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About David Maher Roberts

Founder & Partner of Digital DNA; Founder of BathSPARK/The SPARKies; Non-Exec Director at Claritize & The Filter; Advisor to Visual DNA and GoTag; Mentor to Bath University Student Enterprise teams. Previously, David was CEO of personalisation engine, The Filter and Board & Digital Director at media company Future PLC where he founded the award-winning content agency Future Plus.
Author Archive | David Maher Roberts

Real World Hack weekend winners

IMG_5883Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios welcomed developers and designers from across the UK when it hosted a hack weekend as part of the Bath Digital Festival. The inspirational setting and broad spread of participants made for a unique event. The challenge was for participants to create an app using either or both of two APIs created by companies who have Peter Gabriel as an investor: The Filter (a recommendation engine for music, movies and TV shows) and Gabble (a visual language). And things were spiced up a little with cash prizes for the best teams.

Eleven teams took part across the weekend and we were delighted with what was achieved by such a broad range of participants. But as with all competitions, there has to be winners. The team of judges included Neil Andrassy from The Filter and Tree, Jamie Middleton, Katrina James and myself from Gabble. And, here are the four winners as well as a special mention to a fifth team:

Overall winner (prize: £500) – Frabble


The Frabble team mashed up The Filter API with the Gabble API and delivered a Facebook game that was a whisker from being ready to launch. The game takes a random film from The Filter API, feeds it through Gabble to offer the player a series of pictures that they need to decipher to guess the name of the movie. If the player wants, they can reveal some hints (also from The Filter API) like the name of the director, year of release and genre… The Frabble team have asked for their prize to be donated to Child’s Play.

Special Commendation for Creativity & Imagination (prize: £500) – Gabbetar


Jack Hopkins demonstrated the most ambition and imagination for Gabbetar, a tree of connected images that was created from mashing up several APIs including Gabble and The Filter. Jack fed tweets & Facebook status updates through Gabble to display a tree of connected images based on what was important to the user in the moment. Incredible imagination and all the more impressive as Jack was abandoned by his two other team mates half way through Saturday!

Special Commendation for Effort (prize: £500) – Idiom Hangman


The Hangman team achieved as much in just one day as most of the other teams did in the whole weekend. Their app took English idioms, displayed them as pictures (via Gabble) and once the user guessed them correctly, they were given the translation into Mandarin. The app had a fully working scoring mechanism and a hangman graphic that develops as the user makes incorrect guesses. The judges were not only impressed with the effort that went into this app but also delighted with the educational angle.

Special Commendation for Viability (prize: £500) – Gabblr

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 12.06.13

Gabblr is a collaborative turn-based social game. Players provide one another hints (using Gabble) to work out the phrase or word. The Gabble team were especially taken by the simple yet potentially addictive nature of the game and felt that this project was probably the one that could be most turned into a viable game – all the more impressive because this team was made up of three 1st year CompSci undergraduates from The University of Bath!

Special mention to “Beyond Words”

In stark contrast to all the coding and mashing up of APIs, there was one team that decided to take a very different approach and hack the Gabble idea rather than the code. This team, made up of Robert Thomas (Interactive Music Composer at rjdj), Kelly Snook (Imogen Heap’s Studio Manager) and Katerina Janouskova (photographer) presented a personal communication and artistic expression concept using multi-media to make incredibly strong and deeply personal pieces of digital art. Though no code was cut, this team gave Gabblers the most food for thought and for that we are very grateful.

IMG_5889Congratulations to all the winners and a big thank you to all who took part. The feedback we received from the teams was that the setting and the vibe for the whole weekend was truly unique. Typical quote: “It was a great weekend – so good to have time to think about solving other people’s problems in such a wonderful environment”. More photos of the weekend can be viewed on Facebook.
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SPARKies shortlist focus: Best Tech Entrepreneur

Screen Shot 2013-03-16 at 12.39.18What makes a great entrepreneur? “Being passionate about your idea to the point of craziness,” says Robert Scoble. “Being a successful entrepreneur is not about breakthrough innovation. It’s about flawless execution,” says Naveen Jain. “You never learn from success, but you do learn from failure,” adds Marcus Dyson.

One thing is certain, tech entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of business. Without them, ideas just remain that, ideas… Last year’s SPARKies winner of this award was Doug Pulley, founder of Picochip. An idea he developed and that evolved into a company that employs hundreds of people in the city and is now owned by US-based Mindspeed.

This year, the Best Tech Entrepreneur category is sponsored by SPARKies headline sponsors, The University of Bath Innovation Centre. This was an extremely strong category for nominations, proving the strength and depth of entrepreneurial talent in the south west.

In no particular order, the first of the finalists is Glynn Hayward, the Founder and Creative Director of Complete Control. As an entrepreneur, Glynn continues to set the vision, win the pitches, and drive new creative and technical concepts in the form of children’s apps, games and websites for the UK’s leading children’s brands – as well as developing a stable of Complete Control’s own IP. Glynn’s energies for nurturing new talent in the digital space can also be seen in his great work with local Universities and Schools. Developing the next generation of ‘Tech Whizz Kids’ is a key passion of Glynn’s and shows his ongoing commitment to the industry.

Next up is Mike Barlow, Founder of myHealthPal.com. Mike was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 42 and created myHealthPal to help people manage their own condition or for someone else to manage it for them and makes use of touch screen devices such as the iPhone to perform condition related tests, to capture results and log other information automatically. Mike has funded the product development process himself and is determined to make a real difference to people’s lives.

The SPARKies third finalist is serial entrepreneur, Mark Mason. Mark co-founded Mason Zimbler, a Bristol-based full digital marketing agency specialising in the technology sector. Mark sold his company in 2008 and then founded Mubaloo in 2009 to service the demand for B2C and B2B app development. Mubaloo’s clients include BP, the Met Office, DHL and the RAF. Mark is well known around the South West for the work he does locally: in 2012 he won the IoD South West Director of the Year award and he is very active as a mentor and organiser of student app building competitions.

To see which of these three finalists win, come along to The SPARKies Awards party on Wednesday 20th.


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BathSPARK giving away an iPad mini!

Local tech networking group, BathSPARK, is on the cusp of reaching the 500 registered members milestone. To accelerate this, they have just announced that they will be handing out an iPad mini to one of its first 500 members in a random draw. The prize is sponsored by Coworking Bath and they will be picking out the winner at random once there are 500 registered members.

If you want to join BathSPARK and put yourself in with a chance to win the iPad mini, you need to resgister at www.bathspark.co.uk super quickly (as at the last count there were 493 members).

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Hashbang.tv: Episode 5

Introducing you to Hashbang.tv – a tech blog & podcast hosted by Bath’s very own Chris Book (founder of Bardowl and winner of TheSPARKies Best Startup award) and James Parton. The podcast is not Bath-centric, but covers interesting tech products and stories.

This is Episode 5: Oded Ran is on the show to talk about Touchnote, the mobile app to physical postcard service. Topics include preloading apps on handsets, and how to react when Apple launches a copy cat product in your space. James talks about the Developers Guide to the Parallel Universe.

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Video: story of three startups at XML

Great video (produced by CMP Students at Bath Spa Uni) that gives an insight into how valuable X Media Lab bath 2012 was for three Bath-based startups (Artolo, TwiDAQ and Hereo).

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The SPARKies Live Drawing

We were lucky enough to have Nat Al-Tahhan (of TEDxYouth and TED and VentureFest Bristol fame) doing a live drawing piece during The SPARKies awards party (she also created our little robot mascot known as SPRK-12). Those of you who were at the event will have seen some of her work in progress…

We are delighted to be able to reveal the final drawing. Thank you, Nat.

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The SPARKies 2012 – The Winners

Bath’s very first tech awards – The SPARKies – culminated last night in a lively and packed party/ceremony at Komedia. Jarred Christmas did a great job at warming up the 275-strong audience and getting through the 12 awards at some pace (feedback so far is that the speed of the award ceremony was much appreciated!). We will post a load of pictures later in the week, but we wanted to get the full list of winners out for anybody who was unfortunate enough to miss the event!

Best Digital Design Agency: COMPLETE CONTROL

Sponsored by: Bowers & Wilkins

Complete control create educational and engaging content for children. The judges said:

If you can create for kids for you can create for the future – it doesn’t get any better than that.

And Complete Control’s thank you tweet was:

Being recognised as the best design agency in Bath is an amazing achievement – we are all really proud.  Thank you #theSparkies, we are truly honoured.

Best Mentor / Advisor: PETER GABRIEL

Sponsored by: Bath Ventures Innovation Centre

The judges said:

Peter is a force for good in Bath, in music and in technology.

And Peter’s thank you tweet was:

If you keep asking simple questions eventually someone will think they’re profound. Thank you.

Best Tech Founder: DR DOUG PULLEY

Sponsored by: Bath Ventures Innovation Centre

Dr Doug Pulley, CEO of Picochip, was educated in Bath and stayed to create what is arguably on of the cities biggest success stories. The judges said:

A true technology innovator – what he has done with Picochip is a remarkable achievement.

And Dr Doug’s thank you tweet was:

10 yrs ago we started Picochip in a Bath pub, now exit for $$$ & created lots of jobs. Want others to do same. More start-ups, more exits

Best Service Provider (to the Tech sector): RIPE DIGITAL

Sponsored by: Storm Consultancy

Ripe digital is a short-run print agency which has supported Bath’s many digital events with free print support. The judges said:

Fantastic creative work: fresh, original and shows technologists can and do have a sense of humour.

And Rik’s thank you tweet was:

Thanks to everyone for using us!

Biggest Success Story of 2011: PICOCHIP

Sponsored by: Bath & North East Somerset Council

Picochip celebrated its 10th birthday in 2011, and were aquired by Mindspeed in a multi-million dollar sale at the end of the year. The judges said:

From kitchen table to being bought for over $50m in ten years – enough said, really.

And Picochip’s thank you tweet was:

Great result. Picochip shows Bath can deliver world-class technology, world-class companies, success, jobs + exits #Femtocell #LTE

The One To Watch for 2012: TREEHOUSE

Sponsored by: Catalyst Venture Partners

The Treehouse mission is to teach web design and development to anyone, anywhere. The judges said:

A company that is way ahead of the curve – this has all the makings of a global success story.

And Treehouse’s thank you tweet was:

We’re honoured and excited for @treehouse to win a SPARKies award! Bath is a great place to launch tech startups.

Individual Contribution To Tech: MIKE ELLIS

Sponsored by: Real World

Mike runs BathCamp, the Big M, and has been the driving force behind Bath Digital Festival. The judges said:

Mike is Bath’s Digital Mayor – he does seem to be at the centre of everything good that’s happening to promote Bath tech.

And Mike’s thank you tweet was:

Delighted to win “Individual contribution to Technology” – but really no-one wins *anything* without the help of LOADS of other individuals!

Best App 2011: TAP! by FUTURE

Sponsored by: Handsome I.P.

Tap is a highly successful interactive magazine App. The judges said:

A new, exciting and innovative approach in moving magazine content to tablets – exactly what ebooks should, and could, be.

And the Tap team’s thank you tweet was:

The @tapmaguk team are delighted that the quality of our work, the richness of our platform and the depth of our passion has been recognised!

Best startup: BARDOWL

Sponsored by: Eden Ventures

Bardowl is a new and innovative model for the provision of audio books. The judges said:

A really innovative idea which is disrupting the audio book market, and has immediate international scope.

And Bardowl’s thank you tweet was:

@bardowl thanks all in the wonderful bath tech scene for their support and motivation over the last 2 years. We would not ship without u 🙂

The Totally Killing It (for competing globally from Bath): PICOCHIP

Sponsored by: Eden Ventures

The judges said:

Picochip put Bath on the world map for tech start-ups and superb electronics design. They are the giant upon whose shoulders we stand.

And Picochip’s thank you tweet was:

V proud. 10 yrs ago we joked Picochip goal was world-domination – we succeeded 😉 Changed shape of 3G/4G wireless from Bath #Femtocell #LTE

The ‘Good Award’ for best use of tech for doing good: LUKE WOODBURY

Sponsored by: Teach It!

Luke specialises in using technology to enrich lessons for children at Three Ways special needs school. The judges said:

This decision was a breeze. Who could compete with Luke’s work at Threeways. Luke’s creativity is a breath of fresh air for education.

And Luke’s thank you tweet was:

It’s an honour to win this award and work in a school that has the vision and resourcefulness to enable a project like the sensory studio.

The SPARKies gave out its 12th award to the winners of the University of Bath’s App Crunch competition, Virtual Loci.  Judges of the AppCrunch competition were extremely impressed with all of the entries, but felt that Alex and James’ idea had real mileage and multiple possibilities for development.

The SPARKies judges

Congratulations to the finalists and to the winners. Thanks to Jarred Christmas, the staff at Komedia, our sponsors, the judges, Sara Gibbons, Nat Al-Tahhann, Mike Ellis, Dave Kelly, Phil Castang, Trish from Bath Music Plus and a super special thank you to Lily Smith and Katrina James as without them The SPARKies would just not have happened!

I hope everyone who attended had a great time and I hope those who didn’t wished they did! See you next year.

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XML Bath – well, that was quite something!


It is easy to get carried away with superlatives – especially when surrounded by enthusiastic Americans. But I don’t think that I’m exaggerating by saying that X Media Lab choosing to rock up and do its thing in Bath will be seen as a defining moment for the tech sector in the west.

The X Media Lab format was born in Sydney (the first event was held in the Opera House!) and has been running for 9 years with XMLs taking place all over the world: Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Mumbai. What is special about XML is how they successfully combine their format with incredible people, innovative projects and beautiful cities and venues.


Baratunde Thurston from The Onion

The format:
– All day ‘PRO’ conference on the Friday which consists of a number of 20-minute talks by leading specialist from  digital entertainment and/or mobile. The XMLBath2012 conference was held at the historic Assembly Rooms and included talks from Baratunde Thurston from The Onion, Jeff Gomez from Starlight, Jane Hu from YouTube, Ian Livingstone from Eidos and Gerry Gouy from MTV Networks to name just a few. The conference welcomed 400 people and included an Expo from local companies and the universities.

Startup lab for 20 projects on the Saturday and Sunday where the conference speakers turn into mentors. XMLBath2012 lab was held at Peter Gabriel’s real World Studios and included startup projects from as close as Bath and as far afield as Australia.


Welcome drinks in The Roman Baths

Social gatherings on every evening usually held in amazing places. XMLBath2012 held dinners & drinks in the Roman Baths and the historic Assembly Rooms – quite simply stunning backdrops.


The people
I have been lucky enough to experience two XMLs. And each time I have met extremely talented people who are experts in their field. But beyond that, the key ingredient is that they are always prepared to spend time with anyone at the lab to help them out with their idea – no mater who they might be. On the weekend, XML becomes an intimate start up lab that matches up 20-or-so projects with 20-or-so mentors: with mind blowing consequences for both the people behind the projects and the mentors.

xmlbath2012 Roman Baths Launch

XMLBath2012 Mentors with Ed Vaizey, MP

One of the CEOs that was at XMLBath2012 said:

The whole experience has certainly taken us up to another level […] and I know there is much, much more that will spring from the event over the coming days, weeks and months.  XMedaiLab is a great idea in a great format executed brilliantly.


The Roman Baths

The venue
XML always chooses amazing venues in beautiful cities: the Opera House in Sydney, the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and most recently, the Roman Baths, Assembly Rooms and Real World Studio for XMLBath2012. There is something magical about discussing innovative ideas within beautiful, cultural backdrops – these things matter and  have a positive effect on the intimacy and vibe of the event.

I have lived in Bath for over 10 years, and I probably am a little blasé with all of the history and architecture. But having welcomed the XML mentors from all over the world (Mumbai, Beijing, Sydney, New York, Boston, LA, etc) and seeing them blown away by the city has allowed me to be wowed by Bath all over again. Bath is already a creative and digital hub but it is now gaining momentum thanks to events like XMLBath and the Bath Digital Festival. These events help to amplify the fact that it is an amazing place to live and work in and therefore is attracting talented people and investment.

Best way to summarise how the XML format played out for Bath, is to close with comments and tweets from the participants:

You really set the bar on how great events and networking should be produced. As someone who speaks at and attends a number of conferences each year, I have yet to encounter an event that can provide the quality of content and caliber of networking that you are able to provide at XML. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of such a phenomenal experience.

#xmlbath2012 was simply the best #xmedialab ever – such wonderful people, such a beautiful and inspiring place – thank you!

Great weekend at #xmlbath World class doers and thinkers in Bath to enthuse digi startups. Looking forward to #bathdigital this week.


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University Apps Crunch winners revealed

Over the last few weeks, the  Student’s Union of the University of Bath have organised an undergraduate competition called Apps Crunch as part of Bath Digital Festival. The aim was for competitors to come up with an idea for an app, and to create a business case backed by market research, build wireframes or a prototype and present the whole thing to a panel of judges.

The final pitches took place on Thursday 8th March. I was one of the judges (alongside Mike Ellis, Stuart Scott and Richard Godfrey) and we were all blown away by the quality of the pitches – there are some genuinely good ideas and potential businesses here and the teams were of an impressively high standard.

The judges were keen to point out that they awarded the prizes on the basis of the apps and teams that would get the most out of the mentoring and they also provided all the teams with feedback on their ideas and their pitches.

Apps Crunch Winners
Congratulations to James Isbister (1st year Computer Science with Mathematics) and Alex Marshall (1st year International Management and Modern Languages) for Virtual Loci – a learning tool that allows the user to collect all their learning resources into one place. The user uses photos from their gallery to create a visual map of their different learning resources. This user creates zonal buttons on their photos that link to other photos or to specific learning resources (books, videos, articles, pictures, etc…).

James Isbister and Alex Marshall from Virtual Loci

James and Alex won VIP access to international conference X Media Lab and the chance to work on their app with industry leaders Ralph Simon (Mobile strategist for Lady Gaga, Madonna, U2 and the World Cup; Inventor of the Ringtone.), Jeff Gomez (One of the world’s leading transmedia producers (Avatar, Tron, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean) and many more.

Well done to Claire Downey (4th year Sport and Exercise Science), Tim Burgess (4th year Aerospace Engineering) and Katherine Wood (4th year Psychology) who created ClubSpace – an app that lets users know exactly how full local night clubs are. Users can search by music type & location, buy VIP fast track passes, book guestlists, find out more about the venues, get directions and book taxis as well as share event details using Facebook, Twitter and SMS. Since it is also possible for clubs to advertise instantaneous offers based on how full the venue is, the app would be helping to develop a new variation of targeted advertising for the app industry.

Claire Downey & Tim Burgess from ClubSpace with Stuart Scott

They won half a day to develop their app with local company Intohand.

Finalists were also given free tickets to The SPARKies and other Bath Digital Festival events.


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SPARKies 2012: Full List of Finalists

All the judges scores are now in and fully aggregated… And we are delighted to reveal the full list of finalists for all of the categories for The SPARKies 2012. Here are the finalists (in alphabetic order) for each category.

‘Best App’ Award (sponsored by Handsome I.P.):

‘Best Start Up’ Award (sponsored by Eden Ventures):

‘Biggest Success Story of 2011’ Award (sponsored by Bath & North East Somerset Council):

‘Best Mentor or Advisor’ Award (sponsored by Bath Ventures Innovation Centre):

  • Ian Dale-Staples
  • Nicholas Carey
  • Peter Gabriel

‘Best Founder or Entrepreneur’ Award (sponsored by Bath Ventures Innovation Centre):

  • Chris Book
  • Dr Doug Pulley
  • Jim Morrison

‘Individual contribution to Technology’ Award (sponsored by Real World):

  • Mike Ellis
  • Richard Godfrey & Paul Cross
  • Stuart Farrimond


And earlier today we announced the finalists to the other categories.

‘Best Design Agency’ Award (sponsored by Bowers & Wilkins):

The Good Award’ – for the best use of Technology for Doing Good (sponsored by TeachIt):

The ‘One to Watch for 2012’ category (sponsored by Catalyst Venture Partners):

‘Best Service Provider’ category (sponsored by Storm):

The “Totally Killing It!” Award for competing globally from Bath (sponsored by Eden Ventures):

This is an excellent list of finalists and one that already goes a long way to showing how much depth and breadth there is to Bath’s tech scene.

The second round of judging is happening this week: this is when the judges will select the winners and runners up from the list of finalists above. We will then announce and celebrate at The SPARKies Awards party on Wednesday 21st March at Komedia. Make sure you get your tickets to avoid missing out on what will undoubtedly be a great night!

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