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Intellectual Property for Start-Ups

October 28, 2016 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate, as chair & speaker, at a BCS Entrepreneurs event discussing the role and value of Intellectual Property for start-ups and entrepreneurs. As you might imagine this was a well attended event with so many different questions foremost on the minds of various attendees.

Given the focus on my favourite topics of IP and entrepreneurship, it didn’t take much persuasion for me to sign-up and chair the event. Furthermore, I was in the company of two legal experts on: EU IP law (Jonathan Exell, from William Powells) and employment law (Bob Fahy, from Veale Wasbrough Vizards) respectively. Also the attendees were certainly not shy to engage and they took some delight in systematically dissecting the trickier aspects of entrepreneurship and the start-up vs. IP challenge in a changing landscape. 

As introduction and kickoff, I provided a quick overview of some of those key challenges facing startups with respect to IP. This was mainly based on a previous post and article I’d written and published about this same topic. 

The first speaker followed through with a thorough recap of the legal position on IP particularly with regard to the EU and Brexit. Key message: it’ll likely be business as usual for IP in post Brexit UK, at least in the near term. Also, it is highly unlikely that the UK will deviate too radically from the increasingly aligned position on IP  which most of the world enjoy today.

The second legal perspective provided some insights on key challenges and opportunities facing anyone trying to manage the IP risks and issues associated with employees, disgruntled or otherwise. Here the lines become somewhat blurred between contract vs. employment vs. IP laws. It was interesting to observe the number of questions relating to how founders should approach the challenge of establishing who has what IP (and / or portions thereof) when their start-up fails, flounders, or even flourishes!

To say this event was informative and enlightening would be an understatement because the second part of the seminar consisted of 1-to-1 mentorship sessions, with experienced BCS mentors exploring attendees individual circumstances in order to provide specific guidance based on the topic at hand. Pure value delivered, if you ask me. As an exercise in giving back, I can think of no better way to spend an evening than by learning, interacting and exploring various start-up IP challenges with enthusiastic entrepreneurs, mentors and experts from within and outside of the BCS.

One thing I love about my work is how it affords me unfettered opportunity to give back, by providing dedicated time (and a measurable objective) to undertake pro bono activities, such as this one, which is aimed at helping others in need of expertise or guidance for projects, worthy causes or personal development. Pure Ohana!

Will academic education ever satisfy the skills needs for IT?

June 20, 2013 1 comment

“This house believes that academic education will never satisfy the skills needs of the IT Profession” was the title of last week’s Oxford Union style debate, jointly hosted by BCS Chartered Institute for IT (via Learning Development Specialist Group) and the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, at Armourer’s Hall in the City of London.  

BCS Debate

BCS Debate

In this historical and fully weaponised environment, (with apparently enough arms and armour to record an episode of The Game of Thrones), the scene was set for a pitched battle between two teams, for and against the house position, with limited audience participation and a final vote to decide the winners. Some key observations from the debate include:

  • Academic education provides a foundation for the skills needed to work in IT, and much like a building’s foundation, “you can’t live in it but you can build great structures upon it”
  • Academic education only teaches the core skills (e.g. how to think) for working in IT, but education also happens through out life, and not just during periods of formal education
  •  Academic education is insufficient for working in IT because it is purposely designed to cater for more cerebral, rather than hands-on, skills training.
  • Apprenticeships may be necessary but universities and other educational institutions are not best suited for apprenticeships. The IT industry should play its part too.
  • In no other profession would you trust a fresh graduate with key responsibilities. Academic education provides the live ware, but it’s the employer’s job to configure them.
  • Both sides seemed almost in violent agreement that academic education in itself wasn’t sufficient for the IT profession, however the opposition felt this was more a design feature rather than outright flaw.

Overall, I got the impression that attendees may have expected something a tad more passionate than the well argued but mostly polite points and counterpoints from both sides.

Furthermore, some interesting slants were omitted in the debate, e.g. digital entrepreneurship as a viable option for freshly minted graduates. According to one attendee, academic education could do more to encourage and equip students to create, or seek to work, in new start-ups after graduation. This could pay off in many ways e.g. by providing graduates with: practical on-the-job training; immediate employment; business relevant skills and unfettered creativity (which are not always available within a rigid corporate environment), besides – fresh graduates likely have ‘nothing to lose’ and everything to gain by doing this at this stage in their careers. Even more to the point, corporates will also benefit by recruiting seasoned and experienced entrepreneurs with more practical and immediately deployable skills.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this particular event; the topic / debate, the excellent venue and networking opportunities all made for a brilliant evening, and I feel very fortunate to be able to participate in, and sometimes contribute to, events such as these that help move the industry forward. Next week, we’ve scheduled an event featuring Andy Mulholland (Capgemini’s ex-Global CTO), who will speak about the emerging digital enterprise. Do register and try to attend if at all possible – it promises to be another excellent event, courtesy of the BCS North London and BCS Elite groups.

Creating an ecosystem for entrepreneurs, innovators and investors

June 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Creating an ecosystem for entrepreneurs, innovators and investors

What do you get when you gather some entrepreneurs, serious investors, and innovators together at a jam-packed, invitation-only, event on entrepreneurship? Read on to find out…

Follow The Entrepreneur

Follow The Entrepreneur Summit 2013

I attended the third annual Follow the Entrepreneur Investor Summit, and wasn’t disappointed by the impressive speakers, entrepreneurs and location. The event focused on: “The New Common Sense” (why society needs to organise around the entrepreneur), and “The New Future” (how entrepreneurs are transforming the future of business). Among the superb array of speakers and topics, a few highlights include:

Former defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox MP, delivered a key note calling for the UK to focus more on growing the economy by encouraging entrepreneurship.

Dell’s entrepreneur in resident, Ingrid Vanderveldt, descibed how corporates can get into the action by providing the facility to connect startups with resources (e.g. Dell’s Entrepreneur Centre), and she wondered why more corporates were not already doing this.

Mark Hoffman, ceo of Oxygen Finance group, and founder of Sybase and Commerce One, explained how to make money from account payables, via an innovative new service

Panelist, Geoff Knott, recalled how social innovation and reform has always had the biggest impact on society, and called for entrepreneurs to “think broader than just business”.

Panelist, Frank Meehan, described how a 16 year old created a news summarisation service, and  secured investment from Li-Kashing’s Horizons Venture. The service is set to be acquired by Yahoo!

Matternet Drones

Matternet Drones

Panellist, Andreas Raptopoulos presented a bold vision for radical transformation of the transport and logistics industry with Matternet, an AI enabled network of drones and ground stations that can be used to deliver medicine and other lightweight goods in remote or road challenged locations around the world. I said it was a bold vision.

Mary Turner, serial entrepreneur and former CEO of Tiscali UK, described a service that senses and alerts users to events at home. The sensing network being a key component of the intelligent home and the Internet of Things.

This event was full of entrepreneurs with fascinating ideas in different stages of maturity, and it felt very much like an innovations parade; one idea even better than the next. For example, I ran into the founder of Scoopshot, (a service providing crowd-sourced visual content – i.e. images and footage for breaking news); then heard from the founders of Quill (a service for bespoke, branded content, articles which has since raised £1M from Ariadne & partners), and Taggstar (a data rich, content tagging service that enables shopping, sharing, viewing and targeting). When combined with investors and established legal / media industry representatives, one could easily see the future of transmedia content publishing and usage business models all present together in the one room. The same could be said for any other industry e.g. health, defence, logistics or manufacturing you care to name.

In conclusion, I believe it is this sort of occasion and environment (with the right mix of investors, innovators and entrepreneurs) that some key connections and relationships are sparked off, which ultimately go on to impact the world.

The Startup Kids

May 30, 2013 2 comments

Digital innovation is becoming the norm for young startups these days, and the resulting shift in culture and attitude that comes along with it is now pervasive in the Silicon valleys, alleys, glens, and roundabouts of this world. However, this wasn’t always the case, and it only takes a good documentary to show just how far things have moved on from the days of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to the current crop of digital wunderkinds.

 

BCSStartupKids

BCSStartupKids

 

Early this month, I attended the screening of The Startup Kids, a documentary film about said young digital startups, courtesy of BCS Entrepreneurs specialist group, and I wrote a review for it here. Suffice it to say that the cast of subjects interviewed on this hour long film read like a who is who of young digital entrepreneurs and included founders of such popular services as: Vimeo, Soundcloud, Kiip, InDinero, Dropbox, and Foodspotting to name a few. The topics covered include: what it takes to be a real digital entrepreneur (e.g. words like obsessive, passionate, workaholics come to mind), and why only the smart, flexible, and incredibly lucky few ever make it all the way. All in all, it was a really good and insightful documentary

Thanks to the BCS Entrepreneurs, and the Innovation Warehouse, for hosting this fun event, and here’s hoping for more such events in the future.

Innovation in Digital Music Distribution and Promotion

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Following on from my recent post about the concept of innovation as something you do, and not just something you say, I came across an example of what I would consider innovation in action, courtesy of a newly launched digital music distribution / promotion service called Music2Text.

Music2text

Music2text Logo

According to their literature, Music2text is a service that provides artistes and labels with the ability to sell or giveaway music tracks direct to fans, via plain old SMS (or mobile text messages). The proposition is simple, and can be summarised in 3 steps, as follows:

 

  1. First, take an existing technology, SMS in this case, and figure out a new way to use it for mass music distribution and promotion
  2. Make sure the service is fast, free and easy to setup / use (e.g. within 30 minutes, if you already have all the prerequisite information / digital files to hand).
  3. Then monetise it by allowing punters to associate their music (ringtone or full song) with a simple keyword which the fans can then use to access it by texting that word to a number – 60444 (UK only, at this time). The service replies with a link through which the track can be downloaded, bought or shared with others.

 

The music owners can choose to distribute their music or ringtones for free, in which case the service is completely free to use, (including links to their favourite mobile and social media channels). In my opinion, this free aspect makes Music2Text an almost perfect mobile, distribution and social marketing tool, with something to offer all key stakeholders, including: music labels, publishers, artistes and their customers / fans.

 

That said, and in true reviewer fashion, I requested and was given a guided tour of the service by the founders, and I even went one better to upload one of my own tracks onto the service with the keyword ‘Bring’ (yes, I produce music in my not so spare time!). And you can try it out for yourself too, but please be kind if you spot my ringtone track, and wish to comment on it

 

Overall, I think this is an excellent proposition. However, it is still very much a start-up service, (albeit a brilliant / creative and enterprising one), with the usual minor teething problems you might expect. The monetisation element, with its 90 day keyword limit, makes this a likely vehicle for promotional / marketing applications (e.g. release promos, live tours and competitions etc.), which is no bad thing at all. The music industry revenue model is slowly embracing other sources of income e.g. live performance, streaming (see this post / infographic for recent trends), and now SMS could get onto that list, if this all works out.

 

So what makes this a real example of innovation, you might ask. Well, if you’ve heard the adage about putting new wine into old wineskins, then you might be forgiven for thinking that this proposition is doomed to failure. However, the ability to reuse / repurpose an existing, and possibly boring, technology to new and profitable ends is right to the heart of innovation, in my opinion. I say well done guys, and keep the UK innovation flag flying!

Talking Innovation

July 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Innovation is a great word for a great concept, and most people seem to have something to say about it, but the fact remains that innovation (or being innovative) is not something said or claimed, but rather it is best used (preferably by others) to describe an accomplishment. With that in mind, how difficult or easy is it really to innovate, or to be innovative?

Tough questions which it seems can only be answered by those who have themselves done it. Apparently, there exists different categories of innovation, including: incremental, tangential or accidental, and the much-loved (by start-ups and investors) disruptive innovation. Over the past few weeks, I had several opportunities to discuss or participate in activities, events and groups concerned with innovation, to different degrees, and below are brief highlights from some of them:

Logos

Innovation related events / activities / groups

 

  • Brand New BCS Entrepreneurs Specialist Group – In an industry famous for turning other industries on their collective heads, the BCS Chartered Institute for IT has finally created a specialist group dedicated to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship among its members, businesses and society at large. I attended the pre-formation meeting, at the rather appropriately named Innovation Warehouse, and can safely say that the aims / aspirations of this group to engage with entrepreneurial communities in order to grow the digital ecosystem is right on target, and should be one to watch.
  • Mentoring innovation at the Information Technologists’ Company – An event on mentoring, organised by the 100th livery company of the City of London, was the forum for meeting several like-minded entrepreneurs, investors and technology leaders. Suffice it to say that this company takes seriously, its aim to give something back to society via robust programmes of charity and education (including mentoring) of those less fortunate / established amongst us.
  • Innovation Foundation – I recently had a chat with Professor Hargreaves, of UK IP Review fame, at the London HQ of NESTA, (the independent charity for innovation and entrepreneurship with stated mission to “help people and organisations bring great ideas to life”). The aims and objectives of this organisation are ever more relevant and urgently needed for a sustainable economic recovery, especially as more people are venturing to set up their own innovative technology businesses in the UK.
  • Parliament, Industry and the Lord Sugar – The Industry and Parliament Trust works to encourage more real world interaction and constructive dialogue between UK business and parliament. Their recent AGM featured renowned entrepreneur, the Lord Sugar (from BBC’s The Apprentice) who held a Q&A session which covered among other things, the often unrealistic expectation of young entrepreneurs (who mostly wish to become the next Mark Zuckerberg), and his belief that entrepreneurship is a quality best observed, commented and bestowed upon a person by others, pretty much as observed earlier about innovation.
  • Social Media Jam – A brief internal social media event featuring digital agency co-founder, AKQA’s Ajaz Ahmed, talking about the Seven Laws of Velocity, in his new book entitled “Velocity: The Seven New Laws for a World Gone Digital”. A wealth of anecdotes on innovation included an observation about how really great innovative companies (e.g. Sony or Apple) will not often to themselves as innovators, rather this is how others perceive and refer to their products and services – once again, after the fact!

All wonderful stuff indeed, and which has left me with a fierce hunger (or “La Niaque”) to do and become more involved in groups and activities that foster innovation. For example, next week, I’ll be speaking about the role of enterprise architecture in innovation at the Open Group Conference in Washington DC. In any case, the two key messages I picked up from the above listed flurry of activities / events / groups are:

  1. A common theme that real innovators and entrepreneurs will often be perceived and described as such, by others, after the fact. Actions truly speak louder than words in this respect.
  2. Technology consulting firms and system integrators, such as Capgemini, may have a key role to play in the innovation / entrepreneurship ecosystem, especially as a trusted advisor and potential partner to large organisations clients in their quest to connect with those innovative, high-growth companies (not necessarily early stage start-ups) that can help them differentiate / change / elevate their game in the fast changing business and technology environment.

I would welcome any suggestions / comments / critique on the best ways to help make the latter happen. As for the former, I guess we’ll just have to wait until after the fact!

Hands-On Gamification

The inaugural event for GSUMMITx – Gamification in London, which was hosted yesterday at Capgemini’s ASE in Holborn, provided a sneak peek into the world of gamification and its application to solving real world problems for business and the enterprise.

GSummitx - Gamification in London (at Capgemini's ASE)

GSummitx – Gamification in London (at Capgemini’s ASE)

 

The event featured a talk by author and gamification expert, Gabe Zichermann; a DIY online leader board demo from a startup called Leaderboarded; as well as the problem-du-jour / challenge faced by a non-profit organisation which it would like to solve with gamification. A key high-light for me was the facilitated / hands-on session which demonstrated the use of games technique in the ideation process of gamestorming (or games based brainstorming) for solving a real world problem, in this case: how to enable debates at a global level. The gamestorming technique used was based on the 3-12-3 game, as originally described in the eponymous book called ‘Gamestorming’ (see: my review of same) Some interesting suggestions that emerged from the session included: an avater-based online system (to protect the vulnerable); a global SMS debate platform (to include/reach the widest demographic); and adoption of universal rules for debates, possibly even including ‘Rap battle’ style formats – seriously. The winner by far was the idea of an ‘instagram like’ platform for debating. Btw. you know you’ve got it made when your service / platform is now being used to describe other ideas.

So yes, this was a fun event, with lots of fresh ideas, new information and experiences for the 40-strong audience. More information about GSUMMITx – Gamification in London, including some audience feedback, can be found at their Meetup homepage. Also, you can find out more about Capgemini’s ASE here, (and on here YouTube)