Start me up

March 2015

Start buttonPaul Excell is the Chair of BCS Entrepreneurs, a group with over 400 members that provides advice, guidance and mentoring to entrepreneurs who are sole traders, in small companies and even large corporations. He spoke to Henry Tucker MBCS about the group and the environment for startups in the UK.

Paul says: ‘What we have found is that BCS Entrepreneurs has a great niche in terms of the value proposition around providing, particularly, technology advice. BCS has a wealth of fantastic experts, that’s what it’s known for, there are over 75,000 professionals with skills across great things and important things, like: agile, IT, big data, analytics and security.

‘What we’ve been doing is creating a programme, particularly for entrepreneurs, who have a great idea and need technology subject matter experts, connecting them to a BCS mentor who can provide various skills, if required, and the business side of things: everything from legal and investment right through to some deep technical issues as subject matter experts.

‘In that way BCS is providing real insight and help to take ideas forward and more to the point, forward fast. In today’s world it is often about how fast you can do things, and do things properly, securely, end-to-end and deliver a great customer experience, because competition is very tough.’

Why do you offer the services to people in big companies as well as small startups?
The great things around innovation is basically an idea and it has to be delivered, end-to-end and with some sort of benefit to the customer. It’s a great thing for corporates to be part of that ecosystem.

The programme I was talking about was primarily designed, and really is being taken up, by small companies to take advantage of BCS Entrepreneurs and experts. Where the big company comes in, they have great resources around innovation and startups and accelerators and they are very interested in working with great entrepreneurs.

If BCS Entrepreneurs group can link entrepreneurs with corporates then that’s a good win-win for everyone.

Why do you think there is such a buzz about technology startups at the moment?
I think we have started to see technology areas, such as silicon valley and other parts of the world, turn great ideas into money and value to society. In the UK you have seen a real movement of people looking to create and take their ideas forward.

These aren’t just people at university or straight out of university, the classic Facebook type model where people are either staying or coming straight out of university or even leaving before graduating.

It’s not just these graduates who are looking to take that opportunity and make use of the schemes that are out there, including the BCS schemes, which we are setting up to help mentor and work with accelerators to drive their idea to fruition to commercial launch and onwards.

They may be people who have had a successful corporate career, they may want to try that one idea that they have had throughout their career and thought ‘why don’t I go for it?’

We are also seeing colleagues, BCS members, looking at that opportunity to take a great idea that they had and turn it into something that is commercially real and take it forward.

What are your thoughts on the government initiatives around TechCity and other things for startups?
You have got to welcome anything that provides incentives to someone who is taking a risk to take a good idea forward and looking to drive economic value, it’s going to create economic benefits, social benefits, people are going to get employed.

People are going to have the good things that come from that, from a society viewpoint. It’s good that the government is doing those sorts of things, particularly as London has become a beacon in Europe, in terms of what is going on with innovation and so on.

One of the things we are doing in the BCS programme, is to make it far easier for entrepreneurs to navigate the minefield and wealth of information and schemes and find out how to make it easier for entrepreneurs to make those economic benefits.

The other area where the government and BCS has got a crucial role to play is around the whole education thing. We need more smart women and men with the right skills in IT and tech, our heartland, to turn all these great ideas into reality.

There are very few things that don’t require great IT, secure IT, well written IT, cost-effective IT, innovative IT. We’ve been talking about the internet of things where we are looking to improve the health prospects of people. And doing it at much lower cost to reduce the burden on the national health service to allow health professionals to focus on care and not on the admin side of things.

There are some good things, but I think there are always some other things that they can do. They should be doing everything they can to encourage people of all ages to take on board an entrepreneurial career and make sure that apprentices and technicians, and indeed IT engineers, have the requisite skills to drive what is a fantastic opportunity for UK PLC.

Are entrepreneurs born or can people learn the skills?
I think there are a few things that are general human characteristics. You have to have passion, you have to have energy, you have to really love the idea that you have. I’m not sure you can necessarily teach that, but assuming you have got all those things, what you then need is the right level of skills around you.

No matter what skills you have around you, unless you do it in an appropriate way, securely, at a cost that customers can afford, with an experience that customers want to buy, you are never going to succeed.

I have written a small paper around what I call the seven Cs of innovators. When I have studied this whole subject of entrepreneurs and innovators over the last 15 years, all of them have certain skills. They are passionate about customers, they think about the customer experience.

The customer here might be a patient, it might not be what a person perceives as a customer. Customers are the people who end up getting the benefit from it. They are curious, there is something about them that wants to understand how things work.

They are also courageous, they have passion and want to knock down barriers to get their idea out there. You also have to think about things from a collaborative viewpoint; you might be passionate but you need the right subject matter experts to come in and collaborate with you.

You need to create partnerships. You need to be commercial because, basically, you need to make money. Entrepreneurs also have a cause, they have a passion. They want to change the world and make it a better place, they want to make money.

Finally, the great thing you find about entrepreneurs, the really successful ones, is that they are able to communicate and they can do this at all levels to very technical people, right through to their investors. Part of what we are doing at BCS is very much focusing on those skills and skills development.

How do you communicate your idea to a subject matter expert so that they can provide you with the big data information that you need? How can you communicate your idea so that they choose to be a part of it and invest in it?

Those are the sort of skills we are developing and looking to develop in our BCS Entrepreneurs Programme, with our technology startup schools, with our mentoring programmes; all to help entrepreneurs deliver their ideas to market.

Image: iStock/518654831

Comments (2)

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  • 1
    clive bonny wrote on 28th Aug 2015

    well said, especially the 7 C's. It would be great to share tech innovation case studies as practical learning. Are there any BCS platforms or resources for this?

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  • 2
    Brian wrote on 1st Sep 2015

    Hi Clive, we are keen to publish case studies or articles from members on the website - so if you'd like to write for us please feel free to email me via editor@bcs.org

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