Episode 4: A New Scope (Or: Making the Most from that Crucial Conference/ DataSpace 2017 Debrief)

Gathering Data and Building Networks via Conference Events: What to Do, What NOT to do and How to Make the Most of the Best Opportunities

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As established last episode, we attended Data Space 2017. It was an education and inspiration. Obviously, there was a great deal of academic enlightenment on offer and as a fan of science, attendance alone was a privilege. On a business level, it was a pleasant wake-up call: illustrating the way to do things in networking and past pitfalls that are best avoided from here onwards.

So in a sense, a mere question of selection is one crucial key to a breakthrough success. Locate and attend the RIGHT event, even if that does involve some travel and minor expense / inconvenience to match.

In our case, Glasgow was not a mere walk away. We had to fly, from Bristol, with one colleague taking an additional journey to/from Birmingham (still cheaper than rail and faster) plus book three nights at a Hotel. It need not break the Bank and it is a necessary expense IF the event is both tailor made to your existing target base and potentially a doorway to new markets. In this case therefore, attendance was a ‘no brainer’.

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Failing to attend would have been a false economy and frankly that is just as fatal an error as any initial overspend on a start up’s restricted budget. This was an instantly impressive investment in consolidation and growth of client bases and brand development. A skeleton crew of two, nonetheless. On threadbare expenses and hardly lapping in luxury so the challenge was to make the most of the event itself.

The Conference was held at the Technology and Innovation Centre in Glasgow. The headline sponsor was Spire Global and it was in association with The Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications and Scottish Enterprise.

So: immediately, an ethos of industry via academic innovation and vice versa. Gone are the days of feeling a lack of compatibility between sectors. One should feed the other and collaboration is key.

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Granted, not all academic departments can have commercial literacy or autonomy. But they are at least beginning to acknowledge that need for economic evolution, at ‘grass roots’ level, in Universities, especially. Waiting times for procurement must no longer be a barrier to entrepreneurial spirit.

Timing could not be more opportune. There is a clear and present desire to build an awareness of space as a market in the UK, of which Scotland is a leading part. Deadlines on space ports etc are one thing but the Scottish initiatives are in a league of their own, particularly with regard to innovations in satellite technologies.

The tools of space based data are no longer simply a subsidiary or novel method but a viable, stand-alone AIM. We are in an era of adventure, with space as a gold mine and satellites the weapon of choice for prospective miners and colonist explorers. And every minute at the Conference enforced that ethos, palpably and pervasively.

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The majority of the time was spent at our Booth. I cannot stress quite how important it is to have a decent ‘banner’: one that is eye catching yet clear in its message. Ours happened to showcase our urban focused market aim and the unprecedented visuals with which we can educate a client on the applications of satellite data.

The banner effectively did half the job for us: introducing the prospective client to our core service, before we had even uttered a word. That once again is a Eureka moment. I confess that yes, we have indeed attended similar events in the past whereby both the definition of service and the visual flyer to match lacked quite the precise definition and attraction with which we were armed this time around.

It is, to some extent, a question of learning through experience and trial /error. And whilst this is not an exact science, it now goes without saying that the polished presentation and refined definition are ESSENTIAL.

In addition, that must be harnessed in a PRECISELY matched sector conference. It’s far better than trying to sail against the winds of commerce, at a general networking event and with too diverse a mission and resulting deficit in related stationery!

We also attended the speeches /lectures. It’s a good idea to split the labour on this sort of thing: discreetly and respectfully texting each other at half way points to swap places, with one manning the banner fort and the other enjoying the performances.

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I had the privilege of hearing Candace Johnson, (President of EBAN) tell the story of her lifelong love of satellite technologies. A speaker possessed of infectious enthusiasm and passion for the topic. Candace fought a one woman war to boost awareness and commercial applications of the tech, ahead of time. And she is still leading the charge!

Note that listening to a speech and networking are NOT mutually exclusive. These things are timetabled so that as the lecture ends, so a networking event begins, over a coffee /lunch break to punctuate things appropriately and coincide with the natural patterns of a working day.

I did meet Candace immediately after her speech and expressed my thanks. Perhaps I should have dialled down my own enchanted enthusiasm? But that’s better than lacking in engagement: sooner a surplus than deficit and no doubt Ms Johnson forgave (though ideally did not forget) me. 🙂

I was fortunate also to be able to catch the addresses by Tim Just (Head of Space at Innovate UK: the founding CEO at Urban Hawk, Robert Sugar, is also an assessor at Innovate UK) and Ian Downey (UK Ambassador, European Space Agency). And all wrapped up, beautifully, with a closing keynote speech from Emily Gravestock (Head of Applications Strategy, UK Space Agency).

So: a productive, purposeful and enjoyable 2 days. It was most rewarding in every sense. As to actual follow-ups and translation of leads to business? One can only speculate at this stage.

But what I can and indeed will say here is: of those contacts we have spoken to /e-mailed, all are to some extent ‘warm’ leads. Cue confidential and early, precarious yet nonetheless concrete and encouraging discussions with at least two (at time of writing).

Suffice to say therefore that it was perfectly appropriate to leave Glasgow with a note of cautious optimism and renewed vigour, as well as careful clarity in mission. And we will of course keep you posted on the more concrete progresses made as the weeks advance.

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Lessons learned, so, in summary:

  • Choose the RIGHT event! Make sure ideally it is a forum where people know the type of work generally done by you and your competitors. Your only concern then is pitching your unique spin, rather than explaining the lengths of the area itself.
  • Be prepared to make sensible, minor yet necessary investments. Avoid false economy but of course plan ahead: so flights and hotel MIGHT end up being cheaper than a last minute train journey!
  • Balance networking with learning /observation. Attend as many lectures /talks as possible, without neglecting the front of house / fort holding duties. Those quieter moments might be the very points at which you meet THAT Gold-Dust prospect who happens to be hovering by on a similar break.
  • Always remember that you are on parade! Ensure to use the perfect Banner display / business card set and personal presentation. Polite, polished, professional yet personable and productive interactions with as many people as possible are order of the day, even if a few faces recur and some conversations are repeated.
  • Consolidate IMMEDIATELY. Begin e-mailing there and then; proactively pursuit beats purposeless procrastination, always! MAKE those leads not so much ‘warm’ as RED HOT and FAST, whilst avoiding panic or despair or looking TOO accessible / available. Record ALL the e-mails sent and business cards collected into an Excel Spread-sheet with brief reminders of the connection and a target for its application (perhaps colour code in order of expectation?).

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Special Thanks to Malcolm MacDonald, Peter Platzer and all who made the event such a great and rewarding experience (we cannot name everyone but we valued each and every contribution). And hopefully we will see you all again in 2018!

Meantime, at this Blog:  Tune in again for the further adventures in business development at URBAN HAWK. Thank you for reading.

 

 

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Data Space: The Final Frontier (Or: The Importance of Selecting the Right Conference and Networking Event).

Previously, on Urban Hawk…

We are a Tech Business refusing to be limited or classified solely as ‘start up’ and associated connotations and implications. Instead, we launched, as a spin off from a still healthy parent company.

Therefore, whilst we do of course fit the profile of a tech start up: the trick has been to focus more on how we offer a genuinely new spin on the application of GiS (Geo-spatial Intel Technologies). And, with our core service defined, growth plans clarified, initial networks consolidated and website live, it was time for a kind of soft launch.

IE: Crossing the threshold towards face to face meetings and mining the possibilities for networking / follow -up as we move towards first assignments, revenue generation and longer term investment..

And so, we find ourselves in Glasgow, Scotland, for the prestigious and prized DATA SPACE CONFERENCE, 2017..

I cannot stress enough the importance of finding the RIGHT Conference events to attend. How do I know that? What gives me this divine inspiration?

Put simply and with painful frankness: I have spent many an hour at the WRONG ones! And not because there was any misdirection from the marketing people behind an event or any failure on my part to do my ‘homework’ about what to attend and when.

There is an element of pure old fashioned luck, of timing. So be sure to narrow down and treat EVERY event and follow up as a kind of progression / learning experience. In turn and due course, you find TWO critical ingredients:

i.)

An event that is filled with suitably compatible bases of expertise and specialism, with opportunities / monies/ networks to match; 

ii.)

A personal portfolio / presentation / purpose to match your newly matched Host events. 

Was attending the previous events that wasted time? No. Because any networking, rehearsal and thereby refinement / redefinition at verbal level of what one does is a progression in itself.

If you sent out X number of e-mails and picked up Y set of business cards, yet generated no leads from an event that seemed promising while you were there? Chances are: you needed to re-examine some minor or perhaps even major part of the business you are representing or at least the manner in which you are doing so.

Maybe you offered too many services? Made promises, verbally, that almost immediately seemed too good to be true? Were you just too wordy, off game, maybe not friendly enough? Did not look the part? Stayed too long? Did not stay long enough? Took an age to send out that crucial follow -up e-mail to the people with whom you exchanged business cards? All possibilities. You can spend forever trying to second guess these things.

But there is another possibility: you were just at the WRONG TYPE OF EVENT and had to learn that the hard way! Fine. Learn. Apply. Move forwards. Enjoy! Or: right GENERAL type of event, with lessons on offer there that can prove relevant but in a NEW venture.

In our case, the events at Chambers of Commerce and other platforms helped us narrow down and thereby refine focus to this GiS consultancy model. That does not invalidate what was done previously, especially since the parent company remains in rude health.

But it does show empirically the need to  locate, select and attend the very best, most relevant and useful Conference events. And sooner rather than later as we aim to move on a tightly imposed internal deadline for first revenue and corresponding investment.

We found such an event in the DATA SPACE event 2017. It ‘s a Conference and Exhibition , held at the Technology and Innovation Centre in Glasgow. Bit of a trek, considering we are based currently in Bristol and Birmingham. But so worthwhile.

And it will be clear quite WHY this was so good in the next episode, where we will compose and publish the blog-post AT the magic event in question. We look forward to seeing and debriefing you. 

Episode 2: You’ve Got a Shop Window Around the Corner (Or: The Importance of Launching with a WEBSITE!).

The URBAN HAWK Tech Start Up Journey CONTINUES!

You’ve Got a Shop Window Around the Corner (Or: The Importance of Launching with a WEBSITE!).

 

Everything is in place: Business Plan: check. Customer Base for the initial launch drive: perfect. Secure knowledge of a unique service / product model: absolutely. Division of roles for existing personnel and clarity of plans for recruitment of sales staff on take-off: done! Mentor meetings, networking events and corporate style launches booked, naturally. All good! And all for nothing without..WEBSITE! WEBSITE! WEBSITE!

 

Did I say WEBSITE enough? Ok. One more time and with feeling. WEBSITE. It is the shop window of your business. Yes, we live in an increasingly virtual world and that has changed the way we interact, including on the commercial playing field. But we remain, at heart, a visual society, and all the moreso within a digital economy.

 

Taking a step back for a second, let’s not forget that we do still have a physical economy. You will still walk down a high street at Christmas or whenever. You will still choose a supermarket or go window shopping and sometimes your precise needs are best met by a provider that simply ‘looked the part’ better than others.

 

No shop window? Or an inadequate, unclear, overcrowded ‘everything must go’ desperate mess in said window and I suspect that your interest wains and you move on? I could be wrong, of course. We all love a bargain. But ideally, we want to find a bargain WITHIN a credible brand. Or at least, I do.

 

Great satisfaction can be gained from browsing say an HMV store (itself a model under threat) and on one hand enjoying the gloss and glamour of the latest Blu-rays /Head-Phones etc and yet on the other finding THAT special deal on a box set or CD collection. Best of both worlds. And notice how they and most other stores of similar ilk now expect you to either bring or accept a gift card / points system: ie they know your main planning of purchases is now online based; so they try and cross fertilise those streams. Good move.

 

Well, in the modern business start up, the principle is exactly the same, but in reverse. Your shop window remains critical to winning customer curiosity or investor talks and so on. Except the window is now virtual and leads into the physical contact and service or product provision.

 

Fail that first hurdle and your business is dead before it has even started. However embryonic the model you are playing with; whatever level of IP secret you are trying to protect: you MUST have that shop window website. It is frequently the first thing that people check after getting a business card at a networking event and it is inevitably a first port of call should you be located via Google search, LinkedIn or whichever magic portal of location finds your name cropping up.

 

And the better that website impression, the more ‘hits’ you will gain. Those hits become leads. Leads become contacts and contacts become some sort of contribution to a customer base, be it a direct contract or some sort of recommendation / endorsement / mentor/investor relationship.

 

But how to accomplish that polish and panache without making promises you are yet able to keep? How to possibly come across as professional and going places without falling into the ‘Walter Mitty’ / ‘I am the next Elon Musk CEO’ trap?

 

The trick is to be clear about your ambitions and potential, whilst equally showing WHY you have that kind of confidence. IE show, through a well organised and good looking site, that you can model a unique service / product and can plan, credibly for development.

 

Make the site a living, working model of your company journey and an accessible platform for your first customers. Make it personable, too: USE the vulnerability of being new and untested in sections of the website to compliment the more objective and stark clarity of pitch. Just don’t confuse the two or allow one inadequacy or ambition to upstage the other.

 

So, this is how we have done it, and it’s working pretty well so far: allowing an ambitious and clear yet credible beginning, whilst also showing both growth and the possibility of spin offs and setbacks in equal measure..

 

 

  • Think front page as clear visual statement and summary of what you do, how it benefits customers, how solving a specific problem or providing a product /service HELPS them.

 

 

 

  • EXPLAIN HOW you do what you do!

 

 

 

  • SHOW yourselves: personnel biographies / photos / maybe a shot of you in action and in an office.

 

 

 

  • INVITE ENQUIRIES / INVESTMENT!

 

 

 

  • TESTIMONIALS: Ok you won’t have them yet. But explain WHY and HOW you ARE worth the investment by perhaps linking to PREVIOUS work projects?

 

 

 

  • MEDIA: Have a blog, a podcast: make the audience part of your journey! Show what you are interested in: charities etc.

 

 

 

  • LEGALS: Explain that you use standard terms /conditions but link that TO  an approved template and indicate your own legal awareness.

 

 

 

  • MISCELLANY: Anything else you care to add? Go for it. You can tweak as you go and say ‘This page is under construction’.

 

This is of course not an exact science. But the principles are pervasive to the very essence of both business and life: First Impressions Count. Fail the audition and you don’t get the part. So make sure YOU are happy with the ‘shop window’ of your site!

 

It makes the next stages a LOT easier, as we will see in the next posts..Thank you for reading and see you next time.

 

Urban Hawk: a Business Journey Episode One: The Phantom Start Up’s New Hope

The idea with this blog is not so much to talk about the specifics of our business as the general features of the start-up journey.  We will take you from inception, through launch and development.

Hopefully, we’ll pass go and so onto winning those first, critical contracts. The final part of that trilogy then has to be investment and development into a viable brand and solvent, mobile income source.

This Blog can be read, almost like a serial adventure in business. We will keep the jargon slim and the details minimal. Should you wish to know more about the science or commerce or technology involved then we are only too happy to engage on further platforms such as Facebook /Twitter, in due time.

At worst: it passes the time with anecdotal entertainment. At least: you’ll be reading an assurance that you are never alone in the questions to ask, when charting a business journey and the attendant the risks and rewards: though application to your facts and results will of course differ.

Best case: You see us learn from mistakes en route but pick ourselves up and end with a sensible measure of success by close of business at the end of 2017. Inspired by that, you feel an urge to collaborate, perhaps..on some other, future project? Your evangelical gratitude makes you spread the word about how great we are, both as a business model and an educative, interactive, mentoring blog.

But let’s not run before we can crawl. The first thing with any start up is to START IT! And that, precisely, is what we have been doing of late at Urban Hawk. What is Urban Hawk? It’s a Tech Start up, spun off from a Research and Development Company: Crocotta R n D Ltd.

Crocotta had some big contracts: Siemens! BMW! European Space Agency! A Bio-Pharm company! We were applied science consultants or ‘trouble-shooters’, available to the highest bidder.

Did that work? Yes. Still solvent. Still ‘there’ and able to expand or contract. But is that in any way a sensible or shrewd or even unorthodox yet brilliant revenue model? NO! You can maybe pull that off for a maximum of a year.

Think waiting for procurement processes to finish. Contemplate receiving e-mails from some network opening or other you met at a conference. It’s like picking up mercury with a fork.  No: worse. It is harder and more frustrating and nebulous! Without a core clarity, a business may as well fold into insolvency.

So a step back was required to take a step forward. Having identified a pervasive specialism in data management and a method in our satellite and space expertise /contacts, we focused our efforts on GiS. That’s Geo-Spatial Intelligence.

I shan’t go into the scientific details of what GiS means (we’ll save that for a later sequel or better still, you can just ‘Google’ it?). We did not invent it. It’s been around before we left school. But we do have a unique, in house product, that can zero in on, visualise and feedback the most pertinent data in charting the way forward for an SME.

Our product becomes a service through consultancy on the data charted. Yes: a service, rather than tech ‘product’. For all the previous distinction, there is simply no way around admitting that we are a tech start-up. That entails the usual implications.

There are two main mis-directions one can be trapped by when accepting that ‘tech start-up’ label. The first is that you are some sort of pariah; still working from your parents’ basement bedroom. The second is the polar opposite extreme. You are a tech start-up: of course..well you will be the next Elon Musk! Overnight, investors will come to you. Wrong!

Trick is in finding a ‘third way’: ambitious, professional and mobile yet CREDIBLE.  Accept that you are starting from scratch and progress will be slow. There will be days whereby you think you just want to pack it all in. But don’t give up or despair. Persevere! Endure!

Give yourself an ambitious set of goals and a credible yet ambitious timeframe to accomplish it all, whilst building in regular reviews. If possible, adopt an incubator programme and be prepared for lean yet by no means empty coffers as you consolidate and research all options and embrace all feedback in the first three months.

For the next three to six months? It’s all about the LAUNCH. Define your service as clearly as possible: focusing on client problem, consequences and how you are the antidote. Use old contacts wherever possible to farm new ones.

Join every chamber, network and meeting platform that might be relevant, attending with focus and assessing their value quickly and ruthlessly. Design, write copy for and build an appropriate website. Check your closest counterparts / potential competitors.

Craft and hone an image that is professional and going places but not conspicuously corporate (you are probably not yet a ‘CEO’ even if you do run and found and direct a company that has just started..give that time..meantime just be ‘Director’ or ‘Founding Manager’?).

THEN start your initial meetings with a clear set of possible clients in one or two sectors. Back that up with timetabled mentor meetings and regular creative consultancies with any partners or employees.

And THAT, ladies and gentlemen readers..is only the BEGINNING! THAT is the start of the business adventure in the tech start-up universe. And that is also, precisely, where we are ‘at’ with Urban Hawk now. We look forward to keeping you posted. Thank you for joining us. Welcome to a new world of opportunity in data and commerce.