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 🙂