I often ask myself how Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence will transform the way businesses and organisations operate in the digital age. Etellect has been working in the area of process automation for a few years now so we’ve become distinctly aware of the shift around digital transformation. I discussed this very concept at Venturefest Scotland 2017 in the Glasgow Science Centre recently where I joined a panel discussion on new business models brought about by Industry 4.0.
I see the recent advances in RPA and Cognitive AI are resulting in the requirement to adopt a new mind-set, one that some could argue is counter-intuitive to how critical digital transformation projects are currently procured and implemented. Modern day businesses and organisations require high levels of operational efficiency and customer intelligence, neither of which can be achieved using current legacy software architectures or multiple, non-integrated tools. There is a requirement to change their current approach to how they interact with software systems and, only then, can ‘process auto-bots’ be successfully employed to work in harmony with their human counterparts to create highly efficient business processes that can eliminate error, enhance the customer experience and make the workplace and exciting and individually fulfilling experience for all.
I would love to hear about your thoughts around digital transformation and the strategies you are putting in place. Have you been exposed to Robotic Process Automation and/or Artificial Intelligence and want to share your insights? Please join the conversation here
Alina Mason, Marketing Executive at Interface, and member of the Venturefest Scotland 2017 Working Group blogs about academic and business collaborations and the vital role they play in supporting Scotland’s economy.
Interface are delighted to support this year’s Venturefest once again to help spread the word about innovation in Scotland and the great work that is happening when universities and businesses come together.
At last year’s event we invited academics and companies to share their expertise in working together across the two key themes of cybersecurity and gamification. One really strong message that both of the presentations addressed was how significant working in collaboration had been to both parties to support their growth journey.
Business-academic collaborations play a vital role supporting Scotland’s economy, enabling businesses to reach new and international markets, increase turnover and safeguard and create jobs – the impacts are far-reaching.
Engaging with industry supports academics by helping to; achieve impact with research, provide additional income to fund individuals and department activities, grow contacts and networks relevant to research, introduce students to industry to enhance employability and create commercial opportunities from facilities, equipment and off the shelf technologies.
As Scotland’s annual summit for innovation Venturefest is a great platform to showcase to SMEs how valuable Scotland’s universities are in supporting research and development and the impacts that collaborative projects can produce.
We are proud of our support for many female-lead businesses in Scotland and are always on the look out for opportunities where we can help bring innovation to life. If you are interested in finding out more about how Interface and our university, research institute and college partners can help your business, come along to the exhibition area at Venturfest and meet our team.
Take G-Hold as an example; entrepreneur and inventor Alison Grieve was on a mission to change the way the world holds things. G-Hold is a multi-purpose handhold invention that can be placed on the back of any type of tablet or reader, big or small, for a comfortable hold. Alison wanted to obtain data proving G-Hold’s ergonomic attributes in preventing injury and to evaluate its overall performance. We connected Alison to the Institute for Clinical Exercise & Health Science at the University of the West of Scotland, to evaluate G-Hold’s performance and examining the effect on the arm, wrist and hand of users. The resulting data was so powerful that it was translated into an image for prospective customers to understand more easily. The graphic was used in marketing materials during the ErgoExpo which has led to deals with Apple and Microsoft.
Timespan, situated on the river Helmsdale, have worked with the University of St Andrews on a number of projects, including the development of a virtual museum, which includes a digital recreation of the township of Caen, a pre-Clearances village in the Strath of Kildonnan. The technology developed has been used in a number of other historical recreation projects since which make historical information accessible and enjoyable for a diverse audience around the world.
We hope to see you at Venturefest Scotland on 20 September at the Glasgow Science Centre.
Digital technology is evolving rapidly so make sure you capitalise on your creativity says Graham McGlashan, a Chartered (UK) and European Patent Attorney based in Marks & Clark’s Glasgow office.
It’s easy to underestimate, but intellectual property (IP) can be of significant value in modern industry – particularly when it comes to rapidly-evolving digital technology.
In a world in which it is often much easier for others to simply copy than create and innovate, IP can help to swing the balance of reward from the copiers to the creators and innovators. As such, it is a vital tool for allowing individuals and businesses to securely capitalise on their creativity.
IP protection can be combined with licencing to create a wide range of strategic options. As such, it can be viewed as simply providing creators with a degree of control, while providing the conditions for others to use your IP in a licence, if that’s what you want to do.
For example, if you want to allow free use amongst open-source or certain developer communities, but would like royalties to be paid for use by large corporates or for entities making significant revenue from your IP, then you can set out your terms in a licence and use your IP to help enforce it. Whatever your goals or interests for your creations, IP can be a tool to help you achieve those aims. From that point of view, it is better to know and understand the various forms of IP and how they can work best for you.
For example, copyright has long been a central pillar of protection for software code and many will know how to capture copyrighted code in a way that allows it to be successfully enforced.
Branding or building a franchise is also widely used in the digital field, and not just for commercially successful products. For example, the intertwined snake logo of Python® and the whale logo of Docker ® are both examples of great branding that are protected by Trademark registrations.
However, IP takes a variety of forms, many of them less understood. In Europe, design registration can be used to protect visually appealing aspects of digital design, which is useful if you’ve devised a great-looking interface, games characters, icons, fonts, or indeed any product that relies on graphic design or attractive visuals. Then there’s data, widely described as the ‘new oil’.
In addition, the field is expanding, with many new entrants into the market, particularly with app-based technologies, who might not have the same understanding of this area as the traditional software houses.
However, many innovators in the digital realm are often left confused by the options available to them for protecting a technical concept.
When it comes to computer-implemented inventions, many have been successfully patented across jurisdictions including the US, UK and Europe. Yet, the patentability of such inventions varies between jurisdictions and some exclude certain computer programs from patentability.
The European Patent Office will potentially allow a patent if the claimed inventive concept is novel and inventive and has a technical character – even if the invention is computer implemented. A computer program itself can potentially be patented at the European Patent Office if it is capable of bringing about, when running on a computer, a further technical effect going beyond the “normal” physical interactions between the program (software) and the computer (hardware) on which it is run.
So, if the invention embodied on software makes the computer function better, perhaps by making it operate faster or more securely at a low level or providing a better user interface or human-machine interaction, then it might in some cases be potentially patentable – at least in the UK and Europe.
Laws are always playing catch-up when it comes to digital industries, so each situation may be different depending on the type of protection involved.
Essentially, there are a number of mechanisms available to protect intellectual property associated with digital innovation – and it is up to the innovators to make sure that the results of their skill, investment and labour are protected.
Given the rapid speed of digital change, it’s increasingly important to ensure that you’re getting up-to-date IP advice that covers your bespoke needs. Good professional advice from a suitably qualified attorney can help you cut through the jargon.
Dr Abigail Hird, Executive Team Member at the Strathclyde Institute for Operations Management (SIOM) at the University of Strathclyde discusses the increasing hype around Industry 4.0 and what it means in practice for SMEs and micro-businesses.
A revolution is upon us. Manufacturing is changing. New services are being created. Fresh opportunities, challenges and business models are emerging as a result of the adoption of a range of enabling technologies. How should you embrace these technologies? How will they impact your business and competitive proposition? What does it all mean for SMEs and micro-firms?
Enabling technologies such as sensors, data analytics, Internet of Things and Cyber-Physical Systems have provided a platform for industry to innovate with new processes and business models. Sectors and companies that have embraced these changes have enjoyed productivity increases and generated significant added value. At a national level, the UK faces productivity challenges and fierce competition from global markets. We need innovation that propels us beyond ‘catching up’ with others, and novel applications of digital technology could be one way/route to achieving this.
Digital technologies can impact manufacturing firms beyond the production process: smart products and smart supply chains are other aspects to consider. One thing that gets in the way of having useful conversations about “Digital Manufacturing” is that definitions of ‘Digital Manufacturing’ or Industry 4.0 vary depending upon who you are talking to. People have a tendency to see the world through the lens of their favourite technology or application. How we like to think of it is that it’s not about Amazon drones, smart fridges, or robots taking over, or any single specific technology, but more about the application of a whole range of technologies for improved decision making – whether that’s at the level of a single manufacturing operation or at a strategic organisational level.
Making Smart Decisions
Digital technologies can enable decision making that has less reliance on human judgement and intervention saving time and money in terms of resource. This could mean automating run-of-the-mill information provision or, developing insights, improving consistency and removing bias in more complex decision making. While managers will still ultimately be the decision maker in a digital context they are empowered by improved information often enabled by sensor-driven data collection, powerful new data analytics and fast communication technologies.
To date, much of the research, policy and uptake in practice has been championed by, and targeted at, large organisations. Operationally, large firms are very different to smaller businesses. Being big has its advantages: resource to invest in new technologies and leverage in well-established markets, for example. There are benefits to being small too: it shouldn’t be as onerous to generate momentum for change and strategy decisions can be rolled out and adapted with better visibility and control. The UK economy is powered by smaller businesses and when it comes to digital strategy it isn’t a case of one size fits all. Digital strategy must be considered in light of the size, sector, value proposition, and all the wonderful idiosyncrasies of your individual business.
New digital technologies enable innovative business models and exciting opportunities to compete in transformative ways. With more natural agility, small firms are best placed to take an opportunistic approach.
- Sensor technologies and Internet of Things (IoT) can be used to track the health of livestock in the supply chain providing better visibility and improving decision-making confidence
- SIOM researchers developed and applied exciting AI methods to improve resource forecasting, enabling quick and confident responses to tender and better product development resource planning decisions
- The Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) are working with augmented and virtual reality technologies to help the construction industry visualise cables and plumbed systems behind walls
SIOM and You @ Venturefest Scotland
SIOM provides a forum for industry (businesses of all sizes), academics and policy makers to collaborate with a view to addressing key operations management challenges to deliver real impact, compete nationally and internationally and improve productivity through efficiency gains and increased value-add. We are looking to explore how digital technologies can be applied in a range of contexts with a view to identifying patterns and trends to help your business and passing on the things we’ve learned.
You may still be wondering what digital manufacturing means for your business, or maybe you are well down the road to automation, or perhaps you have processes with minimal technology. Either way you will benefit from coming along to our session at Venturefest Scotland 2017 and getting involved with the SIOM network and University of Strathclyde digital manufacturing activities. We’ll help you reflect on where you are currently, where you need to be and where investment in effort and resources is going to be most beneficial.
To find out more please contact Dr Abi Hird
You can’t stop thinking about starting your company. You zone out in the shower planning your first marketing campaign, you’ve doodled a hundred logos, and you’ve researched the ins and outs of articles of association… The only problem you can’t solve is how to pay your mortgage once you take the plunge and get started!
This is the issue faced by almost every founder – you’re sure there are customers out there (you’ve hopefully already spoken to them!) but it’s going to take you some time before you have a product you’re happy to sell. How do you fund this gap between starting up and taking your first sales? Innovation and entrepreneurship are all well and good, but in the immortal words of Gwen Guthrie “Ain’t nothing going on but the rent”.
Your first thought might be to seek out an angel investor. These risk-taking saints are one of the cornerstones of our entrepreneurial eco-system, but even they have limits to their optimism and most will balk at the thought of funding a start-up out of the gate. They are looking for exactly what you don’t have yet – traction. Who can blame them? With the enormous failure rates seen in early-stage companies they wouldn’t be investing for long if they didn’t manage their exposure. You might have an angel investment in your future, but this probably isn’t the answer for you unless you have strong evidence of customer demand and you can prove you are the right person to market the solution – not an easy thing to do. Serial angel investor Nelson Gray has this to say on traction:
“The idea may very well be ground-breaking, but ideas are all too common. What investors want to see is traction and exit potential – this means that you can clearly demonstrate a growing and engaged customer base, and that you have a clear plan to deliver an exit for the investor.”
So it looks like third party investment isn’t an option yet, your next thought may be a business plan competition such as Scottish EDGE or public sector supports like SMART:SCOTLAND or InnovateUK awards. Competitions like this are vital funding streams for start-ups in Scotland, but read the small print and you’ll find that they might not be keen on paying for the salaries of the founding team. For good reason too – Evelyn MacDonald, CEO of Scottish EDGE says:
“We want EDGE awards to accelerate entrepreneurs, to drive growth and open doors. We think paying founder salaries would achieve the opposite of this – it would take the pressure off! We need founders to be fully bought into the business, and that means taking a personal risk.”
Funding competitions might be a key strategy for your early growth – they’ll accelerate aspects of your development and win you vital exposure and validation, but unfortunately they won’t completely solve the problem of those pesky bills we mentioned. (Side note – Scottish EDGE round 11 is open for applications now!)
So what can, I hear you ask? This is the tricky part – you need to look at it from both sides of the coin. On the one hand you need to be creative in how you fund targeted activity, and on the other you need to ensure every penny of expenditure is driven towards getting you to that next stage of growth.
Investors expect you to be laser focused on customer validation during early stages, and luckily for you, this needn’t cost the world. Although it may seem important to have an impressive prototype and a slick website before telling anybody about your idea, you may be able to get further than you think with a twitter account and some time spent talking to prospective customers. You’ll learn so much from this customer/market validation phase, and will be able to present a far more credible proposition to investors when that time comes.
“Founders need to understand the business they are in. They may think they are a tech company, but in reality they are a sales and marketing company; customer acquisition is the key to success, not lines of code.” Nelson Gray, serial investor.
Remember one of the key mistakes early stage founders make is to keep their idea to themselves. It’s very unlikely anybody will try to ‘steal’ your idea, and if they can then perhaps this isn’t the best business to start. Far more likely is that you’ll get offers of help, insight into your business, feedback on your product/service, and validation that your start-up might just have legs. Stealthy is unhealthy!
The other side of the coin we mentioned is funding your early growth creatively. This might mean keeping the day job for longer than you’d like, looking into part time consultancy, digging into your savings, begging loans from friends and family, taking loans/overdraft debt from the bank, selling personal items, or any other source of revenue that can keep the wolf from the door while you build a credible company that can attract sales revenue and/or investment. Investors understand the need to have an income when founding your startup, and shouldn’t look badly on you taking time away from the startup to earn. The important thing is that you have a clear strategy for going full time, and ensure this will give you a runway of cash that leads to the first sales/investment into the start-up.
AirBnB is the gold-standard example of creative boot-strapping – when they were struggling to fund the early days of this now well-known website they famously sold political cereal at a local conference as a funny way of polling attendees (Obama Os were the winner for anybody interested, their cereal proved more accurate than UK opinion polls…). This crazy sideline took them marginally out of the red, allowing them to focus on AirBnB for a little longer, taking it to the tipping point that has seen it grow to the giant it is today. In a wonderful full circle many start-up founders today use AirBnb to rent out a spare room for extra income during the start-up phase! This boot-strapping phase is known in the States as ‘ramen profitability’, i.e. the stage where you’re earning enough to allow you to work full time on the start-up provided you only eat instant noodles. Perhaps we could coin ‘baked bean profitability’ as a Scottish equivalent!
The short answer to this problem is there is no easy way to fund the early stages of your start-up. It can be a financial risk; the challenge is in managing this to get as far as you can on as little as you can. Look to examples like the Dollar Shave club to see how you can validate your market without breaking the bank. Think about how you can bring in alternative revenue to fund initial validation. Most importantly, take advantage of the early stages to do things that don’t scale. Before long you’ll be wishing you had time to do nothing but speak to customers! The best thing about the difficulty of funding the start-up phase is that it will force you to really think about whether your idea can turn in to a reasonable business. Getting a new business off the ground will be one of the hardest things you ever do, but when you make it work then every hardship of the early stage will surely be worth it.
Tweet @craigearly to let me know how you funded your start-up!
Dr Rachael Wakefield, Business Development Manager at CENSIS, the Scottish Innovation Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems asks ‘How can we support Scotland’s Industry 4.0 journey’?
Scotland has a proud manufacturing history, playing a crucial role in the first industrial revolution. It is on the cusp of a massive change once again, as we approach the fourth sweeping transformation of the business world: Industry 4.0.
While momentum is building behind placing Scotland’s industrial base at the forefront of this global evolution, there’s a battle for hearts and minds to be won. Industry 4.0 may be a daunting prospect for some. It’s unlikely to be the top priority for many manufacturers as they focus on running and growing their businesses.
This sentiment is highlighted by the stats: a report from BDO and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers published last year found that while 59% of UK manufacturers recognised the fourth industrial revolution will have a big impact on their sector, only 8% said they have a “significant understanding” of what it means.
Let’s take the UK automotive industry, for example, arguably the ‘gold standard’ among the first adopters of Industry 4.0 and advanced digital manufacturing. While it has recognised that the fourth industrial revolution could unleash huge benefits, most automotive facilities haven’t reached that perfect state of connectivity between man and machine just yet.
It could be down to a lack of knowledge of what can be achieved and how – the biggest barrier to implementation of digital systems according to a recent KPMG report. It said that if the UK automotive industry made a step towards embracing digital vehicle manufacturing within the next 20 years, by 2035, gross value added in the UK would be £8.6 billion higher.
So how does Scotland shape up? Scottish Government analysis shows that 99.3% of Scotland’s private sector is made up of SMEs. In early 2017, CENSIS, in partnership with the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC), organised a workshop and questionnaire to gain insights into the Scottish manufacturing industry’s perception of Industry 4.0, and its impact on capital expenditure and operating expense.
Several barriers were highlighted. Among them, businesses said they are already extremely busy, find it difficult to take time out to strategise, and a lack of information on what might be practical and available underpins this challenge. Also common to most SMEs is the ongoing use of old equipment, operated with legacy processes. There are concerns surrounding the cost implications to transform these systems in line with Industry 4.0 standards, while still delivering return on investment within two to three years.
To address these issues, a consortium of organisations, involving CENSIS, Scottish Enterprise and the AFRC is evaluating the development of a regional digital manufacturing innovation hub. Called Innovation for Manufacturing SMEs (I4MS), the initiative is a European Commission-backed project designed to help companies build capabilities, explore new and different business models, collaborate and develop integrated supply chains.
However, there’s still the challenge of skills to tackle. This is where the National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland (NMIS) comes in. One of its principal aims will be to teach SMEs how to engage with Industry 4.0, by providing training for businesses, as well as qualifications from apprenticeships all the way through to engineering doctorates.
These initiatives need to be supported by organisations that can help businesses foster and accelerate innovation – centres, like CENSIS, are designed to talk to companies and develop powerful, relatable case studies. Our IoT Centre, for example, is designed specifically to progress internet-of-things products and deliver workshops and mentoring support.
Encapsulating the progress that’s been made recently is one of Scotland’s first Industrial IoT demonstrators at the AFRC. The project is analysing the use of low-cost sensor technology in machinery to cut the cost of maintenance, minimise downtime, and detect faults by recording and analysing a range of data – including vibration and temperature. The result will allow predictive maintenance to be implemented and help improve the efficiency of machines, with the aim to use the technology to help businesses boost their bottom line.
Great strides have been made in the past 18 months as Scotland seeks to position itself among the frontrunners in the global Industry 4.0 race. The first crucial steps have been taken, but there’s still a great deal of ground to be covered.
Walt Disney, one of America’s greatest innovators, went from sketching a mouse to running a multi-billion dollar empire. Simon Mone, Innovation Specialist at Scottish Enterprise, blogs about the enduring power of the Disney brand and what entrepreneurs can learn from the great Walt Disney.
This July I went to Orlando with my family to enjoy/endure the sunny weather, the sea and the many, many theme parks. Planning the trip required more organisation than any previous holiday but we were all very excited as it drew close. As I spent time looking at the various parks and attractions I began to get an idea of how much innovation there is involved in continually drawing hordes of people to them year after year and competing with all the other parks. Disney is famous for its innovation and I thought I’d dig a bit deeper and see if there is anything that I could learn that might help me in my role at SE as an innovation specialist.
Apparently Walt Disney’s view was that there are three distinct elements to innovation and new product development. As he said “There were actually three different Walts: the dreamer, the realist, and the spoiler. You never knew which one was coming to the meeting.”
The idea has since been further developed and Disney the company now has an approach with three parallel streams of thinking that generate, evaluate and criticise ideas to solve problems and create new things of value.
The basic premise is that there may be many creative ideas that could solve a problem but not all of those ideas will work in practice or align with the strategic goals of the company. So the ideas are generated in a safe “no bad ideas” environment, evaluated in the “real world” and finally made into deliverable projects if appropriate.
The strategy follows the three “Walts” as stages in the process.
At this stage all ideas are valid and none are criticised. Participants are encouraged to be as creative as possible and look for solutions to problems from any source.
At this stage the team changes its position (and often location) to take the ideas and try to turn them into reality. This stage looks at the practicalities of actually implementing the creative ideas. If an idea can’t be realised then it is dropped.
At this stage the team takes a more constructive and critical approach to using the ideas as solutions to the issues under consideration. What falls out of this stage is a plan of action that has been thought through and determined to be of value.
There are many variations on this approach with similar stages and often with additional stages to expand on the activities but Disney’s certainly seems to work for them.
For companies the take away here is that innovation can benefit from a process. A process can be created that fits with the company and its culture (or changes to the company or culture can be identified as part of that exercise). The generation of ideas should be facilitated and uncritical but the process moving forward must be grounded in the commercial real world and should be in line with the higher level business strategy and goals.
Nigel Walker, Head of Innovation Lending at Innovate UK, asks “what do investors really look for?”
“We have to be extraordinarily selective. We saw around 850 deals in Europe last year… and invested in four.”
This quote from an investor at a well-known venture capital firm highlights just how hard it is to raise equity finance. Knowing what investors are really looking for is essential to have a chance of success in such a competitive environment. At Innovate UK, we want to help the innovative businesses that we support through our funding programmes and connection activities to have a better chance of success in raising capital. So earlier this year we asked leading market research firm Ebiquity to interview 45 leading technology investors about what they look for when seeking new investments.
The investors were a mixture of business angels, equity crowdfunding platforms, venture capital firms and corporate VCs, who are actively investing in disruptive, technology-led and innovative businesses. They invest at all stages, from seed/early venture (over 80% active at these stages) through to growth (60% active at this stage). They invest in a wide range of technology areas, including healthcare, sustainability and digital technologies:
It should come as no surprise that over two thirds of the investors told us that the management team is the most important factor in making investment decisions. As a crowdfunder said: “Team is probably the biggest one for an early stage company…knowing that they’re the right people to solve the problem.” That ‘problem’ is the next most important issue: over 40% said that the market opportunity is key to an attractive investment opportunity. Traction, competitive advantage and a ‘point of novelty’ or intellectual property were the next most important features – as well as the potential for them to make a good return from growth in the investment. One Corporate VC summed up what they look for: “The size of the potential market, the strength of the science, the strength of the IP protecting the science, the quality and experience of the management team and the potential for us to make a timely return on our investment.”
Why do investors turn down opportunities? The reasons again didn’t come as a surprise: 87% said that the management team was the most common reason for turning down proposals. 84% were turned off by poor technology. Over three quarters cited ‘no market’ or ‘no identified need’ as typical reasons to decline proposals. Timing was also an issue – two thirds would reject proposals if they felt that it would take too long and need too much capital to get to market. As one VC put it: “If I think that the financing risk is too high. If I don’t feel that I can raise a sufficient amount of money to get the investment, whereby the product can be developed to the stage of an exit.”
The main barriers and challenges to investing in innovative businesses fell into a few main categories:
- The management team…“They may have significant innovation, but they are often not highly experienced in the other areas such as marketing, sales, finance.”
- An original / competitive idea…“Finding a truly novel technology; we tend to find lots of people doing copycat of what other people are already doing and we don’t find that exciting.”
- Lack of ambition…“In the UK we have a potential lack of ambition and insufficient people willing to put themselves out to try and move the technology forward.”
- High risk…“They are all very high-risk: if you could find ways in which our investments were slightly de-risked, that would be very useful.”
- Access to capital and funding…even for investors, it’s important to know where all the money can come from to take an investment to market so that customer needs can be met, or as one Corporate VC said: “Enabling sufficient funding for small businesses to deliver to a large multinational.”
One area that almost half of this group of investors said was not a major factor, though, was investment readiness. Indeed 96% of our survey respondents said that they would see a business before they were ‘fully investment ready’. So, what do they actually mean by that? What do you need to do in order to be ‘investment ready’?
- Have “the right team on board” – or, failing that, have “the beginnings of a good management team”…or, at the very least have “identified the shortfall in the team!”
- Show that you have product/market fit – i.e. “something proprietary which can address an identified market need.” “To be investment ready they must have real customers who are in a position to buy.”
- Have progressed your innovation so that you have “a novel technology ready to go.”
- Being “ready to make use of money to accelerate the progress” and “understanding what you’re going to spend the money on.”
- And, of course, have done “all the usual preparation: i.e. business plan.” Which means a plan with “the time to market and costs identified, an idea of potential sales and the amount of profitability and ideas on how the exit will be.”
Since Innovate UK have funded over 11,000 projects, carried out by over 8,000 organisations, we wanted to know what these investors thought of the businesses they had seen that had been supported by us. It was great to see that the survey results confirmed our expectations of the main characteristics of high quality, innovative, technology-led businesses that had been chosen well… “Most of them have done a reasonable amount of work around the market, the teams, the technology-readiness.”
But… (there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?)…only about a third of these investors agreed that businesses funded by Innovate UK that had presented to them were “fully investment ready.” Some investors felt that the “customer-focus, the marketing and sales” needed more attention. Others recognised just how early – and risky – the technology development often needs to be in order to benefit from grant funding support.
At Innovate UK, we need to broaden our focus when we are looking at support, to include the key issues of management team and markets. We are doing that. As we evolve our funding models – working closely with investors in our Investment Showcases and in our pilot Investment Accelerator, developing innovation loans to pilot later this year – we are shifting our focus from ‘the innovation project’ to ‘the innovative business.’ Through the Innovate 2 Succeed programme (delivered through the Enterprise Europe Network in England, Wales and Northern Ireland), we are helping SMEs to enhance their capability and capacity to grow through innovation. Our Knowledge Transfer Network and Catapults, operating throughout the UK, are increasingly connecting innovative SMEs with larger corporates to build their market reach and fit into supply chains.
Venturefest events, such as Venturefest Scotland on 20 September 2017 in Glasgow, are another way to shift that focus. The aim is to bring together innovators, entrepreneurs and investors and to get beyond the innovation itself to see how it can drive business growth. Having sponsors from the Enterprise Agencies and from the private sector helps to connect public and private resources and large and small businesses. Having feeder events in universities and entrepreneur spaces helps to connect technology and business thinking. And having investors there will give you the chance to ask their advice – and find out what they are really looking for.
I am getting a pet robot.
I will soon be the very proud owner of a Marty the Robot and I cannot wait. I’m already thinking about what outfits I can make for him. I’m thinking Christmas Marty… Halloween Marty…Superhero Marty. I know… I can already hear the mutters of “that’s what happens when you give a woman a robot”. But I don’t care. My Marty will be getting a Wonder Woman cape and he will love it. I may not have any existing tech skills, but I’m pretty darn handy with a needle and thread.
The main reason I’m getting a pet robot however, is not to dress him up – it’s to learn how to programme and code. Something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while.
Duncan Logan, Scottish-born founder and CEO of tech accelerator Rocketspace said during an interview at the Start Up Summit run by We Are The Future in 2016 that “I don’t code, but if I was as young as some people in this audience, I would go and learn to code. It’s such a valuable thing, especially if you’re passionate about tech companies.” That really stuck with me and I’ve been mulling over it ever since. Should I? Could I? Or is it way too late for someone over the age of 30 to learn? You can watch Duncan’s talk and the rest of the brilliant afternoon session. Or, even better, get tickets for the 2017 Start Up Summit
Computer coding is a universal language and who wouldn’t want to be able to speak that? I’m assuming that just like learning a new language, or riding a bike, learning to code is easier when you are young. But equally it’s never too late to learn. For kids, the benefits of learning to programme are in educational learning, computational thinking, stimulation of creativity, fluidity of thinking and job opportunities. But actually, for anyone, even later in life, the benefits are exactly the same.
For anyone who hasn’t come across Robotical and their Marty the Robots – they are an Edinburgh based start-up who have come out of the Informatics department at the University of Edinburgh. You can meet them in person at Venturefest Scotland as they will be exhibiting in the 2017 Innovation Showcase. They are also one of the companies I came across through working with the SE High Growth Ventures team. Supported by Informatics Ventures, founder Sandy Enoch went on to do a Scottish Enterprise-funded RSE Enterprise Fellowship then pitched his idea for funding at Scottish EDGE and Scotland’s tech investment showcase, EIE. Seeing Marty pitch (or rather his human pitching on his behalf) at Scotedge and EIE, it was robo-love at first sight. On seeing him play football at the TEDx Glasgow Demo area, the deal was sealed. I had to have one.
Robotical say “Get future-proof with Marty, the programmable and customisable robot for kids, makers and educators”. Now I am neither a kid, maker or educator but I’m not letting that stop me. Marty is a fully programmable, customisable walking robot that can turn, dance, kick a ball, and more. Controllable from your phone, programmable over wi-fi out of the box and easily expanded with a Raspberry Pi or Ardunio, Marty can help you learn about programming, electronics, mechanical design, 3D printing and robotics. Hours of fun! He can be as simple or sophisticated as you like and you can start in Scratch (a simple programming language to get you started), then progress on up to heavyweight languages like Python or C++ as your programming knowledge improves.
According to figures from the European Commission, there are now more than 4 million ICT jobs in Europe with that number growing by the rate of 100,000+ per year. However their research predicted there will be a shortfall of talent in Europe to fill these jobs of almost 1 million people by 2020. An O2 report backed this up, reporting that over 745,000 new ‘digital workers’ will be needed by the end of 2017. A worrying trend for tech focused companies – but also, what an opportunity. Not just for the next generation, but for anyone who wants to expand their skill set and transform themselves into digital talent.
This is reflected in the recruitment market, where SME-focused recruitment used to be dominated by sales, marketing and account management roles. According to specialist recruitment firm Eden Scott, 60% of the jobs they searched for last year were in front-end digital areas such as analytics, user experience (UX), paid search, inbound marketing and user interface development (UI).
I mulled over the “to code or not to code” question as long as I did because I wondered realistically, whether I could get myself to the point where I could put these skills to use in an actual job or whether this would be just a part time hobby. Can being self taught by a pet robot really help address the coding/tech skills gap? But then I met Marty and the decision was made.
The markets are moving on but our skills are not. But rather than wait around for government, education authorities and academic institutions to provide a long term solution for this ever widening gap, we can take practical steps ourselves to upskill, go digital and become the talent that is so much in demand.
I’ll be gooey eyed for a week when Marty arrives (he is due to arrive in September). I’ll probably take him into work, on a visit to the pub and try to programme him to follow me around the house. That’s the goal. In preparation for his arrival, I had a bash at some of the Codeacademy lessons, (with varying degrees of confusion and success). I started with the basic HTML lesson and am working through all the free lessons in the beginners section. It’s a brilliant website and they make it incredibly easy. In foreign language terms I’m probably now at the stage where I can tell people my name, say please and thank you and order a beer. I’ve been really encouraged by how easy Codecademy have made it, especially the ability to dip in and out and learn at your own pace. There are no downloads required and you can even do it in your lunch hour at work.
My pet robot and I, Wonder Woman cape and all, will be avidly spreading the word to encourage others – old and young – to up their digital game with programming and coding skills. Whether you learn to create a website, achieve ninja coding master status or just become a bit more digital savvy, you will be future proofing yourself for the better. If nothing else, it’s fun!
With my office gripped by robo-fever, my boss Ana has also ordered a Marty for her two daughters (aged seven and five. And for herself, equally). So that’s four women who will now be learning to code and adding to Scotland’s skill base in tech, all because of a cute little robot with heart-melting eyebrows. Addressing the skills gap in the happiest way. For Ana’s kids certainly, these skills will set them in great stead and open up a world of possibilities for them. As it would for anyone. Any age, any where. It’s never too early and it’s certainly never too late to learn.
Future jobs may likely be in the space sector, cyber security, data storage and collaboration technologies but who knows what the more civilian developments will be and how you’ll end up using these skills day to day in your personal and home life. With drone technology becoming ever more accessible and affordable, there may be potential in future for my Marty to fly!? That’s just too exciting to even think about…I had better go get started on that cape.
If you’re interested in trying your hand at coding or up-skilling to be a part of the digital revolution, have a look at:
@RoboticalLtd – Get yourself a Marty!!!
@Codecademy – Learn to code interactively and for free. This website gives both free and paid for lessons, courses and is incredibly user friendly and accessible.
@CodeClanScot – full and part time software development courses in Edinburgh and Glasgow to help you upskill and change career.
@GirlsWhoCode – a non-profit that works to inspire, educate and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities.
@womenintech – a community helping women achieve career success in tech.
@girlgeekscot – Girl Geek Scotland is a Girl Geek Dinners Network who are a community for women working with computing, creativity and enterprise in Scotland.
Coder Dojos (if you’re between seven and 17) which are an open-source, volunteer movement teaching young people between seven and 17 to code. There are there are now 476 CoderDojo clubs in 48 countries. If you are considerably over 17, initiatives such as Barclays Digital Eagles are helping those who are older to gain digital skills such as running a website, using e-commerce or maintaining a social media presence, which are a great place to start. Or you could teach yourself with a Raspberry Pi – not quite as cute as Marty, but still.
Or if you too have a Marty, tweet me a picture of your robot in action at @SME_Innovation. If your Marty fancies a game of superhero-caped football, give me a shout!
In an increasingly connected world, companies are embracing Open Innovation as a way of solving their most pressing business problems. In our latest blog, Jillian Moffat, Head of Open Innovation at Scottish Enterprise, explains the opportunity and how your company can get involved.
If you’re an innovative Scottish company you may have already heard about Open Innovation, but you might be a bit in the dark as to how it relates to your company or how you can get involved.
Many companies recognise that they can’t always rely entirely on their own research and development to accelerate innovation. Some of the worlds leading companies are scanning the horizon looking to find and create partnerships with smaller, more agile companies to work together to create solutions for their problems. This collaboration is known as Open Innovation and its building momentum here in Scotland.
At Scottish Enterprise we are approaching the second anniversary of our four year Open Innovation Pilot Programme. We are supporting a cohort of 13 organisations, from both the private and public sector, on their journeys to implement Open Innovation into their respective organisations.
The aim of the programme, the first of its kind in Scotland, will significantly increase the demand for new innovative products and services from the SME community. We are forecasting to develop new markets, issue at least 150 new challenges for innovative solutions over the lifetime of the programme and generate additional research and development spend.
So far we’ve promoted approximately 35 challenges generating more than 500 responses, of which 50% have been Scottish SMEs.
Companies that have provided solutions are now winning contracts. They’re engaged in pilots to test solutions, and beginning collaborations with some of the cohort companies. Watch this space for future announcements!
A crucial part of the programme is meeting quarterly to learn openly from each other and share best practice. We feature new and different methodologies around Open Innovation, and have garnered a range of insights and learning’s from industry and academic speakers.
At our last cohort meeting NASA dropped into Glasgow. It was a cold, wet day but that didn’t dampen the excitement of hosting a special guest from the USA – the aptly named Steve Rader from the Centre of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation at NASA.
We held the event in the newly-opened Scottish Power HQ building at Charing Cross – an impressive 14-storey structure in the centre of the city. NASA has been practicing Open Innovation for six years, and Steve emphasised that this process was as much about culture change than implementing a new innovation process. Steve’s presentation reaffirmed the benefits of Open Innovation. These included reduced time to market and a range of innovative solutions – with some stellar case studies of the challenges that NASA have put out to a crowd, and the diverse range of solutions they’ve received in return.
Are you up for a challenge? Make sure you’re regularly reviewing our website and social media channels for some great business opportunities.
Jillian Moffat will be at Venturefest 2017 contributing at the Open Innovation workshop which is being hosted by Scottish Power Energy Networks. Register now to come along and hear from multiple perspectives and gain a greater understanding of how Open Innovation can work for your company.