Meetup – Bizoogo’s #CollaboratetoCreate

Back in May we featured the startup connection site, Bizoogo. For one night a month, the team take the concepts around the site offline. This week we joined them at Google Campus for the August meetup.

Bizoogo is all about Collaborating to Create. And collaborate is just the right word. The event was all about bringing people’s skills together, knowing who was good with what and what each attendee was looking for, keen to meet others who were seeking the exact same thing. Equally, the atmosphere wasn’t too pushy nor too salesy. And as ever variety makes an event stand out – there was a good mix of those at the idea stage, starting up with their business and other, more established folks. Even more exciting was the number of people who attended, even pre-idea, looking to get involved in something to which they could turn their skills; a human resource that as any startup knows, can be essential to getting a project off the ground. At Bizoogo, it’s the individual that comes first.

I have to say I tried to avoid being physically sticky-labeled with an industry or skill for as long as I could. I was outsmarted though and actually, the labels worked well as a talking point for that first introduction but also as a kind of boast of the mass of skills that made their way around the room.

Follow the Bizoogo team on Twitter for news of where to catch them next.

Meetup – Entrepreneurs in London

One of the entrepreneurs at the event

How much networking have you done this week? How many invites have you turned down? How important is networking to your business?
Knowing how much time to dedicate to these events isn’t easy, neither is finding the right one… I tagged along with one of our readers, Natacha Cullinan, to her first visit to Entrepreneurs in London.

Entrepreneurs in London doesn’t take itself too seriously. Expect a laid-back, friendly and warm atmosphere. First timers are definitely welcome – almost everyone I spoke to had never been before and were keen to chat to as many people as they could. The size of the event (just over 100 people) struck the ideal balance; somewhere between small and intimate and buzzy and crowded – not cliquey at all, with familiar faces popping up every now and then as you circled the room.

This event had something that so many lack: a chance to make of it what you wanted. Whether you were after having a drink with some like-minded people or trying out that all important pitch on someone new. The organizer, Patrick Powers, couldn’t be more right when he says “some people just want to socialize”; that’s exactly what Entrepreneurs in London offers with the chance to make some great contacts in the process.

Entrepreneurs in London is held at various venues every couple of weeks. The group is run by Patrick Powers and can be found on Meetup or Facebook.

Self-employed or Unemployable?

There seems to be a common understanding that stating you are an entrepreneur deems you unfit for the working world of 9-5ers. But is it true that an enterprising individual can consider the office doors of employers locked forever?

Starting your own business comes with more than business cards and a set of accounts. It can say lots about your personality, that you are driven, ambitious, an independent thinker. But when do those characteristics work against you? Is it when it comes to applying to work?

This issue is particularly relevant to young people that have started up a business today. The arguments for self-employment, the freedom and independence, are pretty clear – but that may not be the whole story. One assumption is that starting up a business is motivated by the desire to avoid more conventional career options. It is interesting to consider the job climate and the changing motivations to starting up. The current lack of jobs may have been a catalyst for many young people who have chosen this route meaning that while many entrepreneurs seek to avoid the constraints of being employed, lots more will have little alternative and employment in another company may well be a future possibility. Whereas more experienced entrepreneurs may have chosen to start up on their own following years of being employed by somebody else, is this generation just left with no comparison?

With this in mind, companies may find that some of the most valuable skills (resourcefulness, motivation, determination) are in fact to be found in those who have created their own jobs. The CV is often problematic. Knowing how to present your own venture amongst the skills and experience you have picked up through education and employment can be a tricky one. How will a potential employer judge an entrepreneur against other candidates? Will it be assumed that you’re unable to work for others, too independent, selfish, even disloyal?

The truth is that these assumptions are difficult to justify. Personal development is important for everyone, at any stage of his or her career and the chances are that an entrepreneur is more aware of what they have to offer a company. If it’s a job application, there is a reason why you’ve applied. Personal development should be part of the motivation behind any job application, the more clear those motivations are, the more likely the employer is going to understand where the candidate is coming from.
Entrepreneurial doesn’t have to mean you want to run off and start a new business every few months. For most people, the label ‘entrepreneurial’ has more to do with the way they think than the things they think about. It is about innovation, coming up with new concepts, being able to highlight opportunities, all things that can be invaluable to an employer.

Rob Blythe is co-founder of an internship and graduate recruitment company called Instant Impact, who specialise in uniting fast-growing SMEs with top students and graduates.

‘Entrepreneurs develop a range of skills that can be invaluable to the small and fast growing companies that we work with. Chief amongst these is a mental flexibility and what most people call being a ‘self-starter’. When growing quickly time is scarce and employees who can be counted on to go the extra mile are extremely valuable. When setting up a company there is no one to ask about how to register for VAT or what software package to buy, you have to figure it out for yourself. Hiring an entrepreneur means that you can give them complex problems and expect them to go over and above the brief with very little additional direction. There is always a risk that great people may leave your business but that doesn’t mean that you should settle for second best!’

While this might well be generation startup in efforts to avoid being generation unemployed, it probably isn’t generation unemployable.

Crowdsourced journalism

By Kaamil Ahmed

Egypt is voting for a new President this week. In the period between the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and these elections, Egypt hasn’t featured very much in the news apart from when there have been riots. When the Egyptian situation has been analysed, it’s largely been on a very general scale that talks about the ‘big’ issues such as that of the president, religion in politics and economy. But no one really spoke to the people. I thought there was a gap that could be filled, so last summer I decided that I was going to head down to Cairo with some friends and talk to some Egyptians.

Problem was, I didn’t quite have enough money to get there and buy all the equipment. I’d heard of this thing called crowdfunding and i’d seen someone on Facebook asking for money by using a website called Indiegogo. Hesitantly, I tried that route. It kind of worked.

I say it kind of worked because we did raise enough money to make the film but it felt too much like begging. The funders were just my friends because ultimately I don’t think that I had enough to offer anyone else. The idea was to produce some good quality campaigning journalism and, though I think we achieved that to some degree, I don’t think that’s enough. Crowdfunding thrives on being able to offer people something, so goods thrive because you can actually provide a person with the product in return for the funding. But with the film, I think anyone I didn’t know would probably wonder why they should fund me? There are probably a number of people who could go out and do that and I wouldn’t really be offering anything in return other than credit and the chance to have some input into the way the film was made.

The main problem is that crowdfunding, for journalism, is unsustainable. Sure, if you come up with a really good campaign and can find enough people that care about it, you might be able to raise some funds. But what about next time? You can’t keep going back to the same people and at the end of the day when it comes to campaigning, why give money for a piece of journalism instead of to a charity?

Crowdfunding can definitely work for certain types of projects but when it comes to the media, it is too simplistic.

Kaamil Ahmed is editor of Off The Tangent. He also writes a football blog here.

Follow the crowdfunding

Ben Saffer is the founder of Saffer Productions. Having done a lot of commercial work, events based films, music videos and festival coverage, both in the UK and abroad, he used crowdfunding to finance the company’s current “passion project”, which will be shown it at a number of film festivals across the uk and beyond.

What did you use crowdfunding for?

We used it to raise around 40% of the funding for a short film which we shot in March. The film is now very nearly reaching completion and it premiers next week. After that, it will be submitted to film festivals, possibly using another round of crowdfunding to raise the money for festival submissions.

Why did you choose crowdfunding?

Necessity really. With the time and resources available to us we didn’t really have any other way to raise the amount of money required. Also, it was an interesting first dip of the toes into crowdfunding, something which I’ve been interested in for a while.

How did you choose the platform?

We chose to use Sponsume because a few other filmmakers I know had used it in the same timeframe with some success. Also, it was preferable to other platforms such as IndieGoGo and Kickstarter because we knew most people would be UK based and being able to set the prices in £s was a big thing. Having a small UK based company to work with made things easier in terms of support and help.

How much were you looking to raise?

We were looking for £500, we raised just over £650 in the end. The other option was to look for local companies to sponsor the film. This was the first option we looked into, but crowdfunding required less time and effort to raise the money, allowed us to retain full independence and also allowed us to cultivate a community around the film and raise its profile on social media. Raising money from corporate sponsors can be good, however given the current climate this is becoming very difficult and generally requires a strong existing link with a company to be successful. The historical source of funding for these sorts of projects, UK Film Council and RDAs has all but disappeared and crowdfunding is going some way to plug this gap.

Were you pleased with the result?

We were very pleased with how the funding went. To be honest, we expected around 80% of the money to come from people who we were “pretty sure” would support us before we started, but the crowdfunding site gave an easy, fast conduit to get these funds from people over a wide geographical spread. I think crowdfunding is good if you have a decent network of family, friends and clients who you will support you, or at a higher level a large fanbase who will support your projects (see Vincent Moon‘s Colombian music documentary last year). I would recommend it to anyone who understands how it works: the mistake a lot of people make is thinking that there is a magical “pool” of people out there who will suddenly discover your film on a crowdfunding site and give you a bunch of cash – that’s not how it works; if you don’t know who these people are in the “real world” then they don’t know who you are online.

For example, another film in Leeds put a crowdfunding page up asking for £1600 in about 3 weeks. They had a small crew (much smaller than ours) and most of these already had other projects on crowdfunding sites so could only reasonably leverage their family and/or friends once in the timeframe. The crowdfunding page only raised around £160 which had the knock on effect of making the filmmakers look like they didn’t know what they were doing and made it more difficult for them to get crew, locations, equipment on a beg, borrow or steal. Conversely, we spent time before setting up a crowdfunding page on working out who would likely support us and to what level, setting our target accordingly. Through meetings and exceeding our target we showed that we knew what we were doing, created a positive feeling around the project and in the days after the crowdfunding page finished, were able to secure some great deals on crew and equipment off the back of this positivity.

What would you advise people thinking about using crowdfunding for their projects?

- Know your audience and/or potential funders
- Estimate how much you can raise
- Be realistic with your target and set it accordingly. Anything over and above this is a bonus
- Don’t fall into the trap of raising funding again and again: your “core” network of supporters will only give what they can and this will happen on the first round
- Create a community around your backers – this will help in many ways in the future
- Ensure you create positivity around your project off the back of a successful round of crowd funding (shout it from the rooftops when you reach your target!)

Response to ‘Want some experience?’: Guilty as Charged

I belong to the lucky generation – and feel guilty accordingly. Unlike my father, I haven’t had to disappear for years on end risking life and limb fighting fascists: defending my country has consisted of a modest bar-room brawl. My grammar-schooling was free and pretty good – good enough to get me into a decent university for a law degree. And that was free too: I left with no debt to join a prestigious law firm on a single interview… because my dad knew someone. So I bought my first house at 23 and against a background of rising prices bought a nicer one a couple of years later, by which time I was a dad…

Fortunate indeed, but the other side of that coin is the realisation that the current young generation has a very different deal. For years I have tried to help beyond the “charity begins at home” bit by offering work experience to those interested in the law. In one case I actually managed to find a way through to qualification for a lad who would not otherwise have succeeded – a rare win against the authorities. But overall there is not much I can do as an individual.

Do I care? Yes, very much, and not just on a personal level. Many, if not most, of my peers are of the same view. You might not think this of someone whose Beatle-style hair fell out long ago, but the truth is that the next generation really matters and we are not doing right by them – or by us. Why? Quite simply, the United Kingdom has little or nothing in the way of natural resources: it has the advantage of being on the edge of Europe, of speaking a world language, of having an influence well beyond our shores. But our main advantage is our people: didn’t we invent football, rugby, the computer, television, radar, the jet engine, a system of law and of government and many, many other things, to say nothing of a sense of fairness and humanity? And all because of the people who called themselves British.

So to stifle our young people with debt, to withdraw apprenticeships, curb our armed services and generally deny them jobs or a future is not just unfair. It stabs at the heart of our future as a country – and that’s your future and mine. I’m not dead yet and the NHS (another invention of ours, born the same year as me) may keep me going a while longer. As a nation we need to think beyond existing debt, beyond a mere five-year government term of office, we need to invest in our youth to secure our country’s medium and long-term future.

Where are the leaders who will take us there? Of course, the current generation are nothing if not resourceful, and perhaps the silver lining to this cloud is that many are not just sitting on their hands and bewailing their fate. Far from it: as in any group, those with “get up and go” are doing just that. If you can’t get a job, what could be more logical than creating your own? Perhaps the answer to all this is that in years to come we will be able to point to the ultra-successful entrepreneurs and say that they are a product of these hard times.

I fervently hope so.

Geoff is a corporate lawyer, father of four and self-confessed baby boomer.

This post was inspired by ‘Want some experience? It’s gonna cost ya!’
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Want some experience? It’s gonna cost ya!

I’m not a social enterprise. I don’t have a CSR budget – but I also don’t want one. Ever.
‘Doing the right thing’ isn’t reserved for charities.

To be honest, it’s probably been the harder of the options – in a market where only offering an intern expenses is ‘acceptable’, anything more is seen as ‘fair’ and offering something close to a minimum wage is darnright crazy, it is more than easy to get complacent.

I wouldn’t say I’m a business expert. I’ve learnt a lot over the past year and I did A-level business studies (got a B, actually) but I’ve still got a long way to go. I remember even in those lessons being a bit confused at the idea of CSR planning. It’s kind of uncomfortable – the idea that corporations, by default, will do evils and then throw some money at CSR schemes to fix it. I don’t want to make the mistakes I will then need to shell out to correct.

Maybe I’m being naïve and will chew my blogposts some time in the future when I have shareholders to please and employees to pay. I’m pretty sure that will be a hard swallow: selling out, compromising my principles. My ‘PR people’ will have to search my social media history for evidence of my past affiliations with the good side. Maybe I’ll need hypnotherapy so that I can sleep at night (sleeping will be done on my billion pound yacht, btw). But for now I only have myself and my lovely friends and family who occasionally enquire as to how their ‘investment’ might be doing – of course, not completely expectantly and mainly out of kind interest.

Most of my CSR related angst comes from the ever-popular topic of internships – should they be paid, how much should they be paid, does having an experience-hungry student cleaning your office count as an opportunity? Students are effectively paying for their ‘experience’ and that experience is difficult to value. Some measure the experience aspect of a role as the amount you learn from it, how that balances with the benefits to the company who are getting next-to-free labour is not nearly challenged enough. And the graduate market is tough. Really tough. Without ‘experience’, and lots of it, you’re looking at interning, perhaps for months while supporting yourself. The tougher the market, the more people are tempted to sell ‘experience only’ opportunities and the more we hear one of my favourite phrases (not): ‘Good Quality Graduate’. That’s right, graduates (i.e. young people just entering the job market after 3 plus years working towards self improvement through good ol’ education) are judged for their quality – like cheese in a supermarket.

Which brings me to my next topic of rant – Human Resources. Who invented this term? And could there be anything less human than calling people ‘resources’? Maybe that’s another post though…

Steph is founder of Jeenia ltd and co-founder of Telescope. She enjoys reading, writing and expressing views that are her OWN, not necessarily those of her various ventures…

What we learnt at uni #1: The human touch

"From Napoleon to Seti to Churchill..." Image by Mark Allanson

What we learnt at uni – In this series we’re asking university graduates and students to comment on the relevance of their degree to entrepreneurship.

The human touch: why studying history will make you more enterprising

by Josh White

For the recent graduate and young entrepreneur, approximately 65702% of your time will be spent repeatedly smashing your laptop closed on your face like a crocodile’s jaw, searching endlessly, applying endlessly for jobs, funding, internships, contacts, interviews – anything. It has never been harder for young people to find work. (Hemingway wrote about the ‘Lost Generation’ and, while they had two World Wars, the Great Depression, housing crises, and the flagrant animal horror that is jazz, I can assure you that our plight is worse.) Having a good degree will definitely help. And the best degree for this is History. Here’s why.

When you first set up a business, so much of your early work will be figuring out what you’re good at. Why are you different? What skills do you have that set you apart? And this is why History is the ubermensch of all subjects. Aside from all the shiny prospectus stuff about reasoning skills, analysing factors, communication, arguing from evidence, writing persuasively, yada yada, zzzzz, you’ll also pick up one really amazing skill that no other subject can hope to give you: understanding of human experience.

Sure, that sounds lofty and weird, but let me explain. Almost all of the collective and individual experience of all human beings, societies and civilisations that have ever existed is stored in the past. In history. What your degree in History allows you to do is engage with this experience, to really understand and relate to figures from Napoleon to Seti to Churchill, and to grasp the desires, beliefs, wishes, hopes and worries of the millions of people affected in the histories you have read. You think Lenin’s New Economic Policy isn’t applicable to your business? What you have learnt from that is like an iceberg: the information, the facts, the plot – this sticks out above the surface. But what is submerged, what you don’t often realise you’ve learned, is the ability to rationalise the human as an agent, as a magnificent dynamo of feelings, actions, resentments, joys and aspirations. This unique understanding of the human makes historians brilliant, attractive graduates.

The next time your client sends you a difficult e-mail or a strange request, I’d bet that you’re empathetic, that you’re better than most at pulling out what they want, quicker than most at meeting their expectations. And when you’re filling out your next job application or funding request, when you’re asked to describe your skills and experiences, don’t just put ‘meeting deadlines’, or ‘working under pressure’. Think about what studying History has meant for the way you communicate and relate. Selling experience is the meat and drink of smart enterprise. Selling yourself well is just as important.

Josh White is a history graduate and freelance writer who has contributed to the New Statesman, The Huffington Post and BBM Live Magazine.

We’re live!

So now that we’re live here’s how we’re going to organise things:

Offshore - a look at the business and startup world outside the UK

In Focus – the freshest, youngest business idea we could find, from the people behind them

Tools for Trade - reviews of some of the many resources out there for entrepreneurs

Social StartUp - startups that are social, simple

Business Class – ok so it’s not all about us, what can we learn from those that have done it before?

Talking Shop – news, business talk, debate and discussion or just what we happen to be thinking about…

What do you think?