using pumped air to create a power shower that uses considerably less water

BACTEST – doing realtime analysis on activated sludge (filtered sewage) to reduce the energy used to aerate it (this process uses 2% of UK electricity)

OAL Group – have a ‘steam infusion’ process to prepare processed food quicker and at better quality

Solar-Polar – replacing patio heaters with a heater that captures solar energy during the day

The event was a great networking opportunity as well and I left with plenty of new contacts and follow up meetings to be had.

Friday I spent the morning reviewing the Clean and Cool Mission so far with Guy Pattison and Amanda Booth and planning forward. All very exciting so watch this space!

Stat of the week:  The circular economy could create 200,000 jobs in the UK

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 59 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


2nd – 6th February 2015

Monday was an office day and I arrived in Swindon just in time to hear the latest all staff briefing from our interim CEO David Grant. I was chuffed and embarrassed to be nominated for our regular ‘Living our Values’ award which quite rightly went to our claims team for setting a record in processing grant payments at the end of last year. After a catch up with Nick Cliffe we both met with our High Value Manufacturing colleagues to talk about how we help companies think about the business model for deploying their technology and how we can get more resource efficiency considerations into manufacturing projects.

I then met with our Events and Comms teams to start planning an event to round off the Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data projects and hopefully connect promising ones with future funding streams from us. The event will be of interest to any business or public body trying to deal with environmental externalities affecting their business or changing their markets/customer’s needs.

Following that meeting I briefly got to know my new contact in SBS who will help me with forward procurement of Missions before joining the Competitions monthly meeting to review the current plan before heading home.

Tuesday I worked from home and was mainly focussed on sorting some project problems (including a call with a project that had to fit tags to rare gulls on a remote Scottish clifftop!), preparing purchase orders for the new financial year for ongoing work, and inputting to the Waste to Bioeconomy report being prepared by BIS and Defra.

Wednesday morning I flew to Belfast for a two day tour of key companies with my Sherpa, Eoin McFadden of the Northern Ireland Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment. We started with a visit to B9 who have a range of activities in renewable energy and even into shipping who hosted a collection of businesses under the umbrella of Centre for Advanced Sustainable Energy (a £10m centre funded by Invest NI). The companies were:

·         Williams Industrial Services – who are a major engineering solution provider covering water, renewable energy, aerospace etc. They have developed a carbon-fibre pre-former for Bombardier’s plant making jet wings in Belfast. A bit of an unsung hero of NI manufacturing.

·         McLaughlin & Harvey – a fairly big civil engineering firm who have innovated into the offshore renewable area with a clever technology for securing tidal turbines to sea-beds.

·         Agri AD – a company developing anaerobic digestion technology in NI and looking to go beyond electricity generation with them to vectors such as upgrade biogas to biomethane to the grid.

·         B9 – themselves a leader in renewables and some interesting projects such as using unsellable wind energy to convert to hydrogen as another energy vector.

I gave some context to Innovate UK’s role and we discussed how we can connect with NI companies better. We then journeyed to the AES power station at Kilroot. AES provide 80% of NI electricity from this station and one other. Kilroot is a coal-fired power station with an interesting history. It was built as an oil fuelled station in the late seventies and during build had its economics hit by the oil shock. Only two turbines were commissioned and by 1986 was converted to coal. The result of this is a fair bit of space inside and two huge 300MW turbines unused at one end of the hall! They’ve been there 35 years and the availability of spare parts means this is one of the most reliable stations on the grid.

We were at Kilroot however to learn about their plans for grid storage. An Energy Catalyst grant from us will enable a 10MW battery to be connected to the plant (using the empty space in the plant) to help regulate the output and reduce costs. This is part of a plan towards a 100MW grid storage service being built on space outside the plant – essentially a big warehouse of batteries and looking like a huge datacentre. This would be the biggest in Europe and help the aged grid infrastructure in NI which has a target of 40% renewables by 2020 and needs to upgrade to incorporate this.

classic NI scenes: Samson & Goliath the mega cranes and the Titanic dry dock

A fascinating day, which finished with a catch up with our Low Impact Buildings team who were presenting on their upcoming competitions the next day. Eoin and I joined them for the briefing before heading to the Department for the Environment to meet with various policy colleagues and discuss the connection between innovation policy and various other policy challenges such as climate change, transport and waste for the NI civil service. A productive meeting reminding that business can often provide innovative solutions to policy challenges and public bodies can be part of our projects, particularly where they ‘own’ the problem and are effectively the end customer.

I flew back home with plenty to follow up on and certain we can do more to connect with NI in future.

Stat of the week:  There are as many cows as people in Northern Ireland

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 370 kg CO2 (more flying!)

Mike Pitts


26th- 30th January 2015

After a week on the Clean and Cool Mission it was inevitable I’d have a jammed inbox on return – I spent much of Monday and indeed the rest of the week clearing the backlog. On Monday I also urgently pulled together a presentation for the Rushlight Event on Thursday on upcoming cleantech funding competitions from us. My Energy team colleagues had provided various slides and I needed to create the full presentation.

Tuesday was back on the road and three days in London. Thanks to another failure in our rail infrastructure I was late to a roundtable meeting with the UK Environmental Law Association and various organisations we work with on the circular economy to examine which non-innovation barriers exist for companies moving this way and how could we work to overcome them. I then had to leave the meeting early to get to Defra to discuss potential SBRI projects with them. I then caught up with Sarah Tromans (Sustainability team) and David Altabev (ex-colleague) over dinner.

Wednesday I met with Nick Cliffe at our hot-desk space in BIS and we worked our way through the Resource Efficiency portfolio which is now his responsibility! We also planned the upcoming competitions briefings. Nick and I then joined our colleagues in the Sustainability team for a full meeting. We had several guests – Dale Heenan to talk about our new IT equipment, Nicole Pethybridge on improving our customer service and Natalie Waugh on communications strategy. Three hours wasn’t enough to cover everything! I then caught up with Sophie Bolden of UKTI to discuss how we work together better on our Entrepreneur Missions.

Thursday started with the Rushlight Event and I was pleased to see so many Clean and Cool alumni in the crowd. The new WRAP Chair, Julie Hill was chairing a session which made it easy for us to have the meeting we’d planned to discuss working together in new ways. I then raced across town to the Trampery for a Forum for the Future Sustainable Business Models Group. We had an excellent session discussing how digital platforms change business models and how we can help the big companies in the group manage that transition. In particular we looked at how is can help more resource efficient business models.

Friday was spent on the phone, almost back-to-back as I briefed the boss-boss, contributed to an article on circular economy by way of an interview, talked international programmes with Kenan Poleo, next stage of the Mission with Guy Pattison and interviewed with Jon Card for a Guardian feature on investment in cleantech related to the Mission.

Stat of the week:  The 64 Clean and Cool alumni companies have raised over £550m in investment since the Missions

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 34 kg CO2 (dwarfed by the 4 ton of carbon in a round trip to San Francisco the week before)

Mike Pitts


Clean and Cool 2015 day 5 & 6

reporting all week on the Clean and Cool Mission from San Francisco...

Day 5 had a theme of learning from those who have done it. In the morning, we travelled out to meet Cleantech Open, an accelerator working across the globe but based in the Valley. They have worked with over 800 companies who have gone on the raise around $1bn between them and directly created 4000 jobs. Their strength is a network of volunteers providing coaching. The group were given an excellent insight into what investors were looking for and how to position their business.

We then moved to Silver Spring Networks – a company that moved fast from cleantech start-up (13 years ago) to major company today. We were given lessons they learned along the way including the need to retain focus in the business plan, to go for the simple technology solutions (rather than something elaborate) and to fire bad employees quickly.

During the afternoon the companies went off to various meetings so I was able to explore San Francisco some more and have my first experience of Über (very slick) and grab some crab chowder. Before our big evening reception. UKTI hosted a ‘farewell’ party and many of the individuals we had connected with through the week came along to continue conversations and make new links. It was great to see friendships forming and plans being made for follow ups. Many of the companies will be back in March for the Cleantech Group’s Forum.

The next morning we travelled to Berkeley Labs to hear about their research and reflect on what we’d seen over the previous six days. It was inspirational to be up in the hills at a facility that discovered so many chemical elements and generated 13 Nobel prize winners.

We debated the need to fund pure research (basic science) and our host referred to a 1980s UK report suggesting up to 3% of GDP should be invested in science which gives a 15 year payback to the economy at a 30% pa return. We heard about their most successful recent spin-out – a company developing an electrochromic window that could be tuned to screen out visible and/or infra-red light to control the need for heating in buildings. They raised $15m once they were able to scale the 1mm2 lab prototype to a 1cm2 version. In doing so they had to change the manufacturing process and the lead scientist had trouble accepting the accompanying performance drop. It was however only 3% but brought a 95% drop in cost. This was a salutary lesson is innovating pure research.

Heading back to the UK it was good to reflect on the Mission week and how much the companies have gained. It has been great to see them develop their pitches and bring in their personal story to make them more memorable and relatable. Roll on March!

Clean and Cool 2015 day 4

reporting all week on the Clean and Cool Mission from San Francisco...

Our fourth day in San Francisco had a gentle start with many of the companies getting the chance to be interviewed by our accompanying journalists Roger Harrabin (BBC), Hannah Prevett (Times), Jon Card (Guardian) and Trevor Clawson (Forbes) or writing blogs for our site. These include an excellent discussion on what innovation is (and isn’t) by Sam Cockerill and bringing the human factor into pitches by John Hingley.

Late morning a large group went to meet IDEO and learn about how design can help innovation (a favourite topic of mine) while I travelled to Oakland along with Trevor to the Bay area base of Cumulus Energy Storage hosted by their CEO and Mission participant Nick Kitchin. Cumulus have taken hundred year old technology for capturing metals at mining operation scale to develop a battery that can operate at grid scale to store energy. Their research labs are working on the engineering challenge of running the electrochemical process reliably at the different scales the business can exploit opportunities at – such as storage for solar farms to extend their useful (predictable) grid supply time. Their chemistry has been described as ‘boring’ – i.e. it is incredibly reliable (it is basically a big copper/zinc battery) which, coupled with the scale the process has been run at, means the ability to scale is relatively low-risk.

Everyone then reconvened to head over as one group to Cooper, White and Cooper law firm offices for a reception hosted by global sustainability consultants ERM. There the companies again presented their two minute pitches followed by a short panel session on how legislation is driving innovation in California and the UK. I was on the panel along with an ERM expert, the lawyer who incorporated Apple and the environmental lead for the city of San Francisco. California has climate reduction targets in line with the UK Climate Change Act and see it as a driver for innovation.

The evening ended with a mixer with wine provided by the barrel by a local firm and food supplied by a local sustainable catering company. Another successful day of connections!

Mike Pitts


Clean and Cool 2015 day 3

reporting all week on the Clean and Cool Mission from San Francisco...

Today was the day when the companies pitched to a room of investors and advisers and they didn't disappoint. The two minute presentations they had honed over previous days came out perfectly and we had one of those great Mission days when companies started saying the whole trip had been worth it for the short conversations that had started something big. Our thanks to Silicon Valley Bank and Cleantech Group for organising the event.

I tried to capture each pitch in a Tweet through the day (follow the #cleansf hashtag) and have listed them here (so my interpretation):

@ADFerTech turn anaerobic digesters into fertiliser factories by converting the liquid residue

@AzoticTech have a non-GM bacterial coating for seeds helping any crop to fix its own nitrogen from the air - reducing fertiliser

@BBOXX_HQ bring energy systems to off-grid customers using solar power

@BuffaloGrid bring power and internet to off-grid mobile phone users (~1 billion people) that they can pay for with a text message

Cumulus Energy have the tech for the lowest cost grid level battery to store power - equiv to pumped hydro

CHESS enable fossil fuels to be part of a climate change solution with a process generating energy from gas while capturing CO2

@DemandLogicUK have a health monitor for buildings and can identify where the biggest efficiency gains are

@carboncleansolu have a carbon capture technology that out-performs current solvents and doesn't need specialist plant

@gfbiojet are making sustainable jet fuel a reality - they already fuel Kate and Will's Aston Martin!

@LibertineFPE dramatically simplify power generators with their linear system - enabling decentralised power

NGB Biogas have developed a highly engineered anaerobic digester that is faster and more efficient than existing systems

@perpetualv2g solve the problem of vehicles needing to idle to power onboard systems such as refrigeration or communications

@renovagen save lives with solar power with a rapidly deployed rollable solar panel that can power e.g. remote hospital

@sefaira make software for high performance building design, helping architects manage the systems that fight each other

@upsideenergy pay people to not use energy by coordinating existing backup batteries & elec vehicles as a virtual power station


After pitching the group headed to the JPMorgan Building and the Mind the Bridge incubator to hear about how they support start-ups including ones from Europe. The non-US programme works as a bridge to the EU (and has partners such as Nesta in the UK) and seeks to help European start-ups scale by working with big companies. This meets the needs of San Francisco which has a war for talent and an overflow of capital meaning decently priced deals are hard to come by in the Bay area. It also tackles the problem of a lack of exits in Europe.

We learned about Angel List (and that all start-up companies should be on it) and then met with local start-ups at a reception hosted by the MInd the Bridge team. The night ended with a social dinner as everyone relaxed after a day of pitching and bonded as a group.

Mike Pitts


Clean and Cool 2015 day 2

reporting all week on the Clean and Cool Mission from San Francisco...

A busy second day despite it being a public holiday in the US. It was Martin Luther King day and the group drew inspiration from that on a day with a focus on communicating your vision.

We started in the Galvanise incubator getting insight from Pennington's, a UK law firm that have now set up a base in San Francisco to deal with the number of enquiries and deals from Bay venture capitalists as they seek to diversify their portfolios. They were clear that there has never been a better time to bring outside opportunities to the investment community here. A message throughout the day was how well the US VCs pass contacts and opportunities around unlike more competitive investment environments such as the UK. 

After some inspiration on how to tell your story from Guy Pattison (subtitled - how to explain your business to Roger Harrabin's Mum) the companies got into practicing their two minute pitches with feedback from our lawyer friends, Sam Evans of UKTI, ex-pat serial entrepreneur Tony Hayward and myself. Again we saw how the most compelling pitches had a story and a purpose behind them.

We then decamped to Battery, a new member's club established by Bebo founder Michael Birch. Michael joined a panel session along with Tony and Andy McLoughlin, the founder of Huddle and a Mission alumnus. Hearing from these ex-pats who have made it brought out excellent lessons for the companies such as investors look for the right people at the top; one's with a personal vision that will see the through the tough times. Business metrics was also seen as important to have a good handle on, and attracting talent in the Bay area a major challenge. As for Battery itself, it was a classic off beat Mission venue: a members club with glorious bars, hidden rooms (behind bookcases) and toilets named after the seven deadly sins. 

After a quick break we moved the group on to Local Edition, a journalism themed bar for a networking event (see the jazz band in the picture above). We had reached out to local networks in advance and the companies quickly started making valuable connections. The conversations went well into the night and after a late evening 'pitch clinic' at the hotel most had an early night before a big day pitching tomorrow...

Mike Pitts


Clean and Cool 2015 day 1

reporting all week on the Clean and Cool Mission from San Francisco....

After flying in on Saturday the Mission group spent Sunday orienting themselves and getting inspired for the week ahead. First up we had an entertaining tour of the city with a focus on the history and key moments that created a city and region strong in entrepreneurial spirit. Founded on the gold rush and settlers fleeing the controlling influences of Europe (landowners and royalty imposed taxes in particular), the first Californians were characterised by the desire to be free and to make money. The pioneering spirit manifested itself in an innovative attitude to the challenges of a growing city - it was an ex-pat Brit who invented the distinctive city cable car system. The resilience of San Franciscans came through in their response to the major earthquake at the start of the last century. It destroyed three-quarters of the city but rebuilding began almost immediately and nine years later won the bid to host the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 to celebrate its rebirth. 

Having looked back, we then looked forward in a visit to the Long Now Foundation. Encouraging a long term approach to thinking about the world, the Foundation has set up projects designed to slow down the hyperactivity that characterises modern life to bring out what is really important. They wish to have society think on longer timescales - over the next 10,000 years - and showed us the prototype of a clock designed to be the world's slowest! It will be made to keep working over such a timescale. They also have a project to provide a library for the next 10,000 years and have the base information to restart global society. What books do you think need to be in it? I noted both the Chemical History of a Candle and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy were in - both would be first recommendations from me!

After a free afternoon for the companies to explore (during which I met up with Roger Harrabin of the BBC who joined the Mission party) we all got back together to hear insights from Bay Area media expert Tom Foremski. This took the form of a 'fireside chat' facilitated by the ever energetic Oli Barrett. Tom had great advice for the companies - in particular to tell your story and promote yourself (or who else will?). He also made clear that you need to be able to explain your business at a level 'your Mum would understand' and avoid sector jargon now matter how basic to you. As a business you can gain credibility by blogging and Tweeting about your expert area if you don't want to talk about the company itself. The Mission journalists supported the need to have a good, relatable story and pointed out that much of journalism is parasitic - a story in local press is often picked up by nationals and spreads rapidly. With pitch practice tomorrow, the Mission group went to dinner with a lot to think about...

12th – 16th January 2015

Another Monday journey to Swindon, and another trip with the boss talking through all sorts over multiple cups of tea, before a busy day in the office. This week began with a meeting on our links to the KTN from the thematic programmes followed by a quick lunch with Nick Cliffe before I joined the meeting of the thematic group Heads covering operational matters. I then had catch ups with the Events team over future plans and the Finance team over the latest budgets and forecasts before heading to my hotel and a quick drink with Natalie from the comms team.

The next morning I discussed our Clean and Cool Mission alumni data with our evidence expert. An audit of the 64 companies who went on past Clean and Cool Missions revealed over £550m in investments and funding and we wanted to ensure the analysis was as meaningful as possible and showed us all the important effects we had achieved with the investment.

My next meeting was with the MetOffice on a possible future joint work to help companies make the most of environmental data. We ran a well subscribed Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data competition last year which showed the demand from business for a deeper understanding of the risks and opportunities form the environmental externalities affecting their markets. Not all need an innovation project to respond so providing a combined ‘front door’ to such services using publically funded environmental data as well as connecting with communities of industry experts in using data to provide services makes sense to us.

A brief interview on how we embed sustainability across our programme with our Energy intern and I then headed to London for evening meetings with Forum for the Future. First up was with Nicky Conway on where we are at with use of the Horizons tool and working with my colleagues. In honesty I haven’t had as much time to dedicate to this as I’d like but intend to rectify that this year. We were then joined by more Forum for the Future people and colleagues from my team, the KTN and Catapults to debate how we can work together on the innovation agenda. It was a lively evening especially given we started from a sustainable future standpoint.

Wednesday brought a full day at the briefing event for the Recovering Valuable Materials from Waste competition at Hackney Town Hall. We had 140 registered and a packed agenda. There seems plenty of interest in the call so a successful day.

Thursday was a holiday before Friday I packed and prepared for the Clean and Cool Mission. I’ll be blogging every day if possible over the next week of the Mission so keep checking back and follow us on the hashtag: #cleansf

Stat of the week:  China used more cement in the last three years than the US used in the entire 20th century (

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 39 kg CO2 (next week’s will be much higher!)

Mike Pitts


15th – 19th December 2014

My last trip of the year was Monday to the Swindon office. The main reason was to work through the latest finances and budgets with the team there. I managed to weave in a catch up with the boss on the train and (different) phone calls with the Met Office and Ellen MacArthur Foundation about future joint work. I also started the process of planning an event to wrap up the Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data project portfolio by getting them all together to share what they learnt and look at follow on support.

I had rotten luck on the trains home – twice watching the connection I wanted leave the station without me. I got home later than I wanted but did at least get the chance to catch up with emails.

Tuesday at home I prepared a presentation for the Recovering Valuable Materials from Waste competition and joined a meeting (by phone) with Nesta on how we might work together to support sharing economy innovation. We concluded more evidence was needed of the benefits and barriers and that a list of UK start-ups in the area needed compiling. I think I left the actions for Nesta and Catherine Joce of the KTN! We also had a quick Sustainability team meeting by phone to check the latest updates before the Christmas break.

I had a day off Wednesday and spent Thursday working on slides for the Circular Economy: Business Models competition briefing, as well as understanding how we can work with WRAP to help companies do better projects from the competition. We will do something similar in support of our Building Whole-Life Performance competition. I also took calls with Accenture on using us as a case study for circular economy support, with the chair of our Resource Efficiency Steering Group on what next, and Guy Pattison on the latest work to understand the impact the Clean and Cool Missions are having on the alumni companies.

Friday I worked on budget forecasts, a whole team event for next year and joined a meeting (again by phone) to help develop the roadmap for a UK Bioeconomy. Although I will work Monday and start back on 2nd January, I won’t blog again until w/c 5th January. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Stat of the week:  The annual cost of damage caused by nitrogen across Europe is £60 ‐ £280 billion -  costs each person around £130 ‐ £650 a year [Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, UK – March 2011]

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 30 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


8th – 12th December 2014

A London heavy week began on Monday and catch ups with colleagues at BIS. I talked through the current state of play and forward plans for the Low Impact Buildings Innovation Platform with its leader Simon Hart then covered the Resource Efficiency communications brief with Natalie Waugh.

I then headed to the Barbican (via Westminster tube to pass copies of the Circular Economy: Business Models competition brief to Ben Peace) for a Forum for the Future event on ‘value networks’. This concept helps us understand how we can deliver system innovation – tackling challenges bigger than a single company’s remit and so involving multiple organisations and a change in the overall system. A value network works when everyone involved has aligned interests and aims and we saw examples ranging from AirBnB and their network of room leasers to the connections needed for Novelis to recycle scrap aluminium on the scale it wants to. It was interesting to see why big businesses work with Fairtrade-like organisations: because they don’t understand their supply chain but these guys do.

We are interested in how the idea of value networks applies to the circular economy. An overall business case for a more circular approach to delivering a customer benefit can often require collaboration and the formation of new networks. Marks & Spencer’s relationship with Oxfam for their Shwopping initiative if a case in point – both gain benefits to their business model but one part can’t work without the other. The Circular Economy competition is based on this and supports companies to work up the business case with potential network partners and design a pilot to test it if the case can be made.

The Forum event was followed by their annual Christmas drinks and the chance to discuss these ideas further with several companies and catch up with a lot of people and old friends.

Tuesday I travelled out to Ockley to learn about Flute Office who manufacture upcycled office furniture & fittings and provide it under a service to customers who typically produce lots of the cardboard waste they use as a raw material. This excellent closed-loop approach is a big win for many organisations besides the better value furniture and solution to a waste problem. Soon to move to a new factory they had some challenges as they looked to scale and upskill and I was able to provide a lot of leads to hopefully help.

Wednesday in London featured the briefing event for Clean and Cool Mission companies. This entrepreneur mission goes out to San Francisco in January and we spent the day relating the aims and benefits of the mission as well as preparing the companies for the pitch training and media work ahead. It was good to begin to get to know the companies and the day was ably compered, as ever, by Oli Barrett. The meeting extended into the evening over a few glasses of wine before I headed to Islington to catch up with some of our Digital team and make plans for an event in June.

Thursday I travelled to Cardiff for the last the Solving Urban Challenges with Data competition workshop I will support with three left to go. With a higher representation from local authorities at this one we heard some interesting challenges. All outputs across the workshops will be shared here:

Heading home finally, I caught up with the boss on the train and spent Friday working through the week’s emails and joining several calls on projects.

Stat of the week:  More than 1,400kg of iron ore, 740kg of coal, and 120kg of limestone are saved for every tonne of steel scrap made into new steel.

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 88 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


1st – 5th December 2014

The week started with a trip to London and two phone calls. The first was from Anna Simpson (Forum for the Future) in Singapore about what trends I was seeing on collaboration in industry for innovation. I said it was interesting how many companies were now collaborating with NGOs and charities on aligned agendas. We had looked a lot at system innovation this year – which I consider are challenges too big for one company or organisation to address and thus needing collaboration. The business opportunities are often huge for such challenges but realising them needs a business case that aligns for all the companies that are needed to make the solution work. This is perhaps too far from how big companies like to work and the risk too high. We have a role to help enable this which is key to realising solutions for sustainable cities, new energy systems and health & care programmes.

My next call was with Simon Hart, the leader of our Low Impact Buildings programme and a recent father like me. We stayed off nappies and instead discussed forward planning and realised the need for a longer conversation.

The Forum for the Future theme continued through the day as I met with several teams at their offices to review the work of the last year and what we’d do next. Work to embed the Horizons tool in our programmes and competitions is progressing well. Understanding how we do system innovation better (see earlier discussion) continues and I am keen to understand how we bring social value into the mix. Working with social enterprises can be of considerable value to business when working in a societal challenge-led area. Catherine Joce joined us towards the end of the meeting as we plotted the build up to the Circular Economy: Business Models competition launch, including a themed event on Monday at the Forum Christmas network event.

I headed home to end the day as I needed a day at the desk Tuesday to plough through my inbox, various admin tasks and more finance planning for next year. I also joined a telecon on how we can help the EU develop a programme of funding city testbeds for innovation from our experiences in the Urban Living programme while changing my son’s nappy (multi-tasking Dad!).

Wednesday I headed back to London for the Resource Efficiency programme Steering Group meeting. This group consists of industry, academic, NGO and government experts on resource efficiency and circular economy who provide steer and counsel to our activities on this area. Aside from two consultations from Government on the area to feed into we also had a company present on a project they were trying to get off the ground. Civico are seeking to use their expertise in creating web platforms to enable and track the exchange of products and resources post-first use.

After the meeting I headed south of the river to the Battersea InnovationRCA campus to meet with Ananas Anam – a start up who turn pineapple leaf waste into a leather substitute. See this prototype trainer example:

I was visiting to see how we can continue to support them as they develop as a company. I ended the day catching up with my Urban Living colleagues Sarah Tromans and Niraj Saraf.

Thursday morning saw an early start to get to Harwell to support the third member of the Urban Living team, James Taplin, in the second of the workshops for the Solving Urban Challenges with Data competition. This was at Harwell in the Satellite Applications Catapult and convenient for me to tie in a visit to ScienceWise to discuss how we build society’s opinions and needs into our strategy and programmes. After a long day and long journey home I took Friday off to be a full time Dad for a day.

Stat of the week:  The average baby uses the equivalent of 150kg of wood in the form of disposable nappies

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 77 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


24th – 28th November 2014

Monday was mainly spent preparing for a meeting of the Resource Efficiency Steering Group and working through forward budgets as well as clearing my inbox as best as possible.

After a day off Tuesday I travelled down to London on Wednesday to be a judge for our IC Tomorrow Connected Cities competition. Here a range of city-based challenges were put up with a large business partner prepared to host the innovative idea to test it. Pitching for the contract to develop the idea were five lots of three small digital companies. The challenges ranged from enabling the trading of energy in communities to helping people live independent lives. Some very interesting ideas were put forward but I was again reminded how complex many city problems are and how they are often beyond the scope of individual businesses. Collaboration is key and good projects need the involvement of those with a hand in wanting the change as well as those who pay for it (not always the same). For example with one on energy trading – without a community that want to do this, testing any ideas is difficult and how you will make money from it unclear.

After the event, I heading north with my fellow judge James Taplin to be in Glasgow for the first of our Solving Urban Challenges with Data competition workshops the next day. The workshop was expertly organised by our KTN team led by Jenni McDonnell and superbly facilitated by 100%Open who started with a stark example of how we can have hidden connections in any room of people. We were arranged by birth date in a big circle and found 4 pairs of the ~50 people there had the same birthday. This counterintuitive result is known as the birthday paradox and once you play the game with greater than 70 people the chance of a pairing is >99.9%!

The workshop was designed to help potential applicants understand the call, what data publically funded data was available and broker initial connections. Outputs from all workshops will be collated here: (or follow the hashtag: urbandata) and places on future sessions are still available. My main observation was that throughout the workshop we kept hearing how little cities know about their resources: talent, infrastructure, heat, Nature, communities, etc.

Back home on Friday I spent the day on phone calls and admin – more financials!

Stat of the week:  Zipcar members save around £300 per month compared to owning a car (from the report for Government published this week on the sharing economy: )

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 65 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


17th – 21st November 2014

Monday I headed to London for three days of meetings. First up was a meeting with Defra on using the SBRI mechanism to unblock progress on policy aims with the issue of carrier bags the one on the table. After a catch up with SBRI and KTN colleagues I took a phone call from UKTI about potential cleantech investment projects. The government themed day continued in a meeting with BIS on a planned bioeconomy roadmap and how we get input from our advisory boards.

The day ended in a Forum for the Future Sustainable Business Model group meeting hosted by The Crown Estate at their St James marketing suite. Here we learnt about the redevelopments they had planned in the area and took input from the companies present on how their sustainability ideas could be applied. It was incredible to learn how much of central London they owned/managed and the vision was pretty exciting despite the considerable challenges presented by tenants. As a group we made some interesting plans for the year ahead.

Tuesday saw me head to the ExCel centre to support the KTN stand at Food Matters Live. This was a new event and it showed in the attendance sadly. Some interesting exhibitors and debate but not enough footfall to make it worthwhile. Heading back into central London I chaired our team meeting (by telecon) and then met with WRAP. We were discussing at length how we can work together to support business on resource efficiency and circular economy; ideally a joint offering rather than the fragmented support available now. We want to help companies innovating towards a circular economy do so faster and WRAP have considerable experience on how to make it work from a business case perspective. We agreed principles and are looking at how it can work in practice.

Wednesday was spent at the Sustainable Leaders Forum hearing from business’s stories on how they ‘do’ sustainability. The highlight by far was an explanation from Steve Waygood at Aviva Investors of why the stock market is set up against long-term investment decisions (his slides are here). Anyone with investments (pensions, stocks etc.) should be communicating their desire for sustainable investments to their funds. Two gems: the companies you invest in are shaping the future you will retire into, and markets are currently capitalising behaviour that will destroy their own value.

Thursday I was on leave and Friday was largely spent catching up on emails from three days or travel and a day off. Much of that was budget work and follow ups from meetings through the week.

Stat of the week:  $88bn is spent annually by G20 countries locating gas, coal and oil reserves

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 36 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


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