Venta offers angel funding opportunity for science-based entrepreneurs

Angel investors are invaluable for bridging the ‘valley of death’ between seed corn funding and institutional investment.  Having discovered that a good number of angels are based in Norfolk, the Norwich Research Park has created an initiative called Venta to help showcase some of the exciting research that is emerging from the university and research institutes based on the park.

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Our Must-Have Tech from 2011

Lots of publications do a ‘Best of the Year’ feature, so for my blog post I’m going to do the same. I don’t want you to think that it’s an easy option or anything like that. Because it isn’t*. And I think you may find it useful.

Here are three products that I used in 2011 that I think are worth recommending.

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Meerkats and Avatars

Businesses with disruptive or near market technology projects, were given a boost with a programme of events hosted by St John’s Innovation Centre Limited (SJIC)  under the title ‘Meerkats and Avatars 2011’

The programme offered a novel and unique combination of specialist intensive support to early stage ventures.  It also offered a valuable and rare opportunity for exhibitors to interact with national journalists and technology investors.

This coverage by the BBC gives a flavour of the event.

If you would like to participate in future events then we would welcome expressions of interest from potential demonstrators, investors, sponsors or collaborators.  Do get in touch.

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Networking – technology exhibition in Cambridge

Cambridge technology PR event6th December, St John’s Innovation Centre, 4pm onwards.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been busy meeting some of East Anglia’s most exciting entrepreneurs and hearing about their innovations. This is more than just a chance for me to talk to inspirational people – it is in preparation for the Meerkats and Avatars event at St John’s Innovation Centre. The day will end with a networking session open to all – the chance for businesses around East Anglia to meet the 17 companies lined up as exhibitors and see demonstrations of their technologies.

The networking session starts at 16.00 and at 16.30 David Gill, Director of St John’s Innovation Centre, will say a few words about the current environment for technology investment.

Cambridge-based Augmentra is a specialist in developing location-based mapping, navigation and information solutions for smart mobile devices. Their director, Craig Wareham, will talk about his experiences in taking Augmentra from a start-up in 2006 to an award-winning international company.

It promises to be a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and preview some technologies of tomorrow. I look forward to meeting as many people as possible over wine and nibbles. The event will take place at St John’s Innovation Centre, 6th December, 16.00 to 19.00 in partnership with Cambridge Network.

Book your place online or email

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Have you outgrown your website?

Fashions in websites change, and it can seem like you need a new website more regularly than you need a new wardrobe. But it’s not just the nature of the internet that’s changing, it’s the nature of your business. As you move from development into production or take on more products your target audiences change. Where once you wanted to attract investors, now you want to focus on customers. Or, very likely, now you want to attract both.

It’s very easy to just tweak your website to accommodate your growth – just as your mother would let down the turn-ups in your trousers as you grew. But sooner or later they would end up half way up your calves and be an embarrassment. In a fast growing company there is a danger that just tweaking a site means you don’t actually provide the right information for any of your audiences.

The look of a website is very important, but this shouldn’t be the starting point. However tempting it is to start by calling the designer and saying ‘my favourite colour is blue’ or ‘can you do one of those whizzy graphics’ a better place to begin is by analysing the needs of your audience.

Who wants to visit your website? What do they want when they get there? Depending on who they are this might be background information, places they can buy your product, corporate details, or how much you charge for your services. Your website should make the important information easily accessible – both in the way it is written and in the layout.

If you have distinct audiences wanting different information think about how to present this. It can be appropriate to have more than one website – for example a corporate one for investors or job seekers, and a specific product orientated site. But often it is better to have different areas within the same site, perhaps protecting one with a password.

Finally, it is tempting to populate your website with what you want to say not what people want to hear. While this is a mistake, it is important to think what you want visitors to do. Is it to buy your product? Or to pick up the phone and call you? Everyone likes things to be easy, so if you want them to buy something make sure this is very very simple.

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Passwords. You’re meant to have loads, and change them regularly. They’re meant to be a mixture of letters, cases, numbers, symbols and, if you really want to stop your bank account being robbed by Croatian hackers, shapes that have not yet been invented. But you are probably like me. You’ve got one password and add the number 1 after it, if you want to be really secure.

That’s actually not true. I’ve probably got 4 passwords that I use. You’ll never guess them, but we are encouraged to have more, and this is difficult to do, so here’s a good tip that I read today. Use a famous sentence or title and create a password from it.

The example that was given was ‘To be or not to be, that is the question’. Which neatly turns into 2bon2btitq. Which is a good password other than the fact that some websites might not accept it because it has got ‘tit’ in the middle.*

Here are some others that you might find useful to guess and then use. Some have got the added security of 1’s instead of i and 0 instead of o.

www3maitloir (It’s what the witches say in Macbeth – did you see what I did there with the www thing?)

nmb1eytd – Goldfinger

1wtb0t1wtw0t – What the Dickens?

Apy1khh – the Bard again

0bd0bdlg0 – The Beatles

Another helpful tip about passwords. Don’t forget to write them down in big letters (using a Sharpie helps) and put them somewhere safe so you don’t forget them**

*This isn’t true
**ddt11aeo1 (Don’t do this. It is an example of irony)

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Cambridge Cleantech opens for business

We had good news on Friday, as Martin Garrett and Hugh Parnell unveiled to a packed room their new baby – ‘Cambridge Cleantech’ – a membership organisation aimed at facilitating the exploitation of the third wave of innovation following that of high tech and biotech.

Martin’s impressive chart demonstrated clearly that Cleantech is a loose term to cover a wide range of different technologies; all of which are aimed at disrupting the status quo. What they share is tangible evidence that it is possible to do business better and reduce impacts on the environment.

This win win scenario is one that other countries seem to appreciate better than us so a major concern is that without a concerted effort this will be yet another UK baby that is thrown away with the bath water (or grey water as I think it is called now).

The Greater Cambridge region has world leading expertise particularly in building technologies, alternative energy sources and renewables. This was demonstrated by the four exciting companies that presented: Cambridge Carbon Capture, which is using fuel cell technology to convert fossil fuels to energy without the release of carbon dioxide; Enval who have struck a deal with two confectionary companies to build a plant to extract aluminium from laminated packaging; Green Tide Turbines that has attracted funding from two Brazilian companies to build its first turbine; and Polysolar, a replacement building material that can generate energy from sunlight. These are just four of the 450 companies that Cambridge Cleantech has identified within this growing sector.

All exciting stuff which prompted two observations. Firstly, that these babies need some serious mothering if they are going to fulfil their potential and secondly, that there was no mention of the other great strength that this region offers which its world-class expertise in environmental conservation and management.

Two Cambridge based organisations UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre and Flora and Fauna International, among others, are at the forefront of environmental consultancy and have been advising governments and multinationals on strategy and impacts for many years.

These agencies do not aim to stop business but instead to show how its impacts on the environment can be managed for global economic benefit and sustained quality of life.

Technology does not exist in a silo; any change it makes – to misquote another Cambridge scientist – will have an equal and opposite effect. It is therefore vital that we understand the implications of technology clean or otherwise to make sure that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

We think that Cambridge Cleantech is an excellent first step in this direction and look forward to hearing this baby talk.

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ECOLINK workshop supports cleantech innovation

The global market for cleantech is valued at £4.3 trillion, and companies in the Greater Cambridge region are at the forefront of innovation in this area. 

As we approach peak oil and price of energy becomes a major driver, the market will prefer the cleantech alternatives.  However, in the short term these technology companies need support.

Determined that the UK shall not fail once again to exploit the commercial opportunity of its technology there are two major initiatives happening this week (Oct 20 and 21) which will be of interest to cleantech companies, investors and end users.

St John’s Innovation Centre is showcasing 11 promising cleantech companies from the UK and France at an ECOLINK workshop on 20th October. ECOLINK creates an opportunity for companies to get profile and pitch to potential investors across the EU.

A panel discussion will investigate how best to support  the development and drive market-acceptance for these technologies. Potentially this could include a simplified taxation process that stimulates R&D investment or legislative pressure that drives market demand.

The panel will include EcoTechnilin, which produces natural-fibre materials for construction and transport (I’ve seen their materials and can confirm they’re sturdy and light and absolutely impossible to bend!).

Cambridge cleantech company

EcoTechnilin's Ben Schadla-Hall shows the natural fibre alternative to injection-moulded plastic for the automotive industry

EcoTechnilin found it extremely difficult to gain finance in the UK to develop its technology, and UK manufacturers seem unwilling to alter their supply-chains to accommodate the new material. In France, however, it was a different story. Their technology was welcomed with enthusiasm, and now EcoTechnilin has a production facility in Northern France and finance their English R&D through French tax breaks.

The East of England cleantech sector already has a market value of £12bn, according to Hugh Parnell, who is chair of Cambridge Cleantech, a new organisation to be launched on the morning after the workshop. He estimates that in Greater Cambridge alone there are 450 cleantech companies and there is the potential to invigorate a ‘third wave’ of innovation, following the rapid progress in high-tech and biotech industries.

Companies, policy makers and potential investors can find information about the ECOLINK workshop (taking place on 20th October 14.00 – 18.30) on the St John’s Innovation Centre website.

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Meerkats and Avatars 2011: open for applications

What determines which technologies make it big? Attracting the attention of those who matter is essential – whether this is potential investors, collaborators or customers – and media relations is a rapid way of spreading the word widely.

We are working with St John’s Innovation Centre on an event to help up-and-coming businesses, and at the moment we’re looking to hear from early-stage or pre-spinout companies with innovative products or technologies. The event, Meerkats and Avatars 2011, was devised to contribute to the success of technology companies by raising their profile in the media and with investors.

This year’s event follows Meerkats and Avatars 2010, which saw film and radio crews join journalists from national, local and technical publications to view 13 technology demonstrations. A highlight for me was a horse outside the Hauser Forum having its heart-rate trace sent to a mobile phone (which doesn’t quite the top live bees that attended a few years earlier). Other popular demonstrations included drug tests using fingerprints, magnetic detection of breast cancer and sound-recognition for CCTV.

I had a very interesting conversation this week with one of the organisers of the event, Janette Pallas, and she gave me some insight into which businesses succeed. As Enterprise Manager at St John’s Innovation Centre, she is at the heart of it when it comes to the community of aspiring start-ups. She sees promise in businesses led by passionate people who believe in what they are doing – who work to put things right rather than make excuses for why things are going badly. She is a firm believer that this ‘can do’ attitude is essential to success.

I love meeting the region’s entrepreneurs, and hearing about their ambitions. The passion of everyone who attended last year’s Meerkats and Avatars was clear, and I think that’s one of the reasons the event had such a buzz about it.

Please get in touch if you would like to be considered for Meerkats and Avatars 2011. I’m Rebecca Nesbit and I can be reached on or 01954 202789. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Backing up your data

You may well back up your important data, but you probably don’t. It’s something that you know you ought to do, but never quite get around to doing it. Like regular exercise or reading some Dickens. Maybe you never think about backing up your data. But you should a) think about it and then b) do it. ‘Our Mutual Friend’ can wait. Backing up your data cannot and will not.

They say ‘It’s Easy!’ and ‘You Can’t Go Wrong!!’ Well it’s not and you can. So here’s my advice.

1. Decide which files you would be heartbroken to lose. The chances are it will be only your photographs, any novels you’ve written and any files that you are likely to need again such as teaching notes or presentations that you’ve made. Anything like music files and films can be replaced. You can probably live with losing your emails, and most of the other junk that you’ve accumulated over the years. You might not want to lose these, but it won’t make you feel sick in the stomach like losing all your digital photos.

2. Once you’ve identified these critical files, that you can’t possibly bear to be parted from, then the simple solution is to use a DVD (if you can burn to DVD), a usb memory stick or, if that won’t provide the necessary capacity, then an external hard drive. Copy the files onto your device of choice and then put it somewhere safe. And by safe I mean somewhere that you won’t forget and somewhere that will still be safe if your house burns down. I’m not going to tell you where this place might be, because I don’t know.

3. If you are constantly adding to these files, then you’ll need a way of regularly backing up this data. And the method above won’t work, because you will forget to do it. There are, however, lots of online backup sites to use. They all have advantages and disadvantages. I once used one, and when my computer crashed the encryption key I had been provided with wouldn’t allow me to retrieve all my precious files. This was obviously a major disadvantage. In the end I had to use a data retrieval firm and they got my stuff back (but it cost me about £400).

I’m going to recommend Dropbox but there are others available and the chances are that your Internet Service Provider will be able to help you out. If you are using this method, then it helps if all the files you want to back up are in one big documents folder. It saves you having to go all over your hard drive identifying the individual folders to back up. I call my folder ‘Live Files’ and in there I have my documents, photos, and anything else I really want to keep if disaster strikes. I know that if the ‘Live Files’ folder is backed up, then I’m sorted.

4. Keep an eye on the online backup to ensure that it’s regularly doing its job. It’s no use shouting at it after a hard drive malfunction when the last synchronisation took place eleven months earlier. I know this, because I’ve tried it. I got cross at the online backup and it couldn’t have cared less.

I often create a file called ‘Backup 22/9/11’ or whatever the date is, and then check the following morning that it’s in my ‘Live Files’ online.

It’s not straightforward, it’s not easy and you can’t set these things up and assume that everything is taken care of forever more. But forget running round the block and leave ‘Little Dorrit’. Sort out your backup first.

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