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!
The above titled event, which I attended in November, was just one in a month-long series of high profile launch events for the UK’s Connected Digital Economy Catapult (aka Digital Catapult Centre). As you might imagine this event was designed to bring together the right mix of entrepreneurs, digital start-ups, academics and financiers for a day of insightful presentations, conversations and networking about the UK digital economy.
The event was organised by BCS Entrepreneurs, in collaboration with the Digital Catapult Centre, and it featured 3 themed sessions on: Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), and Finance for entrepreneurs. These hot topics provided the framework for many interesting viewpoints and discussions on how best to accelerate digital innovation and keep the UK at the forefront of the unfolding digital revolution (click here to see videos). Some highlights and key takeaways include:
- Innovation opportunities abound– The speakers described or demonstrated a plethora of novel concepts, products, services and emerging uses for such things as: big data / analytics, wearable technologies, smart city technology and ubiquitous connected devices / sensors / actuators (aka “Internet of Things). The abundance of new digital products, services, capabilities, and behaviours are self-propelling and accelerating their own evolution;
- The demographic skew– Digitally enabled independent living and age related health care solutions are set to grow dramatically over the next few years – A few presentations touched on the challenges and opportunities presented by an aging “baby boom” generation to their “digital native” inheritors, and conclude that the demographic time-bomb is well and truly ticking down the minutes to a seemingly inevitable conclusion – from baby boom to ka-boom!
- Universities lead the way– For example, University College London’s UCL Decide program provides a ready test bed, (with a potential captive test population of 35,000 staff and students), that can be deployed to put any digital offering through its paces before launch. Such Institutions of higher learning are increasingly leading the digital gold rush by providing fertile breeding grounds for more digitally savvy entrepreneurs (i.e. those people formerly known as graduates);
- Pervasive Smart City tech – One speaker described the ability to leverage open street data, transport network information, air traffic control and meteorological data to provide real time city simulations which, in conjunction with virtual / augmented reality and gesture based controllers, can present any city as a living, breathing digital organism. Smart City visualization and logistics solutions on display point the way towards a pervasive cloud of data and technologies with which city dwellers in the not-too-distant future can carry out their day-to-day activities including: planning / transport / communication / collaboration;
- Funding models abound– The panel on “Raising Finance” featured speakers from: venture capital, angel investment, banking, grants and crowd funding organisations. They represented different styles, types and stages of financing available for high-growth companies or start-ups. One audience member questioned why grant funding was so complex that it required 3rd party organisations to help would be entrepreneurs, to which the panel responded that government was “institutionally incapable of providing anything simple” – Enough said.
Anything that simplifies and facilitates entrepreneurship, such as government backed Digital Catapult Centres, can only be a good thing in my book.
Overall, I thought this event was a great introduction to the Connected Digital Economy Catapult Centre, staff and attendees, but the real star of the show for me was the venue: a purpose built facility for open, collaborative innovation and entrepreneurship which is aptly located in the heart of London’s emerging Knowledge Quarter, surrounded by world class institutions such as: the British Library, Wellcome Trust, Turing Institute (for Big data), the Crick Institute (for Genetic Research) and University of London.
The organisers (i.e. BCS Entrepreneurs and the Digital Catapult Centre) are very keen to work with entrepreneurs, service providers, financiers and academic institutions to create innovative digital solutions that make the most of opportunities in the digital age. This is also reflected in a growing corporate appetite for collaborative innovation, as evidenced in the likes of Capgemini’s Co-innovation Labs and other such corporate innovation ventures / hot houses and incubators. For any would be entrepreneur, these are exciting times indeed!
Antonis Patrikios, (Director at FieldFisher), spoke about the legal aspects of IoT and privacy, as well as the need to ensure that IoT works for the benefit of people. He described IoT as the “Internet of Trust” because that is what will be needed to enhance user experience and address key legal challenges such as user privacy and the fact that “IoT is global, but the law is not”.
Finally, the University College London (UCL) provided a glimpse of real IoT projects developed by UCL post graduate students using Microsoft technology. They described realistic usage scenarios and demonstrated the ability to organise groups of Things, controlled via a “Captain” device, to support multiple uses of the same Things (or groups thereof). E.g. the same Captain device in a hospital room full of Things could service the use cases of multiple stakeholders, including the: doctor, patient, family members, building security and hospital administrators.
In the end, all speakers seemed to agree that the combination of IoT and Big Data will be THE game changer in the next wave of computing. There was a certain buzz in the air, as attendees and speakers discussed the possibilities and challenges posed by IoT. One show of hands survey indicated that attendees thought the Internet of Things was at least as significant as, if not more so than, the advent of the original Internet. It was also felt that user education, (e.g. by the IoT service providers, “Thing makers” and their collaborators), would be key to the success and acceptance of IoT by the general public – people are genuinely concerned about their privacy, personal safety and security.
Speakers, Dave Chapman and Dean Mohammedally, from the University College London (UCL) provided an inside view of the workings of IDEA London (including a tour of the facilities afterwards), as well as their innovative Computer Science & Software Engineering programmes which feature students undertaking real world projects with various sponsoring or client organisations. Simon Elliott, Head of Innovation at Worldline (an ATOS company) described how traditional enterprises are like walled gardens which benefit greatly by collaborating with universities which are like a small sprawling village or kibbutz (with flowing porous boundaries), to mutual benefit in tackling major challenges such as aging population, mobile working etc. He also described the innovation process within his organisation and how they work in collaboration with universities such as UCL and IDEALondon.
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.
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