Before the onset of Covid-19 in early 2020, the Fourth Portal was on a journey to create real-world spaces that would introduce AI and Machine Learning to non-academic, non-technologist by creating hybrid venues that people could visit like any cafe or shop on the High Street.
The original intent was to create some real-world spaces and introduce virtual working using emerging tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, almost unheard of outside technology and corporate circles. The pandemic turned this on its head, and the Fourth Portal had to pivot, to develop the virtual spaces first and then introduce the real-world opportunities. This is the story so far...
Introduction | Fourth Portal plan in December 2019
Fourth Portal transforms traditional and derelict shops, pubs and public places* into activity and co-working spaces for entrepreneurs, start-ups and creative business people providing relaxed surroundings, ambient atmosphere in an imaginative setting with a range of services, products, events and exhibitions focused on new and future technology.
How ideas become reality | A personal journey
Fourth Portal is the brainchild of founder John McKiernan (history here) who is fascinated by how ideas form and become reality, whether it's a business, technology or a work of art. This fascination is coupled with a frustration with an education system that seeks to systemise the process of bringing an idea to fruition by focusing on acronyms, models and flowcharts. Modelling is fine for iteration, making slight changes to a product or service, however there is limited value when deciding whether to develop an original idea and make it reality.
Haphazard Business | How ideas become reality
John once had a small chain of coffee bars in South London and was always intrigued by the number of ideas and schemes customers were trying to develop, whether a business start-up, researching for an academic qualification or creating a work of art. The joy, pain and reality in the processes of all these personal journeys shared certain traits: the inconsistency of everyday life, overcoming scepticism of peers, energy to carry through on an idea and of course the stark reality that some ideas are just not very good.
Emergence of Fourth Portal | A road trip
Fourth Portal itself has been an idea floating around in John's head for more than a decade, an idea that would capture peoples' imagination briefly only to fade as it could not be explained simply; making financial support difficult to obtain. So in early 2019, John set off on a self-funded Haphazard Business road trip (as a representation of the journey of discovery) to blog about the process of developing his idea of establishing an innovation hub. Haphazard Business became the name of the blog documenting his travels, emphasising how an original idea pivots as comments, circumstance and other haphazard factors feed in and alter progress.
Meeting of Minds | Coincidence, synchronicity or luck
During his haphazard journey, John attended many events, exhibitions and locations, allowing himself to drift with the flow rather than dictate or seek an outcome. This took him to many interesting places, discovered numerous insights and met some fascinating people, including Gillian Harwood, who would lead the project to Great Yarmouth, a down-at-heel Norfolk coastal town.
Great Yarmouth | Gillian Harwood's story
Gillian Harwood has been a successful entrepreneur for more than 40 years, and owns a number of small business work hubs, the largest of which is Busworks, in London's King's Cross (read more here). Gillian fell in love with Great Yarmouth following a visit to the permanent Hippodrome Circus in 2017. Seeing the town was in steep decline, and lined with beautiful period architecture, Gillian decided to try and help kick off a change in fortunes by investing in some run down buildings and returning them to the splendour they once enjoyed.
Meeting of Minds | Fourth Portal
John met Gillian randomly over a glass of wine at the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA), where they are both fellows. John explained his journey and Gillian encouraged, repeatedly, for him to visit Great Yarmouth. Initially uninterested, over the summer of 2019 John became increasingly intrigued by the town, its decline and the potential to reinvent itself (more here). Gillian offered John free use of the buildings she had purchased to trial out Fourth Portal and the project was born.
Covid-19 | A Haphazard Response
With the doors to Portal B just ajar for the first customers, the UK government ordered a lockdown to counter the rapidly spreading Covid virus, requiring all non-essential businesses to close. Across the world personal and commercial business went into a tailspin as governments responded in a haphazard fashion. Just as John set out on a haphazard business journey one year ago, now the rest of the world seems to have decided to join him...