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.

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.

OpenCoffee Bristol demo sessions

<This is a cross post from OpenCoffee Bristol, Bristol companies demo to packed room>

Change of venue and format brought out the regulars and new faces for this morning’s OpenCoffee Club meeting. Mariama Njie welcomed us all with fresh coffee, tea and chocolate cookies to UWE Ventures’ new business incubation space in Bush House right on the harbourside in Bristol. There was plenty of time for folk to have a good look around and catch up with each other before squeezing into the main Board Room for the company demo’s.

Test and Verification Solutions

First up was Michael Bartley from Test & Verification Solutions. Michael introduced us to software testing and code validation. His expertise was in providing clients with access to reduced cost and flexible resources at this specific point in their software development cycle. Michael works closely between clients and partners (mainly in India) to build find the right out source partner (rather than a body-shop as Sam Machin described it). The right partner was one that understood the application domain as well as the technology and could provide a high quality of service with good knowledge management.

After software testing, Ed Ross introduced his solution to oversized email attachments and overwhelming spam. Tonsho provides both services in a single subscription. Attachments of up to 100MB are handled through normal SMTP from your email to the Tonsho servers, the recipient receives a friendly email with a link to the file that they download (again through SMTP). Whilst all this is going on, Tonsho also offers a “challenge – response” solution to spam. Email that fails a spam filter triggers a challenge to solve a capatcha, if successful the email is automatically moved to the inbox and the sender added to the users white list. Ed was using Adsense and limited additional marketing, some good write-ups on About.com and word of mouth from existing users to grow the service. Basic accounts are free, added storage and features are available from Pro, and Enterprise accounts. Ed also offers a “Photographers” version that includes a photo gallery with watermarking.

Last up, but certainly not least, was Nigel Legg with a live demo of his latest enterprise Katugas Social Media Monitoring. Building on his experience coding and analysing free text responses on market surveys, Nigel is now delivering detailed analysis of a companies social media profile. Using software from Radian6 in Canada, Nigel pulled up a series of queries for Open Coffee and topics that might be talked about. Turns out the iPhone is very popular with nearly 500k mentions in the last 30 days. The interesting part was when Nigel pulled up individual mentions, and began grading them for sentiment (positive to negative on 5 point scale). He then pulled up the key influencers based on number of articles, comments, links, etc. A really powerful analysis of a business’s online presence and valuable tool for monitoring brand perception. With the ability to report daily, weekly and monthly this is a fantastic addition to Bristol’s business environment.

After the semi-formal presentations folks carried on discussions until gone 10am. Mariama did an excellent job supplying coffee throughout and lots of new connections were started.

Thanks again to the presenters, attendees and UWE Ventures.

The next OpenCoffee Bristol will be on 10 March at Starbucks on Park St. The next demo session will be in a month or two (drop me an email or comment if you’d like to present).

Serendipity engineering

Atticus Finch Uploaded on August 21, 2006 by Dunechaser
Atticus Finch - Uploaded on August 21, 2006 by Dunechaser

How valuable is engineered serendipity to your business? On my way back from a meeting in the Watershed I thought I’d stick my head into UWE’s new business incubator facility in Bush House. Only opened just before Christmas they already have a good selection of tenants including the usual scattering of graduate start-ups (such as Carolyn Newton from Whale Bags, a business plan competition winner).

I also bumped into Chris, Dave, and Toby from Evans & Finch. I’d spoke to Dave & Chris last year at OpenCoffee before they’d settled so it’s great to see them finding their feet so quickly. For one thing the holding page they had back in November is now funky showcase of their work.

Chris, Toby and I threw a couple ideas around for some funding they’re thinking about applying for. They had a very strong feature set (not unusual for a software / tech company) and a pretty compelling description of the benefits, which is nice to see. The challenge we were kicking around was how to bring that to bare upon the funding call.

We took a step back from the application itself and looked at the funders as clients. This lead to some great new directions for the proposal. We’ll find out how they get on in a couple of weeks.

So how does that help jbsh? Well in the short term it doesn’t. It does build the relationship with Chris, Dave & Toby (especially if they land the funding 🙂 ) which may lead to some consultancy in the future. More likely, they’ll bump into someone that needs some business planning support and think of me.

Serendipity works like that, so long as the opportunity cost doesn’t outweigh the benefit its always a good investment.

I was in town, I could have gone straight home and sorted a couple emails or helped Chris & Dave and lay the opportunity. I think helping out Chris & Dave was a better use of my time and the emails will get answered in due course.

Fresh Coffee @ OpenCoffee:Bristol

Uploaded on November 6, 2006 by a href=
Uploaded on November 6, 2006 by Luis Alves

Bit slow off the mark on this post but it’s been a busy couple of days.

We had a really good morning on Tuesday with new faces and new coffee to try. Jack had popped up from the Temple Meads branch of Starbucks to mix some fresh brew for us using their Organic Ethiopian blend together with some cinnamon pastries to bring out the spicy aroma and flavours. We hope to have Jack back with his coffee tasting table.

Over the fresh coffee a couple of new faces joined the familiar ones. A twitter link brought Rick Hurst along for the first time. We also welcomed Jamie Dyer all the way from Plymouth and only just back from Canada, kudos! Just as I was leaving I saw Jamie and Mark Paney deep in discussion and it sounds like there could be another partnership arising from OpenCoffee, great stuff!

It was also good to see Peter Livingston, Tom O’Neil and Nick Sturge along providing the professional business services side of things.

Joel Huges was also along having developed his platform but missed the Seedcamp deadline. Have to see if there is a business development / funding opportunity there, hopefully there’ll be something to demo shortly.

Chris Garrett & Craig Hellen from BexMedia were along as was Rachel Carney; apologies to anyone I missed.

The next OpenCoffee will be on 26 August, from 8.30am at Starbucks on Park St as usual. See you there.

OpenCoffee Club Bristol

Uploaded by Lutz-R. Frank on
02 Aug 07.

The reason this post is a bit late is I spent most of yesterday evening setting up a Facebook group for OpenCoffee Club Bristol (and we already have 5 members, cheers), posting the next four dates (17 June, 1 & 15 & 29 July and 5 August), updating the upcoming group (17 Jun, 1, 15, 29 Jul, 5 Aug), and posting the OpenCoffee Bristol Twitter; still need to construct an OpenCoffee group in my Gmail (for those not on the aforementioned socnets) to send out reminders and updates.

Back to yesterday, Sam and I arrived just after 8am and set up shop downstairs while the Starbucks folks put up signs and balloons. First to arrive was James and we quickly had a couple tables pulled together with discussions bouncing around business, technology, social catching up and finding out what each other did.

Chris Garrett (via Twitter) and Craig Hellen came down from Gloucestershire with their new mobile, locative and video media ideas. After exploring their business model and target segments a few business cards swifted exchanged hands, which is what its all about.

About half-way through the morning a couple of fresh pots of coffee arrived and refueled everyone through to past 10.30am.

We closed with Martyn Shiner’s open source manufacturing systems development project at Severn Delta. They’ve built their own system and are looking for hot php/PostgreSQL/UI coders to help them turn an internal project into a set of repositories that they can open up properly to other companies as a series of modules (sorry if I got a few details wrong Martyn). Martyn’s still looking so if you’re in the Somerset area (or are happy to spend a bit of time there) drop him a note on twitter (if it’s up).

(re)Open(ed) Coffee

6 May 2008, at the moment this is looking good for the relaunch of Open Coffee in Bristol. I’m still waiting on confirmation for a venue (and some free coffee as part of the deal) but it’ll be central Bristol.

I’ve decided on a morning mainly because the focus is on networking around business development and entrepreneurship and I think that works better at the start of the day than at the end with a beer. Most of the Open Coffee clubs around the world meet in the morning and I’m sure there are plenty of people there smarter than me in organising network events. There will be evening social dinners to cement the networks but part of the focus is on discussing the business of doing business, and how to build innovative digital businesses in Bristol.

The rough schedule of 4 meetings over 2 months, followed by an evening dinner, shake, rinse, repeat; seems to be going down well with everyone I’ve spoken to. The current topic outline is:

  • Explaining your idea; convince just one other evangelist and you’re well on your way (articulating your idea in 140 characters or less)=139
  • Addressable market – who are the people that actually want your product / service, are they who you think they are? Perhaps talking over coffee with other entrepreneurs will open new market ideas, or give you research leads on building your business plan / invement proposal.
  • Financial instruments – how are you raising / going to raise, the cash to build your product. Even with Google BigTable / Amazon EC3/S3 you still need some cash. Angel, VC, SFLG, FFF, Credit Cards, remortgage, what are your decisions, options and how are others finding cash?
  • No “I” in Team; but there is a me – I love that bit of team building bumff “There’s no ‘I’ in Team”: there’s no f’in team either but you don’t tend to hear that one from the managment coaches so much – as a start up entrepreneur you probably are the team, even when you build an executive support squad, most investors say they’re investing in the founder. So how are you / should you build a support team around you and who’s in it?

At each morning I’m going to try and make sure that there are some professional in the crowd but the idea is to network and discuss in generalities to inform your decisions. Feel free to let the folks you know and work with that this is going on (it is Open Coffee after all).

More details as they settle down.