Friday, January 25, 2008

Frustrations of Finance

A busy week or two past and more interest gleaned for The Talking Walls. This is all great and obviously encouraging, but oh, how frustrating at the same time. I would love to work on this and get a model in place - I even have a site who would like this as well, but as all developers / innovators / inventors know, development of the idea to a working model is incredibly difficult to finance. Well, this is the stage I am at currently. Micro project funding has been applied for and now waiting for the outcome. Everything is crossed as you may imagine.

My anxious waiting aside, in various discussions with people about this, it has become clear that funding for small companies / entrepreneurs is either non existent or is an incredibly long process. Unless you are incredibly lucky and meet a fantastic contact at that fantastic moment, you will begin the journey of learning where you need to go, who you need to meet, the types of funding available, the funding-specific business plans that need constant guidance on terminology and definitions (thank you Bernard), and a considerable amount of time. And, none of this will be definite, it may be refused, more work required, or further evidence needed. A very long process indeed.

BUT - there may be easier ways depending on your personal circumstances. I have listed some of the ones that immediately come to mind and ones that you would be asked if you had considered when speaking to advisers:
1. A much quicker way would be to apply for various credit cards and use these to fund your time - this would certainly help to get the development work done and possibly a completed model, but how long would it take to pay back the credit cards and what with? What if you already have exhausted this avenue or cannot get anymore credit?
2. Another way, taking more time and a business plan would be a bank loan, again the same problem of a negative cashflow and time to pay it back, interest rates and goodness knows what other expenses.
3. Raising money from family and friends - mmm, wouldn't you be popular if you were not able to pay it back should one of them have a crisis and need their investment back quickly? And if you are anything like me, this just wouldn't be an option, the funds are just not there.
4. Raising money from the family home, with the cost of buying the house, you are probably stretched just to afford this, let alone borrow on top.
5. Finding an investor who is interested in what you are doing and wants to help you to develop it and become part of the company - or even own a considerable chunk. We all know about Dragons' Den, but there are smaller investors who might want to work closely with you.

So after all these very attractive options, what are you left with? There is a great deal of funding available, some of which is grant based, often match funded. A grant is good as you often do not have to pay it back - but it will be for a specific purpose and checks will be made to ensure that the money is spent exactly as you have specified in your cashflow and business plan. The bug bear is that it is often match funded - i.e. you will need to find the same amount (or more), so you could be back to the beginning, and it is often paid retrospectively.

If you are a charity or a not-for-profit organisation, then the available funding increases considerably. This is great, but if you want to run your own business and make money, this is not going to work.

You could tie up with another organisation - in my case, it could be English Heritage, the National Trust or similar. Whoever you approach will either be pro-active and write the funding business plans and all associated paperwork, tying you in to working with them, and more than probably, part own the rights which would curtail any further opportunities with other organisations. Or, allow their name to be used as co-applicant wth you doing all the paperwork, and still curtail any further opportunities.

There are other ways such as Business Angels and Venture Capitalists (VC's), all of which can be found on Business start up sites such as Business Link and Flying Start, but all of them - other than the credit card method, need business plans, cash flows / forecasts and profit / loss accounts. This is the part that takes a great deal of precious time, the precious time you need to continue developing the idea to a fully working model. And, maybe this is just a completely alien area to you as a creative? Wouldn't it be fantastic to have someone who knows you, knows what you are trying to achieve and can prepare all this for you, negotiate with the funding body, keeping you in the picture and everything ticking smoothly? This would be my idea of a business angel.

What would be your idea of a business angel - or your method of funding? Meanwhile, I will continue to wait anxiously and bury myself in research and writing papers - oh yes, that is another thing, with funding applications, you cannot start on the specified project until you have the go ahead. It will be worth it though!!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Flying Start for Women

Fresh back from three intensive days in York on the Flying Start for Women programme. Such a wealth of information has been given in the three days, helping about 60 women to understand the information required for starting a business and/or developing their business.

For me, the most useful outcomes were the the contacts made, focussing on the business model, the elevator pitch and the 1-2-1 session with my designated mentor Deborah Loth. The Flying Start team are all professionals covering finance - Sarah Thelwall, developing business and funding - Dr. Claire Antrobus, managing work/life balance and marketing - Rosy Jones, mentoring - Wendy Parvin, IP - Dave Morgan, communicating - Mark bailey, legal issues - Eileen McMorrow, company formation - Neil Butler and tax issues - Julie Shaw. Lorna Collins is the Director of the Flying Start programme and covered issues such as developing the business model and managed, amazingly, to keeping us all in line and more or less on schedule. Deborah Loth helped facilitate the event and pushed us to understand where we are now and where we want to be. It was a very good event and has given us all a great deal of information to think about and work on over the coming year.

One of the things it has made me think hard about is how much information I need to put across to people when I explain what it is I am doing. I find I respond to people in different ways rather than having a pre-determined 'pitch' that expresses what The Talking Walls is and conveys the benefits to the possible interested listener. When I am talking about it, I forget that the listener perhaps does not even understand the basic elements of the area I work in, perhaps putting them at a disadvantage immediately and switching them off before I have even finished the first sentence. As a 3D trainer, I work with people who understand exactly what this is, perhaps not entirely what it can do, but they have some knowledge of the subject, therefore when I mention animation, 3D modelling, rendering - these are all terms that they are familiar with. But, talking to an investor, or in general networking, the listener probably will not understand these terms, which is perhaps the reason for the blank looks that appear as I go through my spiel about The Talking Walls and the lack of interest that ensues.

Obviously the easiest method in overcoming this, is to always have an example of TheTalking Walls to hand - i.e. on my mobile, then I would be able to show them and let them explore it. This way the application speaks for itself and the blanks looks will hopefully change to one of understanding and excitement. When I have shown people what this is all about, it has been a very positive experience - and memorable with later feedback of other areas in which it could be used.

But there may well be occasions when I cannot show the application and need to pitch without being able to use any visual prompts - so my task, following on from what we started at the Flying Start for Women event, is to develop a few phrases that will help my listeners from non-digital arenas to understand more completely what it is I do and what The Talking Walls will help them do, and hopefully never see another blank look!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A New Year

The New Year has started well for us, I hope for everyone else too. As predicted the break went by far too quickly, but I did manage to achieve at least one thing before the old year departed, literally on New Year's eve.

Between Christmas and New Year, working on TW and the PhD, I mentioned to Mike about a conference I knew about regarding past papers, the Museum and the Web 2007 conference - Mike suggested the possibility of submitting a paper for this year's event and enquired if we were too late, with the response that we had until the 31st December 07. Ooh eeks! So, amidst the New Year gathering of Paul's friends in Woolacombe, I worked on the 500 word proposal requred for the demo. and managed with Mike's help, to get it in by lunchtime of the 31st. Phew!

It was worth it though, as of yesterday we are now part of the conference with a demo and a paper (this needs to be submitted by the 31st Jan). Montréal here we come.

I have also finally managed to get the micro project application submitted, fingers are heavily crossed that there is a positive outcome to all this work. This was posted on Friday, so early days yet. It has taken a long time and a lot of work, with a huge amount of help from Bernard Brooks at Business Link, thankyou Bernard. I would recommend that if anyone wants to apply for this type of funding that you really do need the help of someone who knows the processes and deals with funding applications on a regular basis. Please don't think you can achieve it on your own, it may be possible depending on your background and experience, but each funding body has particular ways in how this is written and presented, if you do not follow these, then you are quite likely to be unsuccessful, however much time and effort you put into it.

I hope it will be good news again as Beaulieu are still very interested in The Talking Walls for the Abbey and are keen for it to start. So it could be quite an amazing year for us, certainly one of change I think.

As from Monday, I am in York for three days. This is for the residential start of the Flying Start for Women programme. The aim is to help you get your product to market and encourage you to focus on areas that you may be weak on and how to overcome them. It will be interesting to see how this progesses.

I would just like to add congratulations to our friends, Chris and Mandy who will be getting married later this year, after Chris popped the question on Christmas Day! And to my brother Benjamin who also popped the question to his now wife to be, Berengere. Excellent news to start the year with, congratulations to you both.

Quite a year so far, let's hope it all continues and good luck to everyone else embarking on their own or have plans to change what they do this year.