How did it suddenly become May?

Me in the Ideas Shed

It would appear that the only time I make time to write a blog post is when I’m feeling reflective – which I’m concerned may make me sound overly morose!

So.  What’s happened in innovation-land since the last one?  Way too much to plonk all in one post (you’ll be glad to hear) so edited highlights only….

The first quarter of 2013 saw lots of events and activities at DMC and some interesting conversations with the Cloud City folks at the Sheffield LEP. Great plans and cunning models to enable connectedness and exploit an opportunity to be curators of information, create a cluster of complimentary and supportive knowledge based businesses – do some cool stuff basically as as demonstrated by the Dotforge Accelerator that has attracted international applicants.

Conversations with the controversial, but in my humble opinion the lovely, Lee Strafford also offered some fab insights into the business case for building data centres, which let’s face it don’t employ many people, for a piece of research commissioned by ORION (Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network).  If the world is moving to the cloud – should you be a cloud owner?  All very cool and groovy (said in a very Austin Powers voice).  Surely if information is power, then those building the repositories for that information, the keys to curation are the new lords and masters…?

As far as Big Hairy Audacious Goals go ( I think our Barnsley Digital Media Centre Ideas Shed has been a huge success.  I basically plonked a very designer-led shed (thanks to the fab Lee Bestall of Inspired Gardens (  in the atrium of the building and asked business leaders, entrepreneurs, speakers, business support folks, digital folks and creatives to do some stuff in it that would either a) support business growth or b) inspire creativity.  The results have been fab.  We’ve had Lee delivering “Sowing the Seeds of Enterprise” workshops to students which considered the business of horticulture, Jonathan Straight of Straight PLC offering insight and advice, SEO specialists, PR workshops, App developers and a truly fabulous “What is Creativity?” workshop that considered what Aristotle ( would think of social media and other such issues!  BBC Radio Sheffield devoted an entire hour to the workshop and engaged listeners too.

As far as innovation is concerned I guess the outputs from the Ideas Shed is that it has opened the door for some interesting collaborations, has spawned debate and enabled connections that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred – hopefully we’ll see some great ideas executed as a result of it.

Talking of innovation – Leeds LEP have some exciting opportunities to exploit local expertise in health devices and health informatics with their plans for the Enterprise Zone and Medi Park.  The Oxford Innovation commercial model for innovation centres that ensure they don’t remain reliant on public funding forever may well pay a part.

AND, talking of innovation centre models – seriously why are we still seeing stacks of public cash poured into University lead innovation centres which have a model entirely based on facilities/service sales? Please note, innovation isn’t about selling space!  If people don’t understand your rent structure (as someone complained recently) its because they don’t understand your product. You should be relationship focused NOT transaction focused!  Sorry … rant over…kind of.

Innovation Centres need to be run by folk that enable innovation and assist  commercialisation – nurture it, connect the dots.  Operational budgets are crucial to ensure opportunities for collaborative effort are created but people and relationships are the critical success factor.  Centre staff need to be of the right personality type and have the right experience – its not about them having PhDs and Masters degrees, it about them having contacts that are useful and an understanding of ACTUAL revenue models not theoretical ones.  Its about them being “enablers” ( that is folk who understand an entrepreneurial mindset and can motivate, coach and support it.

Innovation Centres, as demonstrated by the Oxford Innovation model, do not need to be equity based or dependent upon public funding forever, they can be sustainable as long as the product offer is properly understood and articulated, the pricing policy is correct and there is a full and professional marketing strategy that has identified potential clients/market segments and that can be deployed rather than simply sitting like a nice piece of interesting literature on a dusty shelf.  This is the same list we expect our entrepreneurs to address for their own businesses/services/products so how can we expect not to do it ourselves and yet offer a viable and successful service? Its not rocket science folks so please, leave the researchers and rocket scientists to do what they do best – the academic stuff.  There’s a fabulous book by those fabulous Ideo folks ( on those personality traits required to build really good innovation teams.  I loved it and highly recommend it.

Finally then, because this post has ended up being WAY too long, I’d like to say a big “thank you” to all the people who made the DMC Ideas Shed a success.  Please contact them if you’d like any help with your own projects coz they’re all talented, professional and fabulously dedicated;

Grand Designs 2011 winner Lee Bestall of Inspired Gardens for giving us the very excellent, designer Ideas Shed

Jane, Elizabeth & Lucy at Cream Consultancy for fabulous PR and stacks of help project managing (seriously couldn’t have pulled it off without them)

Rich & Andy at Crazyhorse for stepping in and producing a fab graphic with no notice, little information and no time!

Darren and team at Team Activ and FitIn Network for organising games and beers

All the contributors, speakers, presenters (not noted above):

Innovation Futures at Sheffield Hallam University

Louise Wilkie – Think, Create, Move – (fabulous creative workshops)

Rob &  Simon – Cogwork Studios – (excellent App devs)

Richard & Malcolm – CDI Alliance (business support for creative and digital businesses)

Lindsey & Mark – Bigfoot Digital (SEO and other clever stuff)

Jonathan Straight of Straight PLC (our highly successful, homegrown entrepreneur and businessman


Michelle at for crowdfunding

The fabulous Nicky Pattinson

Sue at for donating excellent boutique beers (definitely recommend them!)

Wayne at for donating some wonderful scones

Andrew at for donating the Pimms!

Ben at for time and contacts

All the team at for playing out with us.

That’s it.  Done! Now we just need to start organising the next events – hackathons, workshops and we need sand and ice-cream….!

Have fun


PS OMG forgot to thanks Gareth and the DMC team for putting up with my hair-brained ideas and their help.  If you want a creative,  fun and supportive place for your business to thrive, come and see us at

Professional musings….reflections of 2012

I guess one of the things I REALLY need to consider next year is some WordPress training! My level of skill in this regard is low to say the least.

So, this time last year I was lucky enough to have landed back in the UK, have my feet planted on terra firma (a wonderful thing that solid ground) and had secured a great research project with ORION, Canada courtesy of the fabulous Dr Darin Graham. At least I didn’t have to worry about paying the bills and, given my somewhat more fragile state than is the norm, also didn’t have to leave the house or even my PJs. Don’t ya just love research projects.

The project was all about trends in high performance computing – which I know next to nothing about. In all honesty, I tried to get to grips with the technology and then decided to concentrate on what Darin had in fact actually wanted me to focus on – the business needs and user requirements (which is why he chose a non-techie for the project!) – which of course have little to do with the actual tech – just what folk want to achieve with it.

The conclusions would not surprise you in the slightest – the market is rapidly expanding across almost all sectors (especially academic – the sector of interest) as accessibility increases both as a result of reduction in cost and new models – cycles on demand for instance. The challenges as far as increases in use by academic users were again no surprise;

– financial. how do higher education (HE) organisations move budget from capital to operations in order to take advantage of cloud options that are WAY more cost effective and available? how can they manage their cashflow in order to support bursts of activity? whats the cost implication of owning a data centre vs outsourcing to the cloud? Oh and then of course there’s that HUGE debate on security of data/IP…
– folk. how do we change the culture to encourage real collaboration when historically academics are incentivised to work alone and keep their stuff secret until they publish? how do we encourage the IT departments of HE organisations to embrace new models of service instead of feeling threatened by them and how can HE retain the computing talent they need when these same geeks are seen as rockstars within IT organisations?
– future. Well this year panned out exactly as expected – even the fabulous human genome folk in Cambridge HAD to move to the cloud. By the time their data centre expansion had been completed they ahd out grown it.

So what are the implications for Yorkshire with regard to data centres and South Yorkshire’s ambition to be “Cloud City”? Personally I’m struggling to see the benefit but maybe I’m simply not knowledgable enough. Data farms don’t employ that many people but do suck up a HUGE amount of energy (though I appreciate that there have been some really interesting developments regarding greener data centres this year) but seriously, by the time we’ve it built what are the chances of it being obsolete? I guess the fact that Amazon Web Services are involved at least brings expertise but hey I’m not convinced….

What else.

So, I also spent some time trying to raise capital for some start-ups. There are some great ideas and entrepreneurs in this region. I also believe that there is plenty of money. However what I found, even with those funds that have targets such as Finance Yorkshire and Screen Yorkshire, and with regard to the angel investors that I met as a result of working with Angels Den, is that finance is taking much longer to secure and Ts and Cs more onerous than ever before. One telecoms entrepreneur I know was offered a number of deals some for realistic equity stakes but with SO many constraints he was unable to agree to any. I also saw my first “time sensitive” offer this year. One entrepreneur literally had 4.5 days to take advice, do his own due diligence and decide whether he was taking the money! For me, deal sizes were the same but more often syndicated than previously – so whilst the region isn’t completely risk averse, it is spreading that risk more than it used to.

As for the banks….I have NatWest coming to see me in the New Year and to deliver a presentation to the Barnsley DMC which will apparently show that they ARE open for business and ARE lending…given the above the question should really be “at what rate? My first born child?”.

Mixed in with the capital raising were another couple of interesting projects that were essentially illustrations of how folk do and should work together to find common goals and mutual benefit – where this is lacking, targets are irrelevant, it’ll all go horribly wrong. Products and services need to be client focussed, when they are the KPIs sort themselves out. Leveraging relationships should = how we work together to the benefit of all concerned and NOT = how can your networks be useful to our targets…! Business has changed its face. With perhaps the exception of the financial sector (coz anyone who know’s me, know’s I’m certainly no fan of insurance companies and as for the banks et al – well in my opinion they’re still WAY too Gordon Gekko), business is now all about client/customer retention. About doing the right thing, building a mutually beneficial relationship with your client that will last beyond this one sale and that’s a great shift – long may it last. And for those companies lagging behind – well they’ll either refocus and retrain their staff or they’ll go out of business because buyers, whether they’re the public or professional are less tolerant of poor service and quite frankly have more options.

Since the summer, I’ve been “professionally meddling” with Oxford Innovation Ltd (OI) on their Barnsley Digital Media Centre (DMC) contract. I’ve known OI for many years but never envisaged working with them previously. Since I’ve been away though they’ve been through a massive period of change and the company now has an interesting and, as I’m beginning to appreciate, great structure for innovation centre management. They completely separated out facilities management and the “added value” business support stuff so that Centre Managers literally take responsibility for the centre by owning the P&L, and regional directors, such as myself, concentrate on aligning centres with local or regional economic development and inward investment strategies, design business support initiatives and manage the delivery of that. Of course we also get to peacock around the region flashing our tail feathers engaging in all matters business LOL!

As mentioned earlier as a result of all of the above I’ve met some great entrepreneurs this year for whom I really hope 2013 brings everything they wish for:

– Vanessa at Quiddle – fabulous platform to encourage financial literacy and management to tweenies and teens
– Sam and the team at Stashmetrics – excellent workflow tool (can’t say anymore for fear of reprisals!)
– The fabulous and terribly entertaining Martyn Gould with LEESA
– Those interesting folks at Valley Telecom (special thanks to David Longstaff and Ian Dabson for their patience and advice)
– All the great businesses in and connected to the Barnsley DMC with whom I am currently and professionally meddling including Cream, Bigfoot, TeamActiv/FitIn, AffliSearch, Elite-Bods oh and a particular site that, whilst challenging is a fantastic opportunity to do some really great collaborative science.

There are many more – best wishes and heaps of good luck to you all!