Lessons in Entrepreneurial Leadership

Last night was spent up in Bristol University‘s Chemistry lecture room courtesy of Bristol Enterprise Network (this evening chaired by Prof Stephen Hagan, Director of the University of the West of England‘s Research, Business and Innovation group). The delegate list was rather larger than the turn out, but there were still plenty of entrepreneurs and business leaders to mingle and discuss leadership and business developments before and after (a very polite University porter had to throw us out, the networking was going so well).

First up was John Kirwan (Partner, Strategic Planning Solutions). A very good lead with solid theoretical grasp on leadership, psychology, and the practicalities of moving a group of people from a current reality to some future vision. This basic concept of leadership was backed up with quite a few concepts, quotes (from Mintzberg & Goethe to Paxman), stories and good humour. In the Q&A John even got into locus of control.

Possibly his best quote was:
If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse. However, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.” Goethe

John ended with a description / definition of Living Leadership – The cornerstone of inspiring leadership is efficacy:
the capacity to make things happen that you consider important, starting with being and acting as the kind of person you want to be in your life.

Next was Chris Farmer, Founder & Leader, Corporate Coach Group. Chris had thoughtfully provided us with an advertising brochure, after-dinner speaker flyer, a diagram of his key message and 6 self-administered assessment questions on the leader-managers within our own organisations. Unfortunately it was more fun watching Chris, who I suspect is actually a very nervous speaker but managed very well, than listening to Chris. He had an interesting take on the basic foundations that John had talked to, his approach is probably as good as most, but there didn’t seem quite as much substance.

A slight change of pace introduced Melissa Henry (Marketing Director, Sustrans), talking about leadership and entrepreneurialism in the not-for-profit sector. Melissa began by asking “Why are charities founded?” and it turns out it’s often for the same reasons (in many ways) as any other start-up. To make a difference, do things better, fill a gap in the market/social need. Another point was that no one works for a charity / start-up for the money – it’s taking a stake in something bigger (social or commercial). An interesting element that Melissa touched on was the need for clear succession planning as an element of leadership (the idea that the charity has to be bigger than the leader). She also made the point that monitoring and evaluating outcomes were critical to ensure vision is relevant rather than idealistic. Too many charities (and start ups) spin themselves into a froth without checking their customer base for feedback on outcomes.

Melissa also talked about back casting (as a planning tool; start with a ‘known’ future and then work out how to get there; rather than a fly fishing technique). Charities use back casting because they have a clear vision of the future and need to plan a route to get there (and explain that route to funders). Start-ups do the same when they predict a future (100m users in 3 years) and then try to figure out the how. This became most obvious in the Q&A when someone asked about planning horizons and leadership. The 3 for-profits confirmed that most of their planning went out to around 6 months, with broader visions/goals out to around 2-3 years. As an in-the-thick-of-it entrepreneur Paul admitted to occasionally working to a 1 week horizon when critical issues hit, but that he always made a point to regroup post-crisis to learn from it and re-plan the following 6 months in the light of what he’d learnt. Melissa started with a 15-20 year vision then then worked back to the current projects.

One issue that Melissa did share, and that is probably quite common in the third sector, is the double edged sword that the open sharing knowledge to achieve vision brings. If you ‘give’ everything away and work to bring about social change, the important message is sustainable transport options, rather than Sustrans itself. Ultimately they don’t really mind who builds more cycle paths, green-ways, etc, but if no one know that Sustrans was behind it then grants and donations dry up. I’m pretty sure there’s something to learn from Hugh Macleod’s global microbrands, Jeremiah Owyang, JD Lasica, Chris Brogan to name a few (leaving aside the significant pack of marketeers on Twitter)!

Anyone out there have experience of working with non-profits and these open communications challenges?

Paul Tinkler, (Managing Director, Mirifice Ltd) rounded out the group with no theory (though a lot of thought) and lots of personal experience. When are you successful – never as an entrepreneur, there’s always the next goal, target, business, market, etc to conquer.

The 6 traits of an entrepreneur;

  1. unswerving self belief in success, complete unwillingness to look facts in the fact that don’t support vision (not inflexibility
  2. being a risk seeker, that is where fortunes are made (not reckless, know the risks)
  3. durability, mental toughness
  4. disregard for rules, at least the ones that don’t apply to ‘me’
  5. know when to step down/ aside (though this one has to be tested at Paul is still in the thick of it)
  6. communications are critical – be excellent – constantly learning / getting better, fear of not being the best (rather than of failure)

All in a really good evening.

Hackathon Bristol

At Open Coffee the other night, after bemoning the lack of access to pre-seed capital and the unlikelyness of the banks to lend Simon and me £1m to run our own venture fund, the topic turned to the usual mix of mobile, hacking and start-ups.

Somewhere between the beers, Dan proposed a hackathon in Bristol! Sam and James were up for it, I haven’t coded since 8086 days and a bit of kludging in ada but happy to support as always.

Thinking of a Friday night – Saturday session, perhaps at The Hub in Bristol.

So what should the focus be (mobile, games, soc-nets)?

Who wants in?

Wither animation on the web?

Last night was the launch of SkillSwap Gloucestershire, hosted by Gloucestershire Media Group. Based on the same successful formula as Brighton and Bristol, the evening brought together creative media types, digital tech types and a couple enterprising business types.

The venue was kept nicely informal at the Beehive in Cheltenham and expertise was provided by the Kevin Hapeshi (University of Gloucestershire‘s Head of Computing), though in keeping with SkillSwap most of the expertise was dispersed among the room and freely contributed by all. It was a good launch evening, and the ambition of swapping skills between two fairly disparate groups is noble (and needed). The two main coordinating groups brought a balanced mix of people in the room but the working title for the evening was a bit vague, perhaps future events will have a tighter focus.

Lets see what future swaps bring.

In theKnow

Got a bit overwhelmed with some work on another project, but spent a great hour or so with Sarah Baddley from Common Purpose on Friday.

She’s putting together a new programme  and we were discussing innovation, entrepreneurship, Bristol and the West of England. The most obvious (and recent) entrepreneurial success that came to mind was Ryan Notz at www.buildersite.co.uk and his success at SeedCamp.

I also mentioned Venture Hacks and their series of fantastic entrepreneur-friendly posts on how to get a term-sheet together and how to negotiate with VCs and Angels.

We also touched on the SWRDA creative industry strategy, the Creative Economy Programme and some of the work that South West Screen has commissioned.

Lastly there was the new National Coordination Centre for Public Engagement between UWE and Bristol.

Sarah also pointed to the Equity Fingerprint which her father set up; I just found again on my del.icio.us links from 30 May last year – nothing is ever lost or forgotten on the web!

Pervasive Media planning

Following the Pervasive Media Sandbox event last week (photos here, there’s even one of me and the idea), I met up with Richard from Mobile Pie about the idea I presented and am intending to submit.

We kicked a few options around and came up with a couple of tweaks that should get a functioning open-beta ready within the time (and funding) available. We’ll also have the foundation for something much bigger.

So now there’s 44hrs to the submission deadline. Time to get editing (only 100 words per section of the application form so every word counts).

World of pain

Actually the double events of the World of Learning & Festival of Innovation, both at the NEC, both today. Separated by a hundred yards but with so few attendees that you could happily walk around them in less than 30 mins and then circle back to the relevant companies.

ION – innovation owners network. Prof Adrian Cole started the lunchtime session with the rather provocative ‘Do we need Chief Innovation Officers’? Provocative because for a network about innovation and high level buy in the answer was a resounding, maybe, but they also come with health warnings. There was a very light touch plug for the network.

Personally, I would say that if innovation isn’t already (or any longer) a core part of what each C-level exec is doing then it’s probably a good idea; if only to kick people into action. However, innovation is a hygiene factor for success that should be part of each C-level exec’s portfolio.

Keynote from Michael Perrault (recently the Manager of the Personal Leadership Development Team at Intel Corp) – very impressive. Mike presented two sets of analyses frameworks. Michael introduced and explained a 3-day course in human dynamics in about an hour. You wouldn’t want to try and implement but there was enough there to know if you should.

The first framework considered decision styles and separated out amount of information used in decision making (satisficers and maximisers) from the solution focus adopted (uni-focussed and multi-focussed). This gave rise to the ubiquitous consultants 2×2 matrix with decisive, hierarchical, flexible, and integrator styles. To this Mike added a fifth style of systemic which was a combination of hierarchical & integrator (apparently very rare and difficult to work with). He further nuanced this picture by identifying the leadership role (public facing) from the thinking role (private) in decision making.

Mike also talked briefly about the Facet5 framework of personality assessment (from University of Edinburgh and building on the Big Five). Four main axis (will, energy, affectation, and control plus a fifth in emotionality which acts as a conditioner on the others). This boiled down to team roles, approaches and the suitability of a mixed team with different personalities within it. The Facet5 assessment was being used to identify the causes of conflict and suggest routes to resolution.

Unfortunately I didn’t stay for Darrell Mann, but they gave out the book & slides. Even more unfortunately, the paradigm shifting talk I left to attend wasn’t.

However lots of good innovation and showcase for the SPEED entrepreneurs from the Universities. It was a bit of a shame that the conference hall was nearly empty every time I popped in.

Meeting the Canadians

Last night was a UK Trade & Investment and Interactive Ontario double header in the Watershed, Bristol. 11 Canadian companies from Ontario came to meet around 36 South West companies.

The proforma presentations included an overview of the Canadian & Ontario business environment from Ian Kelso (IO & Canadian Interactive Alliance, CIAIC), an introduction to the Canadian companies from Jay Goldman (Radian Core Inc) and a quick spin around the SW digital media landscape from Mark Leaver (South West Screen).

Adam Montandon (HMC) fresh from their recent link up with Two Four Group (another South West success story) gave an overview of their many wild projects that gave a lively, enthusiastic and knowledgeable insight into his world of very commercial projects that are also great fun!

We then adjourned for the serious business of networking. I was there principally to build links and opportunities for Heliotrope (disclosure: I’ve written their business plan and am coordinating their funding, partnerships and client strategies). The folks from IO were keeping everyone to 15 min speed networking so lots of follow up emails and skype chats to come.

First up was a discussion with Jay Goldman, although a little outside their normal scope we had a very productive discussion around design, integration, platforms, scalability, time to market and how Radian Core work with partners. In fact, because Heliotrope is a little outside the normal it could be sufficiently interesting and challenging to excite.

I then caught up with Sabine Steinbrecher (Learning Library) and we discussed her compay and their e-learning, publishing and strategies for addressing Canadian schools, education boards and ministries.

While catching up with Peter McCowen (AIM) about Bristol projects, I learnt of another UK company that may be a useful partner / collaborator.

A quick chat with Michael Gibson (Zapdramatic) suggested that their very innovative soft skills games were not quite the right match for Heliotrope. However, we did have a very enjoyable discussion around the complexity of design involved in such morally and ethically delicate areas so that young people can learn to appreciate their taken-for-granted assumptions and how to recognise them early enough to avoid compromising situations later on.

I then met Rachel Noonan and Karen Bradt (Canadian Film Centre) about the many innovative programmes, support and projects they’re involved with. In particular their Media Lab and wide ranging R&D projects is one to look into more closely.

On the way out I had a quick chat with Julia Bennett from White Pine Pictures, there wasn’t a direct link with their documentary making expertise but a great way to round out a busy and productive evening.

Young IoD in Bristol

The early start this morning wasn’t just to catch up on the overnight Google Reader (where I’ve pretty much dropped del.icio.us in favour of the search on GReader and shared items).

Headed over to the Bristol Golf Course (bit of a sterotype thing going on there) and was promised the secret of being ‘Disgustingly good at selling’. Saundu Hellings from riskHIVE and Barry Watson from PolicyCheck did an admirable job of presenting their take on sales and building the relationship with the customer (even if Barry did some across at time a little sterotypically wide boy sales man).

They were somewhat outclassed by Nick Drake-Knight (NDK Group & Performance in People Ltd) who I’ve heard speak before. Nick had a very clear process he advocated (the NDK Group website has pdf flyers), the 10 min was just about enough to rattled through his Rapport – Understand – Demonstrate – Recommend – Close. The questions provided scope for Nick to expand on the process. The setting wasn’t really appropriate for details and the whole event was under Chattem House to encourage openess, which worked very well.

The breakfast side of things was OK, but the table layout meant that once we’d chatted around the table and done the business card shuffle, you couldn’t very easily hop to another table. After the formal meeting, the tables pretty much meant you had to relocate to talk to anyone, which didn’t make for informal serendipitous meetings. As it was I had another conference to shoot off to so didn’t hang around quite as long as I’d normally have wanted to.

On the basis of this, I’m not about to sign up for the whole IoD package – BarCamp is a much better use of the money, I’m pretty confident I’ll learn more.

BarCamp Bristol gathering pace

Laura Francis and Tim Beadle have put together the inaugral BarCamp Bristol (12 October if you haven’t booked) in association with SkillSwap Bristol.

Sign up and register! There is a GBP5 fee to help towards costs. Loads of folks (currently 11) have contributed sponsorship, including me.

There’s the Upcoming, FaceBook, and probably loads of other notifications out there.

There are only 30 places and already 18 people signed up on Facebook, and 14 on Upcoming. There is some duplication and the Facebook event seems to have more traffic / comments associated. In addition to the 14 that have said they’re attending on Upcoming there are another 7 ‘watching’ – by contrast there are 16 maybe’s, 34 not attending and 38 MIA on Facebook.

So why am I stumping up cash for this rather than going to a conference or painting the spare room?

Basically its an investment in the entrepreneurship capacity of Bristol. The BarCamp model lends itself to the ‘Bristol underground psyche’ – if such a phenomenon exists. It’s been a frequent topic of discussion at Open Coffee; that it can be difficult to get the digital innovators to congregate with the money people. Simon Bunker has done a terrific job in keeping Open Coffee Bristol going and if only through sheer bloody mindedness! Numbers are building gradually and folks are increasingly comfortable with the relaxed format and the open agenda is increasingly around building new products, discussing new services, and what next big ‘thing’ might be.

Companies in and from Bristol are proving that there is innovation and ideas with commercial potential from the stratospheric (XMOS getting $16m Series A) to the funky (BuilderSite‘s success at Seedcamp).

No one is expecting the next XMOS, Buildersite, Skype, iLike, etc, to emerge from BarCamp (though it would be very cool 🙂 ) this together with the relaunch of SkillSwap next week are all part of a momentum that’s building from the ground up.

So I’m going along to brush up on some geek tendencies, try out some new technologies and learn a whole bunch of cool stuff.

Entrepreneurship in Bristol

There have been lots of events and initiatives to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in Bristol. Two of the latest have been Simon starting Open Coffee Bristol and the Creative Technology Network (CTN), this last launched with some fanfare by Michael B Johnson (Moving Pictures Group Lead at Pixar Animation Studios).

Open Coffee is really beginning to build some momentum with a regular cadre and new folks dropping in to see what’s happening, which is nice. We still haven’t quite reached the attendance size or mix that Saul’s getting in London, which could be in part to the time the events are held. When Simon called the first OC Bristol event, it was a morning coffee at Starbucks next to Temple Meads train station. It was suggested that 8am wasn’t a good time for the creative crowd that are probably Bristol’s strong point (though mobile tech is putting in a good showing recently). So the time was put back to the evening and the location switched to the Watershed. Although we’re getting the innovative and creative crowd, we’re not really getting the investor crowd.

There are rumblings about a more focused approach to bring the innovators and investors together (probably in the New Year) which will tie in nicely with Speed Camp and their outcome. It will be great to see Bristol fulfil more of it’s potential, hope to have more to post shortly.

So when is the best time for innovators and investors to mix – 8am or 8pm?