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About Katrina

Founder of Pepper PR & Marketing, a company specialising in marketing and event management for the digital and tech sector. On the BathSPARK organisation team and involved in running the SPARKies, the south west's best tech awards.
Author Archive | Katrina

Education wellbeing service developed in Bath launched today

A new web based service launched today by a company in Bath ensures children are heard in the primary school classroom and helps teachers monitor the wellbeing and happiness of their students.
Speakr makes it easy for teachers to see which of their students need some extra support, and can act as an early warning system alerting teaching staff to children who might be having difficulties at school.
Wellbeing and happiness are areas of increasing focus at a national level, with the UK Government spending £2m per year on research to understand the happiness of our children.
Speakr is the first and only online tool available that allows children to record their own feelings, from their perspective.
To use Speakr, children log into the system, either on a school computer or on an iPad. They can log in as often as they like, and can record how they feel throughout the school day by clicking on the ‘Speakr face’ that most closely reflects their emotions and entering some words to describe why they feel that way. Pupils can also use Speakr to send and receive messages with their teacher or another trusted adult within the school.
Teachers have their own login details, and can quickly and easily see how their whole class is feeling. They can identify whether a particular child appears to be out of sorts and follow this up with a conversation. Teachers can also provide ‘wellbeing’ reports to parents as part of their feedback about a child’s progress in their class.
Bath-based Anthony Lewis, father of two and founder of Speakr, said: “Often when children come home from school the only update you get as a parent is that their day was ‘Ok’ – it would be so helpful to know how they’ve really felt at school over a period of time. My original idea came from thinking about better ways to help children in care, but in talking to teachers it felt like there was an opportunity here for all children of primary school age.
“When Speakr was just a few ideas sketched on a piece of paper, the first teacher I spoke to about it – Hugh Thomas, Head of Science and PE at Broomhill Junior School in Bristol – said: “In my class of thirty, sometimes I don’t know if children are quiet because they’re quiet, or they’re quiet because there’s something wrong. If I had this tool, I’d know.” From that point on I believed we were on to something potentially amazing.
“Today’s primary school children are digital natives, so engaging them through technology they’re profoundly comfortable with seemed to offer an ideal way for them to record their feelings. We trialled Speakr in eight schools around the country and have had fantastic feedback from the children and their teachers.”
Mrs Delyth Williams, Head Teacher at Ysgol Bryn Teg in Llanelli, piloted Speakr. She said: “Assessing wellbeing is a challenge for all schools and Speakr will be a boost to all the schools that use it.”
Speakr is highly secure, with each school being allocated its own Speakr site, controlled by unique usernames and passwords for teachers and children. Children can’t share information on Speakr with classmates, everything they enter is kept between them and a minimum number of school staff.
Speakr has been trialled in schools around Britain over the past nine months and is now available to all schools and classes from September 2013. For a limited time, schools and classes can sign up to try Speakr for free. For more information see http://speakr.co.uk.
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Interview with Peter Francomb of Cahootify

Bath has so many exciting startups at the moment. One of those is Cahootify, which is about to launch in July. I spoke to CEO Peter Francomb about running a tech startup, raising funds and getting noticed.
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Pete, tell us what Cahootify does?

At Cahootify we believe in helping people do more of the work that they love by giving them the tools and resources to make projects happen. At core, this means an online, beautifully designed and fun to use team-building platform. You can use Cahootify to post projects / build a team, find projects / join a team or manage a ‘talent pool’ of freelancers, consultants or volunteers.

What motivated you to start Cahootify?

Until a few years ago, I’d almost always been an independent professional. For twenty years or so I made a living from various disciplines – freelancing as a graphics operator, freelancing as a web developer, working as a musician, running small businesses… all sorts. During this time I was also involved in projects that were about developing new skills and abilities, or about doing something that I felt was of value to people, or both. Cahootify is the online platform I always wanted.

There must have been some big challenges along the way – how have you overcome them?

Well, we’re pre-launch so I guess most of our challenges are still to come. It’s been amazingly plain sailing so far in terms of building the team and attracting interest from potential partners and the like but we’ve just hit our first real challenge, which is to close our seed investment round – and we haven’t yet overcome it.

Whilst Cahootify is going extremely well in many ways, that’s also making things difficult because we don’t have the resources to follow up on the tremendous and rising amount of interest. None of us is of independent means so we do now need cash investment in order to be able to continue.

What has been your biggest success to date?
Speaking personally, and bearing in mind that we are still pre-launch, the biggest success so far was probably when we enrolled a certain Mr. Simon Starr on to the team, who’s now our CTO and Lead Developer. In the world of tech startups, there are far more people with bright ideas looking for partner technologists than there are technologists on the other side of the equation. Finding a truly talented and experienced co-founder to take responsibility for the technical arena, who also has the right kind of entrepreneurial spirit, is like gold dust. I feel honoured.

Have you been able to access any funding for startups?
Not as such, no, though I estimate that the core and supporting teams have put in around £70k worth of “sweat equity” thus far. We launched a crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs about a month ago and there’s currently about £5k sitting in our account, which we can’t get our hands on yet and we’ll lose if we don’t reach our £60k target. Of course, we are going to reach our target – one hundred percent no doubt! (Gulp.) We’re also in the process of applying to the Nominet Trust and the South West Local Enterprise Partnership “Going for Growth” fund, both of which we seem to tick all the boxes for.

What would your advice be to others looking to start a tech startup?
Well if you’re asking about how to create a successful tech startup, then I don’t think I’m in any position to give advice yet! I’m not entirely sure who is, either – it’s a highly chaotic world and I often think that people ascribe meaning in hindsight to what was, in fact, just good or bad luck at the time.What I would suggest, however, is that whatever you imagine might be there for you at the end of the startup rainbow (wealth, status, security, magnetic sex appeal…), it won’t be enough to sustain you. Despite all the hassle, the inevitable setbacks, the insane hours, the financial insecurity and the mundane chores, you have to basically love what you’re doing. Otherwise, you’ll never stick it out.
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Top tips for starting your online business

Chris Mattingly, Co-Founder of Queen’s Square based ecommerce company Blublot, gives the low-down on moving traditional businesses online.

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“The recent cold snap and subsequent impact on high street sales has made a lot of businesses consider online sales as a backup to their business. At Blubolt we provide powerful ecommerce solutions to retailers around the world, and here I am going to share some of my tips for creating a really strong ecommerce platform with you.

When you decide to create an ecommerce site, your first thoughts are likely to be around how that site might look and function, and how much it is going to cost you. Initially, scoping out what your competitors are doing online will show you what works, and what doesn’t. You should consider what you might do to emulate or improve on your competitors sites, and how you’re going to convey this effectively to your chosen agency.

Prioritise your requirements using the MoSCoW method – ‘must’, ‘should’, ‘could’, ‘won’t’. What can and can’t you live with on your new site and how does this influence timings and cost. Use these requirements to set a realistic budget. Bear in mind that a full-solution eCommerce site doesn’t just include web-design, it often includes complex technical requirements that take time to build.

Next, find an agency that understands your business and your goals. This needs to be a long-term decision, not just a ‘fire-and-forget’ one-time build. Choose an agency that is passionate, not just about your business but about what they do and how they’re pushing boundaries. There is no one size fits all agency, they come with varying strengths and specialities and you need to consider how these fit with your business needs.

Most agencies will require a detailed, well thought out ‘Request For Proposal’, commonly referred to as a RFP. When you receive quotes back compare them carefully – don’t just go for the cheapest – eCommerce solutions vary dramatically in cost. Consider how much you really need to invest to see a return.

Consider how feature-rich the solution you’re being offered is ‘out of the box’ and how much you will need to commission as bespoke work. Also consider whether you should separate out the design and technical development of your new site – it is common for design agencies to partner with technical solution providers to give a complete solution.

Technically, consider how the new site will integrate with other systems you use. It might need to integrate with your accounts package or your stock control system. This will add additional expense but will be worth considering from the outset.

Think about how you’ll take payments online. What ‘payment service providers’, or PSPs, does the eCommerce solution integrate with? It is worth negotiating commission rates not only with your chosen PSP but also with your bank.

Consider whether you have the technical resources in-house to manage the new site, and any training your team might need. It is also important to understand early on the amount of control you’ll have to maintain your site, and how much you’ll have to rely on your agency. Make sure you’re given enough control to be able to regularly update key marketing and catalogue content without having to rely on someone else to do it.

Plan the marketing of your site into your overall strategy. Be realistic – if you’re starting a brand new eCommerce site it isn’t going to revolutionise your business overnight. Acquiring customers and traffic takes time and hard work.

By focusing on your marketing from the start of the project you can consider how people will find your site, how you’ll engage in online/offline marketing activities and how you’ll entice customers to come back. You might need to think about how your eCommerce site fits with your physical shops – does the platform support core features like ‘Click and Collect’ for example?

Finally, as with any major project, think about how you will analyse your data. The platform needs to allow access to the basics of the data you collect to allow for effective marketing. You need to be able to easily determine which are the most popular products, who the most loyal customers are, or what your total sales are.”

Queen’s Square based Blubolt was founded in 2006 by Chris Mattingly and Maxwell Lamb, and has grown to become a major player in the eCommerce sector with a proven track record of producing high end eCommerce sites.

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Bath school children are robotic challenge WORLD CHAMPIONS!

Seven youngsters from Bath have been named the World Champions in the 2013 Robotics challenge having beaten over 20,000 international teams.

The 11 – 15 year olds making up Bath’s ‘Team Untitled-1′ are from Ralph Allen and King Edward’s schools. They successfully competed at National level, before making the trip to St Louis in America where they proved themselves to be the very best of the 80 teams that made it through to the world finals.

The seven involved in the team are Freya, Tom, Dani, Max, Joe, Rafi and Claudia. They said: “It’s the team here.. Well, we say “team”, but WORLD CHAMPIONS is more appropriate!!!!! Yes, slight shock. We have just beaten 20,000 other teams worldwide becoming number one in Lego Robotics!! Wooo!! We think it’s true because everyone’s taking our picture but we might need a pinch or two!”

You can watch the moment the team found out they’d won here, and visit the team website here.

Thanks are given by the students and their teachers to the Bath companies and organisations that sponsored their team and made it possible for them to become World Champions.

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Congratulations Jack!

University of Bath student Jack Franklin has been named in the 2013 ‘.Net Awards‘ as one of the top ten ‘brilliant young web developers’ to watch.

The .Net Awards are publicly nominated to create a shortlist, which is then assessed by a panel of 50 industry judges.

Jack Franklin is a 3rd year BSc Computer Science student, currently on his placement year with Kainos as a Software Engineer. He is well known in Bath’s digital community and has been very involved in his university community too, as Chair of the Bath Student Computer Science Society in his second year of study, and as a student ambassador for his department.

Jack is highly dedicated to progressing his career as a developer, and wrote one of his first articles in 2011 for ‘12 Devs of Christmas’. He now maintains a popular JavaScript blog – JavaScript Playground – and writes for a number of influential websites.

Jack was recently asked by Addy Osmani to contribute to his book Backbone Fundamentals, which was published by O’Reilly and was freely available on the internet too. He helped to write the chapter on using Backbone with RequireJS. Jack’s first book, Testing with CoffeeScript, was recently published as a free mini book and has had over 2000 downloads to date. The book looks at TDD with the JS library Jasmine, whilst writing all the code in CoffeeScript.

Jack was approached in June 2012 to write his first physical book, Beginning jQuery, which was published in February 2013. The book aims to guide a JavaScript and jQuery novice through to a level at which they’re comfortable in writing their own plugins.

Alan Hayes, Jack’s tutor at the University of Bath, said: “Jack is one of those students who makes the most of every opportunity available to him. He continues to impress as he progresses through university, and is set for great heights in the future. We wish him all the best with the .Net awards and commend his achievement in being named ‘one to watch’.”

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Jowst acquired by Xfire

Bath startup Jowst has announced this week that it has been acquired by US based Xfire.

Jowst is a community platform that aims to centralise a players gaming experience. For both casual and competitive gamers it aims to offer a comprehensive and unique reward and results system to show each player’s achievements and losses through their public profile.

Founder and CEO Gavin Weeks said: “We’re very excited to announce that Jowst has been acquired by Xfire.

“We are very passionate about rewriting the rules of how gamers create, host and participate in tournaments and are confident our product is capable of delivering this. Now we’re joining the Xfire team to accomplish a much bigger vision — one that can only be achieved with Xfire’s support and guidance. We’d like to extend a special thanks to all of our alpha testers who have supported us and given us priceless feedback, allowing us to build the foundations of a fantastic product.

“We have had an amazing experience building Jowst over the last 18 months and look forward to continuing to do so as part of the Xfire family. Full speed ahead!”

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SPARKies 2013 winners revealed!

Following a fantastic night of celebration at Komedia, the winners of the 2013 SPARKies awards have been announced.

Thank you to our headline sponsor, the Innovation Centre, and to our gold and silver sponsors who not only made this year’s awards possible, but also supported the whole Bath Digital Festival.

The winners are:

Best Digital Design Project: Complete Control for World Book Day

Best Mentor: Mike Wilsher of Executive Foundation

Best startup: CiteAb.com

Best tech founder or entrepreneur: Mike Barlow, MyHealthPal

The good award: Neil Burgess for Cura

Future SPARK: Urban Tribe

One to Watch in 2013: MyHealthPal

Best service provider to the tech sector: Gradwell

Best app of 2012: Mubaloo and the Met Office

Biggest Success Story of 2012: Complete Control

Individual contribution to tech: Prof Phil Willis for his research into vectorised digital images

Totally killing it, competing globally from the south west: Tech Radar

Congratulations to all of the SPARKies 2013 winners and those who were shortlisted. We hope everyone had a fantastic night and we look forward to seeing you again next year!

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SPARKies shortlist focus: best mentor or advisor

Behind most successful companies there is usually a very good mentor, and support in making big business decisions is invaluable but often no publicly recognised. This award gives those benefitting from good mentoring an opportunity to say thank you publicly for the support they’ve received.

Sponsored by The Agency, the Best Mentor category looked for entries who had given their own time and resources to support others in achieving success in the digital and tech sector.

Shortlisted for this award we have: 

Mike Wilsher. who is an advisor and mentor to some of this region’s best known technology companies and founders including Gradwell, Moresoda, The House and Storm Consultancy. In total he mentors around twenty MD’s from across the Bath and Bristol region and is considered by many simply to be the best there is. His track record looks pretty good too, with mentee’s net assets growing by almost 40% year-on-year. The person nominating Mike said: “Whilst many mentors can be applauded for their time, effort, goodwill – Mike can not only claim those, he can also say he really does get results. Mike has utterly changed the way I work, and run my business for the better.”

Gavin Eddy, an ex-investment banker, angel investor and founder of workhub provider Forward Space, has generously given his time to countless students, supported networking events, contributed significantly to enterprise education at the University of Bath by delivering workshops and presentations at conferences and BANTER Bath Entrepreneur events. He has also attended award ceremonies and launches, talks and presentations and provided invaluable advice and support. Since 2006 he has chaired the judging of 7 annual business plan competitions at the University of Bath – reading and giving feedback on over 1000 ideas. He has read and commented on over 500 business ideas and over 50 full business plans – giving detailed feedback on each plan and chairing the judging panel as the finalists pitch their ideas. Gavin’s comments to the student businesses have been wise, well-chosen and challenging.

Rob Brown works in the film industry and is also a new lecturer in film production at Bath Spa University. The student nominating Rob for this award said: “Rob’s support, experience and enthusiasm stood out in not only helping myself but our whole class to drastically improve our methods of film making.” Rob has encouraged students to specialise in specific roles like script writing, camera operating or directing, and as a result three student films have been nominated for the Student RTS awards. Many of the projects are being entered into short film competitions nationally and internationally.

Rob has gond above and beyond in mentoring students, bringing in guest lecturers that were at the top of their game in terms of their trade, giving students insight into how they could learn and be inspired from the very best.

To find out who wins the award for the best mentor at The SPARKies come to our fantastic party at Komedia on 20 March!

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SPARKies shortlist focus: best startup

The Best Startup is always an exciting category to read through, and with a large number of entries this year it was hugely encouraging to see that the regional tech scene is going from strength to strength.

The three startups in our shortlist are all completely different, and all at different stages of development. What they have in common is that our judges were really impressed with the achievements to date, future vision, business planning and strategy of each.

The Best Startup category is sponsored by tech investors Eden Ventures.

CiteAb is an antibody search engine, allowing scientific researchers to quickly find antibodies that will be right for their work. Currently large amounts of time and money are wasted on the ‘wrong’ antibodies. CiteAb, an website inspired by researcher Dr Andrew Chalmers, overcomes this by matching search results with academic citations, so researchers can choose an antibody that has been proven to work. The site was launched in Q1 of 2013 and is now preparing to reach 1m antibodies.

Forged from the burning heart of Games Jam culture, Bristol’s Opposable Games has bought together some of the best and most experienced talent in the South West in the fields of games design and development, illustration, 3D modelling, audio design, and composing, to create brand new gaming experiences. Their first release – Clockwork Racers – is now available on the App Store, and the company has got grant funding from the Wellcome Trust to produce a game demonstrating DNA damage and repair within a human cell. This young company is already demonstrating its huge potential.

Prezola was created by a Bath-based team as the definitive directory to home and garden products from the UK’s favourite high street and online retailers. The site pulls together over 30,000 products into a single destination, making it easier for users to browse everything the market has to offer; all in one place. In its first year Prezola has been nominated as Wedding Gift List of The Year by Bridal Magazine and has enjoyed widespread national press interest.

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SPARKies shortlist focus: the good award

The good award is probably my favourite at The SPARKies. We see digital skills being used in fantastic ways in Bath for business, but the more philanthropic uses can be just as, if not more, exciting and we often never hear about them.

Every year our judges say how hard this category is to judge. Each nominee has put in hours of personal time, using their digital skills to help others. Choosing the best is really tough. That said, our three finalists are really impressive and here I am going to give a little of the back story to each.

The Good Award is sponsored by Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios.

Charlotte Calkin went to a TED conference and found it so inspiring she decided to run a TEDx of her own, and recognising how much impact this type of inspiration could have for teens she aimed TEDxYouth@Bath at 16 – 19 year olds. Charlotte worked tirelessly to line up a stunning series of talks from some of the country’s brightest young talent, and students from every single Bath secondary school attended the event and left inspired.

CuraHQ lets you look after the people you care about by allowing you to create your own secure online community. You can invite the family members, carers, friends and neighbours of the person you are caring for, and share updates and tasks to share the load. Most of us have a parent or a grandparent who needs some help to stay living in their own home, and CuraHQ aims to make that easier to manage.

Marcelle Speller runs Localgiving.com. She has worked tirelessly to make many thousands of small, local and vital charities visible online and to allow them an easy and effective way to raise funds. Localgiving.com supports the fabric of our society in a way not possible before… and it is much needed. Marcelle’s efforts have had an impact tens of thousands of people nationwide and she now has an ambition to take Localgiving.com global and help millions.

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