First up, a declaration - I hate the Coalition. I hold George Osborne personally responsible for plunging the country into a worse crisis than necessary, all because he believed David Cameron's assertion that the economy was like a credit card. Did I like Gordon Brown, though? Not at all. He was part of a movement that promised the earth, and gave us PFI, Student Loans and Iraq. But did he save the world? According to a recent report from the San Francisco Federal Reserve he did, with a Keynesian response to a free-market crisis: "Flash Gordon" Brown. Got to give the man some credit.
All of this makes it rather surprising, then, that I currently love the government (although perhaps not the people who are a part of it).
R&D is my life, which probably makes me one of a small, rather geeky minority. My team and I are constantly finding new ways of extracting meaning from phone calls, from straight speech recognition through to sentiment analysis (or put more crudely, lie detection). And R&D is expensive, because it means that you are pouring money into an idea, in the hope that a) someone will pay for it and b) no-one else is doing it (or at least not nearly as well as you are).
At the end of the tax year, we get some small relief from the tax man for all of our hard work, but it's a fraction of what we spend, and it's a long time after we spend it (that is not to say that we are not eternally grateful to the men in bowler hats).
So, I went cap in hand to the government and asked them for some cash - the basic pitch was that we are working in a really exciting field, we had some really good ideas, and (possibly the most compelling bit) we could create jobs. I didn't roll up to my local MP (Business Secretary and professional pot-stirrer Vince Cable), although I do have a few questions for him next time we meet, but was pushed in the direction of the Technology Strategy Board, a quango-like affair tasked with handing out government dosh for innovation. With a catch: You pay £55 for every £45 they put in. Which if you are asking for a monkey is one thing, but if you are funding a large research project, is quite another.
But we are believers, and were willing to stump up our share.
Unfortunately, we failed. Interesting though our project was, there were a number of hoops we needed to go through in order to satisfy the high threshold the TSB puts on entrusting some sizeable amounts of money to British industry. Heads were scratched and pencils were sharpened here at HQ, and a new submission went in. You only get two bites of the cherry with the TSB on a particular project, and so tensions were high.
And yes (as you probably guessed with the elation shown towards the Executive earlier in this post), we got it. Cheap fizzy wine was purchased and poured, and the project kicked off, a project that we think will help to cement us at the forefront of telephone speech research. Already plans are afoot to visit the patent agent, and we are hiring. IP and jobs, exactly what the scheme is supposed to achieve.
Good news, think I, needs to be shared. A press release was prepared, and went through a Byzantine ping pong match to ensure that we were not overstating the magnificence of the achievement as far as the TSB was concerned.
The idea was to let all of the major UK media outlets know that a) the country was back in the speech business having sold the rest of it to the Yanks (Spinvox to Nuance, Autonomy to HP, HTK to Microsoft) and b) that somewhat by accident, the Coalition were delivering on their promise to get money to SMEs to boost jobs, exports, UK plc etc etc.
The news was duly propagated, via an online press release, and e-mails to a large number of media contacts across a wide variety of UK publications and broadcast media.
The only call I got was from someone offering to publish an article in their journal for a fee. Even this august organ ignored it completely.
Only this week, the Today Programme on Radio 4 did a whole segment on research that flies see things in slow motion. We already knew that! Surely someone shares my enthusiasm for the renaissance of an industry. Perhaps I need Mary Portas to come along and get half my staff sewing knickers?
OK, so maybe it's not John Humphries material, but surely it's worth a paragraph somewhere? Thank God I can blog on the Huff Post - They kindly provided the trumpet, so here I am blowing it...