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What makes a good conference?

Well, the obvious answer is … it depends on who it’s for. But, for researchers, teachers, practitioners and policymakers interested in entrepreneurship and small business development this is a matter of some concern.

With ever shrinking budgets, the prospect of only attending one professional conference a year is very real. So, what makes a good conference? On my shortlist would be:

  1. FOCUS on quality contributions, which are based on rigorous research conducted by leading researchers and help provide real insight.
  2. FREQUENT opportunities to network with researchers, practitioners and policymakers in order to build strong professional networks and grow the community.
  3. FIT for purpose venue but not ‘over the top’. Providing value for money is in everyone’s best interests.

Having said this, I do acknowledge any conference must serve its community and also include opportunities for new researchers and practitioners to join in.

So, why am I concerned about this right now? Perhaps not surprisingly as the President of ISBE I’m particularly concerned that we get our annual conference right. This year we are in the Grand Connaught Rooms, London on 3rd and 4th November.

With over 200 presentation selected from over 400 submissions, I’m confident we have got the balance between quality and quantity right. This year we have designed the networking space to be at the centre of activities – including the food! The venue is impressive but still good value – at least by London standards.

But, the real acid test will be delegate feedback!

STOP PRESS 22nd November 2010

The delegates said

  1. Networking was the main reason for attending and delegates were very satisfied (over 70% fully).
  2. Access to the latest research was almost as important and again delegates were happy with quantity and quality – always a difficult balance to strike (over 70% fully).
  3. The venue delivered!

But would they attend again or recommend it to a colleague? Over 95% said yes to both!

And finally, why not see what the conference was actually like …

ISBE Conference Video 2010

Prof Nigel Lockett FRSA

Professor of Enterprise
President of the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship
www.leeds.ac.uk/lec
www.nigellockett.com

Can you teach enterprise?

Here in lies an age-old question.

Well, according to Enterprise Educators UK, it’s a resounding YES. But, then again they would say this, they are the UK’s largest network for enterprise educators representing more than 600 enterprise education professionals. Their purpose is to support their members to “increase the scale, scope and effectiveness of enterprise and entrepreneurship teaching within their organisations.”

Again, Babson College, probably the world’s leading proponent of entrepreneurship education, says YES. In fact, they have made a business out of educating the educators! They provide annual Symposia for Entrepreneurship Educators, held for the first time in Europe in 2008. I should know – I joined the international cohort at University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. On graduation, we joined the 1,500 alumni of educators.

Perhaps not surprisingly, in the past the UK Government has been strong supporter of enterprise education – both at schools and universities. The previous administration founded the National Council of Graduate Entrepreneurship, who provide a range of programmes to support and encourage enterprise in universities. More recently, students have taken matters into their own hands. The inspirational Victoria Lennox founded the National Consortium of University Entrepreneurs in 2008 as a national organisation to support and represent university enterprise societies and student entrepreneurs in the UK.

So, can you teach enterprise?

Yes, I think you can! Closer to home, in Leeds, we have developed a university-wide initiative to do just this. The Leeds Enterprise Centre, is the focal point for enterprise education on the university campus. Our aim is to provide exceptional research-led enterprise teaching and related activities from our staff, associates, enterprise ambassadors, student interns and visitors. Launched last week, on 7th October 2010, it will provide enterprise modules ranging from ‘Creativity & Innovation in Business’ through ‘Financing for Social Enterprise’ to ‘Social Networking for Enterprise Creation’, to both undergraduate and postgraduate students. It will also provide access to new venture creation support, like the award winning SPARK.

And finally, what is the new coalition government saying? I simply don’t know. There is nothing on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) or Cabinet Office web sites. Perhaps we will know more after the ‘Comprehensive Spending Review’ on Wednesday 20 October or maybe not …

STOP PRESS 15th October 2010

Seems that Goldman Sachs think you can teach enterprise  too. But not just to students but entrepreneurs as well. It’s good to be involved in this innovative business growth programme and have already met the fabulous 25 people on the first cohort. Programme starts in earnest today. What this space …

Prof Nigel Lockett FRSA

Professor of Enterprise
President of the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship
www.leeds.ac.uk/lec

www.nigellockett.com

Is the emergence of the ‘Networked Entrepreneur’ anecdotal or really significant?

I meet more and more successful entrepreneurs who seem to be able to create real entrepreneurial opportunities and exploit them by using their networks. Interestingly, they are so good at this they create new networks if their existing ones can’t deliver. Combine this with the intrinsic ‘network power’ of the Internet and things could get very interesting!

I can think of three good examples of the former and hundreds of people who might get the latter.

So, what do I mean by the ‘Networked Entrepreneur’? They build innovative companies around core service offerings, which in addition to using ‘in house’ assets, integrate with their business networks. At first glance they seem ‘conventional’ but their ability to deliver is based on developing and managing these networks. No opportunity becomes too big and they can emerge in unexpected areas and win new business. The ability to manage or orchestrate these networks becomes a key skill.

Examples [pictures!] speak louder than words:

  1. Jonathan Hick, founding director of The Directorbank Group. He recognises opportunities across multiple sectors and knows the right people to exploit them. If you don’t believe me just look at his portfolio.
  2. Victoria Tomlinson, founder and Chief Executive of Northern Lights PR. She is establishing a new way of doing ‘PR’, which is based on her company being at the centre of a highly skilled and specialised network of service providers and senior business leaders. Of course Victoria builds a reputation in existing sectors but seems to be able to ‘leap frog’ into new ones.
  3. Tim Lockett, founding director of Deliver Net. (Yes, I know blood is thicker than water!) He is building a market leading company in a specialist sector by working in partnership with group customers, suppliers and technology providers to take costs out of the supply chain and empower the customer to really manage ‘cost in use’. Tim has probably forgotten the last time he talked to a customer about the price of a product.

And, who are the ‘hundreds of people’ who might understand the power of the Internet?

Many of my students instinctively see this way of working and that the Internet can be a key tool in achieving success. Well, of course they are the ‘Internet generation’. What they often lack is the market knowledge. However, all they have to do … is just find the right partner!

And, by the way, what are you doing to develop your ability to orchestrate networks better than your competitors?

Dr Nigel Lockett
Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management (CEIM)
www.bradford.ac.uk/ceim
www.nigellockett.com

What would it take to make Santander a serious contender in the small business banking sector?

Until their acquisition of Abbey National in 2004 Santander was practically unheard of on the British high street. This has all changed. Not least because of their purchase and rebranding of the Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley branches but perhaps mostly because of their Formula 1 sponsorship deal with Lewis Hamilton! We may not own a single major car manufacturer but that doesn’t seem to diminish our ‘Top Gear’ obsession with fast cars and winning at sport.

In the UK, Santander is 2nd in terms of mortgages, 3rd in terms of deposits and 5th in terms of branches operated. It has over 25 million customers.

But how can Santander turn this impressive performance on the racetrack and high street into a winning formula for small business banking? The competition is tough. There are already many strong incumbents such as Barclays. But would a Spanish bank have a better chance than anyone else?

There are a few of factors that might influence the outcome.

  1. The relationship between Spanish and British people is largely positive. Our last serious direct conflict was centuries ago and we have an interest in each other’s cultures and climates! Of course, there are issues around Gibraltar and the number of British citizens residing in Andalucía. Did you know that in 2008, 590,000 people left the UK and 430,000 arrived? And, after Australia, where did the British citizens leaving go? Yet, the Spanish remain largely positive about the British.
  2. UK banks and bankers have a somewhat tarnished public image, which extends into the business sector. This might just be a ‘window of opportunity’ for a new non-UK contender to enter the market. Of course, small businesses might be slow to move their banking. However, over 1 million of them don’t seem to be too happy (http://bit.ly/abAgQh).
  3. The most taught foreign language in Spanish secondary schools is English. In the UK all secondary schools offer French and 76% offer Spanish, more than German. French is declining at GCSE level yet Spanish is increasingly popular.

I’m writing this blog mid-way through teaching (fortunately for me in English!) entrepreneurship to a group of MBA students at the University of Salamanca. I’m also receiving Spanish tuition at one of the many language colleges in this beautiful city. Interestingly, Santander recently sponsored a major programme of Spanish business school professorships and an entrepreneurship programme for researchers and faculty with Babson College – a recognised global leader in this field.

Oh, by the way Santander has just made a significant move. They are the only bidder for the RBS branches, which serve some 2 million small businesses in the UK (http://bit.ly/b79YJV). It looks like they have just shifted into second gear!

I wonder if one of their next steps will be to get involved in university based enterprise programmes in order to influence the graduate entrepreneurs of the future.

Dr Nigel Lockett
Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management (CEIM)
www.bradford.ac.uk/ceim
www.nigellockett.com

Is the new coalition government going to be good for small business?

With all the talk of hung parliaments, national interest and stable government it is easy to forget that the ‘enterprise show’ must go on! Small businesses provide nearly 60% of private sector jobs and over 50% of UK turnover. Over half a million people start their own business each year. We are clearly an enterprising nation. So, what might the new Conservative – Lib Dem coalition mean for small businesses and entrepreneurship?

If we had to use one word to describe each party’s approach to enterprise what would it be?

  • Conservative = the Markets. Tends towards supporting the City, reducing the national deficit quickly, reducing regulation for businesses and reducing NI and tax. Going greener.
  • Lib Dem = the Individual. Tends towards local accountability, splitting banks and creating a Post Bank, reducing the national deficit, reducing regulation for businesses, supporting social enterprise and reversing NI increase. Gone green.

But, what do small businesses and entrepreneurs want?

Simply, anything that will free them to be more enterprising and create jobs. That means reduced regulation and bureaucracy, access to finance and fairer taxation. As well as, wider recognition of the role they have in innovating and creating the jobs and wealth that fund public services.

With George Osborne as Chancellor and Vince Cable in the Treasury with responsibility for business and banks, what are my ‘top ten’ predictions?

  1. Banks: Legislation to split investment from retail banking. New bank levy. Formation of Post Bank delivered through the Post Office network;
  2. Business rates: Automatic business rates relief for small businesses;
  3. Business support: Reduced role for Regional Development Agencies. Business mentor networks;
  4. Economy: Attempts to rapidly reduce national debt in order to increase financial stability;
  5. Finance: Increased access to funds from state-owned banks and government schemes;
  6. Green: New low-carbon schemes for small businesses;
  7. Public procurement: Increase access to contracts for SMEs;
  8. Red tape: Reduced regulation and bureaucracy;
  9. Tax: Reduced NI and simplification of Corporation Tax. Review of IR35;
  10. Training and higher education: Increased apprenticeships and work-based training. Increased university enterprise and collaboration with industry.

So, with George Osborne focusing on macro-economic and market issues and Vince Cable supporting businesses we can expect enterprise to matter. With politicians calling for responsibility, compromise and stability there is no doubt in my mind that, given the right environment, small businesses and entrepreneurs can deliver more than their fair share of new jobs and wealth generation.

Dr Nigel Lockett

Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management
www.bradford.ac.uk/ceim
www.nigellockett.com

STOP PRESS

I have just reviewed the ‘coalition agreement’ to see how my ‘top ten’ fared. Still in the charts are:

  1. Banks: New bank levy [Yes] and legislation to split investment from retail banking [Almost – independent commission to investigate];
  2. Business rates: Automatic business rates relief for small businesses [Partly – cancelling some backdated demands];
  3. Economy: Attempts to rapidly reduce national debt in order to increase financial stability [Yes – significantly accelerated reduction. £6 billion in 2010-11];
  4. Finance: Increased access to funds from state-owned banks and government schemes [Yes – to viable SMEs. Major loan guarantee scheme and using nationalised banks];
  5. Green: New low-carbon schemes for small businesses [Partly – creation of green investment bank];
  6. Tax: Reduced NI [Yes];
  7. Training and higher education: Increased apprenticeships and work-based training [Yes – work programmes].

Out of the charts [well at least no news yet] are:

  1. Banks: Formation of Post Bank delivered through the Post Office network;
  2. Business support:  Reduced role for Regional Development Agencies. Business mentor networks;
  3. Public procurement: Increase access to contracts;
  4. Tax: Simplification of Corporation Tax. Review of IR35;
  5. Training and higher education: Increased university enterprise and collaboration with industry.

Now we just have to wait for the emergency budget in 50 days …

A long way from home – from sheep to shop

The fashion industry is full of specialist retailers with each purporting to offer a unique range of clothes that will appeal to a unique group of customers. But how do such niches emerge in what seems like an already crowded market?

Just like the mainstream fashion industry, the active outdoor and sports clothing industry is highly competitive. Many small companies have emerged to meet the needs of customers in this increasing global niche sector. One such company is Howies, which was founded June 1995 by David and Clare Hieatt in the living room of their London flat. Initially, they designed just four T-shirts and launched them in a mountain biking magazine – the T-shirts cost £30.

Let us consider four critical stages of Howies story: the decision to start the company (opportunity recognition); the expansion and the move to Cardigan Bay, in Wales (growth);  the sale to Timberland (acquisition); and David and Clare Hieatt (founders).

Opportunity recognition: The identification of the outdoor enthusiasts sector was a key factor starting the company. The founders and early staff members were passionate about biking, snowboarding and skateboarding. They knew what their potential customers wanted – something unusual and something different. Initially, Howies sold through shops, with 45 selling their product by the end of 1999, but in 2000 they realised this business model wasn’t sustainable – the decision to move into mail-order, that is selling from a printed catalogue, was made and the first catalogue was produced.

Growth: Space is nearly always an issue for growing firms and Howies was no different. The company moved to commercial premises in Wales and secured a grant from the then Welsh Development Agency in 2003. The mail-order catalogue sales were increasing and were supported by e-commerce sales. By the end of 2005 sales were just over £2 million. Clothes were still promoted as ethically produced, both in terms of manufacturing and the textiles used, including hemp, bamboo, organic cotton and the Zque accredited Merino wool from New Zealand.

Acquisition: In early 2007 Howies was acquired by Timberland, the large US-based outdoor clothing company (www.timberland.com). The founders of Howies could see that in order for the company to grow to meet ever-increasing demand more working capital was required. The amount of money involved was beyond the reach of conventional funding, such as secured loans. This would either mean raising venture capital or finding a partner with similar values. David and Clare felt that for Howies to maintain its values there was only one option. At the time of the acquisition Jeffrey Swartz, President and CEO of Timberland, said: “We are excited and inspired by the brand potential we see in Howies and are pleased to welcome them to the Timberland family. We look to invest in like-minded brands that are focused on innovation, authenticity and integrity, and Howies encompasses all of these core values”.

Founders: And where are they now? What is David Hieatt doing?

And finally, ethical points: In addition to prompting environmental sustainable material such as Merino wool, hemp, bamboo and organic cotton, the company only uses 100% renewable electricity from Good Energy for its London store and in 2005 moved to ethical bank Triodos

Dr Nigel Lockett

Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management (CEIM)
www.bradford.ac.uk/ceim
www.nigellockett.com

The big [investment] issue – investing for social returns

Increasingly governments around the world are recognising the importance of enterprise for bringing about social change (the third sector). Venture capital funds are beginning to emerge to provide alternative methods for raising capital and securing investment.  One of the first of these was the Big Issue Invest, which is a specialised provider of finance to social enterprises or trading arms of charities that seeks to bring about social and environmental transformation (www.bigissueinvest.com). It is part of The Big Issue group of companies. The main financial instrument is their £10 million Loan Fund, which provides capital from £50,000 to £250,000 at competitive rates of interest, but it can also arrange large financing with other social finance institutions.  The Big Issue was founded by Gordon Roddick and John Bird in 1991 to help homeless people have the dignity of self-employment through selling the magazine at designated places (www.bigissue.com). The ventures accessing the fund are wide and varied – including:

Belu Water is the first carbon neutral, bottled water company in the UK. It uses compostable bottles made from corn and invests all surpluses in clean water projects. It supplies leading supermarkets, high-end restaurants and corporate boardrooms. The CEO, Reed Paget, won The Independent’s 2008 Social Entrepreneur of the Year award (www.belu.org).

Fifteen Foundation was founded by Jamie Oliver to provide training in the restaurant industry for disadvantaged young people. Fifteen has succeeded in giving young people a transition opportunity to a good career – latest figures show that 75% were still chefing or working in another part of the food industry. Fifteen’s philosophy is to help young people learn within the work environment, from experts in the field, surrounded by the produce, equipment and dishes that they will work with. Fifteen has restaurants in Amsterdam, Cornwall, London and Melbourne (www.fifteen.net).

But what is real return on investment (ROI) for our society?

Dr Nigel Lockett

Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management (CEIM)
www.bradford.ac.uk/ceim
www.nigellockett.com

Keeping on track – but not a train in sight

Vehicle-based satellite navigations systems (Sat Nav), which first started to emerge in the early 1980s, now represent a huge global market. In Europe alone sales in 2009 exceeded €1.5 billion. Many of the leading brands have become household names. For example, Garmin with global sales of $3.5 billion (www.garmin.com) and TomTom with global sales of $1.5 billion, in 2009 (www.tomtom.com). Not surprisingly, as the market grew so did both the number and size of suppliers – competition was very intense.

The systems rely on a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device, which can determine the location of a vehicle, person or anything else for that matter! The location is regularly recorded and transmitted to a central database using mobile cellular, radio, or satellite technologies. The position of a device can be displayed on a map in real-time or recorded to identify movements or routes. Whilst, we are familiar with car-based Sat Nav systems they have many other applications. From surveying to monitoring and from climbing to tourism.

The market for personal tracking has also begun to emerge particularly as a result of increased functionality of mobile phones. Such as, the Nokia N95 and Apple iPhone.  Specialist phone applications became available to take advantage of these new GPS-based features. For example, the LocoBlog mobile phone application and web site supported location-based mobile photo blogging. As users blog and upload images their location is tracked and displayed on website (www.locoblog.com).

The Apple iPhone 3GS, launched in 2009, provided a built-in digital compass with GPS technologies to find the direction of travel to orientate of maps. This service used GPS, Wi-Fi and mobile network masts to identify the exact location of mobile devices. This high-level functionality was incorporated into new iPhone Apps, many of which were developed independently. By March 2010 over 2,600 iPhones Apps that used GPS were available.

With so much competition surely gaps in the market wouldn’t go unnoticed by the larger players for long. They could expect to indentify an unmet consumer need and use their considerable resources to address it quickly. Perhaps this is why it was so surprising that Sara Murray was able to develop and launch her ‘buddi’ product and service under their radar (www.buddi.co.uk). Sara developed the ‘buddi’ after her daughter went missing in a supermarket and she had no way of knowing where she had gone. Sara could not find any product on the market that provided a discrete way of tracking vulnerable children. She developed a new device which was small enough to be worn discretely yet powerful enough to provide reassurance.

Like Sat Nav systems and mobile phones the ‘buddi’ used GPS technology to track people and combine this with emergency support. This kind of tracking device may be equally useful for vulnerable elderly people or lone workers as it is for children. Sara Murray was awarded Best Female Entrepreneur 2009 by the BT Business Essence of the Entrepreneur awards (www.essenceoftheentrepreneur.co.uk).

I think Sara has got that entrepreneurial ability to spot a good idea through having a personal experience. But, what makes her different from most people is realising that this was a real opportunity and then obtaining the resources to take it to market. I can’t help thinking that this won’t be her only enterprise!

Dr Nigel Lockett
Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management (CEIM)
www.bradford.ac.uk/ceim
www.nigellockett.com

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink

In the last 30 years sales of bottled water have grown to more than 1.3 billion litres in the UK and to over 9 billion litres in the US. This is of little comfort the estimated one billion people in the world who don’t have access to safe clean drinking water.

Duncan Goose, founder of Global Ethics and One Water (www.onedifference.org), set-up his new venture, in 2005, to sell ethical bottled water and donate 100% of its profits to installing a specialised water pumping systems called PlayPump (www.playpumps.org). He recognised the potential … “The water market is an absolutely huge market in the UK, worth £1.5 billion” (Guardian, 22/03/2007). At one level Duncan’s vision is simple – use all the profits from selling water, to people who can afford it, to provide clean water for people who cannot. Clearly, there needs to be more to it than that. In his younger days Duncan travelled the world, in fact he was inspired by Ted Simon’s motorcycle journey in the 1970s, detailed in his book Jupiter’s Travels (1979). Duncan is in good company, actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman were also inspired by reading Jupiter’s Travels. As you can image Duncan has his own adventures, including surviving Hurricane Mike that destroyed many communities in Honduras in 1998. Duncan recalled … “What really struck me was to make a difference we did not need a lot of money, just a little money spent in the right way” (Sunday Times, 01/12/2008).

One Water was conceived and launched in 2005 just at the same time as Bob Geldof’s Live 8 appeal was launched. Having created a vision and sharing it with organisers of Live 8, he faced the challenge of promoting and supplying it to individual consumers. Can you imagine how you would go about persuading retailers and supermarkets which have shelves full of numerous brands of bottled water to delist one and put yours it its place? Indeed, it was hard very work for Duncan but when Total (www.total.co.uk) became the first national stockist in 2006 others started to follow. In their first year One Water donated £70,000 to charities working in Africa and India. By 2008, this had exceeded £1 million. Then One Difference started expanding its vision to include other humanitarian issues in developing countries, such as HIV through the sale of One Condoms (www.onedifference.org/condoms). Interestingly, Duncan has recruited other people to promote his vision, including actors David Tennant and Rebecca Lacey.

Dr Nigel Lockett
Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management (CEIM)
www.bradford.ac.uk/ceim
www.nigellockett.com

Electrifying ideas: Deregulation lights up new opportunities

Back in 1989 the UK Government passed the Electricity Act that was, over the course of the next decade, to transform a monopoly into a dynamic market supplying electricity to commercial and domestic consumers. The intention was to allow customers to purchase their electricity from a range of competing providers, albeit still distributed over the national grid, thereby increasing competitive forces and reducing prices. Intuitively we think of large corporations like E.ON (www.eon.com) and Scottish Power (www.scottishpower.com) competing in such a large established market rather than smaller providers, let alone new ones.

Juliet Davenport saw no barriers to meeting this challenge head on when starting Good Energy (www.goodenergy.co.uk), which only supplies electricity generated by 100% renewable sources. This ethical company employed over 50 people and had annual turnover of more than £12m (The Times, 08/06/2009) but how was this achieved in only 10 years? Juliet had a clear vision that she was able to share with investors, independent generators and consumers, which was based on a set of clear values linked to fighting climate change … “We see our customers going on a journey, switching to Good Energy are the first part” (www.youtube.com). In addition to its own wind farm in Cornwall, Good Energy has developed a growing community of over 500 independent renewable electricity generators in the UK.  More than 25,000 homes and businesses across the UK switched to Good Energy (www.goodenergygroup.co.uk) so Juliet’s clarity of vision of saving 1 million tonnes of carbon a year paid dividends with both independent generators and consumers buying into it.

So, switching to Good Energy could be your valentine to the planet!

Dr Nigel Lockett
Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management (CEIM)
www.bradford.ac.uk/ceim
www.nigellockett.com