Monday, 18 February 2013

The broom cupboard entrepreneurs

Here is a article from the Insider, on Entrepreneurship in the South West.
Across the South West, bright young things, and some not so young but still bright, are beavering away on the idea that could make them rich. So is the next James Dyson out there?
entrepreneurs.jpg"British ingenuity is one of our most exportable assets and something investors, the government, banks and professional services providers should all be backing to get the economy growing,” says PeterWoodall, director in the entrepreneurial business team at Deloitte in Bristol. “With the likes of James Dyson on their doorstep, and most likely also in the broom cupboard, young entrepreneurs in the South West don’t have to look far for inspiration.” Dyson, famed inventor of the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner, and now said to have a net worth of £1.45bn, may be one of the region’s most successful entrepreneurs to date, but there are many hot on his heels.
Maybe the UK has been playing catchup, but there has been a spate of innovation centres aligned to academic institutions springing up in the region in the past few years, in recognition of the wealth of academic talent and knowledge waiting to be tapped by the commercial sector.
In 2008 Exeter University opened its £10m Innovation Centre, providing start-ups with mentoring, training and access to university resources. Cornwall saw the opening of the first of three centres (managed by the University of Plymouth) at Pool in 2010, followed by one at Tremough Campus, part of University College Falmouth, this year.
2011 also saw the opening of the Bristol and Bath Science Park, described as a “powerhouse for research and development”, including an Innovation Centre designed to help early-stage businesses and encourage collaborations between industry and academia. The Universities of Bristol, Bath and Exeter have a partnership called SETsquared, which supports new business opportunities through spin-outs, licensing and incubation.
Nick Sturge, centre director of the Bristol part of the operation, confirms that SETsquared is as busy as ever, with a range of companies he predicts big things for. One of its success stories is video indexing company iVIDiQ, whose director Stephen Clee was among the award winners at Insider’s 42 under 42 dinner this year.
One benefactor of such collaboration is Chris Book, who grew up in Bath and has since returned to the city. His audiobook company, Bardowl, recently won the CEO Summit Award for Innovation at the global Meffys Awards for mobile content and commerce. After leaving mobile communications giant Orange in 2005, Book identified the University of Bath’s Innovation Centre as an ideal place to start his business, which gives consumers unlimited access to a range of audiobooks for a fixed monthly fee.
“The Innovation Centre has been instrumental in our success,” says Book. “Of the seven shareholders in Bardowl today, six came through introductions made at the Innovation Centre, including our angel investor. Having a place to work where other businesses are going through the same process is vital. Being in the Innovation Centre forces you to interact with other early stage businesses and it’s incredibly useful.”
Sean Nuzum, who grew up in Cornwall, has also returned to his home county to set up a business after graduating from Southampton University. He is based at the Tremough Innovation Centre from where he runs Velotec, a technology innovation business. One of the trading names owned by Velotec is AppFuture, a mobile app development company. It recently launched the Wreckfinder app, which uses GPS technology to help anglers locate shipwrecks – where fish are often found – along the British coastline.
“Tremough has been a superb base for an innovation company, especially with the networking opportunities with established and start-up companies based at the centre,” says Nuzum. Velotec largely works with a network of freelance consultants but is in the process of tapping into University College Falmouth’s resources to recruit graduates to help grow the business.
It also collaborates with the university in other ways: “We offer graduates the chance to bring their ideas to us and then jointly work on developing them into products,” says Nuzum.
Other innovators have tapped into the South West vibe on a more informal basis. Tom Wood is co-founder of Kudan, an agency which helps creative and marketing professionals to leverage business value from Augmented Reality (AR) technology. He describes Bristol as an “exciting creative hub”. A graduate of the University of Bristol, Wood worked for pharmaceutical companies before founding the company in 2010.
He says: “AR is the combination of advanced computer vision techniques, and a very high production standard of 3D and graphic assets. Bristol has a thriving set of skills in these areas – the Kudan team has come from marketing agency, app development and 3D vision companies based in the South West.” Their customer base is largely in London, North America and Japan, butWood believes it is important to work with local businesses too. “We recently completed projects for Dyson, Pieminster and the University of Bristol.”
Three other former University of Bristol graduates are also seeing success with their company, Market Dojo – a private online marketplace for businesses and suppliers to negotiate – which was launched in late 2010. Last year it registered a tenfold increase on the previous year’s turnover, allowing all three co-founders to be supported by the business – no mean feat in the early days of a start-up. The company has collaborated with academics in the region, and Alun Rafique, one of the founders, says if he and his colleagues were to start up again they would directly partner with academic institutions, with whom they now have “strong connections.”
One need only tune into the news, or check out the stream of initiatives from the Technology Strategy Board – the innovation arm of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – to see there is a clear appetite for innovation as the UK government looks to rebalance the economy and give a fighting chance to those who can design and build new products with a muchcherished Made in Britain badge.
The success of existing hubs, which unite innovators and encourage collaboration, is breeding further investment. The third Cornish Innovation Centre opens at Treliske Hospital in Truro, in 2013, sector, while in January a new business development centre called The Hive will open in Weston Park, North Somerset, aimed at helping more businesses to start up and grow by providing flexible office space as well as advice, training and networking.
The building will house around 40-60 different tenants on a short-term basis. Angela Hicks, chief executive of North Somerset Enterprise Agency, says there is clear demand for such a facility, which will also facilitate NSEA’s work. “Ambitious businesses are usually led by dynamic individuals who want to get on with growing their enterprises rather than having to spend lots of time working out how to do so. Our role is to share our expertise and help direct them through their growth challenges – which might include, for example, product development, funding, intellectual property rights or patents, leadership skills, import and export or any of a wealth of other subjects.”
One company that benefited early on from NSEA’s advice is Weston-super-Mare-based Thirst Solution, which produces mobile food and drink vending equipment such as drinks backpacks to dispense cans or bottles.
Founded by Joseph Burke in 2006, the company now has a turnover of £750,000 with customers including the 02 Arena and Wembley. It also supplied its products at the 2012 Olympics. Burke reckons he can leverage the feelgood factor surrounding the Games into something long-term.
“The kudos and credibility it brings will enable us to grow quicker,” says Burke. “We are working on several projects and sourcing for big blue-chip clients. We already have two exciting projects in the very early stages. This is the next chapter. I forecast our company to double in size in the next 24 months.”
Burke is not alone. Market Dojo will be pursuing its “robust” growth plan over the next two years. AppFuture is launching a US version ofWreckfinder in November 2012, followed by Wreckfinder Australia in February 2013, as well as working with third parties, such as the University of Exeter, to develop further apps. Audiobook entrepreneur Chris Book also has transatlantic plans, with the launch of Bardowl in North America next year.
Woodall says: “The South West is in a prime position to capitalise on the groundswell of support for entrepreneurs with bright ideas, ambition and growth potential.”

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