07 December 2011

Product Design Consultants in Yorkshire

By coincidence both the Sheffield and Leeds Inventors Groups had excellent presentations from product designers in November 2011.

John Biddleston of The Big Consultant spoke to Sheffield on 7 Nov. He has posted his slides to his blog which you can view and download here.

Alex Smith of TRIG Creative spoke to Leeds on 16 Nov 2011 and you can download his talk "Cost Effective Product Development" here.

John and Alex represent just two of many excellent design consultancies in Yorkshire. Others include Matthew Conley of HJC Design of Barnsley and Richard Hall of Pd-m International of Harrogate.

All of them are friends of the Leeds and Sheffield clubs.

22 November 2011

Going for Grants

Going for Grants is a double act between Tom Bathgate and Charles Lucas. Tom's background is in management while Charles is an accountant. They have joined forces to help businesses find grant funding. They operate from Manchester Science Park.

Tom and Charles visited Leeds Inventors Group last month and they are coming to Sheffield Central Library on 5 Dec 2011 at 18:00. Here is a review of their talk when they came to Leeds and here is my photo of Tom in full flow.

The team's central message was that despite austerity there are still plenty of grants and low interest loans but these funds are in no sense free money. The funds have to be identified. Proposals have to be drawn up. Once a grant is awarded or moneys are advanced there are likely to be conditions that have to be complied with. Failure or delay in complying with those conditions can slow the flow of cash or even result in a demand for repayment.

According to its website, Going for Grants assists businesses in five ways:
  • First, it looks for grant or soft loan funding that might be available to meet a business objective. Tom and Charles said at Leeds that they are often asked by businessmen what they should do to qualify for a grant. That is like putting a cart before a horse and it very rarely works. It is much better to plan the business and then look for funding whether grants, loans or even equity investment. In the talk I mentioned crowd funding and a new crowd funding venture by Amanda Boyle called Bloom VC. Tom, who is Scottish, had heard of Amanda through her work with Scottish Enterprise. Looking for available funding is not easy for a busy businessman or woman unless you know where to look. Tom and Charles do know where to look and they offer a preliminary search for £85 plus VAT.
  • Once it has reported, Going for Grants offers its clients a free consultation to discuss any funding opportunities that may have come to light.
  • If a funding opportunity is identified and the client wants to go for it Going for Grants will help him or her prepare a grant or loan application. Applications for the grant itself are usually made on a contingency basis but the company does charge for some services such as drafting a credible business plan.
  • If a grant is awarded Going for Grants helps the client meet deadlines and comply with conditions to make sure that the funds keep flowing.
  • Finally, they provide ongoing support in all aspects of the programme.
If you were not at Leeds last month it is certainly worthwhile coming to Sheffield on 5 Dec. The Sheffield Inventors Group meets the first Monday of most months and it has a good programme of speakers lined up. If anybody wants to discuss this article or any other topic he or she can call me on 0800 862 0055 or contact me through Facebook, Linkedin, Xing, twitter or through my contact form.

07 November 2011

FabLabs - Jane Keats on "Factories of the Future"

On 5 Aug 2011 I wrote about the Manchester FabLab and the global FabLab network in my IP North West blog. On 21 Sept and 3 Oct 2011 the Leeds and Sheffield Inventors Groups heard from a FabLab user.

Jane Keats, a young New Zealand designer who is principal of Studio 52, presented "Factories of the Future", an introduction to the FabLab movement and additive manufacturing. Jane's slides cover the following topics:
1. FabLabs
2. The next industrial revolution
3. Factory of the Future
4. Open Innovation, and
5. Her Personal Experiences.
Here is a review of her talk to the Leeds Group on the 21 Sept 2011 in the LIG blog.

We in the Inventors Club are very supportive of the FabLab movement and I have advised and assisted the Manchester FabLab on a pro bono basis. On 12 Oct 2011 I chaired an Introduction to Intellectual Property and Licensing where patent attorney Tom Hutchinson, intellectual property solicitor Michael Sandys and I gave presentations. I shall upload our slides to Slideshare and make them accessible through this blog in the next few days.

As the Leeds review states, Bradford City Council and others have plans to set up a FabLab in Keighley and I have been in touch with the local authority to offer it our support. I brought the FabLab movement to the attention of Councillor Mehboob Khan, deputy chair of the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, at the LEP Summit on 9 Sept 2011 so there is every chance that the project will get the support it needs. I will keep you posted.

05 October 2011

Venture Hothouse - a Sort of Virtual Silicon Valley

Yesterday afternoon I met David Bagley at a seminar on private equity funding and initial public offerings hosted by Cobbetts at their spanking new offices in Leeds. David is a chartered accountant and a director of a number of companies including Finance Yorkshire which is how I got to know him. Over drinks he told me about Venture Hothouse of which he is chairman.

Venture Hothouse describes itself on its website as "a wealth of information for all those involved in business" and a cursory once over of the site certainly suggests that to be true. In the "Resources" section I found guidance on
The blog section has articles on such things as cloud computing and project management. A "useful documents" page has all sorts of useful precedents from confidentiality agreements to consultancy contracts.

However, to get the best of the site it seems you have to register and that costs money: £180 per year for entrepreneurs and £300 for investors such as angels and VCs, professional advisers such as accountants and law firms, mentors and business service providers. A downloadable booklet explains what subscribers get for their money:
"The core of the ‘Entrepreneurs’ section is the ‘Investment Profile’. The ‘Investment Profile’ is a secure, private web portfolio which can ONLY be accessed by the subscribing entrepreneur - and by third parties nominated by the entrepreneur, e.g. potential investors – via a secure a username and password. The ‘Investment Profile’ can be assembled quickly and easily, and contains all the documentation which will be required by a potential investor to assess an investment opportunity."
Investors and service providers appear to get advertising or at least a listing which brings them to the attention of investment ready businesses whose financial statements have been prepared using tools available to subscribers to the service. Glancing through the directory I noticed that there were quite a few angel syndicates, patent agencies, accountancy practices and, alarmingly, insolvency practitioners on the list.

While explaining it to me yesterday David described the service as a sort of forum for entrepreneurs and investors. "A sort of virtual Silicon Valley?" I suggested. David beamed "I suppose so. I never really thought of it that way, but yes it is." "Ah well" I replied "if you ever do use that term you can pay me a royalty." "OK!" he promised. I think we have a contract there, don't you.

David has offered to speak to the Leeds and Sheffield inventors clubs so I am sending copies of this article to Ged and Stef in Leeds and Lynn in Sheffield so that they can issue invitations. I think quite a lot of members of both clubs would be interested in Venture Hothouse.

Returning to Cobbetts' swish offices, one of the most intriguing features were lifts with no buttons. Visitors have to choose a floor from a key pad outside the lift. Imagine the queue at 08:55 when everyone in all the offices of the building turns up for work or at 12:55 when everyone wants to grab some lunch. If anyone from 1 Whitehall Riverside reads this article, perhaps they would like to tell us how this system works in practice.

06 September 2011

Sheffield Inventors Group: A Link with Hallam

Sheffield Hallam University is literally just across the road from Sheffield Central Library which hosts the Sheffield Inventors Group. Yesterday we welcomed Heath Reed one of its principal industrial designers.

Heath specializes in
  • design research
  • industrial design
  • ergonomics
  • product development, and
  • design for manufacture.
He works in designfutures, the product and packaging innovation service of the University, and its Art and Design Research Centre.

In a wide ranging two way discussion Heath introduced us to the work of the University as a whole, its excellence in research and teaching and consultancy, its comprehensive Enterprise Centre, designfutures consultancy, the design process and how it fits into the innovation process and his own work. What made his talk particularly interesting is that Heath is himself an inventor and thus had first hand experience of the issues facing individual inventors.

The University has a massive array of expertise ranging from active lifestyles to workplace development. Anybody who wishes to get in touch with the Centre should call on 0114 225 5000.

15 August 2011

Ian the Inventor's e-petition

I have just received the following email from Mr Ian Davies, otherwise known as "Ian the Inventor":

"I've submitted an e-petition via the government e-petition website, the link is: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/10956

It's suggesting that the Government encourage investment in inventors via grants or tax reliefs to businesses, I think we'd all like to have businesses more open to listening to us.

Please visit and register your vote, I'd also suggest you ask inventors, friends & contacts to do likewise.

In my case just one of my inventions has created work for over 12 UK businesses, I've no doubt that your members have created work for UK companies but how much more work could be created with a little encouragement?"
Makes more sense than restoring hanging or adding to homelessness. Ian's website is also worth a gander.

Inventors' Resources in Northern Ireland

On Saturday I published a case note on the recent decision of Mr Justice Denney in Siemens AG v Seagate Technology [2011] NICh 12. That was a patent infringement case which came before the Northern Irish courts. There have not been such cases from Northern Ireland and many practitioners expressed amazement that it could happen at all.

I take a different view. If Northern Ireland is to flourish its businesses have to innovate and if those businesses are to innovate their investment in branding, designs, technology and creative works have to be protected. Accordingly I checked the resources that are already there and found that there was quite a lot going for Northern Ireland:
"There is the Queen's University in Belfast "a broadly based, research-driven university with a dynamic world-class research and education portfolio and strong international connections". There is the HALO Business Angel Network on the Northern Ireland Science Park. There is a patent information unit at Belfast Central Library which is more than can be said for Manchester now that Chris Brown has gone or Liverpool while it is refurbished. According to CIPA there are 4 patent agencies in Belfast, namely Ansons, F R Kelly, Hanna IP and Murgitroyd and three of those firms have "Trade Mark Experts" listed on the ITMA website. I would add that there is also the excellent Eddie O'Gorman who runs the PatentNAV IP Search and Management Service. So there is already a lot going for Northern Ireland."
I have not however been able to find a patent clinic or inventors club either in Belfast or any other city or town in Northern Ireland and I am not sure what sort of advice is available through Northern Ireland Business Information which seems to be the equivalent of Business Link.

I hope to visit Northern Ireland in the next few weeks to meet colleagues from the Northern Irish Bar, local patent and trade mark agents and solicitors specializing in intellectual property and technology, media and telecommunications law. I hope also to meet Mr McFarlane who is the head of the patents section of Belfast Central Library to gauge whether there would be any enthusiasm for local patent clinics and inventors clubs.

In he meantime, I have uploaded a page on the inventors' resources in Northern Ireland that I have been able to discover onto the Inventors Club website. Should anyone wish to discuss it please give me a ring on 0800 862 0055 or use my contact form.

26 July 2011

"Growth Through Innovation" - Digby Jones at PERA

Although Gordon Brown's trade minister, Baron Jones of Birmingham, was top of the bill at PERA's "Growth through Innovation" conference yesterday, the real star for me was PERA itself.

PERA's head office is in the ancient Leicestershire market town of Melton Mowbray. And what comes to mind when the words Melton and Mowbray are pronounced. Why pork pies and Stilton cheese of course. I had planned to arrive at Melton Mowbray half an hour earlier to visit one of the retail outlets of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association but I missed my exit while overtaking a stream of ponderous Eastern European lorries with the result that I arrived at the registration desk with just 20 minutes to spare. I asked a member of PERA's staff where one could buy a pork pie and portion of Stilton after the talk was due to end. She had a word with someone in the PERA staff canteen who offered me a massive pie and an enormous chunk of cheese for £6.80. Now how about that for customer service!

But fine dining is not all that PERA do. Before introducing the guest speaker, Dr. Mark Wareing, commercial director of PERA who chaired the meeting, told us that PERA had been founded immediately after the Second World War, that it does a wide range of consultancy work, that it employs 280 scientists and engineers, that it has connections with some of the biggest names in British industry, that it was the first business to comply with the new British standard in collaborative working, that it never seeks to retain intellectual property to the intellectual assets that it creates for its customers and that it has considerable experience in writing proposals for grant funding and accessing investment.

Among the people it helps are private inventors and one of them, a Mr. Alfred Hamer of Lincoln, sat next to me in the conference. He told me that he had obtained considerable assistance from PERA. Mr. Hamer has great concerns about enforcing intellectual property rights which he expressed in a question to Lord Digby Jones which, with his permission, I shall discuss at length in a future post.

Anyway, as I have mentioned, the top of the bill was Lord Digby Jones and here are my recollections of what he said. After expressing contentment at finding himself in the East Midlands and reeling off a list of the directorships of public companies and other posts of responsibility that he held in the region he made clear that he was not wedded to any political party. He referred to one well known politician as a "furry little creature elected on the block vote of the RSPCA" - which raised a few guffaws - and to another as having just finished his gap year - coming as it did an hour after the Chancellor had described the growth (or rather flat lining) figures as "good news" that reference raised a nervous titter from the audience. He told us how he had been offered a job in Gordon Brown's government and that he had accepted the offer for the good of business and the good of the country. He did so on two conditions. The first was that he would never have to join the Labour Party - though he accepted the Labour whip in the Lords - and the second was that he would be able to resign his office within 18 months. It was imperative in his view for government to work with the grain of business and not against it.

The main message that he had for us was that the 21st century was Asia's century in the sense that the 19th century had been ours and the 20th century the USA's. No doubt dreaming with BRICs he included Brazil in Asia. Demonstrating his mastery of the one-liner, he declaimed:. "You know they have just discovered Saudi Arabia off Rio" referring of course to the Tupu oil discovery.

Returning to China Digby Jones spoke of the tacit agreement between the Chinese government and its populace whereby the people would make no trouble provided the government improved steadily their standard of living. That deal was fuelling the rapid growth of China's economy. Such growth was a threat but also an opportunity for British industry but to resist that threat and take advantage of that opportunity we had to invest much more in R & D and even more in education. He excoriated the illiteracy and innumeracy statistics of our school leavers. Folk in Asia like a taxi driver from Chennai whom he met in the Gulf and the Chinese peasant. Unless we innovate, invest in R & D and proper training they would get it.

For all of this to happen, the mood music in the UK had to change. Folk who had acquired their wealth through business were objects of envy whereas those who had acquired it by pure chance such as a lottery win were feted. That attitude was wrong.

In the Q & A that followed Mr. Hamer complained about the difficulty of enforcing IP rights. His Lordship agreed that it was a problem. Being first in the market was the solution he proposed. Someone else asked about the prospect of default in Washington. "Too awful to contemplate" was Lord Digby Jones's reaaction, "but it shouldn't happen because the politicians are very close to a deal.

After I chatted with Mr Hamer and another inventor over a cup of tea Brian Binley MP rose to speak. Unlike most of his fellows on the green benches Binley had had a life in business before politics though it meant that at age 63 he was one of the House's oldest entrants. He made a number of interesting points:
(1) civil servants are good at getting facts and figures but not so good at management;
(2) we gold plate EU regulations when we implement them into our law;
(3) legislation should have sunset clauses and there should be impact assessments on the effect of new legislation on small business;
(4) SME should be exempted from some legislation such as maternity and paternity rights;
(5) banks should be made to play fair with SME; and
(6) practical skills should carry the same prestige as degrees.

Most interesting of all in view of the growth figures that morning was his call to stimulate demand. That could only come with a recovery in the property market he said. He called for the return of MIRAS at least for first time buyers to stimulate the housing market.

In Q & A I suggested that closing down the RDAs and local Business Links without putting anything in their place had turned out badly. He had several answers to that one of the most startling of which was that the local enterprise partnerships had access to funding. He later modified his answer by saying that RDAs had been a good thing in the North but perhaps less successful south of the Wash and that Business Link had been good for engineering.

The discussion lasted until 18:00 after which I trundled off up to Sheffield for a conference with a client on the way home. Though I didn't agree with everything that Digby Jones and Binley had to say it was a good day out for which PERA are to be congratulated.

22 July 2011

"Oh Me. Oh My. I hope the Little Mentor Comes By" - The Banks New Mentoring Network

"Oh me! Oh my. I hope the little lady comes by".

That was the chorus of "Leaning on a Lamp Post", one of the late George Formby's hits. I actually saw Formby perform the song after a pantomime at the Palace Theatre in London a few years before he died. I think it was the first time I had ever been in a theatre. My mother and one of my aunts, Northern exiles in the Smoke were entranced, though I couldn't see what the fuss was about. All I can remember was an old man who laughed at his own jokes quite a lot.

Anyway, I digress. I was reminded of the lyrics of the Formby song by the domain name of the new mentoring network, mentorsme.co.uk. According to its website:
"mentorsme.co.uk is operated by the Business Finance Taskforce, which has been set up by the British Bankers’ Association and is made up of five banks: Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland and Santander. The taskforce was established to help businesses access the finance they need to grow."
This seems to be the new mentoring network that I discussed in "Son of Business Link" on 16 Nov last year. I have googled "Business Finance Task Force" and came up with this page and a report published last October on the British Bankers Association website.

mentorsme.co.uk describes itself as "Britain’s first online gateway for small and medium-sized enterprises looking for mentoring services." There is a database on the home page searchable by "Business Life Stage" and "Region".

I searched "Show All" for "Yorkshire and Humberside" and came up with "Success Doncaster" and "Business and Education South Yorkshire" plus a number of organizations offering national coverage some of which were on-line only organizations. I made the same search for North West England and came up with considerably more local organizations. I shall be checking these out over the next few days in my IP Yorkshire and IP North West blogs.

Not really a replacement for advisers of the calibre of Jane Hurn and Mary Roberts but better than nothing. I will keep you posted.

12 July 2011

Sheffield Inventors Group: Taking Products to Market

The guest speaker at Sheffield Inventors Group on 4 July 2011 was Mr. Richard Campos of Richard Camps Business Support Ltd. The title of his talk was Taking Products to Market. Here are his slides:

Richard illustrated his talk with a case study. He brandished a sheet of plain white plastic leaving us to guess what it was. It turned out to be a board to place under doors, skirting boards and other edges while painting. That simple invention had been turned into a successful product by successful placing on a home shopping channel.
Everyone gained a wealth of tips from that talk on:
  • market research - particularly the use of focus groups
  • tailoring IP protection to a specific need
  • adequate terms and conditions
and many other topics.

The Sheffield Inventors Group meets at Sheffield Central Library in Surrey Street on the first Monday of every month. Click here if you want to be notified of future events.

02 July 2011

Manchester Inventors Group: The Essential Steps of Product Development

Independent design pro Steven Bookbinder will be guest speaker at the next meeting of Manchester Inventors Group on Tuesday, 5 July 2011 at 18:00.

The title of his talk is "The Essential Steps of Product Development". According to the Group's website, it will cover:
- general development process and reducing risk
- sustainable innovation
- materials and the importance of getting them right
- turning a good idea into a great idea
- what is quality, knowing when you can and can't cut corners
- the harsh reality of what it takes to get the big boys to bite.

The meeting takes place at City Library, Elliott House, 151 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3UK.

30 June 2011

Angels: Cambridge Capital added to the List

Cambridge Capital describes itself as "a leading business angel group of 40 investors that have been investing in hi-tech businesses for ten years." Its members claim to have invested several million pounds into 25 companies in the Cambridge area.

I have added Cambridge Capital's details to the East of England Angels page of our Inventors Club. Further information about resources for inventors in the region are in the East of England page of our website.

For further information on this topic call NIPC East on 01603 343030 or click our East of England contact form.

28 June 2011

Resources for Inventors in the West Midlands

The region known as "the West Midlands" consists of
  • the metropolitan county of the West Midlands with its metropolitan boroughs of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton,
  • the shire counties of Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire and
  • the unitary authorities of Hereforshire, Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin and Stoke-on-Trent.
The region covers an area of just over 13,000 square kilometres and has a population of 5.27 million.

Regional Development
The regional development agency for the West Midlands is Advantage West Midlands. This will be abolished with all the other RDA by March 2012. However, proposals for local enterprise partnerships have been accepted for:
There are at least two local business angel networks:
Local patent attorneys offer free consultations at Birmingham Central Library in conjunction. NIPC Clinics will also introduce inventors and their investors, lenders and professional advisors to local patent and trade mark attorneys, business advisors, product design consultants, lawyers and others.

There are at least 6 community development finance institutions in the West Midlands:

Professional Advice
Members of NIPC West Midlands offer specialist advice and advocacy on intellectual property, information technology, telecommunications, media, entertainment and competition law. We can be reached on 0121 286 1551 or through our national contact form.

Further Information
Further information on inventors resources in the West Midlands will be published on the Inventors Club website.

09 June 2011

Local Enterprise Partnerships: A Great Resource

Lorna Gibbons. local economic evidence coordinator of The South West Observatory publishes a great blog on local enterprise partnerships ("LEP") called Economic Development.

Particularly useful is her post of 7 June 2011 on BIS LEP Contact Information. This gives names, phone numbers, email addresses and areas of every contact in every LEP in the kingdom. This supplements another great post the previous day "Everything you need to know about each LEP .... contact and priorities where available".

Here's a sample entry for Leeds City Region, my local LEP:

Alternative contact lcr@leedscityregion.gov.uk or calling the Leeds City Region Secretariat on 0113 2474227.

May Newsletter: http://tiny.cc/vgw6l

Board members:

Key Objectives for the LEP – an Integrated Strategy and Investment Plan
The LEP Board considered a report on integrating Leeds City Region existing strategies to produce a single streamlined strategy and investment plan to help guide the activity of both the LEP and Leaders Boards effectively. Each Board would in turn produce a Strategic Delivery Plan.
This approach will ensure that both Boards have a single, clear focal point of reference in terms of the Partnership’s vision and mission objectives.
The draft will be published for consultation and presented at the LEP Summit on the 9th September 2011."
Altogether it's great stuff.

07 June 2011

Venturefest - the Original

I have just come back from Venturerfest. Not the one on York race course that takes place in February which I have attended every year since 2005 but the Oxford original now in its 13th year. Even though it meant getting up at 05:00 this morning, driving 320 miles along congested motorways and paying sky high parking charges in Oxford town centre because the P + R was full the event was worth attending.

Venturefest - for those who have never heard of it - is an exhibition and series of workshops which are free together with an optional breakfast and dinner which are not. The breakfast starts at 07:00 and the dinner finishes not far short of midnight so it can be a very long day indeed. The idea seems to be to bring together the universities with local businesspeople and professionals. The talks follow themes called "streams" in Oxford and "tracks" in York. This was today's programme for Oxford and last February's for York. These were the exhibitors today at Oxford and the "Innovation Showcase" exhibitors at York.

So how do the two events compare? Though I hate to admit it as I am a Northerner (Mancunian by birth but having a Yorkshire mother and living in Holmfirth) the difference between Venturefest and Venturefest Yorkshire was pretty well the same as the difference between Harvey Nicks in Knightsbridge and its Briggate offshoot.

For a start the Oxford venue was so much more impressive and convenient. It takes place at the University's business school which was opened by Romano Prodi, the former president of the European Commission and Prime Minister of Italy. The lecture theatre, where the funding stream talks and pitches took place, was opened by President Nelson Mandela and bears his name. Interesting modern sculptures lined the corridors. By contrast the York event takes place at the race course centre which is a rabbit warren of a building with two sets of stairs leading to floors at different levels. Consequently, the only way to get from the upper floor off one set of stairs is to descend to the ground floor and then go up the other. About the only advantage that York race course has over Said is that you can park free of charge near the entrance and it doesn't require an hour to crawl from the Botley interchange to Worcester Street.

Then the speakers were so much more interesting. I particularly enjoyed Prof Collier's presentation on the HiPER project whose enthusiasm for his subject was infectious. He explained simply but thoroughly not shying away from simple equations in terms that even a media studies graduate or at least a classicist could understand how lasers make hydrogen fuse into helium thus releasing enormous energy. I really envy his students. Frank Salzgeber of the European Space Agency was impressive too. So, too, were the VC panel in the funding stream. Alas, because of congestion on the M1 I missed the opening talk by Prof. Andrew Hamilton, principal of Oxford University, on universities as an engine of growth to which I was particularly looking forward.

The Oxford exhibition, which was in a marquee, was smaller than the one in York but I spent a lot longer going around it. Dehns and Gill Jennings & Every were there and it was good to meet Laura Ramsay of Dehns and Peter Finnie and Karen Connolly of GJE. Also B4. the two universities, the Knowledge Transfer Network, the Oxfordshire LEP, product design consultants, developers of ingenious software and lots of other interesting folk.

Altogether a very good day out and I hope to be back next year.

02 June 2011

Tarzanned! RGF Roadshow York 1 June 2011

On paper the regional growth fund ("RGF") looks like a good idea. Recognizing that cuts in public spending are likely to cause considerable distress in certain parts of the country, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills ("BIS") has allocated £1.4 billion to support projects and programmes that lever private sector investment to create economic growth and sustainable employment. BIS aims particularly to help those areas and communities currently dependent on the public sector.

About £450,000 of that money has already been allocated in a bidding round that began on 28 Oct 2010 and ended on 21 Jan 2011. According to the summary of first round bids the fund received 464 bids for £2.76 billion of which 299 were for amounts of £1 to 5 million. A list of winners and the number of jobs that the fund has created or saved appears on the RGF Round 1 Analysis page of the BIS website.

The remaining £950,000 is now up for grabs in a bidding process that will close on at 12:00 on 1 July 2011. Bids for tranches of £1 million or more are invited from private bodies and public private partnerships anywhere in England from any sector of the economy. However, since the aim is to create sustainable private sector jobs bids will not be entertained from local authorities or other public sector bodies without private sector partners. Each bid that meets the funding criteria will be judged against every other bid by a ministerial panel consisting of Nick Clegg. Vince Cable, Danny Alexander and a few Tories who act on the advice of a panel of the great and the good chaired by Lord Heseltine.

Detailed guidance to applicants is set out in Regional Growth Fund: Round 2 Information for Applicants and this is supplemented by a whole slew of Frequently Asked Questions and a blog by Sir Ian Wrigglesworth, deputy chairman of the advisory panel and some other worthies including Uncle Vince himself who has written about Learning for Life without the slightest hint of irony. As I learned on Wednesday that not everybody bidding for taxpayers' money actually reads or understands this guidance, BIS has arranged a series of roadshows around the country to spell out the criteria and to introduce bods who have already interest in these handouts to the officials who will actually dole them out.

I caught up with the roadshow at York which was held in the Ron Cooke Hub of York University on 1 June. Anyone clicking the last link will see the words "Room to Engage, Inspire and Innovate" on the building's web page, but situated as it was on the banks of what appeared to be a gravel pit in a landscape of near lunar desolation they were not the first words that came to my mind. Nevertheless, I was warmed up by a cup of tea and a low calorie KitKat generously provided by the University before the session began.

The roadshow was opened by Prof. Brian Cantor, Principal of the University, who said that York was doing very nicely as it was thank you, surviving the economic downturn better than anywhere outside London and the South East. "So well, in fact", remarked Lord Heseltine, "that we might just as well pack it in and go back right now". After a nervous titter from the audience, his lordship remembered that there were probably folk from places less favoured than Henley (or even Honley) such as Donnie, Pontie and Wakie not to mention great swathes of Bradford and Sheffield, and got on with his speech.

I had previously met Lord Heseltine (then known as Goldilocks or Tarzan) in my Tory days during the 1983 election campaign when he was Minister of Defence I was a ward chair in Ilford South. I drove him in our candidate's campaign minibus around the streets of that suburb as he harangued bemused Pakistani housewives queuing for rice and lentils on the virtues of Trident and the cruise missiles that the US government were stationing at Greenham Common and Molesworth. As I negotiated a very narrow opening between two badly parked cars one of the local supporters quipped "You'll have a lot less trouble winning this election, mate". And so it turned out as Labour was clobbered not only in Ilford but also in the rest of the country.

"What a difference 28 years makes," I thought. Not only was Goldilocks no longer golden - though he still had a shock of grey hair - but he lost his place in his speech blaming the hapless typist for typing it on both sides of the paper. However, it did contain some substance. Most of what he said can be found in the guidance to which I have just referred above but he did make three important points that I think are worth stressing. First, he emphasized the importance of gearing - that is to say leveraging lolly from the private sector. In the first round an average of £5 had been raised for every £1 from the fund. Secondly, RGF funding is not to be compared with the sort of subventions that used to be available through the regional development agencies. There's a finite pot of money available for distribution to where it is most needed. "After it's gone it's gone" Goldilocks said to a questioner who asked whether there would be a third round. And finally a pot of £150 million has been set aside specifically for bids from small and medium enterprises ("SME").

There then followed questions and answers which I opened (well someone had to). "Hasn't the process of running down the RDAs and Business Link, which business people and their professional advisers are used to, and replacing it with a RGF where bidding started in October and will finish in June been far too quick?" I asked. "Won't that affect the quality of the bids in that well thought out projects that require research and thorough preparation will fail to meet the deadline?" Bristling at the question he entered "Me Tarzan You Jane" mode. "How many people here are making bids?" A forest of hands erupted. "Well there's your answer" he said as he proceeded to the next question. "Well no it isn't" I would have responded had I been allowed to do so. "What's missing are the really useful projects that could make much better use of taxpayers' money if they only had more time." The number of jobs saved throughout the country on the list of winners website does not seem all that impressive a use of £450 million to me.

Someone else asked about a coaching project. "Never heard of it" retorted Goldilocks. "You can't get money for coaching though you might get money for factory where you have to coach your staff." Someone from Leeds asked how a bidder can justify money for an area which contains areas of affluence as well as pockets of poverty. "One of the most difficult dilemmas of the fund" conceded Heseltine, "but one that affects London and Manchester as well." Each project will be judged on the number of jobs it saves or creates regardless of geography.

After morning coffee in the building's atrium, where I met Bill McBeth of the Textile Centre of Excellence in Huddersfield and Jay Mehta of Cobbetts, there was a technical session by a panel of four of the officials who take part in the assessment process. What struck me was just how unattractive the RGF must be for most SME. First, there is a threshold of £1 million which with leveraging means that they have to devise a project requiring funds of £5 million. Secondly, they have to meet a very tight timetable - 12 April to 1 July for the present round. Thirdly, there is no scope for negotiation of the terms as one of the panellists confirmed in answer to another of my questions. Fourthly, successful bidders have to pay an unspecified amount of money for due diligence. Finally, each offer letter will contain a clawback provision that will allow BIS to recover the grant if the project fails to deliver the promised number of jobs.

From BIS's point of view the roadshow must have been a success. There were lots of local opinion setters such as Peter Massey from the Arts Council and Philip Bartey of Sheffield LEP. However, as I made my way back towards my car on some waste ground across the windswept landscape I was much less enthusiastic about the RGF when I left than I was when I came.

21 May 2011

Business Startup Show

My first impressions of the Business Startup show at the Excel Centre yesterday were not good.

After getting up at 04:00 in the morning to drive 320 kilometres along motorways and dual carriageways from Yorkshire my mood was not exactly mollified by the appalling pedestrian sign posting to the exhibition hall from the main car park. Clad for the Yorkshire summer in the appreciably milder Southern climate and shod in courts (though mercifully not heels) I was not best pleased when I found myself exactly where I started from after following the signs to the Excel Centre religiously for 20 minutes.

"Don't take any notice of the sign posts, love" said a friendly fellow Northerner when I complained that looking for the Excel Centre was a bit like a treasure hunt. She pointed me in the opposite direction to the street signs and sure enough a few hundred metres away the "Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre" beckoned.

Once inside the noisy and crowded exhibition hall the mishmash of stands with business coaches cheek and jowl with web designers gave the impression of a BNI business breakfast on a monumental scale.

I was looking out for Simon Brown of the UIA so that I could say "hello" but their stand at 378 seemed to have been occupied by some space business. I also wanted to see Claire Mitchell of Clilipeeps but there was no sign of her either.

I had booked for some seminars and found a seat in the
session on web design where the speaker droned on barely audible against the general hubbub. Had it not been for the fact that I had to fumble in my bag for my parking ticket long enough to exceed the 2-hour band by seconds I would have left the exhibition there and then. However, as I was now stung for £10 for 2 to 6 hours parking I decided to get my moneysworth. I trundled back to the exhibition centre for another couple of hours.

Then the show got a whole lot better. First, I met a few familiar faces such as Gary Townley from the Intellectual Property Office and Richard Quick from Successful Sites of St. Andrews. Next, I actually picked up something useful - a free copy Jolly & Philpott "Handbook of European IP Management" from the Mewburn Ellis stand which I shall review in due course. I bowled a Yorker at Darren Westlake of Crowdcube on the compatibility of crowd funding with company and securities law which he played with aplomb. David Larkin of Salesforce gave an excellent introduction to the Cloud and Web 2.0 as well as his company's CRM product. Finally, there were two informative presentations by Sage on their online bookkeeping service and business planning software which I may actually use.

Not quite a wasted journey. Will I come back next year? Probably not unless someone invites me to give a talk. But it was a good excuse for a weekend London.

12 May 2011

Crowd Funding: No Waffle

@nowaffle is the twitter name of Scottish entrepreneur, Amanda Boyle.

Amanda has an impressive track record in business:
Her latest venture is Bloom VC. When I met her just outside St. Andrews last month she explained that the initials VC stand not for venture capital but venture catalyst. As the company explains on its website:

So you’ve got this great idea for a business …

You need some funding to get it
off the ground, but you don’t have the money. You could ask the bank, but with no proven financial or business track record it’s unlikely they could help. You could ask your mum, but it’s a big ask. It would be shame to miss out on the opportunity, but what to do?

Why not ask the crowd?

It’s simple really. Crowdfunding is just an alternative source of money to help you start up your own business or fund a brilliant community project."

Crowd funding is a new concept in the UK and it is not without legal pitfalls, but the concept has attracted a lot of serious interest (see "The Micro Price of Micropatronage" Economist 27 Sep 2010). It is an entirely new source of funding that social networking makes possible. For inventors and other entrepreneurs it can't be worse than going on a reality TV show like Dragons' Den or the Apprentice.

11 April 2011

Resources for Inventors in South West England

South West England consists of the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire. the city of Bristol and the Isles of Scilly. The region covers an area of 23,828 square kilometres and has a population of just under 5 million.

Regional Development
The regional development agency for the region is the South West Regional Development Agency. This will be abolished with all the other RDAs by March 2012. Proposals for local enterprise partnerships have been accepted for:
There are clinics at Bristol Central Library and the University of Plymouth. Inventors in South West England can also access online advice and, where appropriate, introduction to local patent and trade mark agents and other intellectual property practitioners through NIPC Clinics.

There are three CDFIs in South West England:
  • Bristol Enterprise Development Fund for the Bristol Metropolitan Area
  • Frederick's Foundation which has branches in Devon, Dorset, Gloucester, Somerset and Wiltshire; and
  • South West Investment Group which covers the whole of the region.
The South West Inventors Club meets on the third Wednesday of the month at Yeovil to discuss members' inventions, intellectual property, funding and other matters.

There are PATLib libraries at Bristol and Plymouth.

Professional Advice
We are building up a network of local patent and trade mark attorneys, specialist solicitors and other professionals in South West England. You can access that network by calling us on 0117 325 6300.

Further Information
We have a page on inventors' resources in South West England on the Inventors' Club website which we shall update and expand as and when we can. We have an Inventors Club group on Linkedin and you can of course join the Inventors Club itself. If you want to contact us you can also get in touch through our contact form.

07 April 2011

Patent Ownership Co-Ownership and Corporate Ownership

This was the title of Roger Lowe's talk to Sheffield Inventors Group on Monday. Roger is proprietor of ip4all, an intellectual property consultancy in Huddersfield.

He began his talk by quoting Mark Getty:
"Intellectual property is the oil of the 21 century. Look at the richest men a hundred years ago; they all made their money extracting natural resources or moving them around. All today’s richest men have made their money out of intellectual property."
Roger then discussed patents as property rights, something that can be bought, sold or charged. He considered ownership and warned that:
"The mere suggestion of co-ownership of patents makes the blood of IP practitioners run cold."
Co-ownership must be adopted only as a last resort.
Too true. He then explained why. Having told us why co-ownership is a bad thing he considered some of the alternatives such as licensing and corporate ownership. The best time to consider these issues is before the application for a patent but not every patent agent tells you that.

There will be no Inventors' Group meeting for May because the first Monday falls on the Mayday Bank Holiday but there will be an exhibition at Central Library to celebrate World IP Day on 26 April 2011. If you want to join the club or set up an inventors' club in your own area call us on 0800 862 0055 or complete our contact form.

06 April 2011

Goodbye Chis and Thanks

Today I learned that Chris Brown, the City Library's patent librarian is to retire. Chris has done much for inventors and entrepreneurs in the North. She is a very skillful business and patents researcher. She runs the Manchester IP clinics. She is treasurer of the Manchester Inventors Group. I should like to add my thanks to those of many others for all her help over the years and wish her a long and happy retirement. At the end of their meeting this evening the members of Group gave Chris a little present. This photo shows Chris making her acceptance speech.

Now losing Chris is bad enough but worse is that she is not to be replaced. The City will try to make do with non-specialist librarians. Now those librarians are no doubt very capable and dedicated professionals but they cannot be expected to find their way round esp@cenet or understand the results in the way that Chris can.

Having been born at Lorna Lodge in Barlow Moor Road I can proudly claim to be a Mancunienne. For most of my career I have practised from chambers in Manchester and have thus contributed to the City's coffers. As much of the Council's expenditure over the years has struck me as utterly profligate I am all for making savings. But not replacing Chris is a false economy.

Other cities are actually expanding their business and patents information services to fill the gap left by Business Link (see "Mark Prisk announces new business Advisory service" 8 Sep 2010 RealBusiness). I hope that the Council thinks again for the sake of the City and, indeed, country.

03 April 2011

Sheffield and Manchester Inventors Clubs

Two interesting events that dovetail very well together:
  • Sheffield Inventors Group will present a talk by Roger Lowe of IP4All on patenting and making sure that you have title to your invention at Sheffield Central Library at 18:00 tomorrow (see my article in IP Yorkshire for details).
  • Manchester Inventors Group will present a talk by Steve Reece of the Rich Inventor programme on the top 11 mistakes inventors make in selling their inventions at Manchester City Library at 19:00 on Tuesday, 5 April 2011 (see my article in IP North West for further information).
I shall be chairing the Sheffield event and I hope to get along to the Manchester talk. I will certainly blog Roger's talk and I hope to write something about the Steve's too.

02 April 2011

Resources for Inventors in South East England

South East England consists of the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey and West Sussex. The region covers just under 19,096 square kilometres and has a population of just over 8 million.

Regional Development
The regional development agency for the region is the SEEDA (South East England Development Agency). This will be abolished with all the other agencies by the end of March in 2012. Proposals for local enterprise partnerships have been accepted for the following areas:
  • Coast to Capital: Brighton, Croydon, Gatwick Triangle, East Sussex and Surrey;
  • Enterprise M3 (North East Hampshire and West Surrey)
  • Kent and Greater Essex and East Sussex
  • Oxfordshire City Region
  • Solent
  • Thames Valley and Berkshire
Business Angels
There are no less than 4 angel networks:
A clinic is run by local patent agents at Southampton Central Library on the last Wednesday of the month between 17:00 and 19:00. Local inventors can also access NIPC Clinics through our website or call us on 023 9316 2030.

Community Development Finance Institutions
There are no less than 5 Community Development Finance Institutions in South East England:
The Wessex Round Table of Inventors is based in Southampton. It holds regular monthly meetings and offers advice on funding, IP, licensing, marketing and other matters. It also has an excellent blog and website.

Portsmouth Central Library is the only PATLib library in the region. However, clinics are held not there but in Southampton.

Professional Advice
We are building up a network of local patent and trade mark attorneys, specialist solicitors and other professionals in South East England. You can access that network by calling us on 023 9316 2030.

Further Information
We have a page on inventors resources in the South East on the Inventors Club website which we shall update and expand as and when we can. We have an Inventors Club Group on Linkedin and you can of course join the Inventors' Club. The rules are here and use this form to join.

21 March 2011

Business Support Update

For many years the first port of call for inventors was their local Business Link. Although Business Link's national website will remain, its regional and local services will begin to disappear from the end of March 2011. Opinion is divided as to whether the abolition of those services will be a good thing but it is a reality and we have to get used to it.

Free advice for inventors will continue to be available from the PATLib libraries such as Leeds Central Library and the British Library Business and IP Centre. Several of those libraries host patent clinics in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys and Ideas 21. You can also book a free 30 minute consultation with a patent or trade mark attorney, specialist lawyer, product development consultant, business advisor or other professional by clicking on the NIPC Clinics website or calling us on 0800 862 0055.

We can also put you in touch with an inventors club or help you set up your own in your area. There you can learn from other inventors or meet local professionals. You can also join us for free newsletters and updates. We can help you in practical ways - introducing you to trusted professionals, business angel networks and community finance development institutions or by negotiating discounts for you with IP insurers or product design consultants.

If you are willing to pay for business advice check out our accountants page for information on start-ups and funding offered by the ICAEW and other professional bodies. There are also plenty of good coaching and mentoring schemes some of whcih are offered through your local chamber of commerce.

I have today updated the NIPC Inventors Club website to take account of those developments. If you want us to keep you up to date contact us through our contact form or call us on 0800 862 0055.