May 02

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!

Mar 28

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

Mar 11

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!

Mar 08

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).

Feb 13

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.