28 May 2012

"SpeedFunding", Lean Startups and Teaching Children about Invention

On 29 March 2012 I wrote that my friend Amanda Lennon had been appointed to run Angels Den in Yorkshire and the Humber. On 14 May 2012 I was delighted to introduce Amanda to the Sheffield Inventors Group to speak on "Raising Business Growth Investment- alternatives to bank finance".  She attracted a good audience and held their attention for the best part of two hours.

After outlining the types of funding available and how to raise it, Amanda focused on equity funding in general and angel investment in particular.   She told us who angels were and what they did.   She discussed angel networks such as Angels' Den and their relationships with angels and entrepreneurs before introducing us to her company.

Angels Den differs from other angel networks in that it pioneered a process called "SpeedFunding"(TM).   According .to its website the concept is rather like speed dating. Entrepreneurs are given an opportunity to pitch their proposition individually to a number of angels for up to 3 minutes at a time.   The advantages of this process to the entrepreneur is that he or she gets an opportunity to refine his or her pitch and possibly his or her business model as well as meet a wider selection of potential investors than would otherwise be the case in the course of the session.   I imagine that it can also be very entertaining - at least for the angels.

When Amanda spoke about "SpeedFunding" (TM) I was immediately reminded of Eric Ries's concept of "the lean startup", a process that I mentioned in my Inventors Club blog (see "Lean Startup" 6 May 2012).   Could the 3 minute pitch be compared to the "minimal viable product" and the angels to "early adopters"? I asked myself.   If you want to learn more about "lean startup" there is a lean startup group in Manchester which meets regularly at the Manchester Business School and I know there was a meeting at Sheffield University last week to set up a similar group in Yorkshire.   If you contact me I would be glad to pass your name on to the organizer

Anyway, returning to Angels Den, the company appears to offer more conventional ways of raising equity funding, though those appear to be more expensive than "SpeedFunding" (TM) (see "How much do you charge" on the Angels' Den website).   The company charges £799 + VAT for the SpeedFunding (TM) package plus a 5% success fee when funding is raised.   Apparently, entrepreneurs get opportunities to choose the approach at "funding clinics" held from time to time and to develop their pitch at training sessions known as "pitch school" (see "10 steps to getting funded through Angels Den").

While I do not endorse any particular angel network and emphasize that angel funding is not for everyone I hope to arrange a forum where angels can meet some of the bright lads and lasses from the North's inventors' clubs and "FabLabs" in July as well as a Northern innovation academy in September.   I will invite Amanda or one of her colleagues to speak at both events.

Sheffield and the other great cities of Yorkshire indicate that this county once had an entrepreneurial culture which must have been very similar to that of Silicon Valley in the 1980s and perhaps the BRIC and CIVETS countries today.   Can this can do culture be revived?   The success of Silicon Roundabout and Tech City in London shows there is no reason why it cannot.   Many of those responsible for those new businesses in London were either born or educated in Yorkshire.   The well known inventor Trevor Baylis has suggested that pupils should be taught about innovation and enterprise at school.   Visiting the Sheffield Quaker meeting house yesterday I was delighted to see in the children's meeting (equivalent of Sunday school) a popup book on invention for young children.   It was attractive, entertaining and informative.   Leafing through the pages, I learned something new from it even though I am old enough to have been the kids' grandmother and have practised patent law for the last 35 years.   That sort of book could do more good in the long term than the loan scheme announced by the Prime Minister today (see "PM wants start-up loans scheme to help young" 28 May 2012 on the BBC website).

If anyone wants to discuss this article further, call me on 0113 320 3232 or click here.

10 May 2012

Hull Digital

I have already mentioned my visit to Hull for the Screen Yorkshire Roadshow on 3 May (see "Screen Yorkshire Roadshow: £15m for TV, film, games and digital sectors" 4 May 2012). Shortly after that presentation I found my way to the Fudge Restaurant which hosted the May Meetup of the Hull Digital Developer Group.

Before I discuss the evening I should say a word about Hull Digital. It describes itself on the "About" page of its website as Hull and East Yorkshire’s Digital and Technology Community. Apparently it was launched in 2009 and has "an awesome mix of members" who write about:
  • Local news, events and happenings in the online world
  • Apps and the mobile space
  • Clever devices / web-connected devices
  • Anything about the web
  • Broadband and connectivity
  • Home and business computing
  • Gadgets
  • And many more great topics!.
The group was founded by Jon Moss of theappleofmyi who has apparently organized East Yorkshire's Digital Conference in 2009 with an impressive line up of speakers. Members of Hull Digital keep in touch through a Meetup Group. In addition the developers meetups Hull Digital holds regular "techy breakfasts" at the Fudge.  The next one for anyone who may be interested will be on 25 May 2012.

I heard two good presentations last week.   
  • Marc Towler, a freelance PHP developer, whose presentation  "Open Source, the way forward?" was an excellent introduction and overview of open source software; and
  • Adam Jennison, who is not actually a black and white cat but a systems administrator, developer and systems integrator for Hull City Council. Adam's talk was entitled "Restful APIs" and discussed how the local authority intends to make some of its data available to local developers.
Both talks were very interesting and though I am not a developer I look forward to returning for more.   

4 May 2012

Screen Yorkshire Roadshow: £15m for TV, film, games and digital sectors

On Wednesday I received an email from Hull Digital about a talk to be given by Screen Yorkshire on a new £15m content fund for TV, film, games and digital sectors at the World Trade Centre in Hull. I have since discovered that was a stop on a roadshow by Chief Executive Sally Joynson and Head of Production Hugo Heppell.   It has already visited Bradford and Barnsley and will be at the Workstation Sheffield today.  It will also go to York on 8 May, Huddersfield on the 14 and Leeds on the 31. The talk is free and bookings are made through Eventrbrite.

The World Trade Centre in Hull is not quite the same landmark as its namesake had been in New York.  Not everybody in that city has heard of it and none of those who have had a clear idea of where it was. I drove to the address in Queen Street on the Eventrbrite print out only to be re-directed by the signposts and passers by to a desolate looking office block that would not have looked out of place in the German Democratic Republic known as "Humber Quays." Once I had penetrated the security of Humber Quays I was told by the porter that the WTC had been there but had moved out but neither he nor anyone else in that Lubyanka quite knew where.  Hull city centre is bisected by a dual carriageway so a journey of a few hundred yards from one end of the waterfront to another can take quite a long time - especially in the middle of the afternoon,   Once I had found my way back to Queen Street, I parked on a bit of waste ground that proclaimed itself as a car park only by its ticket machine and proceeded on heels past every building in the street - many of which were unoccupied - until I eventually found the modest fa├žade of the WTC.  As a result of this perambulation I missed Sally's presentation altogether and caught only the last few slides of Hugo's.

However, the event was still well worth attending.   Screen Yorkshire is now the only regional agency to support film, television or interactive media in its area and it has done some very good work. Recent productions include Wuthering HeightsThis is England 86 and  Red Riding.  Like everything else, public funding for film and TV has been cut since the change of government.   Save for the regional growth fund and Broadband Delivery UK there has been very little public money for anything.  So when I received Hull Digital's email about this £15 million cornucopia, my ears pricked up

Half of the money comes from Europe - more specifically the European Regional Development Fund channelled through the Department of Communities and Local Government - while the other half will come from unspecified other sources.   The scheme is known as the Yorkshire Content Fund and its object is "to address a gap in the market place by providing targeted co-investment finance into companies based in Yorkshire and the Humber producing creative content projects, and to develop innovative approaches to further investment in the digital and new media sector."   Funds under the scheme will be investments and not grants.   Those investments will be made in projects and companies across the whole range of digital media activity including film and television production, videogames, mobile content and ‘apps’, web-based and digital media products. However projects must be initiated by Yorkshire-based companies or by SMEs attracted into or started up in the county.  Further information on the scheme is available from an "Overview"  and expressions of interest can be registered through the following form.

After the presentation I asked Hugo whether funding under the scheme would take the form of a loan or equity investment. He replied that it would be neither but "quasi-equity".  When I pressed him as to what he meant by "quasi equity" he replied that it would be "a charge over the intellectual property".  As he had told someone else that Screen Yorkshire would retain a stake in a licensable character until it had been bought out, I asked Hugo whether that would mean that Screen Yorkshire would expect an assignment of copyrights or rights over performances to which he replied that it would mean that Screen Yorkshire would take a charge over the revenues.  

It is clear that anybody thinking of taking advantage of this scheme whether as a content producer (film maker, developer or otherwise) or as an investor - will require specialist professional advice.   If anyone wants to discuss it with me further, he or she can contact me through my contact formFacebookLinkedinXing or twitter or call me on 0113 320 3232 .

2 May 2012

FabLab Airedale: Introductory Offer and Visit

FabLab Airedale is open at last. We had been looking forward to it for months just as children look forward to Father Christmas (see "A FabLab for Keighley" 9 Nov 2011 and "FabLabs for Yorkshire: Progress Report" 16 Jan 2012).  Now I have actually seen it.   I visited it on 20 April 2012 and was given a grand tour by the manager, James Kitson (see my report "Keighley FabLab opens for Business" in my Inventors Club blog of 1 May 2012).

I also met Jane Bilous, the Masterplan Delivery Officer of the Airedale Partnership, while I was there and Jane, James and I discussed a number of ways in which we could co-operate.   The first of these will be a visit by the Leeds Inventors Group on 16 May 2012 between 18:00 and 19:45 (see "16th May Leeds Inventors Group -visit to Fablab Airedale" in the Leeds Inventors Group blog of 30 April 2012).   As there will not be a meeting of the Sheffield Inventors Group in May because the first Monday falls on a public holiday, inventors from Sheffield are also invited.   It will be the first opportunity for members of the two Yorkshire clubs to meet.  Places however are limited so you must call Ged or Stef of Leeds Central Library on 0113 247 8266 to book your place.

Other projects that we discussed were an introductory seminar on IP like the ones we gave to FabLab Manchester on 12 Oct 2011 (see "FabLab Manchester: Introduction to Intellectual Property" IP North West 8 Nov 2012) and Freerange Artists in Carlisle on 8 March 2012 (see "Introducing IP to Freerange Artists in Carlisle" IP North West 10 March 2012), a funding workshop with business angels, bankers, community development finance institutions and venture capitalists and maybe an inventors' academy in conjunction with the Manchester FabLab, Carlisle's Freerange and the Sheffield Refab Space.

For a limited period, businesses in the metropolitan district of Bradford can receive up to one day's free machinery time and technical support from the FabLab staff which could include rapid prototyping, 3D printing or other consultancy. Since commercial design agencies charge a lot of money for those services, this could be quite a saving.   Call 01535 606703 or email info@fablabairedale.org  to register your interest.

If anybody has any questions or comments about this post or FabLabs generally, he or she can contact me through my contact form,, Facebook, Linkedin, Xing or twitter or call me on 0113 320 3232 .