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.