Author: ian

ON Accelerate 5 Level-Up Wrap-Up

The last couple of months have been very busy with CSIRO’s ON Accelerate 5 programme’s “Level-Up” series of short, sharp workshops across the country. These intensive sessions have infused new skills and knowledge across some key areas that our entrepreneurial teams need to accelerate and maximise impact. A very big shout out to my Co-Designer / Co-Facilitator David Ireland. Here’s a wrap-up.

SYDNEY IMMERSION WEEK: A shallow dive into everything you need to know and to setup what’s in store in the upcoming “Level-Up” series.

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We started with Immersion Week in early February. We focused on:

·      Prototyping: How to build, test, develop and protect your solution (product and business model),

·      Teaming: How to build and manage the high performance team you need for maximum results,

·      Story-telling: How to tell a story that moves people to support you and

·      Executing: How to build a plan and execute it.

PERTH LEVEL-UP: A deeper dive into Product and Business Model Prototyping

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In Level Up 1 we focused on: Prototyping: How to build, test, develop and protect your solution (product and business model).

Thanks to Megan Gobey for a great session on Prototyping!

Thanks to Andy Lamb for a great session on Hustling!

Thanks to Rafael Kimberley-Bowen for a great session on how to build, test, and present financial models!

Thanks to Paul Watt for a great session on understanding value proposition!

And thanks for a great deep dive Angel Investors Panel session: Tracie Clark, Greg Riebe

CANBERRA LEVEL-UP: A deeper dive into Building High-Performance Teams

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In Level Up 2 we focused on: Teaming: How to build and manage the high performance team you need for maximum results.

Thanks to David Romano for a great session on how to build a High-Performance Team!

Thanks to Nick McNaughton for a great session on Venture Capital!

Thanks to Murray Rankin for a great session on Commercialisation Grants!

SYDNEY LEVEL-UP: A deeper dive into Storey-telling and Speaking and Presentation Skills

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In Level Up3 we focused on: Story-telling: How to tell a story that moves people to support you. During this Level-Up we had a super focus on pitch technique, slide deck design and media training. We are well on our way to helping this great group of teams deliver massive impact!!!

Thanks to  Jo O’Reilly for a great session on Pitching for impact!

Thanks to Catriona Dixonfor a great session on Media training!

ADELAIDE LEVEL-UP: A deeper dive into How to develop and protect your solution (product and business model)

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Level Up 4 was in Adelaide! We had two great days talking about how to build value in your IP Portfolio, how to build a brand, how to use and negotiate term sheets. We also got ready for Demo Day on the 2nd of May in Brisbane.

Thanks to David Hughes for a great session on IP Development!

Thanks to both Judy Halliday and Hugo LeMessurierfor a great session on Term Sheets!

BRISBANE LEVEL-UP: A deeper dive into Story-telling and Speaking and Presentation Skills

In Level Up5 we focused on: Story-telling: How to tell a story that moves people to support you.

Thanks to Jo O’Reilly for a great session on Pitching for impact!

Thanks to Phil Morlefor a great session on Pitching to VCs!

Thanks to Cameron Turner for a great session on all things in an Entrepreneurs journey!

Thanks to Anthony Musumeci and David Hendersonfor a great one-on-one session on all things about pitching to VCs!

Demo Day in Brisbane was on the 2nd May – congratulations to all the teams.

MELBOURNE LEVEL-UP: A deeper dive into Executing (or How to build a plan and execute it)

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In Level Up 6 we focused on: How to build a milestone based plan, focused on the key value creation steps, and focused on building towards inflection points, and executing.

Thanks to Anabela Correiafor a great presentation!

And it’s a wrap! Well done to all the ON Accelerate 5 teams!! Thanks to the CSIRO ON Team!!!

Preparing your pitch: Identify potential chinks in your armour and stay on course

Giving your idea the best chance of success with investors

I recently came across two posts that made me stop and think about ways to identify potential chinks in your armour and stay on course when it comes to preparing a pitch for investors.


One of the blogs was, “The real reasons why a VC passed on your startup”, written by Sarah A. Downey at #Accomplice and reposted on OrthoStreams by Tiger Buford. This is a highly informative article from anexperienced VC who knows what she is talking about. All of the reasons Sarah describes are also applicable to the reasons why an Angel, Super Angel, Family Office as well as a VC will passon an investment.


The list Sarah has createdis a great list to use in a workshop with your startup team, to identify potential chinks in your armour. Once identified, thefaults can be discussed and resolved. Even weak pointsin the team makeup, using the eye of an investor, can be discussed and resolved. Depending on the strength and depth of the team, any issuecan be overcome. The trick in the first instance is identifying the chinkin the armour and agreeing that it needs to be discussed and resolved.


The other piecewas a post by Julissa Shrewsbury bringing to our attention a revealing new TED Talk by Dana Kanze discussing the bias of promotion v prevention questions asked by investors, and how this negatively affects rates of investment for female entrepreneurs. A revealing talk, and Dana is an experienced entrepreneur who has pitched to a lot of VCs. It highlights that you need to be aware of promotion-focusedquestions and prevention-focusedquestions during question time.

The classification of investor questions Dana has described is also a great technique to use in a workshop with your startup team, to create positive promotion responses to promotion-or prevention-focused questions and stay on course. As a team you can develop a list of promotion or prevention focus questions and a corresponding list of positive promotion responses to all of the questions. This can prove invaluable when you want to make sure the Q&A session at the end of your pitch stays on the track, maintains momentum and finishes on a positive note.

CSIRO ON Accelerate 5 – Reflections on lean/design thinking

I recently put in another week at CSIRO ON Accelerate program in Sydney. David Ireland and I run the ON Accelerate program (sits under the National Innovation and Science Agenda) for CSIRO and the broader research sector including all publicly funded universities and research centres and partner organisations like the Defence Science and Technology Group. ON Accelerate is the premiere national science and technology accelerator open to the top 10 teams from institutes across Australia (20 teams get into the bootcamp and up to 10 are selected to go on to the Accelerator). Over the course of the bootcamp we facilitated a series of great interactive sessions on the importance of Structured Customer Discovery, Value Proposition Design, Business Model Design and also facilitated mentoring sessions for the teams. The program is called ON Accelerate 5, celebrating the fifth time we have run the program.


I have recently written a lot about developing a deeper understanding of the customer and using lean / design thinking and value proposition design within organisations.


It is great to see 20 teams who have all experienced the value of quality customer discovery and lean / design thinking and value proposition design. They have all de-risked their projects and enhance the potential uptake of their product or service (solution) before launch.


I have also seen corporate product management teams experience workshops like this in action. The workshops enable teams to understand the need to develop a deeper understanding of the customer and to focus on early adopters and innovators in their customer groups.


Having now run many of these workshops for research teams and product managers, I’ve made some observations about the typical things that surprise participants when they undertake these programs:

  • How valuable it is to have a deeper understanding of the customer,
  • how valuable it is to identify potential early adopters and innovators, and
  • how valuable it is to enhance your solution language to resonate with customers.


This clearly highlights the importance of structured customer discovery and value proposition design processes, both for new innovators and for existing businesses.

I have been amazed at the exciting new projects CSIRO ON Accelerate 5 teams are

working on. I can’t wait to see these products and services in the market!

INSEAD Paris trip: Reflections on entrepreneurship

I recently put in another week at INSEAD in Fontainebleau. I presented a couple of great interactive sessions on the importance of Structured Customer Discovery and Value Proposition Design and also ran mentoring sessions for MBA Candidates.


I have recently written a lot about understanding the customer and using value proposition design within organisations.


While participants in these kinds of sessions quickly see the value of ‘doing the work’ and getting into quality customer discovery and value proposition design, in the busyness of every day life, product management teams don’t always stop to consider how much money they may be wasting on things customers don’t really want, or how much money is being left on the table due to missed opportunities. So I thought I’d quickly highlight why a thorough approach makes such a difference.


Why structured customer discovery matters:

·       It enables a deeper understanding of the customer and their perspective, in order to give them what they really want.

·       It can enable a focus on early adopters and innovators in the customer group, creating scale quickly.

·       It enables a structured method of de-risking product development and launch.


Why a strong value proposition using design thinking makes a difference:

·       It’s a great way to quickly get all of the teams’ assumptions documented, in order to be tested.

·       It’s a great way to map out how to build value from a customer perspective.

·       It’s a great way to focus, and to de-risk, a product development program.


Where businesses quickly start to see results after the ‘hard work’ of planning and product development in this way is:

·       The ability to shift a product from just another product to a highlydesirable product.

·       Enhanced, customer-centricproduct language, used to promote the product, at launch time.

·       Building strong support of early adopters and innovators in the customer group.


These approaches are now being widely used with much success in ‘thinking centres’ like universities/research centres and businesses that want the edge, across Australia and around the world. Businesses will soon discover their competitors will be taking on this thinking too.


I have been amazed at the exciting new projects INSEAD MBA’s are working on. Many of the ideas I saw are also entrants in the INSEAD Venture Competition. I can’t wait to see these start-ups in the market!

Key take-aways from AICD Director Download: Lean/Design Thinking Part 3

Lead Change from the Top – Part 3 Wrap-Up

In this 3-part series reflecting on my work across universities and organisations, I have discussed the application of Lean / Design thinking, Value Proposition Design and Business Model Design to businesses so that they can stop making the #1 mistake: creating products people don’t want. I’ve also detailed some important research and experimentation tools necessary to inform design.

Read Part 1 and Part 2


I have personally facilitated workshops for more than 50 teams, from research institutes and from companies, and I have never seen a team that has not invalidated an assumption and I have never seen a team that has not discovered new information that has formed a new validated assumption. In short, I have never seen a project that has not been de-risked and potential impact enhanced by this process.


Therefore, important questions directors should ask include: Do we use design thinking in our commercialisation process? Is there a value proposition canvas for each project? Have we conducted interviews, or experiments, or both, for our value proposition canvases? Then ask the team to tell you about those stories.


Directors should encourage teams to use design thinking in their commercialisation process. They should encourage teams to use value proposition canvases and business model canvases, and they should encourage teams to conduct interviews and experiments, to understand their target customer more deeply. They should expect that there will be some assumptions validated. There’ll be some assumptions invalidated. However, there will also be new information coming from the interviews and experiments. Expect and be flexible enough for projects to pivot, and expect projects to be killed off. Expect things not to survive the process. The important aspect there is that the learnings are done at a very cheap point in time, where ultimately it’s not going to cost a lot for a project to be killed.


Questions Directors should ask

1.     Do we use Lean / Design Thinking in our commercialisation process?

2.     Is there a Value Proposition Canvas (VPC) for each project?

–   Have we conducted Customer Discovery Interviews for each VPC?

–   Have we conducted Customer Discovery Experiments for each VPC?

3.     Is there a Business Model Canvas (BMC) for each project?

–   Have we conducted Customer Discovery Interviews for each BMC?

–   Have we conducted Customer Discovery Experiments for each BMC?

4.     What have we validated, invalidated or discovered through our VPC & BMC?

5.     Has any project pivoted, or has any project been killed off, tell us about that journey?

Directors should encourage teams to

–   Buy a book or two

–   Invest in Lean / Design Thinking

–   Engage a facilitator to run a series workshops

–   Build skills and knowledge

Key take-aways from AICD Director Download: Lean / Design Thinking Part 2

Lead Change from the Top – Part 2

In my previous article I discussed the application of Lean / Design thinking, in Value Proposition Design and Business Model Design to businesses so that they can stop making the #1 mistake: creating products people don’t want.


Using these frameworks is a necessary first step, however at this stage the assumptions are usually all guesses. As part of the program, the development team is required to go out and test their assumptions and talk to customers to discover if they are on the right track. As well-informed as the team may be, there can be a lot of very important nuances in the answers customers give, which are absolutely necessary to this process. This information is often not captured or obvious in market research studies. Testing the market by interviewing prospective customers with your assumptions is important.


Once assumptions have been tested in this way the team is able to start filling out the business model canvas, putting down assumptions about how the business model will work. But again, they are all guesses until they are tested for how that’s actually going to work in practice. Again, all the details and nuances in the responses from customers as to whether and how they like to buy through a particular channel or whether there’s a better fit for them in another channel comes to light. These are all important pieces of information that are necessary to gather from customers interviews.


Here, the objective is to try to optimise the value proposition fit. We’re trying to observe the customer. Using our original assumptions we observe and verify the things that we felt we understood about the customer. Or if we were wrong, then we learn from the information provided by the customer interviews, changing our value proposition canvas or our business model canvas.


All this work on understanding the customer and observing the customer before we start to design and create the value in the product or service forms the basis of what and how we plan to offer. That’s how we achieve value proposition fit, and it’s really important to do this with a customer focus.


The definition of ‘customer’ = all stakeholders: customers, regulators, insurers, all of the players out there that make up the ecosystem which is going to be buying or supporting the purchase of the product. It is important to gather as much information from all of these participants in the market as possible. That way, a new product or service when launched into the market can be de-risked and optimised for the greatest impact. 


So we’re not talking about market research, where we are trying to observe a few things about many people. We’re talking about insight research where we’re trying to observe everything about a smaller number of people. In this process we’re studying the desirability of a new product or service. We’re not focused on Can we do this?’ We are focused on Do they want this?’


We’re not focused on ‘Can we do this?’ … We are focused on ‘Do they want this?’

We do this by spending time running customer interviews; getting out of the building. As Steve Blank said in his book The Startup Owners Manual: ‘Getting out of the building’ and interviewing customers, observing them, understanding what they do, understanding what choices they make, why they make those choices, what are the key attributes they’re looking for.


Again in this process we’re also trying to understand and identify what we might call early adopters or innovators in the market. These will be the first customers to take up your product. They’re the ones that are going to be propagating the information to other customers, acting as your reference source for the next tier of customer that comes on board.


Beyond the interviewing, we go the next step, which is really around experimenting. A team can experiment by offering a seminar to customers, which is a sure way to find out if they’re interested enough in the product. Would they actually come along to a seminar? Or offering them some more information about the proposed solution on a website and if they give their name and address they can have a PDF white-paper. These are some ways of experimenting with customers that require the customer to commit some time and effort, while also giving you an indication if they are interested beyond just being interviewed. If they’re happy to actually give up some of their time, jump in the car, drive down the road, and sit in a seminar for a couple of hours, to listen to what’s happening with this type of product, and to understand what your plans are! Interviews and experiments are both important mechanisms.


With experimentation, one of the things we’re looking for is a deeper understanding of stakeholders and potential customers, a deeper understanding of:

·       who feels the pain more acutely

·       who is trying to solve the problem

·       who will be more interested in the product

·       who might be the early adopter or innovators in the space, willing to take up the product early


It’s important to get customers’ support and endorsement. If you can get their support and endorsement, then you’ll get the early revenues but you’ll also get recommendations to the early majority to take up the product. And these are all important stepping-stones in de-risking the launch of a new product or service, and maximising the impact that that product or service can have.


When looking for early adopters, it’s important to understand their hierarchy of needs. Early adopters have a problem, are aware of having a problem, are actively seeking a solution, have put a solution together or hacked a solution together, in order to get something done. And they either have a budget, or they’re willing to get a budget, because they feel the problem acutely. So it’s important to identify those early adopters. They will help to create the right language around your product or service, to articulate the kinds of messages that these early adopters would respond to. And a lot of this information comes out of the interviews that you conduct during design thinking.


This is what people / groups are doing to try and de-risk new product development, new product R&D, inform the design of projects, and to de-risk the launch and increase the impact of new products on the market.


In the final article of this series I will zero in on the role of boards and how directors should approach design thinking for their organisation.

Key take-aways from AICD Director Download: Lean / Design Thinking Part 1

Lead Change from the Top – PART 1

In this 3-Part series I’ll share key take-aways from a recent keynote address at the Australian Institute of Company Directors, covering much of my work with universities and organisations.


There was some important research published by Simon – Kucher and Partners in 2014 (and Strategyzer and where they looked at the top 10 business mistakes, with #1 being actually building the wrong thing, building something no one wants. It’s not hiring the wrong people, or lack of focus, or failing to execute sales and marketing. All of those things are key, however the number one mistake is building something no-one wants.


The number one business mistake = building something no-one wants.


Companies are constantly developing products and services to launch into the market. However, around 72% of new product and service innovations fail to deliver on customer expectations (Simon – Kucher and Partners 2014). Or you can say that customers don’t care about 7 out of 10 new products or new services introduced to the market.


Lean thinking, in Value Proposition Design and Business Model Design, is a customer-centric method for the design of new products and new services. Design Thinking is a method for practical, creative resolution of problems incorporating the strategies designers use during the process of designing (Wikipedia definition). The key feature with Lean / Design Thinking from a business perspective is that it is now used very effectively in the design and validation of problem solution fit, product market fit, value proposition design and business model design.


Leading the work in this field are Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur authors of “Business Model Generation” and “Value Proposition Design” (with co-authors Greg Bernarda and Alan Smith). Other important references are Eric Ries with his book “The Lean Startup” and Steve Blank with his book “The Startup Owner’s Manual”. These books are all great references for looking at how you can validate problem solution fit, validate product market fit, design new business models and validate those business models and value propositions before embarking on taking products or services out into the market.


Using this method and the frameworks, and doing the work, allows you to understand the customer deeply, as well as identifying the early adopters and innovators in your market. You can greatly enhance the launch of a new product or new service in this way. It can also, and usually does, significantly reduce risk to your organisation or company.


Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur with their book “Business Model Generation” have described a visual design tool to design and test business models in a ‘business model canvas’, and with “Value Proposition Design” have described a visual design tool to design and test value propositions in a ‘value proposition canvas’.


Through the work that I do with CSIRO, universities, organisations and companies across the country, I translate and witness this methodology in action. These workshops are designed to focus on team work, understanding the customer, problem discovery, value proposition design, validating and de-risking, taking new products and new services out into the market, and maximising the impact of publicly funded research.


In these workshops, we use the above-mentioned frameworks for visualising and testing the assumptions that we have about the customer. These frameworks are central to the teaching and learning. A development team can use the value proposition canvas to articulate all the information they have on the customer; what they believe is the job the customer is trying to get done; the pains and gains that the customer has. This allows the development team to design a product or service that truly serves the customer.

ON Prime teams present promising innovations to the business community

Last month members of Perth research, science and business communities met at Curtin Business School to hear about the work of the latest cohort of research teams to graduate from CSIROs ON Prime programme. The teams presented their projects, and their learning from the ON Prime 4, and how their innovations will benefit business in Australia and impact the world.


I thought I’d share a quick overview on what the teams have been working on and what’s next for them on the commercialisation journey. If you’re interested in getting involved to assist any of the teams, in any way, please get in contact with me.


Eco-Ore is providing a safe and cost-effective process to extract rare earth metals, which are used in all our technology. The team has gained valuable insights into their potential customers priorities and a lot of information that has informed the final formulation of the solution. The Eco-Ore team’s next steps will include building a pilot plant and validating their solution at scale.


MicroBright has developed a strengthening toothpaste which is less damaging to enamel than products currently on the market. The Team has gained valuable insights into the barriers in the market, the importance of user-friendly language, and clearly defining market segments. The MicroBright team will incorporate all of the inputs into the next stage of development.


On-Farm Grain Storage, developed by researchers at Curtin University and existing business GGHS, is providing advantages in agriculture like decreased yield/quality losses and lower operational costs for farmers. The team has gained valuable insights into the real main concerns for farmers, with some previous assumptions challenged! This has enabled the team to develop a plan for infield trials and to reformulate a marketing strategy for the new storage solution.


Insight from Imagery has created sophisticated video mapping and object recognition technology to quantify the changing planet and help solve problems and make decisions in business. They offer increased data quality and accuracy. This team is exploring different markets such as building inspection companies, oil and gas and environmental, with plans to take a look at other industries such as forestry and agriculture.


The Ceramic Membrane Filter development team have developed a product for faster filtration, lower energy consumption and easy, lower-cost maintenance. Solutions base on the technology opens up opportunities in a range of industries such as water filtration and wineries – growing industries in key market around the world. The teams learnings included the necessity to develop the whole filtration solution rather than just the filter membrane and that different customer segments have different needs.


So what’s next for these teams? That largely depends on industry support, grant funding and investment opportunities to develop their products further to commercialisation. But as ON Programme coordinator David Bird said at the event, ‘ON Prime never finishes’, and teams have the opportunity to continue their research and development with the support of the ON Tribe alumni programme, and for some, to attend the ON Accelerate intensive programme. The advice was, ‘Identify your support people and keep the communication flow going.’


It’s great fun being part of CSIRO’s ON Prime and ON Accelerate programmes and I am looking forward to ON Prime 5, which is just around the corner. Applications for ON Prime 5 close on July 13.

Valuing Early Stage Companies

I am currently helping a team calculate the pre-money valuation of their company before they go out and raise additional equity funds. This is not an easy exercise to do on your own company. However, it made me go back to one of my favourite references, an article called, “Valuation For Startups  – 9 Methods Explained”, co-written and published in French by Augustin de Cambourg and in Portuguese by Raphael Mielle. Link below in English.


The article does a great job of explaining all of the methods that can be used. They can be used to estimate the value now and to estimate the value once a key milestone or inflection point is reached. In fact, you can map out the whole journey you plan to take and value the company at each key milestone or inflection point.


At the end of the article, Augustine and Raphael pinpoint what they see as the best valuation method: “Having said that, I find that the best valuation method is the one described by Pierre Entremont, early-stage investor at Otium Capital, in this excellent article. According to him, you should start from defining your needs and then negotiate dilution: The optimal amount raised is the maximal amount which, in a given period, allows the last dollar raised to be more useful to the company than it is harmful to the entrepreneur.”


Here is the article on valuation… 

CSIRO’s ON Accelerate teams showcase their journeys in entrepreneurship

Over the past few months I’ve been having an amazing time embedded in CSIRO’s ON Accelerate program, the pre-eminent science and technology accelerator in Australia, involving 30 universities and other groups and departments across the country.


As one of the national program’s two facilitators, together with my colleague David Ireland, I have travelled around Australia’s cities with the 10 finalist teams to deliver a 13-week series of workshops to them and expose them to top experts in IP portfolio development, finance and financing, team structure and development, and pitch development and skills. These teams of scientific researchers were chosen from some 40 entrants and have been working through the ON Prime program and then the ON Accelerate program to develop their research into marketable products to address the needs of customer segments in the community. For example, Genics has developed a new pest detection system that cuts cost and time delays for Australian prawn farmers; Diffuse Energy has produced a small wind turbine with nearly twice the power output of existing same-sized wind turbines, and Noisy Guts is using the natural noise of guts for health screening.


For these scientists, the program and upcoming showcase of their journey at the Demo Night on the 19thApril represent an exciting time for their research.


For me personally, working with David in designing and leading every workshop in the ON Accelerate program, it has been a personally rewarding journey to see our models and delivery methods in action and spending time refining them to provide participants with maximum value. It’s been fantastic to see the scientist teams develop their entrepreneurial skills, learn about product-market fit and develop business models to take their technology to market-readiness.


The invitation-only Demo event will be live-streamed and you can access the video link or find out more about participating teams.