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Fail Road Image

image by FireFlyThe Great http://www.flickr.com/photos/fireflythegreat/

So… (apparently all West Coast folks start a new sentence with so…!)  learning #2 from BubbleBath 2011 was about the West coast attitude to getting things wrong. You know, getting things wrong so much that you lose the company and have to sack your friends and colleagues.

In Silicon Valley, failure just means you’ve probably learnt something – if nothing else, not to do that mistake again!  Pretty much every entrepreneur we met has some serious screw-ups under their belt and some even seemed to think you can’t be a ‘proper’ entrepreneur without some carnage being left behind you as you clearly can’t have been pushing hard or fast enough! As an example, one company we met have “pivoted” (one of the “in words” from the lean startup approach – essentially meaning you failed!) after investments of tens of Millions of dollars and genuinely see that as a positive move for the business – after all, why would you carry on with Plan A if it isn’t going to bring the out-sized returns you need?

In the UK we naturally think of business failure in a completely different way. For those few who actually take the risk of moving out of a paid job to take on the start-up world it’s usually a one-off. It tends to go something like… “I’ll give it a jolly good go, and if it all goes tits-up I can always go back to a 9 to 5 or contract for a bit”. Silicon Valley on the other hand is pretty much “I’ll give it a go. It’s bound to work and even if it doesn’t I’ll learn from it and do it better next time”.

Then there is other people’s view of failure. Instead of the attitude I sometime perceive here of “hmmm… she failed last time, so perhaps we should use someone else” we saw more of “Guess it failed but she got over it and now she’s got that to learn from. That’s gotta deserve another try”.



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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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As Bob the Builder says… Can we do it?

We can do it!

Rosie the Riveter

Back in November, I led a ‘Mission’ of 7 Bath start-up companies to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. We called it BubbleBath as there is such a ‘bubble’ of amazing Bath-based software businesses at the moment.

The plan was to do just 3 things: 1) Understand how to export to the US, 2) Meet potential investors and partners 3) Learn form other start-up experiences. The good news is we achieved all of them and everyone came back enthused and keen to put Bath more on the technology map as a result.

The trip highlighted some real differences in attitude and approach from those we tend to see day-to-day in the UK, so I thought I’d start with one that jumped out at us all.

“Everything is possible”. No… seriously… EVERYTHING!

Some call it “glass half full” vs “half empty”. Perhaps it’s something to do with the “American Dream” aspirations where supposedly anyone can make it big? Whatever you call it, it’s the expectation that unless you try you fail automatically. And if you try, and assume that if you put everything you can into it, then it’s bound to work – indeed how could it possibly fail?!

Yes, Silicon Valley is an unusual place with it’s own unique ecosystem of tech start-ups and they have other challenges. What they don’t lack is positivity and confidence. British business could do with a good dose of both, so let’s start thinking of what is possible rather than what is stopping us and why we can’t fail rather than what is bound to scupper us!

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Stuff that people from Silicon Valley say

This is a great video of classic “Silicon Valley speak”. Anybody up for making one like this for Bath? With added west country accents…

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10 essential ingredients to develop a strong tech sector

Illustration of The Royal Crescent by Emma Wynne

Back in November I was asked to talk to Bath’s local business leaders about why the Tech sector was so important to the city and what needed to be done to nurture it and help it grow. With input from friends in other Tech clusters (London, New York, Santa Monica and San Francisco), I put together a list of 10 essential ingredients any Tech sector needs to grow. It is by no means exhaustive, but goes some way to being a checklist of what the sector needs to grow.

The back drop to this is that  ‘Software, Digital Entertainment and Electronic Publishing’ is now the largest sub-sector in Bath & North East Somerset. It is also the only sub-sector showing employment and revenue growth (14% increase in employment from 2008-2010 and early results from Bath Digital’s Tech Survey show that tech companies are expecting 19% growth in jobs in 2012).

And on top of that,  technology has repeatedly proven that when it comes to the creation of intelectual property (IP) it is responsible for generating some of the highest value IP on the planet (just look at the  market cap of Google, Apple, Microsoft and intel). For Bath to play a major role in creating the IP of tomorrow, it needs to focus on attracting and nurturing Tech talent.

10 Essential Ingredients to develop a strong tech sector

  1. Constant flow of quality Computer Science Students
    With easy access to Bath University and Bristol University (both in the list of Top 10 Universities for Computer Science and Maths), this should be do-able for Bath. Though we need these undergraduates to see the opportunities that are here on their doorstep.
  2. A great lifestyle and environment
    Bath wins here. People have been choosing to live in Bath even if their work is not here for  years. It is one of a small number of cities that is simply stunning and offers an amazing environment to live in.
  3. Patron companies
    Patron companies are critical for a growing tech sector as they offer graduates & undergrads opportunities for gaining experience and also should offer local startups business development opportunities. With Picochip, IPL, Amdocs and Netcraft to name a few, the city has a growing list of potential patron companies.
  4. Passionate and successful entrepreneurs
    There are loads of entrepreneurs in the area. The sheer number of startup/entrepreneur networks and groups like IncubateMe, SW Founders, BathSPARK, The Innovation Centre are all testament to this.
  5. Success stories
    Silicon Valley nurtures thousands of startups because everybody knows somebody who has had some level of success. Bath has its share of success stories (Picochip’s recent sale to a US company is just one example) and we need to do more to celebrate those successes and to put everything in place to nurture more.
  6. Community organisers & networkers
    With Bath Digital, The Bath Digital Festival, BathSPARK, BathCamp, Open Mic, Creative Bath, etc… there is no shortage of enthusiastic organisers and networkers.
  7. Constant newsflow
    A vibrant tech sector needs constant newsflow to ensure that any one with an interest in the sector knows what is going on. Bath has scored poorly on tech newsflow to date. The Chronicle do cover the tech scene, but they have a broad news remit and can’t just focus on this sector. So, this is why we got a group of people together to create this blog.
  8. Angels & Venture funding
    A strong tech cluster needs access to funding. Bath is home to a few VCs (Eden, Catalyst) and investment networks like SWAIN. Thanks to point 2 (beautiful place to live), Bath is also home to a number of potential angel investors. As we develop the sector and reputation, money will follow.
  9. Incubation & flexible workspaces
    Bath is not great for office space. And even less so for flexible office space. More work has to be done to get flexible and affordable office space for startups to use.
  10. To be marketed as the best place for Tech 
    Ultimately, to retain Tech students, to attract outside talent and raise funds, Bath needs to deliver on points 1-9 of this list and then start to market itself as one of the best places in the UK for tech companies to establish themselves and grow.
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