Friday 27 January 2012

Exporting Huntingdonshire – Gateway to the World

From Wordle-images

With family budgets squeezed and the nation's GDP static or declining, the Huntingdonshire Manufacturer's Association (HMA) asked, where to next?

Stuart Gibbons, Chairman of the HMA competently chaired an excellent meeting with the following themes:

  • Export! With UKTI Assistance 
  • Export! How R&D Tax Credits worked for Tensor 
  • Export! Emphatically with HSBC 
  • Export! It worked for Encocam 
  • Export! To Russia with Love 

Export! With UKTI Assistance 

First speaker Martin Keepfer (Regional Team Manager UKTI, East of England) pointed out that Government spending and reliance on British consumers were unlikely immediate sources in the current market. Exports, however, provide a viable solution.

In the year to December 2011, there was an 18% increase in exports, to a value of £25bn. Furthermore, we in the East of England are one of the three regions that are the net earners for the UK. From there on Martin gave a good overview of the comprehensive assistance that UKTI can provide the novice and experienced exporters – for a summary of the funding available for various programs, see article “How to Make Britain a more successful exporter. Part A”.

Export! How R&D Tax Credits worked for Tensor

Nigel Smith of Tensor PCL then ratcheted up the pace a gear with his enthusiastic presentation on the underutilised R&D Tax credits. The news that the credit was equivalent to 225% for 2012 had the interest of the audience so fired up that it could well have been the cause of the fire alarm which interrupted Nigel's speech.

Suitably refreshed by the break in the winter air, Nigel added some useful tips on ensuring good records of labour and of the ability to claim against subcontracted work. As a tax credit, the system was most suited for companies in profit.

In fact, for Tensor the facility stimulated the company to free up its accumulated capital and actively pursue R&D, to develop new energy management systems as another product stream.

Export! Emphatically with HSBC

We had barely caught our breath when Phil Spencer (International Trade Director South, HSBC) breezed into a talk at breakneck speed. Phil's view was robustly positive and pro-export.

A tough EU environment was contrasted with an anticipated 73% increase in world trade growth by 2025. HSBC was finding its international side was extremely active, with 360 international managers and trade teams having doubled in number this year.

Fact. If you are an exporting company you are SEVEN times more profitable than a domestic one. Even if the World economy is slowing down, there are still tremendous opportunities.

One of Phil's striking personal observations was the readiness of other countries and nationalities to think globally in terms of international trade. Don't wait, be proactive and challenge your bank for regular support for international projects and aim for government assistance with projects of higher risk. Check out “HSBC EasyTrade – importing and exporting made easier”.

Export! It worked for Encocam

Mike Ashmead (Encocam) returned us to a more measured pace as he provided a useful case-study of a successfully exporting business. The long term strategy was to build brand awareness for the seven different product areas.

The intent right from the start was to think like a big company, something that it has now become with 120 staff. Exports were an integral part of the strategy because of the ability to

  • Spread risk
  • Expand opportunities
  • Increase credibility in other markets
  • and for the sheer challenge and adrenaline generated that keep the organisation alive

The result – increasing growth to 18% to 20% last year due to exports.

I particularly liked his four point advice:

  • Value your knowledge 
  • Build your brand 
  • inspire your team 
  • Manage expectations

Export! To Russia with Love 

We had been enthused, educated and received good advice. Now it was time to open our minds to a market usually ignored due to misconception – Russia.

Tim Jelley of UKTI and Anthony Day of RBCC (Russo-British Business Club) pointed out that it was at present easier to sell to Russia than to the US or France. Contrary to historic prejudice, Tim's experience when he was in business with Russia was of prompt payment; Currently, the anti-bribery legislation in the UK is actually seen as a positive element by Russian partners; And Anthony pointed out that the UK brand was a highly desirable commodity in Russia.

Russia is the closest of the emerging BRIC countries; has warm welcoming and very honourable people who enjoy an annual growth of 4% GDP and has large financial reserves. The country's future focus is modernisation and diversification of the economy.

Of course problems still persist, with bureaucratic forms being one issue. However, this had not prevented major companies establishing a foothold in the country, e.g. Cadburys, BAT, Vodafone & BHS to name a few.

Networking is extremely important in Russia and the RBCC has 2 offices in the country with 6000 contacts, so it is well worth getting in touch with them.


The lively questions after the four hours of presentations and occasional break were moderated by Jan England, who hardly had to prompt for comments from both the floor and the speakers panel. Was China's economy really growing as fast as claimed? Should we not concentrate on building our domestic market before tackling international ones? These two questions alone generated a flurry of responses and counter views.

In the end, Stuart Gibbons rounded off a positive event before being swept away to the buffet when hunger finally won out.

Monday 23 January 2012

SmartLIFE Low Carbon meets businesses

From Wordle-images

I visited the SmartLIFE Low Carbon open morning on 16th January to see how Green Technologies are creating opportunities for dramatic reductions in energy expenditure for our businesses.

It was only fitting to take my bicycle to visit the new SmartLIFE Low Carbon centre ( last Monday. My interest stemmed from seeing the expertise of companies in retrofitting businesses and properties for increased energy efficiency, when accompanying a German delegation to EcoBuild and on visits to retrofitting projects in London (NRW Green Building Services Companies on a Mission to London and Ecobuild 2011

The cold hard facts are that of the properties available in the year 2050, 90% have already been built. Many businesses will be more likely to move into existing premises than build totally new ones. With the increase in energy costs, the only real solution is to consider retrofitting, that is applying energy saving measures (insulation, glazing etc) and even generating own energy through solar heating or electricity.

One of the companies exhibiting was Paul Bourgeois’ His stand caught my eye due to the German language material. Providing a variety of services to UK companies, Paul can even help businesses and individuals who want to reach the ideal target of the German Passive House standard, equivalent to a 90% saving in energy consumption and costs (

I also met Chris Jablonski from the Huntingdonshire Green House project, where properties in St Ives had been retrofitted and were now available to visit to gain an impression of what can be done. Huntingdonshire is foresighted in providing a £500 grant for businesses wishing to increase their energy efficiency – see article on the Green House and links to grants here: Cutting your Energy bills in Huntingdonshire

Most of my time was spent with Katherine (Kat) Von Glos of Cambridgeshire County Council, learning more about the SmartLIFE Low Carbon building and its wider ambitions.

The SmartLIFE Low Carbon Centre is a joint venture between Cambridgeshire County Council and Cambridge Regional College. Its objective is to support businesses looking to adapt to a low carbon economy. This can be both in terms of businesses increasing their own energy efficiency and in training construction related businesses or future employees in the implementation of these new skills.

A quick tour of the building took us past the fitted laboratories that could be used for training, meeting rooms where a visiting minister was meeting a local delegation, down to the ground floor. Here, opposite the smart meter showing current green power generation by the building itself, was also a practical workshop where fitters and other construction related businesses could be familiarised with the practicalities of installing green technologies.

The SmartLIFE Low Carbon building is partly financed through the European Union, European Regional Development Fund, in conjunction with the SEE Project (

It is great to see a local emphasis on a greener business future within our region – for more information visit the Smartlife Low Carbon site at

Monday 9 January 2012

UK and Scotland replay EU and UK?

From World Economies Infographics

A plucky nation wants to go it alone from a larger union that it feels cramps its style.

Today it is Scotland versus the wicked Westminster Parliament of the UK, the latter angling to force a decision at a time that would be more in the unions favour than Scotland's. Just a month or so ago, the UK was playing the same role as Scotland against the Eurozone which was trying to push through its decision.

From the chart above it is apparent that, based on figures alone, Scotland's departure from the Union would not necessarily be fatal. After all, Scotland accounts for 1/10th of the UK in population, number of businesses and GVA.

Of course, politically and culturally it would be lethal - which Prime Minister wants to be the one at the breakup of the Union. Even worse - how do you face the Queen!

The UK leaving the European Union, as a more significant economy, trading partner and financial contributor would be traumatic too. However, when I listen to local radio again here in East Anglia, which as a region is at least equivalent to or even outperforms the Scottish nation, I bet there will be voices piping up to the tune of Flanders and Swans about the merits of the English ( and going it alone.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Your Business Start-up – Lite. Using StencylWorks

Click a few times on game screen to start controls working  

A more light-hearted view of starting up your own business. Converting gained experience into the visual form of a flash game.

I have met a number of business start-ups, providing them with assistance and guidance. This is often in conjunction with other networkers such as HBN.

Starting a business is quite simple in principle. You need to have ideas on the nature of your business. Researching and asking around for information can help you at least identify a possible route to success. Against that you have the barriers and obstacles on your path, often from those who are more interested in telling you why your proposition won’t work: the Scoffers who ridicule your ideas; the Doom-mongers who believe it isn't worth trying in the current market, Blockers who just obstruct you; and the Sharks who see you as easy meat due to your inexperience.

During the Christmas break, I followed up a site recommended on BBC’s Click by Kate Russell in her weekly website review. The site is called and purports to make the creation of Flash games simple.

On the face of it, it looked so simple that I was tempted to play and create my own game. Stencyl allows you to download a free software, StencylWorks, which adopts a Lego type approach of different game building blocks and behaviours that you can choose as icons. They even provide you with a couple of starter kits that permit you to set up a demo game very easily.

The system IS straightforward but, like everything else, you can still make silly mistakes – and some of the elements provided by other players that you can download do not always work. Whether it is their fault or my ineptitude is a separate issue. However, by following instructions, searching for additional help on the web and perseverance, I was able to design the game you see here.

Basically, it is a wheeled little businessperson who has to travel through a maze to reach HOME (starting his business). On his way he can collect ideas (light bulbs) and information (information symbols) whilst stomping on or avoiding Scoffers, Doom-mongers, Blockers and Sharks.

The characters each have different properties; some can be pushed around, others can be stomped on to remove and two are lethal to the little businessperson. The little businessperson can walk left and right and also do a double jump.

This game is by no means perfect. For example, I can lose my character off screen to cause a restart and I also could not get a scoring system to work. However, it is satisfying to wander through the maze, popping light bulbs and information signs whilst avoiding the visual hazards.

The main lessons from creating this game were – 1. it is fun to acquire a new skill and 2. It is far easier to overcome the obstacles on the way to your new start-up in a game than in real life!