A Product Launch, A Catapult and 17GB Wheat – Three Very Different Events in Just Over a Week

A lot of my time working with the Catalyst team is spent in the office. I enjoy being there – there’s a great atmosphere – but after nearly five months in the team, I’ve definitely been pining for a chance to do something externally.

I was then pleasantly surprised to end up booked to attend three events in London over the course of the last week and a half. I hadn’t represented the team, or the Innovation Centre, externally before, and now I was getting three chances in a row to get out there, talk about what we do, and learn a few things in the process. Very exciting.

The first of these was a product launch event for Broker Compare, a start-up I’ve been working with that’s aiming to make clearer the costs of investing across a variety of different brokers. It took place in a function room at the lovely Somerset House, and attracted a variety of people, from journalists to investors, and was opened by Croydon South MP Chris Philp. And also, I was there.

I really enjoyed helping out and explaining to attendees why I was there and what we do at SInC and at the Catalyst team. Similarly, hearing about the range of work from everyone else was very interesting. Each of the talks, from Chris Philp, as well as from one of the investors, and from co-founder Stuart Millson, was interesting and highlighted the potential of Broker Compare. One of the main reasons I joined the Catalyst team was because I wanted to see what motivated different start-up businesses, and that’s exactly what I saw at the launch event.

I saw this, in a different way, from external businesses when, two days later, I went to a coffee morning at the Digital Catapult Centre in London. Not only did I get a lovely bird’s-eye view of King’s Cross and a mug of much-needed coffee (left home at 6am, oh yes it certainly was much-needed) but I got to learn about the services of catapults and talk to some entrepreneurs who are at the starting line with their business ideas. It was great to talk to these people, who understood at the emotional core the problems they were looking to solve with their business ideas. Perhaps in reverse order, over the span of just three days my visits enabled me to see how the idea for a small business begins, and what it means then, and to see the moment a small business emerges to the world at large with a launch event. Really emotional and really valuable – both events expanded my interest in what we do here at Sussex Innovation.

A week after that, I was tasked with visiting the 2017 HPC and Big Data Conference in London, an event that, in its own words, aims to “showcase the latest advances in the pioneering technologies and practices which are revolutionising computational research across the public and private sector.” Quite the mouthful.

With highlights being talks from Daniel Zeichner MP, Timothy Stitt of the Earlham Institute and Dave Underwood, representing the Met Office, there was a lot to learn. If I’m honest, some of the presentations caused me to be rifling through Google searches on my phone, keeping up with the terminology. What I found fascinating at the conference, though, was the variety of interesting ways the speakers and attendees were aiming to use HPC and big data.

Timothy Stitt’s talk highlighted how the Earlham Institute uses HPC to handle the data of the genome of the wheat plant – which comes to around 17GB – and store and analyse the data of thousands of these. Dave Underwood talked about the storage and processing demands of monitoring UK fog levels to a precision far greater than they do currently – to well within a kilometre. And Richard Self, from the University of Derby, spoke of the limits of big data, and that often small data can provide insight that’s just as valuable, as it has to major companies like Lego. It was a day of challenging talks, but it also gave me some great stories about the range of ways that HPC and big data can be used in companies to identify and verify methods, in order to further that company’s fundamental goals. It was an interesting day, made more interesting by the fact I was able to reflect on the events from the week before – now, I was seeing successful businesses and academics preaching to others about “how they did it”, and the technology they used to get there.

I took that knowledge back to Sussex Innovation the following day, and I will definitely be carrying some of the more pondering thoughts from the conference into my work going forward – things like the equal power of bigger and smaller data are relevant on a theoretical basis to many different fields. In a similar way, I’m carrying the aspirational themes of the two prior events as well, which has given me a new perspective on the businesses I work with every day. I’m glad to have been offered the chance to go off-site and explore some of the factors behind what we do.

Three very different events, then – but all of them have offered me some hugely valuable perspective on my work with SInC.

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