Helping to turn ideas into businesses which drive our economy forward

Coventry University technology business advisor Paul Bennett highlights lessons learned from a project to encourage technology business in the region in a post originally published by Insider Media.

The rise of the ultramarathon has been a trend in recent years – and now it has spread to business.

Last month, Coventry University Enterprises – which runs much of the university’s commercial, income generating and business-partnership work – held a 12-hour business start-up session.

Paul Bennett, Technology Business Advisor

Paul Bennett, Technology Business Advisor

The day-long session was run by the Technology Business Start-up project and is part of the Coventry & Warwickshire SME Growth Programme, backed by the European Regional Development Fund, (ERDF).

The remit of the programme is to increase the number of business start-ups in the technology sector, through one-to-one and group support, within the Coventry and Warwickshire region.

The session had a very serious purpose but offering such a wide range of advice in one day was quite a risk. It caught the imagination and we generated some positive press. What’s more, the day went over the designated 12 hours, stretching to 13-and-half-hours – a real endurance test for all participants but a great success. So much so we have now organised another session on July 28.

I moved from the banking sector to work on this project and it has been enlightening and has really brought home some of the key lessons which business – those starting out and established – can use to help generate the growth their ideas warrant.

The criteria for businesses is that they have to be under 12 months old and have an idea that demonstrates some form of innovation. We have companies in a range of development – some have been merely ideas, some have been up and running and some have been spin-offs from existing firms where a product does not fit in the current portfolio and has to sit separately.

The age range of people we have had through the programme has been from mid-20s through to early-60s, all with an idea or product and all with great enthusiasm.

We have had a virtual reality company, which was a spin-off from a video firm, and another that developed aero drag tests for cyclists so they can improve their performance – so you can see the range has been impressive.

The mistakes or limitations on growth will probably sound obvious, but it is amazing when someone is developing a new product, how often these crop up

The most common is the lack of a plan and by that, I do not just mean a traditional business plan. It is vital when launching any new product or service to get it all down in writing, and to keep referring back to it to monitor and measure progress.

It amazes me how often people get their head down and crack on without making a plan and referring to it.

We have developed a workshop using a one-page business plan, called a ‘lean canvas’, which deconstructs an idea and turns it into nine building blocks. The aim is to ensure the product is solving a problem, in effect developing a minimum viability test for a future project, but a bare bones one.

There is no point at the early stage coming up with an elaborate business plan which is more guesswork than anything else. Not only is it a waste of time but also many of the figures have to be – frankly – guesswork.

In the pre-start-up and start-up market, people are spending too much time and money developing something which, sadly, they later realise, no-one wants. They are often working alone, not sharing their thoughts in case they are copied and ultimately, it could be said, being a little obsessive. They almost create a problem that they then solve, but that no-one else sees.

The virtual reality firm I mentioned, is working closely with Leicestershire Fire Service on their idea and the fact they can work with a client that recognises what they are offering is a real solution to a real problem, is the ideal scenario.

The project has forcefully underlined a couple of factors.

Firstly, Coventry and Warwickshire has some incredibly inventive, innovative and entrepreneurial people. The history of manufacturing and research in this area has developed a legacy – aided by the universities – which we are seeing manifesting itself in a string of digital ideas.

Secondly, that there is a mass of help out there through Coventry University and bodies such as the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce and Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership Growth Hub, both of which we work with closely, and anyone looking to develop a new product should make full use of the support that is on offer.

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