Portobello Business Centre Ask the Expert session at Imperial College
On Friday 28 March I attended an excellent Ask the Expert event hosted by Portobello Business Centre and sponsored by Lloyds TSB. The event, held in the prestigious Rector’s House, Imperial College, comprised of six experts who circulated round the room at twenty minute intervals to sit with tables of three or four budding entrepreneurs and offer advice and expertise. The event was chaired by Colin Rutt from Portobello, who used a judge’s gavel to notify the experts when to swap places!
The experts included IT consultant Sunil Patel, Chris Smith from the Intellectual Property Office, marketing expert Chris Griffin founder of marketing agency Pi Global, Uday Thakkar from Red Ochre, Bob Lindsay from Thames Productions and Howard Carter, entrepreneur and founder of Incognito.
The delegates were mainly small business founders and start-ups, with a variety of products and services.
After some brief words of introduction from Colin, my table welcomed Sunil Patel. Sunil has an extensive knowledge of the whole IT spectrum but it was on the subject of websites and ecommerce in particular that the delegates were keen to pick his brains. He offered some excellent advice on how to set up your online presence distinguishing between the different types of sites – blogging sites, shop fronts – and their suitability. He stressed the importance of business owners familiarising themselves with the processes of web development but ultimately the advice was to get someone in who knows what they are doing.
Once his twenty minutes was up, Sunil was replaced by Uday Thakkar, founder of Red Ochre and a familiar face to all of us at the Business & IP Centre. Uday has a wealth of experience in business mentoring and support, but it was the subject of raising finance that he was focusing on specifically. The conversation quickly settled on the subject of crowdfunding which has become a popular alternative to traditional forms of funding such as bank loans which are becoming increasingly difficult to secure in the current economic climate.
Uday stressed the importance of momentum when looking for crowdfunding so try to build up a good support base of family and friends to get the ball rolling. It is also important to offer incentives to encourage people to participate. If you are asking for gifts, offer something in return such as a free sample of your product or an invitation to an event. Uday also mentioned the importance of timing. Don’t start asking people for contributions just before Christmas or when they are about to go on their summer holidays.
Bob Lindsay from Thames Productions was our next expert. Bob has an engineering and manufacturing background but he was keen to find out what each of the delegates was doing and tailor his advice accordingly. He provided some particularly useful advice about approaching buyers. He emphasised the importance of being prepared for the types of questions buyers usually have, and being able to assure them the correct procedures are in place. He used the following examples of the types of issues they are concerned with: complying with ISO standards, logistics and complaints procedures.
Following some refreshments, we were joined by Chris Griffin, founder of marketing agency Pi Global. Chris underlined the importance of knowing your customer and explained that for a new business, word-of mouth was the most powerful marketing technique because it established a high level of trust.
I was keen to listen in on Chris Smith from the IPO to hear his take on Intellectual Property. He provided a very helpful overview of how businesses can protect their IP focusing specifically on Trade Marks and Copyright. Although you don’t need to register Copyright, it is a good idea to have a record of when you created a piece of work so he suggested sending a copy to your solicitor or even posting it to yourself by recorded delivery.
The event finished off with a question and answer session. Uday mentioned the Business & IP Centre as a great place to conduct further research into some of the issues we had discussed throughout the day so I took my cue and managed to say a few words about the Centre and what we offer.
I didn’t get a chance to speak to Howard Carter but he spoke a bit about his experiences as an entrepreneur. He expanded on a theme touched on by some of the other advisors, that all business founders make mistakes along the way but the secret is to learn from them and don’t lose heart when things don’t go your way. Passion and perseverance count for a lot!
Thanks to Colin Rutt and the rest of the team at Portobello Business Centre for hosting the event and for their hospitality on the day. Also thanks to Lloyds TSB for sponsoring the event.
Michael Pattinson Business & IP Centre Team