Jul 26

3 Top tips for Start-ups

I was invited to join  John Darvall on his BBC Radio Bristol show to discuss if this was a good time to start a new business? Of course it is, but then I’m an optimist like most entrepreneurs!

After a bit of banter about starting up a new business, he asked me for 3 Top Tips, we sort of skated over them so I thought I’d repeat them here and extend a bit on the chat on-air.

Talk to someone!

By tychay Terry Chay

There are lots of people out there that want your business to success, more than want it to fail! Locally we’ve got the excellent BRAVE organisation that provide clear, simple advise to anyone thinking of starting their own business. Most cities will have their equivalents.

There are also loads, and loads, of business networkings and networking events. People do business with people (mostly), so get along to a couple and talk to other small business owners and company founders. It’ll help you understand the realities of being your own boss, as well as the perks.

There are also some great online resources like Start-up Donut and of course BusinessLink (though this will soon be a web repository of guidance notes).

You can also track down the many start-up schools, incubator facilities, seed-camps, etc that are all trying to assist you towards a successful business.

Strategic Intent

I’m not sure I quite got the right message over on-air about this. If, after talking to some impartial people, you are still passionate about starting a business, then sit down and work out why you want to be in business.

By Danielle Page

Are you looking to develop a nice little company that will keep you busy for 6 months a year leaving the rest of the time for skiing? Or are you looking to transform your industry? Or are you looking to build sufficient value to exit at £20m in 5 years with a minimum of 50% equity and no earn-out? Or are you looking to build a company that will grow ahead of inflation and still be here in 30 years time?

What is your strategic intent?

The other side to strategic intent is your risk profile. Are you willing to bet everything on one idea, or are you more cautious?

How risky can you afford to be? Work out how much money you have (redundancy payouts, savings, mortgage, etc), then work out how much you need each month to live and how you can minimise this (you don’t need to live in the dark eating value baked beans, but champagne & oysters are probably off the menu), then work out how long your money will last.

That should give you some idea on how risky your position is, and how quickly your business needs to be a success.

Plan your business

This is critical. You don’t need a 200 page, glossy book, but equally you need to be able to describe your business and what you’re trying to achive.

Describe your strategic intent (Mission, Vision, etc). If you don’t know why you’re in business, why should anyone care?

Describe your product / service. This is important but actually, less so than most people think. Is there any unique intellectual property (IP) that can be protected? Do you actually know how your going to make, store, distribute your product to markets? If its a service, what is it and what additional support do you need to deliver it?

Who are you going to sell to and why should they buy from you. Who is your market, where are they, what do they like, what don’t they like, why do you and your idea fill a burning need in their lives or businesses? Market Segmentation, this is good, do it.

Who else is out there? Just about any idea will have some competition. Either directly from other companies offering the same or similar solutions. If you have a one in a million idea, there are around 1,300 people with the same idea in China, 1,200 in India, 500 across the EU, and 300 in the USA. Of course they won’t all be thinking of launching a business, but one of those 3,300 people might.

Cashflow forecasting. Cash flow is king for a small business. You won’t be able to produce a detailed financial model of your business before it’s even trading, but you need to have some idea of the basic cash flow through the business and where your break even point is. What’s your burn rate (monthly cash spend) and runway (how long before you’ve spent all your savings)?

My reply about the Apprentice was wrong, their business plans weren’t rubbish because they didn’t have good advice; they were rubbish because they didn’t listen to that advice!

<Disclosure: I was introduced as being from the University of the West of England iNET (Innovation Networks) which is true, but I’m also on holiday and the original link was via here so link-love all round.>

Apr 10

How to be more innovative

symphony

symphony by paul (dex), on Flickr

Innovation is generally held to be a “good thing”. Companies that are innovative or that produce innovative products are lauded with praise, awards, not to mention investment funding. Innovative individuals are highly sought after and richly rewarded.

So how can we be more innovative, in our personal and corporate lives?

  • Find new ideas

Most of the good ideas are already out there, you just need to find them. Some of them are protected & that’s fine, respect that. But may more aren’t, so use them.

An important concept here is that of being a “boundary spanner”, of having eclectic interests. Research has shown that in looking for innovative solutions, individuals that had weak ties to many different disciplines were more effective than those that were tightly bound to a single one.

  • Assimilate those ideas

No not the Borg, but you need to be able integrate any new information with what you already know. There’s no point reading the latest article in hyperbolic geometry, if you failed Maths 101. This is the foundation of constructivist learning models (but that’s for another post).

The important thing is to be able to relate the new knowledge you’ve acquired to that which you already know in some way. This may sound like a contradiction to being eclectic, but it’s not. Remember, you’re not looking to be a global expert in the new topic but you do need to understand enough to be able to address your challenge.

  • New solutions

After all, the name of the game is innovation, so we’re looking to adapt our newly assimilated knowledge to produce a new product or service. Many of the most innovative products in recent times haven’t been ground breaking in their fundamental technology, but they have combined and adapted technologies in highly innovative ways.

Think iPhone, Toyta Prius, Facebook, etc.

Remember, innovation is different to invention.

  • Show me the money

This doesn’t necessarily mean a Dickensian, Mr Burns kind of exploitation. But you need to translate your new solution into a business proposition, otherwise it’ll remain an idea.

Note: While the points above are in a list (because that’s the easiest way of presenting them in a blog) they are not sequential and linear. It’s also worth noting that most innovation is a team sport, so make sure that within your team you have people that can find new ideas, bring them within your group, use them to solve problems and then commercialise those solutions.

Further Reading

The above ideas are collectively understood as “Absorptive Capacity” and have been applied to individuals, teams, divisions, companies and whole regions. A good place to start is wikipedia (as always) and follow the trail from there. The key academic texts are the original article by Cohen & Levinthal (1990) & the expanded theory from Zahra & George (2002).

  • Cohen, Wesley M; Levinthal, Daniel A, (1990), “Absorptive capacity: A new perspective on learning and innovation”, Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol 35, Issue 1, pg 128-152
  • Zahra, Shaker A; George, Gerard, (2002), “Absorptive Capacity: A Review,Reconceptualization,and Extention”, Academy of Management Review, Vol 27, Issue 2, pg 185-203

The comments about weak network ties come largely from Tushman (1977) and developed by Hansen (1999). The background Wikipedia article on interpersonal ties is here.

  • Morten, Hansen, (1999), “The Search-Transfer Problem: The Role of Weak Ties in Sharing Knowledge across Organization Subunits”, Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol 44, Issue 1, pg 82-111
  • Tushman, Michael L, (1977), “Special Boundary Roles in the Innovation Process”, Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol 22, Issue 4, pg 587-605

This is a different style of post to previous ones I’ve written. I’d be very grateful for comments on areas that need expanding / simplifying or just explained in a different way.  I hope to be writing more articles along similar lines as my current work with the iNETs is bringing all of this into sharp focus (if only from an academic research perspective).

Thanks

John

Feb 22

New profile photo

I normally don’t get too excited about photos of me, but when you’re thinking of changing your online image it’s quite a big deal.

Out with the old

I really like the image I’ve been using for the last 3 and a bit years, it was taken on holiday so is a bit relaxed but sufficiently smart to be used in a business context as well. Had I been thinking about using it as a portrait (which I obviously wasn’t) I would have made a couple of changes. The main change would have been to my glasses. They weren’t sunglasses but my normal ones go dark in sunlight, we were on the North Devon coast so there wasn’t much sun but evidently enough. I’d also get rid of the rucksack and probably pick a better background, etc, etc, etc.

However, I was generally very happy with that image, which is why I didn’t change it (other than the occasional twibbon).

In with the new

Then I took part in Ignite Bristol last October and was photographed by the excellent Simon Skies. To be honest, when the photos didn’t come out at the same time as the video went live (nearly 700 views and counting, and on the video wall for Ignite Phoenix as part of Global Ignite Week), I kind of forgot.

Simon now has the full slide show of shots from Ignite Bristol 3 up and while I’m still not sufficiently narcissistic to enjoy looking at photos of myself,  its a great shot and with Simon’s kind permission I’ll be using it around the web in future.

Jan 22

How smart are your houses?

© 2011 The Intelligent Business Company, publisher of Housing Technology magazine

A number of years ago, when I was the Business Manager for Futurelab Education, we looked at a couple of projects around technology in social housing and how internet access could transform lives. I began talking to George Grant (Founder, Housing Technology) about several projects across Bristol that were refurbishing PCs and providing them to communities at no, or very low, cost. This great work is continuing with ByteBack and the associated projects through Connecting Bristol.

Anyhow, I stayed in touch with George from those conversations and always looked forward to the latest issue of Housing Technology. One of the keys to being a good connector of business opportunities is to be aware of what’s going on in sometimes seemingly unconnected sectors. Those sectors connected towards the end of 2010 when George and I were catching up over a coffee in Hamilton House and I mentioned a couple of recent technology innovations that I’d become aware of.

George suggested that I write some of my thoughts down about how the massive potential of social games and device level smart metering could be used to bring about motivated social change. That rather than trying to make people feel guilty about their energy consumption through financial penalties, we use anthropomorphism and social games to align energy efficiency with game design strategies.

So I did, you can download the full article as part of the January issue of Housing Technology or read the png file linked from the thumbnail.

Jan 17

What’s great about Bristol? Let me count the ways…

Ok, minor confession; I haven’t pulled this list together. Iain Gray (CEO, Technology Strategy Board) is a passionate champion of all UK technology & innovation, and he recently tweeted a list of technology and innovation examples from Bath & Bristol. Enjoy!

[Update 1: Iain’s just dm’d me to say there are plenty more to follow, keep an eye on his twitter stream for latest updates!]

[Update 2: Last few added for the full list of 50 great companies and organisations encouraging technology & innovation in Bristol. Thanks Ian!]

Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 50. Bristol Science City http://bit.ly/3ChqOG .. youtube http://bit.ly/erTi8e #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 49. Selex Communications http://bit.ly/fxINRA #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 48. Slingshot street and pervasive games http://bit.ly/hcKjbP #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 47. SetSquared Business Acceleration Centre http://bit.ly/e6AKll #innovate #SETsquared
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 46. City of Bristol College http://bit.ly/hv0HYb #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 45. Stirling Dynamics Specialist Engineering and Design http://bit.ly/guCdWI #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 44. Orange research http://bit.ly/8YKuIg #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 43. National Composites Centre http://bit.ly/h1B5ZV @NCC_Bristol #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 42. Interactive Places phone apps for specific locations http://bit.ly/fLpEoE #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 41. Bristol University – research intensive university http://bit.ly/ezBYj3 #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 40. Bristol and Bath Science Park –Spark http://bit.ly/e0zTer #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 39. teamrubber – grow successful creative businesses http://bit.ly/dPF8c6 #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 38. Rolls Royce –Defence, Marine and Operations http://bit.ly/erl5k8 #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 37. Calvium Immersive mobile apps http://bit.ly/fOCchK #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 36. Garrad Hassan & Partners Renewable Energy http://bit.ly/hxGaLI #cleantech #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 35. Provision – Wireless Video http://bit.ly/ijct4d #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 34. MOD Defence Equipment and Support http://bit.ly/gcMNFn #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 33. Bioinduction – treatment of chronic pain http://bit.ly/eGdEGq #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology & innovation examples 32. Dycem Manufacture high performance non-slip products http://bit.ly/hPfnP4#ktp #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 31. Infineon – 32bit embedded microprocessor cores http://bit.ly/e74PXg #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 30. Bristol Heart Institute – cardiovascular research http://bit.ly/hum6AX #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 29. Simon Games Mobile Social Game Engine http://bit.ly/fuBbQ1 #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 28. GKN Advanced Composite Facility http://bit.ly/aZDjah #innovate #composites
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 27. Pervasive Media Studio http://bit.ly/DTabc #innovate @PMStudioUK
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology & innovation examples 26. Atkins –The Hub– awarded Best Corporate Workspace by BCOhttp://bit.ly/h3sbiv #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 25. Epimorphics software tools and information services http://bit.ly/e9rf5j #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 24. 3C Research digital media and communications http://bit.ly/hDvOff #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology & innovation examples 23. University of the West of England Research & Business http://bit.ly/er724n #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 22. DECIPHer-ASSIST public health improvement research http://bit.ly/huZWEu #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 21. BBC Anchor media innovation testbed http://bit.ly/3GZUTV #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 20. Tidal Generation – renewable energy http://bit.ly/gSGl7N #innovate #cleantech
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 19. Toshiba Research Centre Telecommunications (TRL) http://bit.ly/hpsKHs #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 18. Nameless Digital Agency – web design http://bit.ly/2jyor0 @namelessdigital #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 17. 422 South – visual effects and animation http://bit.ly/ajS63d #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 16. GKN Advanced Composite Facility http://bit.ly/aZDjah #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 15. Centre for Nanoscience and Quantum Information http://bit.ly/7eVETO #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology&innovation examples 14. TasteTech- pioneer of microencapsulation technology http://bit.ly/gos6Qd #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 13. Gnodal – Ethernet for high perf data centres http://bit.ly/as9pkC #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 12. OC Robotics Snake-arm® robots http://bit.ly/fggW6i @ocrobotics #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 11. Bloodhound – Technical Centre http://bit.ly/fmCeCA @BLOODHOUND_SSC #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 10. ARKive multimedia guide to world’s endangered species http://bit.ly/fWqnne #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 9. Airbus Wing ,Landing Gear and Fuel Systems http://bbc.in/fj4XpB #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 8. DocCom networking company for healthcare http://bit.ly/axwPez #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 7. XMOS chip technology http://bit.ly/ffHORP #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 6. HP Labs among premier corporate research labs in Europehttp://bit.ly/ekhQ6F #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 5. BAESystems Advanced Technology Centre, Filton http://bit.ly/h5c6ae #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 4. CFMS design simulation processes http://bit.ly/gLoI7D #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 3. Marine Current Turbines http://bit.ly/fa0Fj6 #innovate #cleantech
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 2. Bristol Robotics Laboratory http://bit.ly/anILB5 #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 1. Aaardman animations http://bit.ly/60RAZ @aardmandigital #innovate