Playback Rewards, a success story in the making

29 June 2012

playbackrewards-logoMost of the inventors and entrepreneurs we help in the Business & IP Centre realise that it takes hard work and patience (and some luck) to become successful.

For Alistair Kelman the man behind Playback Rewards it has taken three years of seven day weeks with no holidays.

I have often seen him working in the Centre, and for the past couple of years he has been giving me regular progress reports on his patented invention. These updates have been an alternating mix of positive and negative news, as hurdles appear and then are overcome. Or amazing opportunities arrive, but then disappear again.

Alistair_KelmanThroughout this roller-coaster of events, Alistair has remained positive, and bounced back from setbacks (an essential ingredient for an entrepreneur). He has also taken a flexible and pragmatic approach to commercialising his invention (another necessary requirement – but sadly rather too rare for inventors).

For the last few months I have been waiting for permission from Alistair to talk about his invention on my blog, and now he has given me the green light. I am excited because Playback Rewards has the potential to be our biggest success story so far, by far.

Alistair started working on his ideas for revolutionising television advertising at the Centre at the beginning of 2009. He filed his first patent later that year, which was granted in February 2011. He then worked for months, almost on a daily basis at the Centre, developing, researching and refining the commercialisation of his invention.

In late 2010 Alistair ran out of money for his patent. But managed to persuade Stephen Fry to put in a little to keep the project on the road. As you can see from the video Stephen recorded ???, he liked Alistairs’ ideas and wanted to help. Then on Christmas Day 2011 his company was mentioned in an article in the Sunday Times.

Five months later Playback Holdings Ltd won a place in the semi-finals of the CISCO BIG awards, where it stands the chance of winning $100,000 for the business. Alistair feels that which everyone should know about this amazing programme.

As part of his entry for the CISCO i-prize competition Alistair has made a video Magic in your pocket which explains how the service would work.

On 6 July Playback Holdings Limited starts its Series A  fund-raising via an Financial Services Authority (FSA) approved crowdsourcing  platform called Seedrs. This innovative investment method allows ordinary people to invest between £10 to £100,000 in any of the start-ups on its platform.

The full story behind Playback Rewards, and where they are going is on their website

Boost your business growth with the 2011 Leadership and Management Grant

28 November 2011
grow_header1Many thanks to Alasdair Inglis from our partners Grow, the small business marketing experts, for passing on this information:
2011 Leadership and Management Grant
Although specialist business advice is usually beyond the reach of most SMEs, the new LMAS £1,000 match-funded grant provides ambitious, fast-growing businesses with a great opportunity to access Grow’s Business Growth Programme
The key eligibility criteria for the government grant are:
  • You are an existing business with growth potential
  • You have a minimum of two people working in the business (ie yourself and one other)
  • The grant is match-funded, so you pay £2,000 and receive a £1,000 reimbursement from the government.


Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Question Time for Entrepreneurs 2011

14 November 2011

GEW_logoTonight as night as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week we held another great Inspiring Entrepreneurs. This time the topic was Question Time for Entrepreneurs, and was a chance to grill our assembled panel of experts.

Emma Bridgewater, Chairman and Founder of Emma Bridgewater Ltd, Vernon W. Hill II, Co-founder and Vice Chairman of Metro Bank, Lara Morgan, Founder of Pacific Direct Group Ltd and Company Shortcuts Ltd and Tim Campbell, Founder of the Bright Ideas Trust.

Jonathan Moules, enterprise correspondent at The Financial Times, was in charge of moderating the team.

Emma BridgewaterEmma Bridgewater admitted her business was more home counties than ‘wild west’.

You will have to go through tough times. So even if you don’t feel strong enough, when it is your company, you feel differently about it.

You will surprised how creative you can be in business when you first start out and have no money.

Having to think about accounts was something unpleasant, but necessary.

Her value add, was to make modern dishwater friendly pottery.

‘We have spent ‘shed loads’ of money trying to protect our designs. I don’t think it is possible to protect them.’ The next new design is the key to success. And your brand.

Vernon W Hill IIVernon W. Hill II managed to extend his five minute introduction into an impassioned 15 minute talk about the amazing success of his banking ventures.

Be aware of the brand hierarchy: Basic brands,
Emotional Brands and Legendary Brands. When you reach the top stage you have fans not customers.

You need a clear business model that differentiates you from the competition. The culture of your company must be unique but matched to your business model. Your business execution must be fanatatical

In the US they gave away 28 million pens, and they were trying to get the number up. They let dogs in on the theory that if you love my dog, you must love me.

Metro Bank have 90 percent customer satisfaction rate, Barlcays has minus 35 percent.

Emotional brands create massive value. Look at the example of Apple who grew from a five percent market share less than 10 years ago.

Are you really emotionally and equipped to go down the entrepreneurial road? Ask yourselves does your product or service add value? What is different about you? Successful entrepreneurs start with the end result, not the process of getting there. In the UK we concentrate too much on the technicalities.

He went through 15 years of the press saying ‘this won’t work’, so having a thick skin is essential.

Ninety percent of people they see looking for investment don’t have a business plan, they just have hope. Not good enough! If you don’t have convincing numbers to raise money you will fail.

‘My problem is dealing with the government every day!’

In the US they were recruiting 6,000 jobs a year, most came from existing staff contacts. If they didn’t smile in the first interview then they were out.

Lara MorganLara Morgan.

The ability to just keep going is vitally important. Jack of all trades and a master of one, where you recruit others to fill in the other roles required.

She worked on her own for two years, morning, noon and night. Her first recruit was a ‘gobby’ hocky player who had the ability, and could be taught the skill required.

Be aware that you can recruit people if you are creative as employers, find out what will lure someone in other than money.

You can actually learn lots of good stuff from books. This is a solution Lara has applied on many occasions.

Understanding finance was a painful part of becoming a successful business. You don’t need to to do the numbers, you do need to understand them.

Finding the right staff, means being utterly rigorous in you recruitment process. Make sure you test skills, because there is a lot of flannel from candidates. Check with your receptionist for their behaviour. Maths, English and culture tests are key. Invest time in this and you will be rewarded.

It took several years to work out what our USP was. It became representing the best products to the best hotels. A key to this was understanding the market place and the competition better than anyone else.

There are very few new ideas, so you just need be aware of how you are different and better.

Tim CampbellTim Campbell

There is a huge value in mentors and advisors. Having a wise head behind you will help solve some of your issues. Having a loyal team with you on your journey will be a key to your success.

Entrepreneurs need to learn to rely on others to deliver the expertise required for the business.

You may need to extend your sales technique to family and friends in order to raise capital for your business. However, business angels are sitting there waiting to find ideas to invest in. There needs to be a better way to bring these two together.

You can’t expect people to invest in your idea if you aren’t prepared to stand by the loan, or put in your own money.

Employing people who don’t have the same passion as you do, is the biggest problem. Managing them out is incredibly difficult. You need to be incredibly clear about what you want from your recruits.

Don’t compete on price, there will always be someone cheaper.

Intellectual protection can be a very costly route to protect something that may not be unique enough. Speed to market is your best protection.

You can learn from other first mover’s mistakes.

The time to pull the plug on his business, was when he realised he could not get the 2,000 outlets needed to reach the minimum size. There is an inner voice you can hear when you go to sleep at night. Listen to it, and to advisers you trust.

There is nothing wrong with a lifestyle business (small scale).


Video now live here, Question Time for Entrepreneurs 2011 by BIPCTV’s channel

Question Time for Entrepreneurs 2011

by BIPCTV’s channe

SquidLondon brighten up a rainy autumn day

12 September 2011

emma-jayne_parkes_and_vivian_jaegerSomething of a surprise on my way home tonight to see a full-page advert for our Success Story SquidLondon in the Evening Standard.

Fashion graduates Emma-Jayne Parkes and Viviane Jaeger founded SquidLondon after being inspired by Jackson Pollock. They thought it would be cool to walk down the street, it starts to rain and your clothes turn into a walking Jackson Pollock.

Their first product, the Squidarella, is an umbrella that changes colour as it rains. Developing such an innovative product meant that intellectual property – protecting their ideas – was an essential topic to crack. The pair visited the Business & IP Centre to learn more about how intellectual property applied to them.

Squid have now moved to the bathroom with their latest product : ‘Miss Squidolette’ Shower Curtain!


Company Partners top ten most common business plan mistakes

30 December 2010

Lawrence Gilbert at Company Partners has come up with his top ten most common business plan mistakes.

As someone who spends much of his time helping entrepreneurs develop their business plans, Lawrence has seen many hundreds.

Top ten business plan mistakes

  1. Typos and spellings – it sounds small, but it is a killer. Nowadays there is just no excuse. My own spelling is atrocious, but I use a spell checker all the time. Use a spell checker, proof-read your work, or get a friend to proof-read it. Sloppiness in producing the plan will indicate sloppiness in your business.
  2. Poor structure – again no excuse. There are templates and examples around, we ourselves run business plan workshops and there’s software that will structure it for you.
  3. Executive Summary – people get confused as to what that is. It’s simply a short, punchy, straight-to-the-point summary of all else in the plan. About 2 pages, that is interesting enough and factual enough to almost stand-alone. After reading it, you should want to reach for the phone to contact the author, or at least feel you want to read more in the main plan. Although at the front, it’s the last section to be done.
  4. No contact details on the cover page. Someone reading the plan shouldn’t have to hunt through it for contact details – put them clearly on the cover.
  5. Over hyped – expressions such as “fantastic”, “unique”, “incredible” are meaningless and over-hyping your product or service shows naivety. This is closely coupled to the next point…
  6. Lack of evidence – if you state a market figure, or statistic, try and show where it came from. It gains credibility. Do real market research; don’t just ask friends and family (they don’t count).
  7. No effort made to sell the product/service – the proof of the concept comes when you get sales. There are many, many, good ideas around, but not all of them are commercial. Will customers actually give you their cash for your product? Get out there and make some sales, show it will be bought.
  8. Not using Appendix’s – cluttering up the plan with pages of market statistics is not conducive to having it read. No one will struggle through a badly organised plan, just mention the facts and refer to the full information in the relevant appendix.
  9. No detail to the sales and marketing plan – it’s as though you think that the product/service will sell itself – it won’t. This is often the worse part of the plans we see.
  10. Unbelievable and incomplete financials – We’ve all seen the “hockey-stick” projections, where in the first year the revenues are minimal, but then by golly they shoot up at an incredible rate. Having unrealistic numbers, or incomplete numbers, or contradicting numbers are all plan killers.

How to pitch your business

21 January 2010

Irene Bejenke WalshFor any of you who have watched entrepreneurs pitching their business on the BBC’s  DragonsDen (or even better the Harry Enfield spoof version below), I’m sure you will agree it is often too painful to bear.

Fortunately we are introducing a workshop in the Business & IP Centre on this scary topic called the investor pitch, on Monday 25 January, and Monday 22 February 2010.

In this interactive workshop, participants will learn about the content of investor presentations as well as how to deliver effective pitches.

Specifically, the following topics will be covered:

• What are investors looking for?
• Targeting different investor audiences
• How to turn your business plan into an investor presentation that will make an impact
• Content of an investor presentation
• Individual presentation skills & delivery
• Pitching formats
• The perfect elevator pitch
• Creating rapport & trust with investors
• Live pitches & feedback

Having met the presenter Irene Bejenke-Walsh, founder of MessageLab, I am confident attendees will be in good hands. She has been coaching entrepreneurs and management teams for investor presentations and pitches for more than a decade. Her clients include the UK’s largest Business Angel network, London Business Angels, where she has coached more than 300 entrepreneurs pitching to the network in a real life “Dragon’s Den”, contributing to an increase in investment rates of over 30%. She also coaches early-stage companies entering the London Technology Fund competition as well as many small and large businesses seeking investment.

EnterQuest’s business support survey – the results

14 December 2009

The wonderful people who produce our COBRA (Complete Business Reference Adviser) have started surveying subscribers to their free EnterQuest weekly tips and ideas bulletin for startups and small business owner managers.

Their first one was designed to gauge their opinions and levels of satisfaction of business support services they had received or experienced over the last 12 months:


The results of the survey were in certain respects rather surprising, and in other ways quite predictable. The survey asked readers for their views relating to sources of support received, ie from Business Link, enterprise agency, local council, and Chamber of Commerce. They were quizzed about what satisfied them the most, what was most disappointing, and asked for suggestions for improvements.

The most striking result was the performance of Business Link, with two-thirds (65%) of respondents satisfied with the support received (43% were very satisfied), but with over a third (35%) not very satisfied or totally unsatisfied. General satisfaction levels were very similar for support from local enterprise agencies, but fewer of these (only 35%) were very satisfied.

While there are encouraging signs that things are moving in the right direction with attitudes towards Business Link,it still remains a stark fact that one out of three businesses were still not satisfied with the support they received, and 44% were not satisfied across all types of local business support provision.

Overall, survey responses from recipients of business support across all providers are summarised as follows:

Very satisfied 26%
Fairly satisfied 30%
Not very satisfied 22%
Totally unsatisfied 22%
So in aggregate the results are 56% satisfied with support received and 44% not satisfied. Survey respondents were located in all regions of the UK.

In terms of the specific questions asked in the survey and qualified answers given, the responses were varied and in certain cases quite animated. The following is a summary of some of the typical responses given for three of the main question areas.

What disappointed you the most?

– lateness of the adviser, lack of respect shown
– e-mails and phone calls unanswered/ not returned
– the adviser did not understand my business or my industry
– lack of clear written steps for funding applications
– no new advice given, I knew what was said already
– excellent support programmes stop when their funding is withdrawn or ends
– lack of understanding of local business needs

What pleased you the most?

– quick response to grant application, given answer in five days
– the adviser understood our business model
– we got what was written on the tin, and in good time
– excellent training sessions from Business Link
– free Business Link support
– wealth of free information provided by adviser
– good follow-up range of courses available

What do you suggest that would improve the service you received or would like to receive in the future?

– the adviser should have real, practical experience of business
– specialist rather than general help and advice is needed
– more empathy with first-timers
– more long term funding for successful support programmes
– more local services and resources available
– loans available for true micros
– more interest in customer needs than in ticking boxes

Key likes – courses, free services, local support and advice.

Key dislikes – supplier driven (need to tick their boxes), exclusion of micros and sole traders, general rather than specialist advice.

My client connects with Knowledge Connect

18 August 2009

I have just heard that Marion Ayonote (one of my recent Business & IP information clinic clients) has been highlighted as a case study on the LDA (London Development Agency) website.

Although Marion has already had success as a shoe designer, she wanted to expand her range to include vintage handbags with a contemporary twist. The main fabric is Aso-oke, a traditional fabric originally worn by the Yoruba’s, hand made by local weavers in Nigeria.

Marion Ayonote handbagMarion was born and educated in Nigeria attending the University of Maiduguri in Borno State, where she achieved a BA in History. She then moved to London and in 1997 attended Cordwainers College.

Her first collection simply titled “Shoes” under the “Marion Ayonote” label was launched in 2000. Since her launch she has been invited to exhibit at a number of international events i.e. Tranoi Paris, South Africa fashion week, Moda Calzaldo, and many more.

Knowledge Connect logoKnowledge Connect is designed to assist London’s diverse small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to undertake grant funded collaborative projects with the wider Knowledgebase.

This includes Universities, Further Education Colleges, RTOs and private sector specialists. London Development Agency (LDA) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funding of £5.6 million is being channelled to fund this flagship project. Knowledge Connect is the Innovation Vouchers part of Solutions for Business portfolio.

The three year programme aims to work with 2,880 enterprises and provide a combination of inspirational workshops and events, stimulating communications, one to one mentoring, specialist identification and partner search.

It also offers grant support to enable SMEs to identify and create business growth opportunities.

There are two levels of grant support available:
* Mini grants up to £3,000 provided for activities such as initial testing, product or service development or proof of concept; and
* Maxi grants of up to £10,000 (which require 50% match funding) to support the delivery of a wide range of more in depth, collaborative projects.

Inspiring Entrepreneurs – Surviving and thriving: controlling costs to boost your business

14 July 2009

Another inspiring Inspiring Entrepreneurs event this evening with the title of Surviving and Thriving: Controlling costs to boost your business. You can catch the webcast of the event once it is posted up on our website.

Doug Richards the former BBC Dragon and founder of the School for Startups started by saying he wouldn’t be able to keep to his script. He had some great stories and a few gems such as, ‘if you are small, you will die if one customer doesn’t pay your bills’.

In other words the micro immediate level is the key, not what is happening to the economy at the macro level.

Forget convential wisdom, sales are marketing are the key – not cash flow. With sales – take the order, whatever it is! Don’t start a business with Kent Richards…(Doug’s brother, who he started his first business with).

Marketing – don’t spend money – Doug has an eight hour training day covering marketing techniques that don’t cost any money.

Nick WheelerNick Wheeler the founder of Charles Tyrwhitt shirts gave a very entertaining talk. He founded the business at University in 1986, and it took four years to double workforce from one to two. After another fours in they went bust.

‘This is the story of how a complete and utter idiot can build up a business.’

‘It’s all about having a belief in what you are trying to do. Every day you remind yourself of what you are setting out to do.’

84% of Charles Tyrwhitt staff say they have fun working for the company.

Critical Factors for Success:
The idea – Vision – Focus – Passion – Hard work – Patience

Compound growth is the key to long term success.

Heather Gorringe the founder of Wiggly Wigglers started with quote from Winston Churchill, ‘Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm’.

If you are running a small business you need to be both proactive and reactive. The key thing she is doing to survive the economic downturn is to ‘keep working harder’.

Johnny Martin is a business finance expert who runs a regular course in the Business & IP Centre on financial management.

Imagine you are in the Dragon’s Den – how would you answer their questions about your business finances?

He feels you can’t start too young, and gets his children to use duplicate invoice books in order to receive their pocket money via their PayPal account.

The second most common reason for businesses failing is poor financial management.

Documentation can be the undoing of a business. Please check if you have any undocumented agreements.

You need to know where you are financially.

Be able to look ahead (at least six to nine months). Don’t go for financial support at the last minute, you won’t get it. Use forecasting techniques.

Be able to understand the difference between variable costs and fixed costs, and how to calculate your gross profit and gross margin. To survive in these difficult times you need to protect your gross margin (the value you are adding).

Turnover is vanity, what is important is profit.

The presentations were followed by a varied set of questions:

What happens when a business fails?
The main cause is lack of focus. Manager think they can do anything and fail when they diversify beyond their competencies.

How should businesses use the web to market the products:
Google Adwords are the place to start. Find the right company to help you navigate your way for very little money. Big companies are getting ripped off. Doug Richards – Search Engine Optimisation is not rocket science. You can spend a boring weekend learning enough to know what you are doing.

Heather Gorringe – the web is a bit like your local pub – whether you are there or not people may be talking about you – online is the same – you need to be there to listen and respond to your customers.


How good is your Escalator Pitch?

18 May 2009

I often ask my business advice clients if they have an elevator pitch. Quite a few have not heard this expression before which surprises me.

The basic idea is that in the fortunate event you find yourself in a lift with a potential backer for your business (think Richard Branson), could you convey the essentials of your idea or invention before he got out on the 20th floor?

In practice this means between 30 seconds and two minutes to express all the salient (selling) points without any waffle, which for some of my clients is a challenge to say the least.

To see examples of this in an even more demanding environment head over to to watch one of their many escalator pitches. Just be aware that practicing this on the London Underground might get you arrested.

DEMOgodAnother inspiring place to visit for when you get a little bit longer to get your idea across (in this case 6 minutes), is In particular have a look at some of the Demo Gods in action to see how it should be done by the best of the best.

About DEMO
The feel you get when you enter the ballroom at DEMO is unlike any other conference. Each company is given just six minutes on the DEMO stage to truly demonstrate how their product will change the world. No PowerPoint or flashy corporate presentations allowed. Just the founders and the technologies many are staking their careers on… it doesn’t get any more straightforward and fast paced than that.

PitchTV – your chance to make your pitch to Richard Branson

6 April 2009 not surprisingly in these YouTube obsessed times, there has been something of a rash of video-pitching websites. A friendly version of Dragon’s Den? and See my pitch are just two that I have covered previously.

However, when Richard Branson of Virgin fame gets involved you just know there will be a lot of interest.

PitchTV gives you the “chance to pitch your business idea directly to people who could make your ambition a reality.”

Once a month we’ll pick out a selection of the best video pitches and then let everyone vote for their favourite. Each month the five most popular video pitches will make it on to the PitchTV show which will premiere on Virgin Atlantic’s in-flight entertainment – to be seen by top business professionals from around the world.

So if you think you have the media friendly features to make it through to the final round, then why not give it a go.

Sources of funding for small businesses

4 March 2009

The biggest cause of concern for entrepreneurs I meet is finding a source of finding now that banks are so reluctant to lend.

Here in the Business & IP Centre we have access to the subscription part of GRANTnet (6,000 grants, loans, awards and other assistance). GRANTfinder gives access to detailed information required to make an application.

GRANTnet logo

However have also created a Grant Watch service which acts a  guide to small business funding. Definitely worth checking out.

Looking for new business finance? There’s lots of free money out there! A range of small business grant schemes, awards and other initiatives are available to entrepreneurs. Read our latest guide to what’s on offer.

  • time4change is offering Train 2 Gain funding for leadership and management training to business owners based in London, with a workforce of between 9 and 250 employees, volunteers or associates. Train 2 Gain will provide funding where the first £500 is 100% reclaimable. Thereafter, you can spend up to another £1,000 and reclaim £500. More details.
  • Innovative London-based small businesses are being offered R&D grants of up to £10,000 as part of the London Development Agency’s Knowledge Connect scheme. The initiative aims to put SMEs in touch with universities, further education colleges and private sector specialists to develop new business opportunities. More details.
  • To stay up-to-date with the latest from Grant Watch, follow us on Twitter.
  • Striding Out is offering entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 30 who are at the pre-start or early stages of running a company £500 and training from business experts in its Big Leap competition. 10 finalists will take part in an Apprentice-style business boot camp in April and compete for the overall prize. Deadline: 06/03/2009. More details.
  • Barclays is offering cash prizes totalling £17,500 to the UK’s most enterprising family businessses in its Family Affair competition. Eight regional winners will win £1,500 and the chance to compete for the overall prize of £5,500. Deadline: 31/03/2009. More details.
  • The Crisis Changing Lives Awards is offering grants of up to £2500 for single homeless people or for those who have experienced homelessness in the past five years to find a work-related course or fund tools or equipment to carry out a job or become self-employed. Deadline: 13/03/2009. More details.
  • Make Your Mark in the Markets is giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to turn their buisness ideas into reality and start trading at a local market for free. The winner of the competition will receive prizes including £1,500, six months free market trading and free business mentoring, marketing and advertising. Deadline: 20/03/2009. More details.
  • Lancaster City Council is offering local businesses grants towards the cost of renting premises. Finance to cover 50% of the first year’s basic rent can be claimed. The maximum grant is normally £2,500 but this may increase to £5,000 if rapid expansion and significant jobs growth is projected, requiring larger scale premises. Deadline: 31/03/2009. More details.
  • The Welsh Assemby has created a new £4.5m fund to help sub post offices in Wales to improve and diversify during the economic crisis. The money can be used for areas including business and marketing advice, advertising, training, improved security and upgrading computer equipment. Applications can be up to £20,000 capital funding and £15,000 in revenue costs. Deadline: 30/04/2009. More details.
  • Dell is seeking entries for its 2009 Small Business Excellence Award. Entrants have the chance to win £25,000 in Dell solutions and a meeting with company founder Michael Dell. The UK winner will receive £15,000 in Dell products and services; a day of best-practice sharing with Dell executives, including Michael Dell, and a 10 year membership to an Accredited Chamber of Commerce. Deadline: 03/04/2009. More details.
  • Winweb is offering £10,000 to new and existing entrepreneurs in its Business ’09 competition. Deadline: 01/10/2009. More details.