November 5, 2012
There is a great deal of noise at the moment about “hubs” and “clusters” in the context of startups and business growth.
The argument seems to be that if you put a heap of startups together, there will be a significant level of productive cross-fertilisation.
I have been around the startup scene for quite a few years. Apart from a little esprit de corps around the pressure of overly-long hours and coffee sharing, I have never discovered much deep commercial synergy amongst startups in close proximity.
All that often happens is that there is a supply of subsidised office space – which is not to be sniffed at when it comes to suppressing startup costs.
But there’s currently an epidemic of hubs and clusters. The state sector is providing more and more whackily-painted startup units and there’s a rash of private initiatives that seek membership fees.
It’s the umbrella term “digital” that has largely driven this outbreak of hubmania and clusterfuss in our larger cities.
The problem is that “digital” covers a massively wide spectrum of activity. Digital is an increasingly common and standardised business delivery channel – it is neither a clear-cut business sector, nor an extended family of sub-sectors which creates obvious inter-trading overlaps.
However, digital startups, although operating in distinctly different sectors, may ultimately in quite a few cases be competing in the same labour pool for talent and in the same general corporate IT purchasing pools for their customers.
There is thus no easy commonality in digital that automatically brings the “ecosystems” which the inexperienced but insistent enterprise support sector espouses……there is substantial difference and sometimes some commercial competition.
The misconception is based on the flawed assumption that placing digital startups together will create the extended synergies of a good, old-fashioned industrial supply chain. It doesn’t.
All of this is why we have recently thrown our weight behind VaultPAD (VP), an extended accelerator concept across the travel sector in its broadest sense.
From a virtual worldwide presence spanning Seattle, Manchester and Singapore, there is now a very real and fast-growing anchor in Manchester (with smaller physical presences as well in the other two locations).
There is a central office and, crucially, half-a-dozen high potential projects underway. Some of these are seed projects from the VP in-house team but they are now joined by a couple of others brought in by outside promoters. Across all of the projects involved there are now approaching 20 people. As of next Easter there could easily be 50 (and there are several more exciting projects across various stages of participation discussions).
The key is the core sectoral knowledge which can develop non-compete projects. There is a deep accumulation of travel sector commercial experience, underpinned by access to contemporaneous data APIs. Everyone is being fed rich growth nourishment. No-one is biting at each others’ heels and no-one is quietly starving whilst hubmania and clusterfuss rage all around. The accelerator “umbrella” is pitched at just the right height to bring cohesion and shareable advantage.
We have written and spoken at length this year about our concept of “Wellheads” – integrated knowledge chains which can establish and sustain multifarious but broadly sectoral commercial activity over long periods of time. This economic development philosophy will underpin other major initiatives we currently have planned.
And with VaultPAD we are now extremely confident that we have a Travel Wellhead of immense promise. You might miss VP at the moment as we quietly build away behind the babble and clamour of the hubmania and clusterfuss……but we’re on our way, all right.