Entrepreneur Gardening

This is a re-post from the Open Coffee Bristol blog.

postbear, 16 January 2009
postbear, 16 January 2009

This morning’s Open Coffee Club meeting took place in the very pleasant surroundings of The Boston Tea Party‘s garden. A lovely summer’s morning complemented the positive ideas being discussed in the light of HP Lab’s partial pull out of their Bristol facility.

Stephen Maudsley was first after me but headed up to the first floor before I could catch him, meanwhile Dave Simpson from Engine House Solutions (holding site) arrived and we began chatting while Stephen explored the upper reaches of TBTP. I first met Dave at the Bristol leg of the FOWA tour, where he was launching his web development and software company.

StephenM soon found us and we began talking about the start-up scene and different requirements of growing companies for executive support as well as cash. Around then Steve Cayzer arrived and we began to discuss his ideas for launching a new venture based on some of his research into environmental computing and ways to underpin the low carbon economy.

A quick flurry introduced Brian Dorricott with his newly launched Meteorical, Andrew Wray from Bristol University’s enterprise support team, Andy Seaborne (also thinking about launching an enterprise semantic knowledge application) and Nadya Anscombe (freelance science & technology journalist). Introductions, connections, business opportunities and much coffee ensued.

Thanks to all for a great morning of stimulating discussions and opportunities to be explored.

The next Open Coffee is the Demo Session, Tues 30 June at eOffice, please sign up on Eventbrite (http://opencoffeedemo30june.eventbrite.com) so we’ve some idea on numbers.

If you have a company / product / service that you’ve developed (or are thinking about) and would like constructive comments & ideas, please sign up as a presenter and we’d love to help contribute to your success.

Design, faster than a bullet

[This is a re-post from the Bristol Design Festival blog where I’m guest blogging the festival. And updated with better graphics thanks to Mike.]

Just back from a cracking talk by Mike Turner, Senior Designer on the Bloodhound SSC project. [Full disclosure, I’m a member of the Bloodhound SSC 1K Club; everything I say is highly biased, I think this is a fantastic project to be based in Bristol. 🙂 ]

The talk was introduced by Bob Mytton, Chair of the West of England Design Forum.

Mike began with a bit of background on his career so far, from trains to cars to JCB diggers. This last culminated with JCB’s DieselMax project, to design a diesel that would go over 350mph. Speed was definitely in Mike’s future!

Although Bloodhound is an “Engineering Adventure”, their tagline, it’s ambition is to:
1. To create a national surge in the popularity of Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects
2. To create an iconic project requiring extreme research and technology whilst simultaneously providing the means to enable the student population to join in the adventure
3. To achieve the first 1000 mph record on land

Mike quickly moved on to his core specialty of designing the outer surface, the bit that interacts with the air flow. Beginning with the outline design concept, Mike developed a refined shape for the car. This went to the team at Swansea University that were handling the CFD work. The results from the CFD, together with the engineering structural & package development (steering, suspension, controls, Andy Green, etc) were then fed into the next design cycle with Mike.

In the Q&A afterwards Mike was quizzed on the time the CFD added to the design cycle time. When they first started each CFD run was taking a couple of weeks (to run the numbers, check them and be confident of the answers). After going public with the project they were picking up additional computing support, each run was around a day.

The main challenges are to make the whole car as strong as possible (without increasing the weight too much); as slippery as possible for a Eurofighter jet engine with a solid fuel rocket strapped to it; as stable as possible in a straight line (without being so stable that Andy can’t direct it at all); and keep it on the ground (without turning into a 1,000mph plough).

So no conflicting pressures for Andy to juggle in his design decisions!

For all the CFD modeling, I was particularly struck by the comment that Mike put up from Ron Ayers, Chief Aerodynamicist on appreciating the designer’s eye for form & proportion “if it looks right, it probably is right”.

yewenyi, 16 April 2007
yewenyi, 16 April 2007

As an aside, it was Ron’s earlier work developing the Bristol Bloodhound Surface to Air Missile that gave rise to the project code name.

The Q&A was lively with Mike fielding questions for at least half an hour and staying around for another half hour as people continued to discuss the car, the design activity, and a bunch of technical questions that demonstrated real interest and enthusiasm.

A fantastic evening, thanks to the Bristol Design Festival and West of England Design Forum for organising.

Grafikea – the good, the bad & the WTF?!

[This is a re-post from the Bristol Design Festival where I’m a guest blogger – check out the original and all the other action over their blog.]

LACK SIDE TableAlong with a couple hundred others, I thoroughly enjoyed the Bristol Design Festival’s launch party last night, however, I was taking a specific interest in the Grafikea entries. As in previous years, the standard was excellent with some ingenious and occasionally subversive uses for a simple LACK Side Table from your friendly blue and yellow purveyor of Scandinavian style.

For those that haven’t seen Grafikea before, the rules are quite simple. You purchase a table (as on the right) and then, according to the official rules:

Let your creativity run wild and modify the table.

And that’s pretty much it.

The results are quite astounding.

Before the prizes were announced I took a walk around the entries and a few leapt out at me. Apologies for the photos, I was using my camera phone, I’m sure better quality press-pics are available; even better, get down to the Old Fire Station and see for yourself! 🙂

IMAG0070One of the first that caught my eye was a very Bristolian scene of the SS Great Britain sailing under the Clifton Suspension Bridge, all on a coffee table! There were even a few fishes in the Severn that younger visitors seemed particularly entranced by.

I later discovered that this table (together with another 5) was designed and made by the ASD classes at Kingsweston School. This particular one was from Oak Class.

IMAG0078There were a number that had been decorated with graphics and very well executed designs (as you’d expect) along with the quirky and fun. I quite liked the ‘Coffee Table, Coffee Table’ and ‘Table to Die For’. On the quirky and subversive was this inverted table-come planter. Another table that caught my eye was ‘Exhibit yourself’ which had completely deconstructed the table and turned it into a pole-dancing platform!

There were only a couple that didn’t really do anything for me. One had some licorice allsorts spilled across and lacquered, another with digestive biscuits, I also wasn’t entirely convinced by the loud speakers & Mp3. Just my personal opinion.

The WFT award this year definitely went to ‘Shadows of a Table’ – you have to go along and see this in person! No photo can do it justice,part Alien, part Necromicon it positively broods in the corner looking down on the other tables and viewers alike.

And the winners are: (these are the official competition winners in two categories, Junior and Grafikea)

Junior

Beware the Table First Prize went to this entry from St Bede’s Catholic College. Transforming their table into a weird and ferocious monster. This is right by the entrance so keep an eye out at ankle level!
Delectable Second Prize went to Delectable from Lime Class at Kingsweston School. I had a long chat with one of the Specialist Teachers about the ASD Unit and how all the kids had contributed to designing their tables. In total there are 6 tables from Kingsweston showing creativity and ingenuity.

In addition to Delectable & the Bristol Bridge, there are 4 other tables from the other classes in the ASD unit. I’ll let you find them in the exhibits, suffice to say that you have to look at the identification cards to know they’re from Kingsweston, the quality is that high.

You Scream We Scream Also from St Bede’s this beach scene obviously captured the imagination along with Third place. Perhaps the title of ‘You Scream, We Scream’ helped.

Grafikea

Entemology First Prize went to a stunning entry from Helen Ward; Entomology. Each of the butterflies is cut from coloured paper and laid out as you might expect in any Victorian collectors house or museum.

My apologies to Helen for the poor quality photo, please visit the exhibition to see the exquisite detail that has gone into this table and also take a look at her website for more images and additional background on the artisan paper and history behind the butterflies.

Cork Second Prize went Cork from Jack Patient, a fun table surrounded by colourful corks.
Production Line Error This entry, entitled ‘Production Line Error’ from Dave Stannard won Third Place. A quirky mix-up between a table and chair.

Congratulations to everyone that took part, all the tables are available to buy from the artists so head down to the Old Fire Station for the opportunity to take home some local art!

Show me the Money – BSSP

Mariano Kamp, July 2008
Mariano Kamp, July 2008

In my earlier post, I revealed some analysis that I’d asked Nigel to undertake and my interpretation of that analysis. Here I offer some thoughts on what actions businesses might take away from this.

The first thing to note is that unless you’re a Bank or car company, Government support for you probably won’t change that dramatically.

For the genuine start up, life is still going to be pretty tough until you can show some revenue. The good news is that there is lots you can do yourself that doesn’t involve lots of cost. Start blogging about your service/industry, join the Twitter conversation, keep an eye on the enterprise networks around you, get out there and meet people. The tools to support good old fashioned networking and business development have never been better or cheaper (and you can’t get cheaper than free).

If there isn’t a suitable enterprise network around you, start one. BEN is a great network around Bristol but tends towards established companies, so I set up an OpenCoffee Club, OpenCoffee is a ready made template that’s free and globally recognised. So long as you’re building an entrepreneur support & growth network and not just pimping your product/service you’ll find folks are generally happy to support you.

For the company that has some revenue, or the promise of imminent revenue there are a couple of interesting options.

The first is the range of grants available for R&D from SWRDA (South West Regional Development Agency). These are to part-fund small and close to market R&D (typically £5k to £50k) with a specific focus on small companies. You identify a project value and SWRDA provides a portion of that, usually between 40% and 60%.

  1. Proof of Market Projects test the commercial potential of an innovative idea for a new technology, lasting no more than 9 months. The output should be a thorough and professional analysis of the scale of the market opportunity. Grants of £5,000 – £20,000 are available to small and medium sized businesses.
  2. Micro Projects are small scale development projects lasting no longer than 12 months. The output should be a simple prototype of a novel or innovative product or process. Aid of £5,000 – £20,000 for all micro businesses covering 45% of eligible costs is available.
  3. Research Projects involve planned research or critical investigation into the feasibility of new products or processes, lasting between 6 and 18 months. The result of the project could be new scientific or technical knowledge that may be commercially exploited. Grants of £20,000 – £100,000 for micro and small businesses covering 60% of eligible costs are available.

There are also Development grants and two Exceptional grant levels >£100k. The development grants are only 35% and the exceptional grants aren’t really aimed at the small business or start-up entrepreneur.

Next up are more general business expansion funding. A couple of days ago SWRDA announced their South West Loans Fund. This is £10m of funding for small businesses that have been refused credit elsewhere. A good slug of that cash comes from Europe (£6.25m) so the focus is on the more deprived parts of the South West (Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly get £5m), but businesses from across the South West are eligible.

All grant applications have to address two very different needs. Yours and the funders. Having written plenty of successful business grants for funding, research or collaboration myself, knowing how to frame your business innovation so that it appeals to public sector funding is more art than science.

Although most of the cash is coming from SWRDA, BSSP means you access it through Business Link who will provide you with Information, Diagnose your needs, and Broker connections to the right bits of SWRDA’s Innovation team.

As I’ve said elsewhere, there is evidence that banks are beginning to open up to good companies under the Enterprise Finance Guarantee. For business growth finance this is probably your best bet, and you’ll have to have tried (and failed) here before you approach SWRDA for a South West Loans Fund application.

Then there are the equity funding options from SWAIN, Catalyst Venture Partners, Eden Ventures, and those are just the main ones in the South West. There are other independent Angel investors and networks in London that are investing.

So as ever, there are quite a few options. I’ve only cover some here, those I feel are most relevant to the small business or start up entrepreneur. The full list of support products is available in a pdf from SWRDA.

Business Support Simplification – an analysis

Uploaded on November 2, 2006 by Paul Mannix
Uploaded on November 2, 2006 by Paul Mannix

Is it possible for a Government to provide simple support to businesses?

Well the UK Government thinks it is, but recognises that it hasn’t been very good at the simple part. A few years ago some wag pointed out that there were over 3,000 different grants, programmes, schemes, advice networks, etc (nobody really knew the exact number), and that it was something of a mess. In the 2006 Budget the Government promised to reduce this to around 100. The latest plan is to get this down to 30.

As Dan Martin over at businesszone.co.uk more recently pointed out, this simple list of 30 has already become less simple.

As part of an application to the recent SWRDA post for Head of Business Innovation, I thought I’d revisit BSSP from a more strategic perspective. While I have dealt directly with several of the individual ‘products’ (as they’re called) and have been involved in various briefing and discussion around the rest, I’ve not formally reviewed the whole documentation associated with these changes.

Enter Nigel Legg at Katugas Lex. I emailed over three documents: Solutions for business: supporting success, The economic drivers of Government-funded business support: supporting analysis for ‘Solutions for business: supporting success’ and the South West Regional Development Agency’s Regional Economic Strategy. I asked Nigel to see what the key themes and constructs that emerged from within these three documents, but didn’t set any specific boundaries or expectations.

After a couple of days Nigel emailed to say he’d finished and invited me round for a presentation and discussion.

A note on the analysis method before getting into the findings. Each document was broken down and repeating words found, for each document the top 30 to 40 words were included in the supporting excel report. These words were then grouped to identify key themes with around 13 per document. Because of the way the statistics works, you don’t receive an absolute measure of thematic importance. For example, with the Economic Drivers the most connected theme was “business” with “market” being 73% as connected as “business” and “information” being 50% as connected as “business”. So you do get a very good internal feel for the focus and thrust of the document, Nigel also included a combined report of all three documents.

The economic drivers of Government-funded business support
The economic drivers of Government-funded business support

As you’d expect the dominant themes are around business, support, innovation, economics with a heavier weighting towards regional and south west for the SWRDA document. What was more interesting was what wasn’t there.

The market was clearly front and centre in the economic justification. Innovation is clearly linked to productivity and there’s a reasonable focus on benefits (through examples). Unfortunately “profit” or “finance” didn’t make the ranking for any of the documents.

Providing information is clearly seen as a benefit and service to inform the businesses understanding of the market and various support available. As I understand it this is a core function of the Business Links through their IDB (Infomation, Diagnosis & Brokerage).

Despite having a whole chapter on Skills (Chapter 3), they don’t show up as a key theme. The two main ‘products’ here are Train to Gain and the Manufacturing Advisory Service. Hidden away is a very interesting sounding service “Coaching for High Growth”.

The actual semanic map of the BSSP document wasn’t that surprising on its own. The main focus was around businesses and economic achievement, with a sizable grouping around Government Support, the schemes themselves and eligibility.

SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy
SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy
Its worth noting at the outset that the SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy goes much wider than business innovation or government support for businesses. There were quite sizable thematic groupings around people and future communities and their connection to the broad economy of the region. There was also consideration on the challenges and changes associated with growth.

The focus in general has moved away from a historical focus on employment toward productivity (at least as far as business is concerned). Interestingly, important and business are closely linked themes.

Possibly the most noticeable shift between the two maps is the disappearances of “market”, “innovation” and “enterprise” as top level themes.

Some thoughts

  • Personally I would have liked to have seen more evidence of developing market understanding and providing solutions to problems in the market.
  • I’d also have liked to see more emphasis on developing the higher skills for entrepreneurship and innovation (principally team building).
  • The emphasis on innovation & enterprise at the national level is excellent, as is the lack government focus on specific sectors (though this has already changed with the various sector bail-outs).
  • It would have been nice to see more innovation & enterprise focus in the SWRDA RES, but moving from an employment focus to productivity is a start

Getting interactive around Bristol’s historic harbourside

An interactive stroll around Bristol Docks and become part of a story set in 1885
Take an interactive stroll around Bristol Docks and become part of a story set in 1885

Sam and I stopped by the Watershed yesterday to try out a new blend of storytelling and technology. Picking up our PDAs and donning in-ear headphones, we were invited to step back in time and experience a slice of Bristol circa 1885.

Over the next 90 minutes we walked around the historic waterfront area (starting at the Watershed, round to the Arnolfini, over the swing bridge, down to the SS Great Britain, back over to the Gasworks, ending up at Canon’s Marsh Amphitheatre) as our stories unfolded.

Sam followed the story of the unlucky Maude trying to escape her evil Uncle, whilst I stumbled over a murder to solve with the help of a nearby galley boy. As their respective stories unfolded we dodged some of Bristol’s seedier characters outside the old jail where hangings regularly took place and helped load cargo ships with Guinness, bananas and timber for the colonies.

Sam had several mini games throughout her journey and by successfully completing each, Maude’s story progressed.

My murder mystery was a proper whodunit with half a dozen likely contenders. Having worked out the full story, I then had to decide whether to turn the guilty party in (knowing the hangman’s noose would be waiting) or let them escape to America…

All really good fun, and surprisingly informative about Bristol’s history without being a dull audio tour, “Press 5 for more information about street vendors…”

Back in the Watershed we had a chat with Tom Bennett, the guy behind Interactive Places, about the experience and what the future holds.

Tom is working out of the Pervasive Media Studio and that pervasive, locative technology was integral to the walk (a GPS PDA worn pendant style with in-ear headphones). By and large, however, the technology was almost invisible, there were only a couple of times that the technology ‘got in the way’. Sam’s lost its GPS fix once and one of her games didn’t want to finish; both times sorted themselves out within minutes and everything else worked fine.

In addition to providing a great afternoon stroll, Tom really wanted to know how people got on with the system and what they’d like more of in the next version.

Both Sam and I wanted more direct engagement in the storyline with some element of multi-threading, like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series from the early 80’s to mid-90’s. That is certainly in Tom’s plan but he also pointed out that some people has asked for more history & background to be included, whilst others had asked for more mini-games and side plots. So lots of opportunities!

If you want to spend a great hour and a half wandering around Bristol’s Habourside and help out one of our upcoming innovative entrepreneurs, then pop along to the Watershed anytime between 11am and 5pm until Sunday, 26 April and say “Hi” to Tom.

5 Critical lists for Business Development

Uploaded on June 26, 2008 by Caros Lines
Uploaded on June 26, 2008 by Caro's Lines

Everyone likes a list, Darren Rowse says so! 🙂

So here’s my personal list of lists that I use when starting a business or helping others to start their business.

  1. 10 steps to writing a business plan, every business needs one, every investor has their own preferred style. These notes from Business Link are a solid reminder of the basics when bouncing between the business plan, investor plan, funding proposals, summaries, etc.
  2. 9 team roles. There are more ways of looking at a team than I care to try and remember. Belbin’s 9 roles work pretty well for me (even if there’s only 2 people in the team). They’re pretty focused on the effectiveness of the team, rather than the social ability to get on with each other.
  3. Many lists of population, economics, etc. Any business plan needs decent market research, the National Statistics Office is a fantastic resource for free, validated, high-quality data.
  4. 15 sources of Government help. Ok, officially there’s 30, the list says 29 and they’re not all relevant to entrepreneurs. However, there are 15 that are pretty handy for a start-up or business looking for support in their early years.
  5. 10 webapps that help you pull it all together. The link is to a Web Daily Worker list, my personal list would be:

Bonus:

  1. my list of interesting articles from around the web (via shared items from my GReader)

And the photo? Well I was going to write a post listing the people I look up to (another Plinky prompt) but that was proving too hard!

Banks lending again!

Uploaded on May 3, 2007 by reway2007
Uploaded on May 3, 2007 by reway2007

<this is a cross-post from http://www.opencoffeebristol.org/>

That was the experience reported from this morning’s OpenCoffee and another reported positive feedback that more would follow. Of course this is bank lending so low risk, but at least it is funding to underwrite growth and expansion needs. Both reports were of the positive impact that the Enterprise Finance Guarantee is finally having for smaller businesses.

Elsewhere we had a couple of new faces with Brian Dorricott (ByNetWorks) and Ian Grimley (Roxburgh Milkins), well new to me, they came to the last OpenCoffee but I was in Plymouth that week. Along with the regulars we did a pretty good job of taking over the upper section of Starbucks.

Peter mentioned one of his clients was having some challenges with an old website that they’d had a “mate” set up and had since had a falling out. Within minutes Sam had his Macbook out and was sorting through how to change the Nominet & hosting set-up, Ian was providing legal commentary and everyone else was chipping in with business / technical thoughts. I think Peter just about kept up taking notes! 🙂

Nigel and I had a couple of good discussions about business developments and various grant awards that are available.

It was great to catch up with Brian again. After a successful entrepreneurial career of his own, he joined SWAIN for a spell before leaving to return to angel investing in his own right. Ever the entrepreneur we had a good discussion about his venturing experiences and a development idea he’s working on, and a business development / funding project I’m working on.

A great start to the day and lots of buzz around the tables.

The next OpenCoffee Bristol is a company demo session at SETsquared, courtesy of Nick Sturge on Tuesday, 21 April from 8.30am.

Please do book so we have some idea of numbers, and especially if you want to present your business / innovation, what you’re up to & what support / ideas you’re looking for.

http://opencoffeebristol21april2009.eventbrite.com/

Advancement through integrating knowledge

Uploaded on May 26, 2007 by annia316
Uploaded on May 26, 2007 by annia316

What’s your elevator pitch?

This is usually the first thing I ask an entrepreneur (or any one else for that matter) even if the words ‘elevator’ and ‘pitch’ aren’t explicitly used. In this context though, I’ve signed up for Darren Rowse’s 31 Day Build a Better Blog challenge and his opener (in true consultant fashion) is to pitch the question back at us.

So what is the elevator pitch for jbsh? Well our tag line (above) is pretty good start; that’s what we help our clients achieve.

Specifically on my side of the partnership I would say:

We work in partnership with our clients to help them structure their business strategy, plan their implementation, and finance their activities. Our core skills are in thinking about opportunities systemically, and finding specialists where needed. We firmly believe in partnership & collaboration, growing the pie for all. In addition to keeping up with the latest thinking on businesses & their development, we actively cultivate the entrepreneurial ecosystem to keep those specialists nearby. This blog provides a window into our thinking and activities that, along with other social media tools, provides a comprehensive insight into the people and philosophy behind the company.

Of course that slightly depends on who I’m talking to! 🙂

Generally I won’t open with a spiel about how great I am, the great companies I’ve worked with, the great successes I’ve had, etc. While past success can be an indicator of future success, its not a guarantee. I’d rather hear about your great business, your great features and your problems so that I can figure out the opportunities and how to maximise them.

Business development is about spotting opportunities and helping people reach them. That means taking the time to listen to an entrepreneur and then frame their idea in a strategic context that means they can see a clear and simple path to success.

Sometimes that means temporarily filling the gaps in their skills & abilities, either by doing some market research, number crunching or putting together a convincing business plan, sometimes that means finding an expert partner that can help you over the longer term. While the basics are usually similar, its the implementation that’s different every time, and that’s whats great about business development.

So what’s your elevator pitch?

So what do you do?

First Day In Spring! - Uploaded on March 20, 2009 by swisscan
First Day In Spring! - Uploaded on March 20, 2009 by swisscan

I join entrepreneurs with resources to grow the economic ecosystem. I use enthusiasm, inclusive networks & systemic thinking. How about you? (140 characters, gotta love Twitter!)

Spring is in the air, budgets are being reviewed, contracts renewed (or not as the econoclapse might dictate), a good time to move on, upwards (sideways at least), and to think about what it is that we do.

A couple of convergences brought this train of thought into words (apart from the stuff above).

I’m halfway through Sir Ken Robinson‘s “The Element”, recently finished Seth Godin‘s “Meatball Sundae” (and Tribes), and Plinky sent a couple of interesting prompts through (What do you do on a daily basis, and What’s your favourite gadget).

The first step to being able to help someone (entrepreneur, small business, community group, customer), is to understand what they do (or would like to be able to do). So I’m regularly approaching this challenge from both sides, explaining to folks what I do, and helping them explain to others what they do.

This is a variant on the elevator pitch, or the Hollywood pitch (depending on your attention span), and falls loosely under the topic of personal branding.

To a certain extent its a bit of fun, but its also very handy in figuring out which of the options available you should pursue.

So what do you (not your company) do?

🙂

It also explains my favourite gadget; my Touch Pro (and I’m looking forward to the Touch Pro 2). It allows me to stay connected to my loose networks (through gmail, twitter, sms), communicate with my direct network (via voice & Skype), helps me remember what’s going on (through GCal, RTM), helps me get to where I’m meant to be (through GMaps & GPS, and you can find me on Latitude), and helps me work away from the laptop (via Word Mobile, Evernote and the camera)!