Category Archives: funding

My new Blazing Saddle ignited by my Burner light

Blaze logoI have been watching the Crowdfunding scene for quite a few years now. It has now grown into a important source of money for many start-ups. It is also a great way to test the market for new ideas. Following the Lean start-up approach we advocate in the Business & IP Centre.

I’ve seen lots of new exciting new products over the years, and I’ve been tempted in invest in quite a few. But it wasn’t until I saw the impressive Kickstarter campaign for the Blaze Burner rear bicycle light that I committed. The aim was to create the ultimate back light for cyclists. With 100 lumens of brightness to help make the rider visible to even the most distracted of London drivers.

blaze-bus-02-sAlso, it came from the Blaze company founded by Emily Brooke and Philip Ellisby. They had previously used crowdfunding to launch their revolutionary front safety light for cycles. The original Blaze light combines a very bright white light with a green laser, which projects a symbol of a bike onto the road several meters ahead. The idea is to make bikes more visible to cars and particularly large vehicles turning left at junctions. A high proportion of cycle accidents are caused by drivers being unaware of a rider coming-up on the inside.

The Blaze has been a spectacular success, and is about to be installed across the London Cycle Hire network – officially called Santander Cycles, but more popularly known as Boris Bikes, (despite being introduced by Ken Livingston the previous Mayor of London).

So when I saw the very professionally produced video announcing the Kickstarter campaign for the Burner, I signed up the next day. By then it was already fully funded (in just one day). And went on to raise £153,636 from 2,208 backers, instead of the initial goal of £35,000.

blaze-burner-rear-light-1Since the campaign closed, the team have been on something of a roller-coaster ride. With quite a few technical and supplier problems along the way. This meant the original production date of April slipped by several months. The team kept the backers updated with the issues and delays. So it was with great delight that I finally got to open the package above this week. Just in time for use during the dark evening rides home.

Hopefully you can see from my photos, the light is a very high quality product. Which is one of the reasons the company delayed distribution. It is innovative, in that it shows you the level of battery charge each time you turn it on. It also has a setting to turn the light on automatically when the ambient light level is low, such as in a tunnel or tree-lined route.

blaze-burner-rear-light-4It is early days in terms of usage, but so far I am very happy with the light and the quality of its components, such as the flexible mounting bracket and powerful magnetic attachment.

For me the brightest setting is actually too bright, so I am using it on the normal steady mode, which is claimed lasts 60 hours per charge via the handy USB cable.

So I am feeling triply happy with myself. I own an innovative high quality product. I got a discount for being an early backer. And I am supporting a fledgling UK company, making a great UK designed and assembled product.

Update

I’m still happy with my Burner light, but perhaps if I’d had a bit more nerve I might have gone for Bike Balls instead.

bike-balls

I think they describe the product far better than I could:

In a world filled with disgruntled drivers who hate sharing the road, you need some pretty serious balls to ride a bicycle these days. The morning commute is crying out for a little humour to diffuse the tension, and as a cyclist you need to be noticed! It’s in this spirit that Bike Balls were created.

Bike Balls are a raunchy rear bike light designed to be mounted beneath your bicycle saddle – they dangle off the seat rail and playfully bob-around as you ride. The simple mounting system is secure enough to stay on during bumpy rides whilst remaining easy to attach and take off.

Made from waterproof silicone, this durable scrotum houses a powerful red LED to alert drivers to your presence. Just give them a gentle squeeze to turn them on (just like the real thing) and to switch between the various light modes. They’re as functional as they are hilarious.

Grab yourself a pair today.

More info
Product Features:
The World’s most over confident bike light
Turn them off and on (and switch modes) with a gentle a squeeze
High-grade silicone body with integrated strap and switch
Water/splash resistant construction, built to last
Super efficient red LED
Three light modes – solid light / slow flashing / fast flashing
Powered by 2xCR2032 replaceable batteries
Battery lasts for ~100 hours (solid light mode) or ~190 hours (flashing mode)
Includes 2 zip-ties for semi-permanent installation
Funded within 3 days on Kickstarter

 

 

 

Launch 22 – a charity business incubator in Silicon Roundabout

Launch22 logoI first met David Hardman the General Manager & Co-Founder of Launch22 back in August 2014. I was immediately impressed by his enthusiasm, and the service offered to business start-ups in the heart of Silicon Roundabout in East London.

Many of our customers in the Business & IP Centre ask where they can find incubation space for their business. And although other incubators exist in London, I’m not aware of any that are run on a charitable basis and offer scholarships. Also, I like the way they offer a mentoring service and help finding finance in addition to the work space.

Launch22-space

Launch22 is a charity business incubator dedicated to growing early-stage startups and connecting entrepreneurs with industry experts as well as like-minded businessmen. We work mostly with disadvantaged entrepreneurs for whom a social co-working space with constant access to professional advice, networking and industry-related events is vital.

Our space runs on a membership basis with scholarships available for entrepreneurs who have a great business idea, but are struggling to launch it.

Workspace
Many incubators are exclusive and expensive. We are turning that on its head so that every new entrepreneur can access great workspace, regardless of their economic or social situation.

We know from experience that starting a business is not easy. Any start-up will face challenges and difficulties on the road to success. That’s why at Launch22, we are not just providing a great workspace, we’re creating a community, a place where people can offer advice and guidance to each other, where they can collaborate on new or existing ideas, and of course make new friends along the way.

Mentoring on three levels
Entrepreneurs-In-Residence have been carefully selected because they have themselves experienced the challenges young entrepreneurs face when building a new business, and are always on hand to provide assistance when problems arise.

Allocated mentors provide vital one to one feedback, and are here to go that extra mile when it comes to understanding every facet of your business, and what it needs to succeed.

Specialist mentors are experts in their field, all giving up part of their day jobs as successful lawyers, accountants, and many more to share their wealth of knowledge with our startups.

Finance
When your business needs a kick start we’ll be there to make sure your getting the right help, at the right time, from the right people

Playback Rewards, a success story in the making

playbackrewards-logoMost of the inventors and entrepreneurs we help in the Business & IP Centre realise that it takes hard work and patience (and some luck) to become successful.

For Alistair Kelman the man behind Playback Rewards it has taken three years of seven day weeks with no holidays.

I have often seen him working in the Centre, and for the past couple of years he has been giving me regular progress reports on his patented invention. These updates have been an alternating mix of positive and negative news, as hurdles appear and then are overcome. Or amazing opportunities arrive, but then disappear again.

Alistair_KelmanThroughout this roller-coaster of events, Alistair has remained positive, and bounced back from setbacks (an essential ingredient for an entrepreneur). He has also taken a flexible and pragmatic approach to commercialising his invention (another necessary requirement – but sadly rather too rare for inventors).

For the last few months I have been waiting for permission from Alistair to talk about his invention on my blog, and now he has given me the green light. I am excited because Playback Rewards has the potential to be our biggest success story so far, by far.

Alistair started working on his ideas for revolutionising television advertising at the Centre at the beginning of 2009. He filed his first patent later that year, which was granted in February 2011. He then worked for months, almost on a daily basis at the Centre, developing, researching and refining the commercialisation of his invention.

In late 2010 Alistair ran out of money for his patent. But managed to persuade Stephen Fry to put in a little to keep the project on the road. As you can see from the video Stephen recorded ???, he liked Alistairs’ ideas and wanted to help. Then on Christmas Day 2011 his company was mentioned in an article in the Sunday Times.

Five months later Playback Holdings Ltd won a place in the semi-finals of the CISCO BIG awards, where it stands the chance of winning $100,000 for the business. Alistair feels that which everyone should know about this amazing programme.

As part of his entry for the CISCO i-prize competition Alistair has made a video Magic in your pocket which explains how the service would work.

On 6 July Playback Holdings Limited starts its Series A  fund-raising via an Financial Services Authority (FSA) approved crowdsourcing  platform called Seedrs. This innovative investment method allows ordinary people to invest between £10 to £100,000 in any of the start-ups on its platform.

The full story behind Playback Rewards, and where they are going is on their website www.playbackrewards.com.

Boost your business growth with the 2011 Leadership and Management Grant

grow_header1Many thanks to Alasdair Inglis from our partners Grow, the small business marketing experts, for passing on this information:
Although specialist business advice is usually beyond the reach of most SMEs, the new LMAS £1,000 match-funded grant provides ambitious, fast-growing businesses with a great opportunity to access Grow’s Business Growth Programme
The key eligibility criteria for the government grant are:
  • You are an existing business with growth potential
  • You have a minimum of two people working in the business (ie yourself and one other)
  • The grant is match-funded, so you pay £2,000 and receive a £1,000 reimbursement from the government.

 

Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Question Time for Entrepreneurs 2011

GEW_logoTonight as night as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week we held another great Inspiring Entrepreneurs. This time the topic was Question Time for Entrepreneurs, and was a chance to grill our assembled panel of experts.

Emma Bridgewater, Chairman and Founder of Emma Bridgewater Ltd, Vernon W. Hill II, Co-founder and Vice Chairman of Metro Bank, Lara Morgan, Founder of Pacific Direct Group Ltd and Company Shortcuts Ltd and Tim Campbell, Founder of the Bright Ideas Trust.

Jonathan Moules, enterprise correspondent at The Financial Times, was in charge of moderating the team.

Emma BridgewaterEmma Bridgewater admitted her business was more home counties than ‘wild west’.

You will have to go through tough times. So even if you don’t feel strong enough, when it is your company, you feel differently about it.

You will surprised how creative you can be in business when you first start out and have no money.

Having to think about accounts was something unpleasant, but necessary.

Her value add, was to make modern dishwater friendly pottery.

‘We have spent ‘shed loads’ of money trying to protect our designs. I don’t think it is possible to protect them.’ The next new design is the key to success. And your brand.

Vernon W Hill IIVernon W. Hill II managed to extend his five minute introduction into an impassioned 15 minute talk about the amazing success of his banking ventures.

Be aware of the brand hierarchy: Basic brands,
Emotional Brands and Legendary Brands. When you reach the top stage you have fans not customers.

You need a clear business model that differentiates you from the competition. The culture of your company must be unique but matched to your business model. Your business execution must be fanatatical

In the US they gave away 28 million pens, and they were trying to get the number up. They let dogs in on the theory that if you love my dog, you must love me.

Metro Bank have 90 percent customer satisfaction rate, Barlcays has minus 35 percent.

Emotional brands create massive value. Look at the example of Apple who grew from a five percent market share less than 10 years ago.

Are you really emotionally and equipped to go down the entrepreneurial road? Ask yourselves does your product or service add value? What is different about you? Successful entrepreneurs start with the end result, not the process of getting there. In the UK we concentrate too much on the technicalities.

He went through 15 years of the press saying ‘this won’t work’, so having a thick skin is essential.

Ninety percent of people they see looking for investment don’t have a business plan, they just have hope. Not good enough! If you don’t have convincing numbers to raise money you will fail.

‘My problem is dealing with the government every day!’

In the US they were recruiting 6,000 jobs a year, most came from existing staff contacts. If they didn’t smile in the first interview then they were out.

Lara MorganLara Morgan.

The ability to just keep going is vitally important. Jack of all trades and a master of one, where you recruit others to fill in the other roles required.

She worked on her own for two years, morning, noon and night. Her first recruit was a ‘gobby’ hocky player who had the ability, and could be taught the skill required.

Be aware that you can recruit people if you are creative as employers, find out what will lure someone in other than money.

You can actually learn lots of good stuff from books. This is a solution Lara has applied on many occasions.

Understanding finance was a painful part of becoming a successful business. You don’t need to to do the numbers, you do need to understand them.

Finding the right staff, means being utterly rigorous in you recruitment process. Make sure you test skills, because there is a lot of flannel from candidates. Check with your receptionist for their behaviour. Maths, English and culture tests are key. Invest time in this and you will be rewarded.

It took several years to work out what our USP was. It became representing the best products to the best hotels. A key to this was understanding the market place and the competition better than anyone else.

There are very few new ideas, so you just need be aware of how you are different and better.

Tim CampbellTim Campbell

There is a huge value in mentors and advisors. Having a wise head behind you will help solve some of your issues. Having a loyal team with you on your journey will be a key to your success.

Entrepreneurs need to learn to rely on others to deliver the expertise required for the business.

You may need to extend your sales technique to family and friends in order to raise capital for your business. However, business angels are sitting there waiting to find ideas to invest in. There needs to be a better way to bring these two together.

You can’t expect people to invest in your idea if you aren’t prepared to stand by the loan, or put in your own money.

Employing people who don’t have the same passion as you do, is the biggest problem. Managing them out is incredibly difficult. You need to be incredibly clear about what you want from your recruits.

Don’t compete on price, there will always be someone cheaper.

Intellectual protection can be a very costly route to protect something that may not be unique enough. Speed to market is your best protection.

You can learn from other first mover’s mistakes.

The time to pull the plug on his business, was when he realised he could not get the 2,000 outlets needed to reach the minimum size. There is an inner voice you can hear when you go to sleep at night. Listen to it, and to advisers you trust.

There is nothing wrong with a lifestyle business (small scale).

 

Video now live here, Question Time for Entrepreneurs 2011 by BIPCTV’s channel

Question Time for Entrepreneurs 2011

by BIPCTV’s channe

SquidLondon brighten up a rainy autumn day

emma-jayne_parkes_and_vivian_jaegerSomething of a surprise on my way home tonight to see a full-page advert for our Success Story SquidLondon in the Evening Standard.

Fashion graduates Emma-Jayne Parkes and Viviane Jaeger founded SquidLondon after being inspired by Jackson Pollock. They thought it would be cool to walk down the street, it starts to rain and your clothes turn into a walking Jackson Pollock.

Their first product, the Squidarella, is an umbrella that changes colour as it rains. Developing such an innovative product meant that intellectual property – protecting their ideas – was an essential topic to crack. The pair visited the Business & IP Centre to learn more about how intellectual property applied to them.

Squid have now moved to the bathroom with their latest product : ‘Miss Squidolette’ Shower Curtain!

Miss_Squidolette-Shower_Curtain

Company Partners top ten most common business plan mistakes

Lawrence Gilbert at Company Partners has come up with his top ten most common business plan mistakes.

As someone who spends much of his time helping entrepreneurs develop their business plans, Lawrence has seen many hundreds.

Top ten business plan mistakes

  1. Typos and spellings – it sounds small, but it is a killer. Nowadays there is just no excuse. My own spelling is atrocious, but I use a spell checker all the time. Use a spell checker, proof-read your work, or get a friend to proof-read it. Sloppiness in producing the plan will indicate sloppiness in your business.
  2. Poor structure – again no excuse. There are templates and examples around, we ourselves run business plan workshops and there’s software that will structure it for you.
  3. Executive Summary – people get confused as to what that is. It’s simply a short, punchy, straight-to-the-point summary of all else in the plan. About 2 pages, that is interesting enough and factual enough to almost stand-alone. After reading it, you should want to reach for the phone to contact the author, or at least feel you want to read more in the main plan. Although at the front, it’s the last section to be done.
  4. No contact details on the cover page. Someone reading the plan shouldn’t have to hunt through it for contact details – put them clearly on the cover.
  5. Over hyped – expressions such as “fantastic”, “unique”, “incredible” are meaningless and over-hyping your product or service shows naivety. This is closely coupled to the next point…
  6. Lack of evidence – if you state a market figure, or statistic, try and show where it came from. It gains credibility. Do real market research; don’t just ask friends and family (they don’t count).
  7. No effort made to sell the product/service – the proof of the concept comes when you get sales. There are many, many, good ideas around, but not all of them are commercial. Will customers actually give you their cash for your product? Get out there and make some sales, show it will be bought.
  8. Not using Appendix’s – cluttering up the plan with pages of market statistics is not conducive to having it read. No one will struggle through a badly organised plan, just mention the facts and refer to the full information in the relevant appendix.
  9. No detail to the sales and marketing plan – it’s as though you think that the product/service will sell itself – it won’t. This is often the worse part of the plans we see.
  10. Unbelievable and incomplete financials – We’ve all seen the “hockey-stick” projections, where in the first year the revenues are minimal, but then by golly they shoot up at an incredible rate. Having unrealistic numbers, or incomplete numbers, or contradicting numbers are all plan killers.

How to pitch your business

Irene Bejenke WalshFor any of you who have watched entrepreneurs pitching their business on the BBC’s  DragonsDen (or even better the Harry Enfield spoof version below), I’m sure you will agree it is often too painful to bear.

Fortunately we are introducing a workshop in the Business & IP Centre on this scary topic called the investor pitch, on Monday 25 January, and Monday 22 February 2010.

In this interactive workshop, participants will learn about the content of investor presentations as well as how to deliver effective pitches.

Specifically, the following topics will be covered:

• What are investors looking for?
• Targeting different investor audiences
• How to turn your business plan into an investor presentation that will make an impact
• Content of an investor presentation
• Individual presentation skills & delivery
• Pitching formats
• The perfect elevator pitch
• Creating rapport & trust with investors
• Live pitches & feedback

Having met the presenter Irene Bejenke-Walsh, founder of MessageLab, I am confident attendees will be in good hands. She has been coaching entrepreneurs and management teams for investor presentations and pitches for more than a decade. Her clients include the UK’s largest Business Angel network, London Business Angels, where she has coached more than 300 entrepreneurs pitching to the network in a real life “Dragon’s Den”, contributing to an increase in investment rates of over 30%. She also coaches early-stage companies entering the London Technology Fund competition as well as many small and large businesses seeking investment.

EnterQuest’s business support survey – the results

The wonderful people who produce our COBRA (Complete Business Reference Adviser) have started surveying subscribers to their free EnterQuest weekly tips and ideas bulletin for startups and small business owner managers.

Their first one was designed to gauge their opinions and levels of satisfaction of business support services they had received or experienced over the last 12 months:

 

The results of the survey were in certain respects rather surprising, and in other ways quite predictable. The survey asked readers for their views relating to sources of support received, ie from Business Link, enterprise agency, local council, and Chamber of Commerce. They were quizzed about what satisfied them the most, what was most disappointing, and asked for suggestions for improvements.

The most striking result was the performance of Business Link, with two-thirds (65%) of respondents satisfied with the support received (43% were very satisfied), but with over a third (35%) not very satisfied or totally unsatisfied. General satisfaction levels were very similar for support from local enterprise agencies, but fewer of these (only 35%) were very satisfied.

While there are encouraging signs that things are moving in the right direction with attitudes towards Business Link,it still remains a stark fact that one out of three businesses were still not satisfied with the support they received, and 44% were not satisfied across all types of local business support provision.

Overall, survey responses from recipients of business support across all providers are summarised as follows:

Very satisfied 26%
Fairly satisfied 30%
Not very satisfied 22%
Totally unsatisfied 22%
So in aggregate the results are 56% satisfied with support received and 44% not satisfied. Survey respondents were located in all regions of the UK.

In terms of the specific questions asked in the survey and qualified answers given, the responses were varied and in certain cases quite animated. The following is a summary of some of the typical responses given for three of the main question areas.

What disappointed you the most?

– lateness of the adviser, lack of respect shown
– e-mails and phone calls unanswered/ not returned
– the adviser did not understand my business or my industry
– lack of clear written steps for funding applications
– no new advice given, I knew what was said already
– excellent support programmes stop when their funding is withdrawn or ends
– lack of understanding of local business needs

What pleased you the most?

– quick response to grant application, given answer in five days
– the adviser understood our business model
– we got what was written on the tin, and in good time
– excellent training sessions from Business Link
– free Business Link support
– wealth of free information provided by adviser
– good follow-up range of courses available

What do you suggest that would improve the service you received or would like to receive in the future?

– the adviser should have real, practical experience of business
– specialist rather than general help and advice is needed
– more empathy with first-timers
– more long term funding for successful support programmes
– more local services and resources available
– loans available for true micros
– more interest in customer needs than in ticking boxes

Key likes – courses, free services, local support and advice.

Key dislikes – supplier driven (need to tick their boxes), exclusion of micros and sole traders, general rather than specialist advice.

My client connects with Knowledge Connect

I have just heard that Marion Ayonote (one of my recent Business & IP information clinic clients) has been highlighted as a case study on the LDA (London Development Agency) website.

Although Marion has already had success as a shoe designer, she wanted to expand her range to include vintage handbags with a contemporary twist. The main fabric is Aso-oke, a traditional fabric originally worn by the Yoruba’s, hand made by local weavers in Nigeria.

Marion Ayonote handbagMarion was born and educated in Nigeria attending the University of Maiduguri in Borno State, where she achieved a BA in History. She then moved to London and in 1997 attended Cordwainers College.

Her first collection simply titled “Shoes” under the “Marion Ayonote” label was launched in 2000. Since her launch she has been invited to exhibit at a number of international events i.e. Tranoi Paris, South Africa fashion week, Moda Calzaldo, and many more.

Knowledge Connect logoKnowledge Connect is designed to assist London’s diverse small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to undertake grant funded collaborative projects with the wider Knowledgebase.

This includes Universities, Further Education Colleges, RTOs and private sector specialists. London Development Agency (LDA) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funding of £5.6 million is being channelled to fund this flagship project. Knowledge Connect is the Innovation Vouchers part of Solutions for Business portfolio.

The three year programme aims to work with 2,880 enterprises and provide a combination of inspirational workshops and events, stimulating communications, one to one mentoring, specialist identification and partner search.

It also offers grant support to enable SMEs to identify and create business growth opportunities.

There are two levels of grant support available:
* Mini grants up to £3,000 provided for activities such as initial testing, product or service development or proof of concept; and
* Maxi grants of up to £10,000 (which require 50% match funding) to support the delivery of a wide range of more in depth, collaborative projects.