Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Of Fast Cars and Celebrities

Yesterday was a day of fast cars and celebrities. It is funny the places that you end up and the people you bump in to as a tech entrepreneur.

In the morning I and a Garlik colleague travelled out to the Oxfordshire countryside to visit the headquarters of the Williams Formula 1 team. The marketing guys there wanted to explore some very innovative branding ideas, a novel way of opening up the massively powerful and international world of Forumla 1 to the VC and start-up community. The 17 F1 races that take place around the globe each year are watched by over 600m fans in 189 countries and attending an F1 meeting is a bit like attending "Davos on wheels" as you get to rub shoulders (and do business) with chief executives of major corporations and take your key clients for a stroll around the pit lane. Anyone interested?

Then we went on a quick tour of the facilities. Wow! Talk about British innovation and engineering excellence. Williams can go from a new car design to a handbuilt formula 1 car on the test tracks in 6 weeks. I held large bits of engine made of special material so light that I could balance it on one hand. They are at the cutting edge of "clean tech" with a flywheel device that stores energy when the car slows and releases it on request. They took us to a huge room containing practically every Formula 1 Williams car going back 30 years. Each car costs about £10m, so I was probably looking at half a billion pounds worth of vehicle! I tried to think of good "bloke" type of questions to ask but could only think of things like "So, does that car go really fast then?" Fortunately my colleauge knew the right questions to ask and I trailed along saying things like "core" and "wow". I also found that if you repeat the last word of a sentence that someone has just said whilst nodding, you can appear very knowledgeable.

In the evening I attended the Medical Futures 2008 Award ceremony. I was a judge on the main prize of the night so sat on a table near the front. Which was good because it was a bit of a UK celeb-fest as Jonathan Ross, Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet), Andrew Marr, David Mitchell (comedian), Vanessa Feltz (TV and radio), Anthea Turner (presenter), Melanie Sykes (presenter), Mishal Husain (presenter), Michael Buerk (news reader) and Martha Lane Fox (co-founder of came up one by one to appeal on behalf of the charities that they are involved in supporting. Jonathan Ross was a big hit with the hundred of doctors in the audience despite his recent problems. In the auction, he offered to leave a personalised message on the answerphone of the highest bidder :)

There was a brief moment of slapstick when an eminent gentleman (who shall remain nameless) turned the wrong way after speaking on the stage, took a step and disappeared off the side of the four foot high platform. Organisers rushed about in a panic (I think this fell into the "what's the worst that could happen" category for the organisers) whilst one of the hosts joked "is there a doctor in the house?"

The lifetime achievement award was won by Sir James Black OM, the Nobel Prize winner and inventor of the beta blocker, a true titan in the medical innovation field. The list of medical innovations coming out of the UK as the awards ceremony progressed was staggering. If the guys at Medical Futures succeed in unleashing the potential of all this talent, a whole new industry will emerge in the UK.

Oh, I should throw in a Royal I suppose, since I'm namedropping. I was nearly mown down by HRH Prince Michael of Kent as I was coming in and he was leaving. It is funny the places that you end up and the people you bump in to as a tech entrepreneur.

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