Monthly Archives: March 2008

Web 2.0 explained in Plain ‘English’

Explaining different aspects of Web 2.0 presents quite a challenge, so it is great that Sachi and Lee LeFever have created a set of videos to do the job for us.

They aim to make topics such as Twitter and RSS accessible to their ‘moms’, which is good news for the rest of us. As they say in their About Us section of their website: “We are two passionate people and Common Craft is our company. Our product is explanation.”

Here is their ‘Wikis in Plain English‘ to give you a flavour.

P.S. The reason for the quotes in the title is of course because the Plain English is in fact Plain American via Seattle, Washington State, U.S.A.

Mothers of Invention III

Last Monday evening saw the latest in our series of appropriately named Inspiring Entrepreneurs events. We heard five amazing stories and a discussion moderated by BBC news presenter Mishal Husain.

Mothers of Invention III kicked of with Jessica Huie, who at 17 years old discovered she was pregnant. Her father not happy, telling her that “you will only ever be a statistic”. This made a deep impression on Jessica and her subsequent successes are her way of showing him he was wrong.

She combined motherhood, college, work experience and a weekend job at a shoe shop, as well as working initially for free, at Pride magazine, local radio and publicist Max Clifford.

While searching for a card for daughter, she realised that there was nothing available with images of black or Asian people. In traditional entrepreneur style, rather than simply complaining, she started a company, and now her Colorblind Cards are spreading rapidly across the UK and soon to appear in the United States.

Sian Sutherland told her story of how she went from promoting other companies skincare products to developing her own Mama Mio range. Her main piece of advice was to ensure you have a business plan as it helps to focus on what makes your business different from your competitors.

Lorraine Heggessey, former controller of BBC1 and now CEO of Talkback Thames, surprised us when she exclaimed that in business, “everyone is bluffing.” And that historically men have been better at this then women.

Debbie Reynolds, founder of the School for Sign Language was for me the most engaging speaker with an amazingly frank honesty about her lack of business knowledge prior to starting out. However with a grant of just £1,600 she has gone on to reach a turnover of £170,000, employ 28 deaf and hearing workers and volunteers’, and won several awards in just a couple of years.

Sam Roddick, the daughter of Body Shop founder and supporter of the Business & IP Centre, Dame Anita Roddick, maintained the family tradition of being thought provoking, provocative and shocking. Describing herself as an activist, she aims to change peoples view on sexuality and eroticism.

Her erotic emporium, Coco de Mer sells sex products which are beautifully designed, luxurious and expensive. A human-hair whip is £188, bondage knickers are £200 a pair, and a Shiri Zinn Crystal Dildo, with Swarovski crystals is £1,100, including stand.

She described her route to commercial success as initially a “fuck-up”, but the important point was that she learnt from these early mistakes. In particular stocking around 1,000 items, most of which were either one-off creations or short run products from creatives.

Ways to prevent ‘Death by PowerPoint’

I have had a great interest in presentations, the good, the bad and the ugly, for many years now.

This is partly a result of having to overcome a phobia of public speaking. I know you are going to say that no one enjoys standing in front of an audience. And that many people have trouble sleeping the night before, and some are even physically sick before going on stage. However my fear of presenting used to take the form of insomnia and panic attacks beginning up to four months before, and building up as the big day approached.

Also, fairly early in my career, my job including producing and presentations for senior managers within my company. I remember spending much time reducing overly numerous and wordy sets of slides down to something digestible and attractive, only have the managers revert to their original slides minutes before the presentation. One classic example involved our Economist who was asked to present on the tricky topic of Stock Futures and Options to our trustees. As I watched him lose his audience due to his ‘killer’ slides I wanted to to ask him if he had ever wondered why he was being asked to present on this topic for the third year in a row to the same audience.

I also remember attending a conference in which the speaker tried, and failed, to get through 120 detailed slides in 45 minutes. It was an incredibly stressful experience as an observer, and goodness knows what it was like for the presenter.

Yesterday I attended a one day training course aimed at improving the presentation skills of the Business & IP Centre team, and wanted to pass on a few key learnings from the day:

1. Engage your audience – and in order to do so you need to understand who they are, what they want and what you want to communicate to them. Don’t just churn out the same presentation each time. Tailor it to each audience.

2. Ditch the; tell ’em what you’re going to say tell ’em tell ’em what you said, approach. Instead jump straight in with some kind, such as a powerful story, example or anecdote in order to ‘hook’ your audience from the start.

3. Keep you audience’s attention throughout using: the power of the pause (the longer the Death by PowerPointbetter), questions (rhetorical or actual), engaging examples or stories.

4. Get rid of all of your PowerPoint slides that don’t explain or illustrate a point. How many times have you seen presenters simply reading their bullet points out?

For more details on this point have a look at this presentation on

Are you Desperately Seeking Finance?

A recurring theme when talking to early stage entrepreneurs is where are they going to get finance from.

In order to help address this problem we are devoting our next Inspiring Entrepreneurs event to this topic.

If you’re running, or about to launch, your own business, the we are offering a unique opportunity to pitch your idea to a panel of financial experts, including former “Dragon” Doug Richard.

Desperately Seeking Finance is a panel debate and discussion dedicated to the secrets of raising finance. As part of the evening, three entrepreneurs will present their business idea.

To qualify please send a 200 word summary of your business idea, including key financial projections, to

The deadline for submitting your plans is 25 March 2008, and those selected will be contacted the following week and asked to prepare a two minute presentation for the evening of 22 April.

Desperately Seeking Finance 2, Tuesday 22 April 2008, 18.15 – 21.00

The Hairforce wins award at British Female Inventors & Innovators Awards Ceremony

Great to hear that The Hairforce won the The Health & Beauty award at the British Female Inventors & Innovators Awards Ceremony, sponsored by Boots.

I have already blogged about Dee Wright and her innovative service company The Hairforce – Lice Asassins, which uses a safe and chemical-free method to rid children of head lice.

I predict you will be hearing more about her in the future.

Re-united with my ‘green meanie’

Although this blog’s primary aim is to cover entrepreneurship, innovation and business information you may have noticed my other interests popping up from time to time.

However, I didn’t want to burden you with my sad loss of my beloved motorbike last Autumn. She didn’t crash or self-destruct (a common 2-stroke phenomenon) but when a coil failed it was the end of the road until I could get a replacement. Given her age and rarity it took me until last week to find a suitable part on eBay and actually win the bidding.


Kawasaki KR1-S

Today she came back to life and is now back in my life and I couldn’t resist sharing the good news here. For those very few of you who are actually interested ‘she’ is a Kawasaki KR-1S 250cc two-stroke twin from 1991.

Many people have tried to explain the attraction and excitement of motorcycling with perhaps T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) coming towards the top. Here is a snippet from his RAF journals called The Mint (summary below from here and full text from here)

“Another bend: and I have the honour of one of England’ straightest and fastest roads. The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek: while the air’s coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes. I screwed them to slits, and focused my sight two hundred yards ahead of me on the empty mosaic of the tar’s gravelled undulations.

Like arrows the tiny flies pricked my cheeks: and sometimes a heavier body, some house-fly or beetle, would crash into face or lips like a spent bullet. A glance at the speedometer: seventy-eight. Boanerges is warming up. I pull the throttle right open, on the top of the slope, and we swoop flying across the dip, and up-down up-down the switchback beyond: the weighty machine launching itself like a projectile with a whirr of wheels into the air at the take-off of each rise, to land lurchingly with such a snatch of the driving chain as jerks my spine like a rictus.”

There is even a DVD of Lawrence on his cherished Brough Superior SS80 SS100 Boanerges

Facebook comes to life at the Business & IP Centre

FacebookSince first joining Facebook a few months ago I have had mixed feelings about this latest (and greatest?) form of web social media. I am sure this is also true for many of you too  based on conversations I have had.

The downside are the high level of childish applications which can appear to dominate Facebook, such as Hot or Not, and variations on that theme. This is particularly annoying as Facebook is marketed as a more professional and mature version of Bebo and MySpace which are specifically aimed at children and teenagers respectively.

However, there are significant upsides to using Facebook, particularly communicating to far flung relatives and friends. It also enables me to keep a weather eye on my two teenage kids (but don’t tell them…)

Another real benefit was shown last night when we had a networking meeting at the Business & IP Centre to celebrate reaching 1,000  members on our Facebook group. It was wonderful to meet the real people behind their Facebook profiles and to engage in conversation in the way that is only possible face to face. We have posted photos up on our page to prove it was ‘real’.

Alex BellingerAlex Bellinger the founder of SmallBizPod was there with his microphone and plans to put up a podcast on his site shortly.

Nike goes green – or is it greenwash?

Nike_shoeThanks again to the wonderfull Springwise I have been alerted to green activities by the corporate giant Nike. The recently introduced product is called Trash Talk, and is made entirely from ‘environmentally preferred’ materials and recycled waste.

Aparently Trash Talk is the brainchild of Nike celebrity endorser Steve Nash. The All-Star guard for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns (basketball star to those of us outside the USA), is a committed green-living advocate.

The retail price of one hundred dollars proves that going green doesn’t have to damage the profit margin.

Many new business are taking a green stance from the outset. However many larger corporations have been accused of using  greenwash instead of making genuine changes to their operations. It will be interesting to see how long it takes before the likes of Greenpeace acclaim Nike as paragons of greenness.

Your views on digital copyright

The British Library is concerned that the shift from print to digital publishing is undermining the traditional balance at the heart of copyright and could make it harder for researchers to access and use information, and undermine innovation, research and heritage in the UK.

The Library made a significant contribution to the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property, but now wants to hear your point of view. The results will be incorporated into the Library’s response to the UK Intellectual Property Office’s ‘digital exceptions’ consultation.

Please note, the questionnaire is open to UK residents only.

Here is a summary of The British Library’s Principles on Copyright Law:

1 Public Interest

Public interest policy formation must consider the impact on the creator, the citizen, the economy, the education system and our culture – for today, and for future generations to come.
2 Balance
Creativity, innovation and a democratic civil society requires copyright law to strike a balance between the private interest of the creator being recognised and remunerated for their work, and the interest of the citizen in ensuring access to information and ideas.
3 Digital is Not Different
Copyright law should enshrine the principles of creativity, access, recognition and remuneration as it always has done. Exceptions should apply to all formats including digital formats.
4 Law Aligned with Realities
Rationalisation and simplification of the law will lead to understanding and respect for copyright.
5 Technology Neutral
Copyright law must be informed by technological advances, but specific technologies should not be enshrined in law.