GUEST BLOG: It’s not YOUR idea…

… go break stuff!

Current LU MSc Information Technology, Management and Organisational Change student, Benjamin Dada, shares his latest blog on what he’s learnt about ideas generation.  

When I was much younger, I thought ideas were exclusive. I also thought they were the basis upon which people became rich, world-famous et al.

Now that I am a man (at least, I have beards…lol) I know better.

The world has moved from ideas ruling the world to executors of ideas ruling the world.

So, don’t be scared of sharing your idea with a potential co-founder who can help bring it to life.

Read more on Benjamin’s blog here.

GUEST BLOG: Sebastian Weise, PlaceChangers

“I realised that entrepreneurship can be a powerful source of doing good and making a positive impact.”

Sebastian Weise, founder of PlaceChangers Ltd and former PhD Highwire student, received an Enterprise Award in November 2015. Here, he shares his experience.

This is a blog post about my business startup PlaceChangers, started in April 2015. If you are a student interested in starting a company and want to learn what it takes to start-up, this post is for you. In this post I want to touch on challenges and opportunities along the way and key motivations to keep going. Sure, your story will significantly differ as every decision to start-up is quite personal; and that’s OK. One of the key lessons to learn is to have good networks of support. In the case of PlaceChangers, the Enterprise Centre supported us financially towards our basic startup expenses. We are very thankful for their support and early encouragement.

Where did you get the idea for PlaceChangers?

PlaceChangers Ltd arose from research on the interface between the public and urban planners to make choices for Lancaster’s future development. In my research on public participation, many practices became apparent that involved some form of mapping (in the spatial but also conceptual sense), but that wasn’t much reflected in public engagement. As I analysed spatial distributions of participants and issues raised in official consultations, I found a lack of suitable software for large audiences to partake in the regulations for their neighbourhoods. Essentially that’s how the idea of a start-up at the intersection of mapping, data visualisation, and urban spaces grew on me. We started out in April 2015 and begun trading a year later in April 2016.

At the outset, I read a lot about entrepreneurship. I realised that entrepreneurship can be a powerful source of doing good and making a positive impact. Steve Jobs and Elon Musk’s biographies are an inspiration in terms of overcoming challenges and making a difference. In different ways, these entrepreneurs were passionate. For them, purpose was everything and played a key role in their entrepreneurial careers. Their personal challenges and successes encouraged me to try to set a mark, too, even though it may be a much smaller one.

What did your enterprise funding award contribute to and what lessons have you learned from this experience?

 I started in April 2015 while still working on my PhD. The company was registered in Lancaster, but physically I was located in Manchester, where many of my friends were. This was a challenging time, making income from freelancing for a public service consultancy, completing the PhD, and going to startup events. Eventually with a friend of mine, a developer, I started to work on PlaceChangers as a business. Both short on cash, I was very thankful when we were offered the Enterprise Fund to help us cover early start-up costs, such as essential software required to get going, to cover our hosting costs, but also help us towards financing user workshops. Alongside this we were fortunate to receive additional financial support from the EPSRC and I’d say that this helped us become finalists in a competition on “Innovating in Urban Spaces” in January 2016.

What would you say to inspire future students who want to make things happen by applying for an Enterprise Award?

The journey from starting up to finding a first customer and contract is an exciting learning curve, dotted with many challenges. It took PlaceChangers about a whole year to start trading. Throughout you learn a lot about yourself and other people, and that’s very important. When you get to understand somebody’s needs and manage to serve it with honesty and interest, that’s when great things happen. The Enterprise Award is great in helping cover the many smaller expenditures to help towards understanding user needs and confirm your business proposition. Initially, select carefully who you may want to involve in early market testing, assemble a contact list with preferences, and keep regular meaningful contact. Over time, you find out about needs, opportunities, built trust and make yourself known.

What does the future look like for PlaceChangers?

PlaceChangers is moving on. We have moved to new offices at Campus North, in the city centre of Newcastle. We have a software developed that fits the needs of one of our target audiences and we are working on expanding our product feature set to address other audiences at some point in the new year. With a bit of luck and good planning, we will emerge as a significant engagement consultancy for public and private sector clients.

Last but not least, if you are still hesitant to start. Back then, I might have been somewhat unsure, too. That’s normal. There were many who may not have believed it paying off, who failed to see the opportunity beyond the formalities of urban planning. I would not turn back, it’s a personal journal everybody starts on differently. For me, entrepreneurship is also about ‘doing good by doing business’ and so I’d recommend it to anyone who has a strong passion to fill another persons’ need.

We wish Sebastian and PlaceChangers the best of luck in Newcastle!

If you’d like to apply for an Enterprise Funding Award, get in touch and find out more here.

Image courtesy of Placechangers Ltd.

STOP! Don’t build your product just yet!

Build – Measure – Learn

It’s tempting to start building and developing your product or service as soon as you’ve had that spark of an idea. But, according to Strategyzer, the goal is not to immediately start creating, but rather, innovators should focus on minimum viable products to maximise learning.

They suggest you use the “Build-Measure-Learn” feedback loop for a lean startup process. The build stage is not about creating a limited version of your final product; you should be aiming to achieve the maximum amount of learning for the least amount of effort. Test your assumptions in the most effective way possible, which in many cases doesn’t involve building anything at all.

See some examples of minimum viable products and read more here.

  • If you want to test your assumptions, or talk through your business model canvas, why not come along to our next Startup Lab?

Ideas aren’t everything

Paranoia and overconfidence: the nemesis of a great idea

Do you have an amazing idea for an invention/project/business that is going to change the world? Are you worried about sharing that idea for fear of IP thieves and opportunistic business partners?

According to Rhodri Marsden, your fears may be unfounded; ideas aren’t everything and the only danger to your success is your paranoia and sometimes, a mistaken overconfidence in the potential of your big idea.

Undoubtedly, entrepreneurs need to protect their ideas, and a reluctance to share with anyone and everyone is somewhat understandable in the dog-eat-dog world of entrepreneurship. Believing in the value of your idea is also important; after all, if you don’t think that what you are doing is special, why should a potential business partner, investor, or customer? Having a balance between confidence and arrogance therefore is an important lesson to learn.

In an interesting new series, Marsden explore the history of promising inventions hindered and ultimately destroyed by their inventors, and the lessons we can learn from their mistakes.

Read via The Long and The Short here:

Part One: Paranoia

Part Two: Hubris


Illustration: Peter Judson

Enterprise Fellowships for engineering grads

Gain up to £60,000 and mentoring for your startup or spin out

Recent Engineering graduates (who left University less than 5 years ago) and UK based postdoctoral researchers with a startup or spin out in mind, are encouraged to apply for an Enterprise Fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The Enterprise Fellowships aim to support the development of early stage startups which bring engineering innovations to the market. Award recipients will receive up to £60,000 funding, mentoring, business training, public relations support and much more for up to 12 months for the continued development of an innovation or technology, and the associated company. The funding may be used for salary support of the Enterprise Fellow and any other costs associated with the development of the product.

To find out more about the fellowship, and to apply, click here.

Please note, applications must be received by 17 October 2016.

So you think it’s all about investors & incubators…

95% of entrepreneurs worldwide finance their own startups

Limited access to startup finance is a gripe of many entrepreneurs, many of whom can only dream of successfully securing funding from venture capitalists.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2015-16 Special Report on Entrepreneurial Finance, recently revealed that only 0.16% of small businesses in the United States received venture capital in 2015. The report is the first of its kind since the economic downturn in 2008 and discusses new research which indicates that since the 2008 recession, availability of funding and the cost of starting a business has evolved.

Although startup costs have reduced, obtaining further funding has become much more difficult and consequently entrepreneurs are investing more of their own money into their businesses than in previous years. This has also led to the rise of crowdfunding platforms and community cooperatives as small business owners search for that vital funding to make their ideas happen.

Read more on the report here.

Olympic lessons for entrepreneurs

Six things small businesses can learn from our Olympic athletes

Team GB are currently doing us proud over in Rio with their amazing strength, determination and perseverance to be the best at what they do.

Whilst the majority of us couldn’t hope to keep up in the velodrome , or run, swim or jump quite as fast, we do have something in common with these sportsmen and women. Entrepreneurs need to be resilient, brave and determined to taste success, and getting to the top can feel like a marathon or two.

So what lessons could we learn from our medal winning athletes?

Read more

Image:AFP/Getty Images

Are your products picture perfect?

Your guide to e-commerce photography

A website is often the first point of contact with a potential customer and whether you’re selling products online or advertising a service, choosing the right image is really important.

You may choose to use stock images showing generic poses which brighten the page, but don’t effectively capture what it is you’re offering. If you’re selling a product online, consumers are very unlikely to purchase something they haven’t seen and investing in good quality photography may be worth the time, money and effort. This doesn’t necessarily need to be done with an expensive photographer, professional looking pictures can be taken with a smartphone if you use the right techniques.

Find out more here.

Social Saturday 2016

Social Saturday: 15th October 2016

Support local and national social enterprises on Saturday 15th October with Social Saturday; an annual day of activity to celebrate and raise awareness of UK social enterprises.

There are a growing number of social enterprises in the UK, with more than 70,000 currently operating across a variety of sectors and industries. These companies need to make a turnover like any other business, but their profits are distributed to worthy causes which make a difference to people’s lives and the world around us.

There are lots of ways you can support social enterprises on Social Saturday (and every other day too!), and it’s not all about spending money. Take pictures, shout out and tweet how great it is to support social enterprises and the work that they do.

Find out more by visiting the Social Saturday website here.





The Forerunner Prize

Apply for £1000 for your tech social enterprise idea

If you have a tech based idea which aims to solve problems and make a positive impact in the world, apply now for the Forerunner Prize with Iridescent Ideas CIC.

The year, the prize will focus on the following key focus areas:

  • Bio, health and medical technology
  • Environmental technology
  • Space industries
  • Advanced engineering
  • Nanotechnology
  • Other science, technology or engineering related ideas.

The Forerunner prize winner will receive £1,000 cash to help develop their idea, as well as mentoring and business support in a package worth around £5,000.

Successful applications will describe a business idea which is based on one or more of the focus areas described above that tackles a social, health or environmental issue.

Your application will be judged on the quality of the business idea, its fit within the focus areas, the skills and expertise you display, the potential social impact of the idea and it’s wow factor.

Examples of previous prize winners include: solar powered hearing aids, smartphone cancer detectors, and planet labs.

Deadline for applications: Friday 2nd September 2016

To find out more, and to apply, click here.