Thursday 29 April 2010

Entrepreneurs on the move – Connected Cambridge Event Review

From Milton Dec 2009

Peter Hiscocks gave an insight into the prizes and perils of being an Entrepreneur in an entertaining and informative talk at the Connected Cambridge meeting last night, sponsored by Anglia Ruskin University

This was an event organised by Peter Hewkin’s newest successful brain child, Connected Cambridge, a high tech network of entrepreneurs, financiers and generally bright people interested in the cutting edge of business in the Cambridge UK area with links to sister networks in Shanghai and Oxford.

The venue, the CB2 restaurant and bistro gave the appearance of a student meeting place and you wandered upstairs into the friendly informality of a relaxed networking meeting, the air buzzing with conversation. The projection screen was an impromptu affair of bed sheet on one wall and for the talk, the audience stood or sat in a casual circle as Peter Hiscocks delivered his presentation.

An outsider glancing in would have been misled by the informal environment until beginning to overhear conversations on new company start-ups, ideas in inception and in progress, of funding opportunities beginning in the tens of thousands of pounds and expected turnovers or company sales in the millions.

Peter Hiscocks talked frankly about three companies he had been involved in as an entrepreneur, where one had been a loss, a second a break even and the third a very profitable sale. It was this view of being an entrepreneur, with its peaks and troughs that was fascinating for the audience; here are a few of the impressions and titbits of information we gleaned about being an Entrepreneur.

Three key points were:

  1. If you are going to do something, do it really well, recruit only the best and throw yourself into the project
  2. Charge high margins – that way you are never distracted by running after money just to keep you going
  3. Sell the business at the right time!

But how do you find the right area? You create your own opportunities by looking for new growth areas with financial potential and finding ideas that fill an up and coming need. This means keeping an open eye for any trends and ideas as well as brainstorming with equally minded people.

Your business plan should be able to excite the investor as well as being realistic – the latter meaning that you should expect it to cost twice as much as originally budgeted and take three times as long.

Your assembled team is critical – a factor seriously undervalued by many new startups. Make your business exciting so that you attract the best who have consequently a burning desire to be involved – especially as the early phases will be hard work with the rewards on or just beyond the horizon, some time away!

And how do you know if things are going pear shaped in your market? Here’s Peter’s tip from London’s financial industry: If taxi drivers experience a sudden drop in fares in the area, its time to sell your company!

Apart from the excellent talk, there was also the enjoyable networking afterwards and I met bright minds from Jordan, from the creative network in our area, a venture capitalist and fellow communicators for B2B, just to name a few.

I reflected on an excellent meeting with a warm glow as I followed the silver ribbon of the Cam river path, cycling home in the gloaming on my traffic busting bicycle in true Cambridge fashion.

Look out for future Connected Cambridge meetings, I know I will.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Making my QR code more human

Ever since I was introduced to QR codes, they have been in the forefront of my thoughts, from an artistic angle.

QR codes are 2D codes that have the capability of storing data that can be retrieved, providing links and even ticketing and couponing solutions, as I learnt from Mirko kisser of Celloon. Indeed, they can be combined with a powerful online tracking system to convert a print product into a remarkable market analysis tool.

The problem is their sterility. Celloon have a solution of combining icons with the code, The Japanese design company Set has taken the QR codes and also made art out of them.

Simplistically, I wanted to understand if I could do the same.

I created my business card information as a QR code using a freely available QR code Generator at

The image of the QR code was then printed at about A4 size and I spent an enjoyable hour at the Television, idly doodling a more curvy tracing of the barcode elements, making sure that there were little separate islands too.

I scanned the black and white tracing into my PC and converted it into a vector trace using CorelDraw, allowing smoothing of lines.

It was now possible to colour the individual islands in a random pattern to achieve a much more user friendly QR code - see the slide show above or go to Picasa.

Playing with colours and contrasts showed that you just needed a suitable contrast from the background and not too great a difference between the colours in their contrast if viewed as a greyscale. corners of pixels could be rounded, especially if you created a QR code with some error correction, as is possible.

Most modern mobile phones (cell phones) with cameras can take apps that allow you to read QR codes - provided mine for a Nokia.

So if you are new to QR codes, have a play creating some and seeing how much you can bend the rules before the colouring or distortion becomes unreadable!

Sunday 25 April 2010

Songs from the musicals in the spotlight! A First show Review

From Wordle-images

I've just thoroughly enjoyed the first show in Lincoln, based on songs from musicals old and new, with a talented cast that appealed to an audience across the generations!

My initial response to my daughter's suggestion, that we visit a show based on musicals during our visit from Cambridge, was less than enthusiastic – until she mentioned that it featured Faye Tozer (ex Steps)!

Daughter, parents and grandparent thus sat down in the Drill Hall in Lincoln with the expectation of seeing “In the Spotlight: Songs from the musicals” featuring Faye with a supporting cast. It was with increasing surprise and delight that I found myself enjoying new talent sharing the stage as justifiably equal partners.

The show really gelled for me by the time it reached “Seventeen” from “Slice of Saturday Night” with assured performances by what I initially thought were clear male and female leads of the troupe. Christopher Finn shone as a vocalist with a sense of comedic acting and petite Rebecca Wicking consistently displayed an excellent voice and exuberance that gave her a much larger stage presence.

Only to find that later numbers showcased an equally talented Annabel King who tugged at the heart with the more wistful and melancholic solos and duets and Mark Daley and Tom Garner completed the primary vocalist talent and attracted the attention of the female audience.

Dancing was an integral part of the show and the further six dancers/vocalists not only enhanced the overall performance, they also entertained as pairs in Act II; with Ellie Cobb and David Kemp (I believe) performing a sizzling tongue in cheek Cha Cha Cha.

Music was professionally provided by the live band, on a raised dais at the back of the stage, such that it provided the reassuring constant and excellent support for the performers and the continuing thread for the audience.

With this being the very first time performers, lighting, sound system and band performed together, there were the inevitable glitches. Future shows will be spared the late or absent microphone fade-ins which did injustice to the voices of both Lindsay Shaw and Charlotte Gayle during their solos; the spotlights occasionally not reaching the artists at the very front of the stage; and the tap dancing by the whole group awaiting that final last percent of synchronization to make it brilliant. However, whilst possibly terminal for the sound and lighting teams if not addressed, these elements only marginally impinged on the overall enjoyment of the show.

But what about my initial reason for coming, Faye Tozer? Faye impressed me on two accounts.

First, her vocal range and delivery were excellent - and the acting experience in the years since I'd seen her in Steps was obvious in the different roles she played. She exuded the subtle aura of an experienced professional performer at ease in the show she was playing in.

Second, she refrained from using these advantages to dominate the show to the detriment of the new talent, allowing them to shine too. Faye thereby ensured that this was a true company presentation. Her confidence and ease with herself and her partners appeared to me to be a key part of the success and nature of this company; one that could have been equally represented on the fliers, posters and program covers.

Leaving the theater late, we unexpectedly met Faye Tozer relaxing with her son outside and exchanged a few friendly words. These reinforced my impression of a professional artist and person at ease with herself and the world. I'd come with a two dimensional memory of a 1990's manufactured pop star and discovered a 2010 likable professional artist and human being; I'll be looking out for her in future productions.

Our family enjoyed the very first performance of “In the Spotlight: Songs from the musicals” and I would recommend it as entertainment for musical song lovers of all ages. Get your tickets now if they are coming to somewhere near you!

Information and booking available at

Thursday 22 April 2010

Arising from the Ashes 2010

It is hard to believe that it was seven days ago, on a Thursday morning, that I was on a train to London with the first reverberations of the Icelandic volcanic eruption and its cloud of ash.

Would visiting Celloon CEO Mirko Kisser actually arrive in the UK on a flight fom Berlin? My arrival in London was matched with the confirmation of his landing.

Then the ash shut down the airspace.

To us, the sun shone in a clear blue sky.

Yet the invisible ash shut down airspace with a finality that was to last for nearly a week.

In a semblance of normality, Mirko's meetings went well with several positive connections made. Then his flight too was affected and uncertainty prevailed.

Mark had had a successful Grundtvig program with delegates from 12 different countries across Europe. When it ended on Friday, here too the ash held sway. For one night, Fitzwilliam College generously helped out by allowing a further nights stay for a tenner each. Then some began their individual adventurous journeys to find their way home.

Five others were offered a haven in Mark's house as the uncertainty continued.

On Tuesday, stranded Irma Jona from Iceland came with Mark for our Cambridge admin meeting.The car, cleaned in the morning, had a thin almost invisible layer of ash by the end of the day - carefully collected for future microscope viewing!
And the sun shone in a blue sky whilst the invisible ash still kept planes from flying.

Suddenly, yesterday - Wednesday, six days after the flight ban started, the airspace sprang into life again. Mirko escaped back to Germany in the morning and soon Marks house would be empty too.

The sun shone in a blue sky and planes were flying.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

EU exploration of Life Skills and Confidence in Cambridge


A grey Cambridge day turned sunny as I cycled the short stretch from Milton to the St John's Innovation Centre. I had not visited for a while and was delighted to see Jeanette, the restaurant manager looking well as I sat down with a very reasonably priced Brie and Cranberry baguette and some tea and looked out over the water feature.

I was joined for coffee by four delegates participating in the Grundtvig Program. This is a non vocational EU lifelong learning programme, aiming to build addtional life skills and confidence. Not that we needed the latter as the five of us soon got chatting.

John Falkner was a sociology graduate from Germany who listened before making thoughtful contributions; David Gallego came from Spain and oozed a certain Clooneyesque air - a temporary victim of the downturn in the small construction industry; Barbara Pononutti fom Italy was currently working in a telephone call centre, but lit up with animation when talking about a children's book she had written: and finally but not least Nora Aguirre, who had extensive experience within travel agencies, seen the Americas and now lived in Italy. Nora was good at the open ended questions to get people talking.

For some reason, the four had foregone the opportunities of setting up Barn Owl nesting boxes or Indian Cookery and expressed an interest in the development of businesses in the Cambridge area and the general way business functioned in the UK.

We were of course sitting in one of the incubators for the region. The St John's Innovation Centre is one of the places providing facilities and a nurturing environment for start-ups and micro-businesses. Whether high tech or "conventional", most businesses (over 90%) have only 1-5 employees and are the unsung heroes of any economy, despite lacking the glamour of larger branded corporations.

It hardly seems possible, but in the brief hour we covered a range of topics from book publishing (digitally and print, how to work out your charges as a business, and of course my favourite topics of the benefits of going out networking as well as finding like-minded people or companies with complementary skills to create new opportunities of your own. The role of serendipity in which way your business eventually developed was inevitably identified!

Too soon, the hour had passed and it was time for them to leave for the Chesterfield Science Park - a location for companies that had grown, established and required more space. The bright conversation leaving a warm memory as I returned to the mundane realities of work at the PC.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Meeting Ulrich at the Wonders of the Solar System Exhibition

I'd met Ulrich Heker as part of the NRW visit to the British Dental Association Exhibition in Glasgow (see Album) in 2009. He was part of a group looking at opportunities for German dental technicians in the the UK. He realised there was a gap in the UK knowledge of the precision methods for dental attachments used routinely in Germany and followed this up with a collaboration with Milton Contact Ltd. This went ahead in the form of educational articles for a number of UK and Irish dental trade magazines such as the GDP, the Technologist and Private Dentistry (see Publications).

Ulrich and I had been frequently corresponding via phone and e-mail but had not seen each other since last year. Therefore, when he heard that I was visiting NRW on holiday, he promptly invited me to meet up with him and Andrea, wife and business partner with Teeth 'R' Us. We opted for a day out with the option of cover as the April weather was thoroughly unpredictable; the Gasometer Oberhausen was hosting an exhibition of the wonders of the solar system that proved an ideal venue.

We met in glorious sunshine and promptly took the opportunity to ride in a glass elevator to the dizzy height of 110m, to the top of the converted gasometer, for some glorious views! Returning inside to the exhibition proper, we were initially blind in the near darkness until our eyes adapted to the excellent displays. Unfortunately for our partners, we had both come armed with cameras and were battling with the low light conditions as we vied for best place at the exhibits. We did return to socialise over a well earned meal at the nearby CentrO and avoided talking too much shop for most of the time. When you go there, do follow Andrea's tip to visit the Mövenpick icecream stand.

I've included some of my pictures here in a friendly attempt to beat Ulrich to it and am now looking forward to his excellent and different photo interpretations of our successful and very enjoyable meeting.