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About Tom Bradshaw

Award-winning journalist, broadcaster and author. I tweet @tombradshaw1979
Author Archive | Tom Bradshaw

You do the math! Bath developers launch educational app in the States

DoodleMathsAn educational app developed by a husband and wife team in Bath has been launched on the US market after becoming a top-selling educational app on the App Store in the UK.

Tom Minor and Nicola Chilman, who run a company called EZ Education Ltd, have taken their DoodleMaths app for iPhone and iPad over the Pond following 50,000 downloads in the UK.

The app’s content, which in the UK is aimed at Key Stage 2, has been adapted to cater for the elementary school syllabus in the US.

And, with the American market in mind, there has also been a slight tweak to the name – from DoodleMaths to DoodleMath.

The app motivates children to improve their maths by awarding them credits and accessories for their pet character avatar as they tackle each mathematical challenge.

DoodleMathsAs a child uses the app, DoodleMaths uses a feedback algorithm to detect the child’s strengths and weaknesses and develops a continually-evolving programme of study that is tailored to each individual.

It is a busy summer for Tom and Nicola, who in September will launch a version of the app that is aimed at schools. DM Schools will have multi-user functionality and enable teachers to monitor individual and whole-class progress in real time.

Tom and Nicola are both maths teachers, and the idea for the app was inspired by them watching their own children interact with an iPad.

Tom, who along with Nicola also runs the Kip McGrath Education Centre in Bath, said: “I’ve always been passionate about teaching and I had very clear ideas about how I felt maths should be taught even before we had the concept for the app. I’d started to introduce those ideas at the tuition centre and then when I saw our own children pick up an iPad, I realised we could extend the ideas to a much wider audience.

“It’s exciting that we now have an audience in the United States too, although it’s still early days for us in that market. But as maths is such a fundamental, universal skill, we are confident DoodleMath can match the success we’ve had in the UK.”

Nicola Chilman and Tom Minor of DoodleMaths

Nicola Chilman and Tom Minor’s DoodleMaths app has had 50,000 downloads in the UK.

From an early stage children from around the Bath area were involved in the app’s development, with Bathford Primary and Writhlington Schools providing input.

Nicola said: “The feedback we’ve had has been excellent and has inspired us to develop DM Schools. We’ve had children with a DoodleMaths age of eight-and-a-half years and they’ve then made two-and-a-half years of progress in just a few weeks.”

But hitting the top 10 list for educational apps on the UK App Store was something that was only achieved after painstaking research, explained Tom.

“Research is absolutely essential for successful app development,” he said. “Does your idea fill a gap in the App Store? If it doesn’t, think again. If it does, then go for it and get as much feedback as you can along the way.”

More information about the app is available at www.doodle-maths.co.uk.

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Bath start-up Mystery Applicant triumphs in Silicon Valley competition

A start-up from Bath has proved it’s a match for Silicon Valley’s tech firms after winning an international competition for companies specialising in recruitment software.

Mystery Applicant, which is based in North Parade, beat rival bids from 50 other applicants to take the spoils at the Recruiting Innovation Summit in Mountain View, California.

Nick Price, founder of award-winning start-up firm Mystery Applicant. Picture: Kevin Bates, Bath News & Media/The Bath Chronicle

The company’s founder, Nick Price, collected the award of $10,000 after pitching his business to leading lights in the human resources industry. The award was presented at the Computer Science Museum in Silicon Valley.

Mystery Applicant provides an online software tool that records a candidate’s experience of a firm’s recruitment process, providing data to HR departments about the perceptions, motivations and experience that applicants have when they apply for a post.

Nick said: “We are incredibly proud to have won this award against strong competition from other companies around the world.

“It’s testament to our technology, our team and our vision that we were the chosen winners.

“The money is brilliant, but the recognition of what we’re doing is really good too.”

Among Mystery Applicant’s clients is global security firm G4S, which receives tens of thousands of applications a month.

“We are already working with global companies who are realising the benefits of being able to measure their employer brand and refine their recruitment processes,” added Nick. “Companies invest huge sums of money in attracting the best talent so providing the best recruitment experience really matters.

This post is based on an article that originally appeared in The Bath Chronicle

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Bath publishing giant Future continues growth in digital markets

Bath’s largest private sector employer is continuing to spread its tentacles around the globe as it stays ahead of the curve  in digital publishing.

Since Mark Wood took the hot seat at Future in October following the resignation of previous CEO Stevie Spring, the digital specialist has acclererated the company’s evolution from in-print magazine specialist to all-singing, all-dancing digital pioneer.

Future CEO Mark Wood

Mark Wood has accelerated Future's digital expansion since becoming CEO

Figures released this week show the company is striding boldly, rapidly and successfully into digital markets – and is becoming an increasingly global presence.

Interim results for the half-year to the end of March show Future’s digital revenues grew 37 per cent to £9.6 million. Future’s sales on the iPad have now passed £3 million following the launch of Apple’s Newsstand in October 2011. In the UK, digital growth offset a decline in print revenues.

The growth of the iPad and other tablet devices as a means of consuming media is central to Future’s strategy, and one figure that caught my eye is that 80 per cent of its iPad sales are outside the UK.

Future is fast becoming a business whose products are consumed all over the globe –  but Bath remains the beating heart of its operations.

“Bath is the biggest centre in Future and the centre of a lot of our innovation,”  chief executive Mark Wood told The Bath Chronicle. “We have first-class people and it’s the driving force of the business in most ways.”

Future’s operating profit before exceptional items was down five per cent to £1.8 million, with revenues down four per cent year-on-year to £59.1 million. The figures are based on the exclusion of revenues and costs relating to activities that Future has closed since October 2010.

The figures represent a significant improvement on results for the year to September, when Future lodged an adjusted pre-tax profit for the year of £5.1 million, down 39 per cent on 2010. The ship, it seems, has been steadied with Wood’s hand on the tiller.

For more of Mark Wood’s thoughts on Future’s Bath operations, and for news of a tie-up between the University of Bath’s computer science department and special effects firm Double Negative, see this week’s Bath Chronicle.

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From RAF engineer to app engineer

When Matt Powlson’s job as an RAF aircraft engineering officer took him away from his family, he still wanted to read his three-year-old daughter Libby a bedtime story.

Matt Powlson

Matt Powlson. Picture: The Bath Chronicle/Bath News & Media

From that paternal desire, an entire business has developed. Matt set about writing a programme for a digital picture book. Every time his daughter turned a page, his pre-recorded voiceover would read the words. So began a series of interactive children’s book apps, with Matt quickly forging links with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

The renaissance man was still with the RAF at the time, but having left the Forces in October, he is now running his business BlueWorks from Regency House in Wood Street.

It marks quite a change of lifestyle – and environment – for the electronic engineering graduate. He spent 20 years in the RAF working in Antarctica, the Falkland Islands and Kuwait. His final four years were in Ohio.

When he left the air force in October and made a trip to Bath’s Christmas Market, he reached the decision that Bath was where he wanted to base his business.

“I fell back in love with the city and things just started to fall into place,” he said. “Since then, with the Bath Digital Festival and the X Media Lab taking place in March, I’ve met some great people in the city who are all digital innovators. The creative mood in Bath is so strong.

In January, he found an office on a Thursday, founded the firm on the Friday, and started work the following Monday.

His main focus now is the We-Reader, an app that enables multiple people to comment on the same text in an interactive way – with the author also being able to interact.

“It allows you to have a reading group all the time – with the author in the room,” explained Matt. “It’s potentially a global community for sharing thoughts.”

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Bath at the forefront of campaign to get coding on the curriculum

Thinkers, teachers and tech experts in Bath are leading the push to have coding taught in schools across the length and breadth of the country.

Academics in the city say the UK will not be able to fully exploit opportunities in tech unless early-years courses are held in computer programming.

Louis and Kieran of Moorlands Junior School in Bath enjoy a class in coding

Louis and Kieran of Moorlands Junior School in Bath enjoy a class in coding

The Bath Digital Festival blazed a trail last month by holding coding lessons with nine year olds at Moorlands Junior School in the city, and calls are now being made for such courses to be nationally supported.

The event at Moorlands was deemed such a success that the Digital Festival’s organisers are looking to establish a legacy fund to support further coding lessons in other schools across the city.

Professor Phil Willis, Head of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bath, believes national policy is required to make coding part of the curriculum.

“It is fantastic to see events taking place like the coding sessions which Moorlands students have enjoyed through Bath Digital Festival,” he said. “It would be great for this to be rolled out across the city. However, real impact would be made if digital literacy could become part of the education offered to all students in Britain.

“Our Computer Science department recruits highly skilled students with excellent A-level grades but we need the broader skills as well.

“With Britain leading the way in digital enterprise and innovation it is now as important for students to be digitally literate as it is for them to read and write.”

Katharine Reeve, lecturer and head of publishing at Bath Spa University, recognises that there are challenges for schools in providing suitable lessons that prepare their students for careers in a digital world.

After hosting an event called Teaching Digital during the festival, she said: “There is often a skill-gap in schools between teachers and their pupils, making the delivery of these lessons very challenging.

“To add to this, the digital sector is very fast-moving with new techniques and  tools being relevant every day.

“This makes it difficult for staff to maintain appropriate lesson plans, and classes have to be designed in such a way so that skills learnt don’t become dated before the student reaches the workplace.”

Doug Poole, who gave the lessons to the junior school pupils, added: “Rolling these lessons out across Bath would be a fantastic legacy project for the Digital Festival.”

Read Bath pupils’ reactions to coding classes in the latest edition of The Bath Chronicle, out April 12

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Digital experts ready to pass on tips at Bath festival

Tech experts and creatives are preparing to offer tips free of charge as Bath gears up for its inaugural Digital Festival.

As part of the festival, which is taking place between March 15 and 25, free lunchtime Business Clinics will offer companies across the city an opportunity to speak to the experts about integrating digital technology into their businesses.

The festival will include 24 events over the course of 11 days, with the Business Clinic boasting a panel of experts with global experience.

The panel features Richard Godfrey of iPrinciples, a Bath software company that makes highly interactive applications, and Finbar Hawkins, who was part of the team that developed Channel4.com. Also on hand will be Simon Stapleton, who has 18 years’ experience managing technology and innovation at both FTSE100 companies and SMEs, and Steve Richardson, a former creative director of Interbrand, New Zealand.

Bath-based companies will have the chance to speak to the experts in a private and confidential environment.

The Business Clinics will take place on Tuesday, March 20, and Wednesday, March 21, from noon-2pm. Sessions are limited to eight 20-minute slots over the two days, and will be offered on a first come, first served basis.

For more information see the Bath Digital Festival website.

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Bath app developers – shaken not stirred

Coding and drinking might not always be the wisest of bedfellows – but the combination has paid off for one Bath firm.

App developers Riot have teamed up with their local bar,  Door 34, to whet the appetite of cocktail drinkers.

Inspired by evenings at the bar, staff at Riot set about devising an iPhone app that generates new cocktail recipes.

With the shake of a phone, the Shaken app comes up with the recipe for a new drink with a novel name.

Andy Walsh, owner of Door 34, with guys from Riot. Photo: Lloyd Ellington The Bath Chronicle / Bath News & Media

“It’s a bit like drinking roulette,” says Andy Walsh, owner of Door 34.

Elliott Kember, of Riot, said the app had been developed during one of his firm’s regular hack nights.

“It only took about half-an-hour to get it working and then we all trooped back down to the bar to try it out,” recalls Elliott. “To everyone’s great surprise it worked really well. That was a great night!”

Shaken is available from iTunes priced 69p

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Publishing giant Future enjoys sharp digital growth

Overseeing digital growth: Future CEO Mark Wood

Overseeing digital growth: Future CEO Mark Wood

Bath publisher Future expects its digital revenues to “maintain a vigorous growth rate”, fuelled by growing demand for its titles on Apple Newsstand.

The company today recorded a 41 per cent increase in digital revenues for the three months to December 31. In its UK operations, the pace of digital expansion was faster still, with revenues increasing by 51 per cent and offsetting a decline in its print revenue – a development described by the company as an “important milestone”.

The magazine publisher expects the expansion of its digital operations to continue apace as more consumers acquire tablets and other mobile devices.

“Print sales will be challenging, but we expect digital revenue to maintain a vigorous growth rate,” said today’s interim management statement.

Future has more than 65 digital editions available through Apple Newsstand. It reported 10 million downloads of its cost-free apps and sales of over 430,000 digital magazines.

Chief executive Mark Wood, who took the hot seat at Future in the autumn, said: “We are starting to see a significant change in the shape of the business as our digital innovation enables us to reach entirely new consumers in global digital markets.

“The period has confirmed Future’s position as a recognised leader in the transition to digital publishing.”

Total group revenues were down seven per cent, primarily due to the company’s performance in the US, where revenues dropped 20 per cent because of year-on-year reductions in print revenues and the “managed closure” of titles.

The company says it expects to get its US business back in the black by 2013. It completed the sale of its US Music titles in January, and a US version of its TechRadar website will be launched in the spring. In December, TechRadar – a technology news and reviews site – generated a record of almost 11 million unique visitors.

Wood added: “The new management team is delivering fast digital growth and restructuring our US business in line with the strategy outlined in November. We are pleased that cost-saving initiatives have fully offset the anticipated reduction in revenues.”

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Bath’s Innovation Centre embarks on a new era

Andy Council puts the finishing touches to his mural at the University of Bath Innovation Centre. Picture: Kevin Bates, Bath News & Media/The Bath Chronicle

Andy Council puts the finishing touches to his mural at the University of Bath Innovation Centre. Picture: Kevin Bates, Bath News & Media/The Bath Chronicle

Bath is to forge closer links with other tech-savvy English cities as the University of Bath’s Innovation Centre expands.

The centre is launching DigiCity, a space where young firms can have access to office facilities without the cost of permanent overheads.

The revamped area, which includes an eye-catching new mural, will open towards the end of February, and moves are afoot to twin DigiCity with similar bases in London and Cambridge.

The centre’s director, Simon Bond, said: “We work closely with companies that are innovating, applying technology to create new stuff. These entrepreneurs and creators don’t want to be tied to an office but want the ability to hook up in an office environment and work alongside like-minded people.

“The aim is for there to be links with similar establishments in London and Cambridge. We want to connect up these powerful creative and entrepreneurial communities.”

People wanting to use the centre will be able to book a batch of sessions in advance online.

To mark the centre’s new era, Mr Bond commissioned a striking mural by street artist Andy Council. The artwork shows Bath as a writhing dragon and has been sponsored by audio streaming startup Bardowl.

There’s more info on the mural and the Innovation Centre’s plans for the future in the latest edition of The Bath Chronicle (out February 2).

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Bath’s not just a Georgian themepark for shoppers

Bath: Not just a pretty picture for the tourists...

For decades, Bath’s economy was supported by the three pillars of tourism, retail and manufacturing. And for years there often seemed to be little will – political or otherwise – for that to change.

Even when crane-maker Stothert and Pitt – once the city’s biggest employer – wound down its operations in the city and shipped out, little was done to fill the void that was left.

But the coffee has finally been smelt – and over the past two or three years momentum has been steadily gathering behind a new force in the city’s economy: the digital and creative sectors.

Elaborate Venn diagrams could be constructed illustrating how the city’s digital and creative sectors overlap or stand in their own right. But suffice it to say, in the two-and-a-bit years that I’ve been business editor at The Bath Chronicle , these twin forces have injected a fresh bounce into the city’s economy.

Buses full of tourists still rumble past the city’s Georgian crescents and shoppers still come to sample Bath’s independent retailers – and that’s all to the good. But there are now fresh juices being added to the city’s cocktail of economic ingredients.

That’s not to say that forward-thinking, tech-based firms haven’t existed in the city for some time. There has been a solid base of such companies for more than a decade, one of which, Picochip, was snapped up by American firm Mindspeed for a cool $51.8 at the start of the year. Publishing firm Future – the city’s largest private employer – has also always had a pioneering edge ever since Chris Anderson, who is now curator of TED, founded the firm in the mid-1980s. Its digital edge has been sharpened by the appointment of former ITN and Reuters boss, and digital media strategy expert, Mark Wood as its CEO.

But the new momentum has come, not just from these established forces, but from the number of energetic startups and visionary one- or two-man bands who have made their presence felt over the past couple of years. Some of these are graduates from the University of Bath who have stayed on in the city after collecting their degrees, such as Storm and Meanbee. And this retention of graduates is key if Bath’s burgeoning digital sector is to continue to expand.

Also providing momentum are the networking groups, such as BathSPARK. Crucially, this isn’t just about getting coders together; it’s about uniting such coders with ideas people, potential investors, patent attorneys, marketeers… The potential for collaborative working is huge, as proved by the fact BathSPARK’s events are always over-subscribed.

Then there are the events. Mobile event The Big M was a huge success in 2011, bringing together experts in mobile from across the globe. That event will be repeated this year as part of the inaugural Bath Digital Festival in March, a 10-day-long event which should really serve to put Bath on the tech map. And when you chuck into the mix the arrival of X Media Lab to the city, the pull that Bath is starting to exert in the tech field becomes irresistible.

There are challenges, of course; the canvas is not yet complete. Office space for SMEs in the city is a long-running issue, but one which is receiving a lot of attention from Bath and North East Somerset Council. Such efforts from the local authority are hugely welcome, and the prospect of an effervescent private sector working with the council fully behind it is exciting.

The political will that was once lacking now seems to be there by the bucket-load.

It all, I would argue with my journalist’s hat on, augurs rather well for the city’s tech sector. The architecture of Bath’s economy is undergoing a change. 2012 could well be the year when tech establishes itself as one of the true publicly-acknowledged pillars of the city’s economy.

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