Open Coffee launch details

Starbucks

I mentioned earlier on Twitter that I was hoping to confirm some additional support for Open Coffee, well Starbucks are getting behind us and offering free coffee, free muffins and free WiFi to attendees of Open Coffee at 9am Tuesday, 6 May.

We’ll be downstairs at the Starbucks on Park Street (map).

Kick off will be from 9am but some folks will be there before and you’re obviously welcome to stay as long as you like. Rosie (the interim Store Manager) has offered free coffee until 11am.

Hopefully this will be a long term partnership for digital companies in Bristol. The next 3 Open Coffee meetings are already scheduled in for 20 May, 3 June and 17 June.

All the details are on the Upcoming group, I’ll be talking about them here and on Twitter, Facebook and anywhere else that folks will be checking out. I’m also hoping to get notes put in BEN event announcements, Creative Technology Network, Bristol Media, Business Link, etc. The purpose is to give those companies (or start-ups) that are building growth businesses in digital software, services or media have an additional physical network to augment their online networks and wider business support services.

See you there!

Geeks & investors, are they oil & water? Lets mix it up a bit…

There’re a ton of networking events taking place in Bristol, but there appears to be a gap around the business of doing business in the digital media / interactive technologies / software
development type area. Simon Bunker launched Open Coffee Bristol almost a year ago but it never really achieved critical mass and became a bit of a pub session to discuss technology (mostly mobile), which is cool but doesn’t address this gap.
Oil and Water Fusion
So is there a gap? Well I think so, and from the feedback at a South West Screen event promoting access to digital media finance, quite a few others think so also. The one clear call after the event was for more structured networking with investors. There was a corollary to that, Andy made the point that there’s no shortage of ideas in Bristol but that’s different to commercial propositions (rather than grant applications, lifestyle support schemes, and one-off art commissioning). The Angel/VC representatives at the event suggested there was no shortage of money, though getting to it might be a bit harder at the moment.

A recent lunch hosted by Nigel Belletty at Milsted Langdon saw the local banks cautiously talking up the business environment in Bristol. Clearly it’s in their interests not to run to the hills screaming “Doomed, we’re all dooooomed” but they were talking about businesses with revenues, customers, products, markets all seeing growth and approaching them for conventional banking services. The point of concern (from my perspective) was the lack of local angels that were prepared to consider digital media / innovation investment prospects. If you have a physical product to show off, you’re probably OK, otherwise you’re probably looking to London or beyond. Which is nuts. This is the 21C, the knowledge economy, mobile, ubiquitous, always on, digital, global, blah blah blah.

Oil and Water Fusion

Originally uploaded by JBR_JBR.

So I’m thinking of a series of Open Coffee-type networking events (to build commercial propositions) with occasional semi-structured evening dinners where entrepreneurs can mix with investors with a view to building relationships towards high growth. This isn’t Investor Readiness and it damn sure ain’t Dragon’s Den, it’s about getting local entrepreneurs, business owners, and start-ups into a support network that will let them learn, practice, connect, and refine their business idea and then decide if they want to jump on the high-growth escalator or carry on with their lifestyle/corporate job. It’s also not all about being the next Google, there are plenty of businesses that are growing very nicely thank-you-very-much on revenues but that may have hit a growth block, or are thinking about the next transition. Clearly the hockey-stick 10x return in 9 months is great PR but that’s not a practical business model for a city-region.

The sort of topic that each session would nominally work around will be familiar to anyone in the start-up, business growth support world:

  • Addressable Market vs 6bn people on the Internet
  • Business models (the whole free thing and monetisation)
  • Financial instruments (equity, debt, share options, convertible debt, SFLGS, etc)
  • No “I” in Team (though there is a “me”) – role of the entrepreneur and their management/advisor team
  • Patents, Open Source, Copyright, Creative Commons, GPLx.x
  • Forecasting growth (and presenting that forecast)
  • Hiring – firing – outsourcing

And so on. If people need specific advise then there are lawyers, accountants, etc that can help, there are Business Link courses, and business professionals (me for one) that will help with planing, strategy, presentation, etc. In fact there’s no shortage of help but it’s not working together in a critical mass that become self sustaining.

So have I had one coffee too many? What would you want to talk to fellow entrepreneurs about? What are you doing in your city/region that’s similar? What works, what doesn’t?

Until I hear otherwise I’ll keep plugging away, everyone I’ve spoken to since the SW Screen event broadly agrees with me. There may be some developments in the near future with Bristol Media but I think there’s a momentum here in Bristol that doesn’t need huge resources to accelerate, just a bit of doing. Which I guess means I should shut up blogging & twittering about it and start putting some events together 🙂 Continue reading “Geeks & investors, are they oil & water? Lets mix it up a bit…”

Meeting the Mighty Jungulator

Heading back from Coventry last week on the train I bumped in to Matthew from iamthemightjungulator fresh from a gig at Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital.

After we reminisced about the Jungulator development with Futurelab and caught up on latest news, he proudly showed off the latest toy he’s playing with – 3D Harmonium. The sound it produced was pretty awful but the visual was very cool, certainly helped pass the time between Birmingham & Bristol!

The Creative Economy Programme, s’wot that then?

(I’ve just joined the Institute of Knowledge Transfer team of bloggers, this is a repost of my inaugural submission.)

After a long consultation, the Government published their strategy paper ‘Creative Britain – New Talents for the New Economy‘ on Friday, 22 Feb. The commitments take their inspiration from the Work Foundation’s 2007 publication ‘Staying Ahead‘.

As with many strategy documents, unpicking the actual, deliverable actions, is kind of tricky. Please feel free to add in the comments where I’ve missed something, or in particular where this joins up with (or cuts across) existing activities/plans/programmes/etc.

As outlined in the Foreword, the approach is two pronged; developing creative talents at school, and structured pathways into creative careers. And there’s at least £70.5m in backing (though of course there’s no single break down on where that number is spent and over what time frame).

More interestingly from a KT perspective, when it gets down to the Creative Economy, there’s £10m from the Technology Strategy Board for their Collaborative Research competition that recently opened. This £10m, together with £3m from NESTA are the two most frequently mentioned investments; I lost count how many times they were referenced. There’s also the long awaited Knowledge Transfer Network for the Creative Industries* due in ‘early 2008’.

One of the big discussions during CEP consultations (which I contributed to on the Technology panel) was around financial barriers to accessing innovative and cutting edge technology. This seems to have been partially answered with the £10m fund being split between three initiatives, two of them targeted at encouraging innovation within small creative industry companies. The feasibility study fund will provide grants of up to £15,000 (with a matching £5k from industry, pdf overview) and, the fast track programme up to £50,000 for small collaborative projects. Application to the third scheme that follows the ‘normal’ Collaborative Funding Competition rules is open to all UK based creative industry companies.

It will be interesting to hear from IKT members how they find the new rolling application process for these smaller TSB funds.

There’s quite a good (if well worn) description of the challenges in raising finance for innovation in the creative industries and the reluctance of the finance markets to engage with the digital industries in particular. In Bristol we’re holding some events to try and educate our creative entrepreneurial community to the economic models of the digital world (yes, there are some that are working; turns out even ‘free‘ can be profitable).

Unfortunately we have to wait until later this year for the Enterprise White Paper to find out specifically what the Government proposes to do.

The Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol, Eastside Arts Academy and Skillset Screen & Media Academy Network look to be fairly major planks in the ambition to get academia, students and industry working together. (Disclosure: In my role with Knowledge West I wrote the market assessment and HEI business case for the Pervasive Media Studio) The other five projects that get a mention are an animation ‘finishing school’ (also in Bristol), a Couture Academy, a National Skills Academy in Thurrock, a National Centre of Excellence for Computer Games in the North West and a UK Design Skills Alliance. Where these have industry backing (HP Labs, EMI and Aardman animation are variously mentioned) that might make a viable TSB large project consortium.

I’ve not had much direct contact with Apprenticeships, I’d be interested to hear thoughts on how/if they can facilitate knowledge transfer similar to Knowledge Transfer Partnerships. There’s a throw-away line that the number of KTPs is due to double, while becoming more flexible and responsive.

Again, any comments from KTP Advisers that getting a KTP with creative industry partners is getting easier (or how to go about positioning them)?

I am intrigued by the announcement of a ‘World Creative Business Conference’ in Spring 2009. Anyone have any idea what that is?

So there you have it, some good news, some business as usual, some details to be announced. As ever, the devil’s in the detail but the sentiment is encouraging.

*(advertising, architecture, art & antiques market, crafts, design, designer fashion, film, interactive leisure software, music, the performing arts, publishing, software & computer services, television, and radio).

Interesting Games Laboratory – iglab

A new initiative from the Pervasive Media Studio (currenly only with a Media Sandbox website) is the iglab.

I was a bit late, but the games were in full flow when I arrived. Simon Johnson was organising the evening and getting people to ‘swarm develop’ the games played. The focus was on ‘interestingness‘ than cunning technology and after each mini-play the assembled players were asked for ideas on how to improve the game they’d just played.

Only a couple of the Sandbox commissioned teams were present, Simon himself obviously, and the guys from ThoughtPie (flush from their national press coverage in the Guardian), but there were around 30 people which made for a pleasant buzz and enough people to have some players, some observers and lots of conversation around the edges on how to improve the games. Plus the wii was out, so plenty of stimulation for how to design, build and commercialise interesting games.

Bit of moblogging, bit of beer, a great mix of game developers, games research academics, and enthusiastic game players made for a good evening out and a healthly start to iglab.

Digital Future(s)

Busy couple of days, I spent Tues at the South West Screen 1-day conference/seminar on Digital Film. The event was run as a series of interview/discussions chaired by Nick Roddick and generally flowed quite well, though there was an undercurrent that all this digital stuff was a threat to ‘proper’ film making; which of course it is unless ‘proper’ film making can step up to the challenge.

The first session looked at Digital Production with Simon Oakes (Hammer), Helen Brusnman and Robin Gladman (Aardman).

Simon kicked things off by talking about they’re experience with mySpace, while recognising that the US theater market is critical for theatre releases, mySpace offers a global marketing platform. Hammer made Beyond the Rave for under £500k (which at today’s exchange rates is around $1m, and there are plenty of good $1m films to be made). The revenue model is ad driven.

Beyond the Rave – mini-episodic chunks each of around 4 minutes that eventually can be cut together in to an 84 minute feature. Each ‘episode’ on mySpace for a couple weeks (launched last week) then drops off. At the end there’ll be a DVD release but there are no plans for a theatre release, apparently this was agreed at the outset with the director. If there is huge demand for a theatre release, and the director is happy, it may get one. Since the films have already been shot, there’s no ongoing interaction between the viewers and the narrative but Simon did posit that this represented an experiment (for Hammer at least) with new narrative structures.

Helen and Robin then talked a bit about Angry Kid on AtomFilms which represented 83% revenue for Aardman. There was a nod towards mobile TV with Orange but platform issues and competing options meant this was still an emerging area for Aardman.

One question that was never quite answered was ‘Is brand more valuable than content‘? For Simon, their core demographic 16-34, and they’re on the web. He also pointed out that you have to design for the platform – symbiotic. mySpace won’t fund content but will give leverage into +50m viewers; the panel also thought that minimum guarantee on distribution as with other platforms to ease investor / bank fears would soon be ‘normal’ (currently circa 60% of revenue from mySpace ad deals).

Quite a lot of the discussion moved from production to the use of online for marketing, which was cunning ’cause that was the next session. Grace Carley (All Industry Marketing) and Teun Hilte (Content Republic) took up the baton. The first thing the panel got out of the way was the Blairwitch Project and that it doesn’t work for big budget because its not authentic; it can still work with smaller budget / viral films where that method of communicating with the audience is integral. Has to be integrated across whole global platform. Still a pain in the ass (52 codecs for Vodafone range alone), not enough money (yet) to be crucial part of marketing strategy.

Exhibit A was noted as having a successful online viral campaign by suggesting that this was a murder tape leaked by police.

Grace was representing the bigger studios and appeared really only interested in block buster with a generally negative view of internet, just wants people to go to the cinema. I think this was also the first use of the phrase ‘If you can’t beat it join it’ which appeared throughout the day as the best case for digital? Interestingly conversation with the audience throughout the day suggested that they were already online and perhaps this was the dying throws of the industry.

After coffee Philippe Schlutter (CLA), Alfred Chubb (Arts Alliance) and Michael Peters (Content Republic) kicked off with Alfred talking about running platforms for love.films, tiscalli, empire etc. Mostly revenue share but increasingly ad driven. Michael outlined their role as independent distributors, consolidating rights across Europe and providing aggregation and digital encoding services. Philippe was also providing business process streamling for distribution, though more with a focus on placing content rather than marketing & business develop.

Beginning to see aggregation / consolidation of global rights. Mainly for independents & local sales agents, this was the tcrrent system evolving (rather than step change). By and large the business model was that they took their fees from licensor’s revenue through a % service fee of license fee. Long tail business? Not quite there yet but online providers are hungry for content.

Next up were Marc John (City Screen), Alex Stolz (UKFC), and Mark Cosgrove (Watershed).

Alex revealed that the UK Film Council has funded 240 screens to install digital projectors at roughly £50k to set up a digital screen.

Mark commented that having only one projector means you don’t have flexibility to move films between screens in response to audience. For single screen or smaller independent cinema, the virtual print fee and the cost of upgrade as a % of turnover is that much greater than for larger independents or chains. Many still can’t afford to upgrade, French want public money to pay for the transformation; commercial cinema cries foul!

Marc also described their use of the digital technology to provide a live HD stream of the New York Met to show opera on the big screen, and charge opera prices.

After lunch came – Piracy with Jonny Reckless (Macrovision) and Geraldine Moloney (MPA)

In typical fashion, Geraldine kicked off by asking the rhetorical question – how big a threat is piracy? More than a threat – its there now! Scary stuff!!!

In a conference about digital film Geraldine was somewhat handicapped by not being very aware of the technology. Early on she called for ‘more investment in the pipes or whatever it is’ when talking about the BBC iPlayer. Later on she admitted to owning a DVD player but not knowing how to use it. She couldn’t see why anyone would want to copy a film that they had purchased in one format into another. MPA 32 countries across EMEA education on enforcement – lobbying for stronger legislation.

When Nick Roddick brought up the phrase ‘Better pirated than ignored’; Geraldine admitted that it – makes my blood run cold. She was so condescending as to admit that – there is a ‘lost generation’ that will never come back to the ‘light’. The MPA policy is preventive – to stop people from doing it. Haven’t yet taken action against consumers (there was an unspoken ‘yet). Need to retain existing business models (i.e. we’re making pots of cash, please don’t make us change anything). When asked if the industry shouldn’t try to bring their product to customers rather than stopping people from viewing their content, there was silence.

Jonny joined with a quick resume of DRM and that they were just stopping people from being bad. He also touched and potential alternatives to the current system including subscription models from yahoo and others (at which Geraldine visibly winced, though that could have been theatrical). He was at least trying to described better business models for the industry.

Next up were Gerben Kuipers (Cinemec) and Yaniv Wolf (Submarine). Gerben cheerfully described his cinema complex, independent, without government support and doing very well thank you. The building and investment represented around Euro60m (which drew a few gasps from the audience). Gerben also pointed out that although he did show a few Hollywood films also had a very high proportion of Dutch language films.

Yaniv described their mini films as cross media story telling. Again with Episodic 3-7 min episodes but with only the first trailers were free, you buy the rest. They were also experimenting with pre- & post roll ads and ad sharing with publishers. Their latest experiment was in Second Life, small roll on YouTube for Euro30k sold to HBO for Euro300k. The secret to their success, got picked as film of the day; but 2-3 people at Submarine are focused on SEO / marketing.

Submarine also make ‘normal’ documentaries and films, did he think that this form could lead to ‘normal’ film making? Probably not.

The penultimate session had Nick Roddick interviewing Pete Buckingham, UK Film Council, about the future of film. Entertaining but not very enlightening. Rather unfortunately the last session was on copyright by Carla Basso (Osborne Clarke). A complex area and the introduction took up almost all the time available. Suffice to say that the law hasn’t really kept up with technology, there are guidelines but little case law.

And as I write this I’m listening to R4 Today news talking about Hammer Films releasing their film online!

[UPDATE – couldn’t have said it better myself – Jackass Movie Straight to Web: Screws Theaters, BBI – December 13, 2007 @ 13:02]

Launch of Creative Technology Network

Last night was the launch of the CTN here in Bristol at the Watershed. The keynote (which was fully packed out) came from Michael B Johnson from Pixar.

I’m not sure if Michael’s talk will be up on the CTN or Watershed sites as he had been told by Pixar not to allow recording (so this is from memory rather than live notes). The main points that really resonated was the instruction to ‘fail fast’ and iterate quickly towards a great movie. Josh has a great post on the ‘Fail cheap, fail fast, learn & move on‘ approach from a VC perspective. Ewan has a great cross-over post on the approach (or lack thereof) in education. Michael went in to some detail about how they used technology to allow them to creatively generate new plot nuances and stories that could then be refined, whittled, mashed, etc into the final story. Each film gets made twice, once in story and once for ‘real’. The software that Michael and his small team address pain points in the creative process and redistributed the power in intelligent ways. One example allowed the story artists to very quickly sketch directly into a time line to generate roughly edited scenes with their drawings. This got over a pain point (scanning in hand drawn sketch frames so they could be digitally edited) and sensibly redistributed power so that the artists could create a story (which they wanted to do) and the editors got much richer and complete material to refine (which they wanted), and Pixar got to a compelling story much quicker and with less tension between these key people in the process. Win-win-win; everyone’s a winner!

He also talked about the artists in developing story that had four talents;

  1. draws really well
  2. draws really fast
  3. works well with others
  4. always has another idea

There was a load more other great stuff (including footage from Ratatouille, early rushes from the Incredibles, and some interesting voice casting for Buzz Lightyear).
In Q&A someone asked about the divide between creatives and technologists and Michael pointed out that there wasn’t a divide. Great software developers (in his opinion and the general consensus during drinks afterwards) was that great coders can code/develop really well, really fast, are good in a team and always have another idea/option/suggestion. The audience was (from what I could tell) a typically Bristol mix of technology researchers from BBC, HP, Bristol & UWE, independent film & screen, digital media, entrepreneurs and social enterprises. I had a really great chat with Tom Alcott (Social Network Company) about the use of social network mapping to improve internal business operations and also about his partner Katie’s social enterprise Frank Waters.