Friday, 5 March 2010

Bank of England at 0.5% but unauthorised OD at 29.5% - Entrepreneurs beware

As an educator and mentor to many small firms - I am regularly asked about the behaviour of banks towards entrepeneurs, small firms and those that are riding through tough times. Why do banks not lend, support, how come I get no assistance when I want to grow and so forth?

When I saw the news - that the Bank of England interest is at 0.5% and yet the unauthorised overdraft is at 29.5% - I did feel a sense of outrage. If you go over the limit you have to pay - and I suppose that is "fair enough" - except that the Bank's profit margin is huge. Then here is the rub - you can become "Unauthorised" at the discretion of the bank - it is further in - in the small print - so even if you cause no offence - if the local bank manager decides he no longer wants to support you he can pull the OD facility from you and stick you on the "unauthorised" schedule!! Haha!

Before we decide what to do next - look at the small print:

About 5 clicks in on a pdf document at Barclays is where I found the charges for those who go over drawn without prior authorisation. Here are some extracts. And the story is the same at a couple of other banks that I checked.

" consider making our overdraft service
available to you before your account goes overdrawn or before
you exceed an agreed overdraft limit. Overdrafts provided in this
way are cheaper than unauthorised borrowing.
............The interest rate for unauthorised
borrowings, including those within the £30 buffer zone, is
charged at 29.5 per cent a year..........Additionally, if an item is returned unpaid due to there being
insufficient funds in your account, we will charge you an
Unpaid Fee of £35 for each such payment, which is our fee for
having considered whether to process such payment....."
So - there are some serious learning points:

Ensure you have a good financial director on your board, someone who knows the local networks of managers at local banks, good accountants etc., and can lobby on your behalf if needed. There are many other tips that migth be available and I am going to leave it to the wisdom of the crowds to populate the internet with ideas and suggestions...

Friday, 12 February 2010

Creating and sustaining big visions – is this the real answer to success?

I have long felt that unless we get inspired by the notion of solving big problems or finding things that are meaningful to accomplish there is little to sustain a venture. Sure you can go in a tread through the daily grind of buying and selling, making and promoting or playing small games, but to what end?
One sentence in a book I found in an Ashram – I think – has done more to keep me focused than almost anything else I have come across and to paraphrase this sentence – it is “when the mind is full of little thoughts – where is the space for big ideas”?
It is in this context that I responded to a suggestion by David Carter – a colleague in the Chemical Engineering Department – who kindly also offered to talk to the theme of a need for big visions. As I rambled my way through his suggestion and developed my own view of how best to position this in the minds of nascent entrepreneurs – it seemed obvious! Invite the CEO of the most iconic company in the Cambridge cluster and ask for his views on the notion of big visions.
Fortunately – Warren East has agreed and so I look forward to his talk on Enterprise Tuesday on the 23rd Of February. He has agreed to talk about the vision as it was shaped in the early days of ARM – from a collection of a dozen engineers who had to survive the demise of Acorn Computers, through to the shaping of an ambition by an emergent team led by Robin Saxby to now – when ARM has decided to take on the “Elephant in the room” – Intel!!
I have met some of Warren’s colleagues who – rightly suggest that ARM is inside Intel already – as the latter are clients of ARM. Business strategy in recent times has led to Intel seeking to acquire ARM. meanwhile ARM is growing from strength to strength - see Warren's comments about the prospects from growth as a result of new products from Apple.

So – was the threat of being lost inside a major multinational – the threat of being squashed by the elephant the stimulus that ARM needed to restate their ambitions – to create the next big vision for growth of the business?
Warren will address some of these topics along with his own sources of inspiration – those that have given him his insights and confidence to take ARM to the next level.
Before we have Warren’s talk and opportunity to ask him tough questions – we have Professor John Mullins (the week before) giving us a reality check by asking if in our plans for new ventures we have a Plan B and helpfully telling us what that looks and feels like. He will base his talk on his new book – based on extensive Silicon Valley experience. He and his co-author Randy Komisar who is Partner at Silicon Valley's leading Venture Capital organisation - Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. Incidentally Randy is also author of a best seller - The Monk and the Riddle.

John is a thought leader, a Prof at London Business School and a serial entrepreneur/investor. I am looking forward to his talk as I am engaged in building out an early stage business myself – having raised a second round of funding to cross the chasm from being a research based company to a fully fledged business looking for revenues and customers! Do we need a Plan B?

Friday, 29 January 2010

Grassroots Empowerment Network – An invitation to help make a difference

I am a trustee of GEN, the Grassroots Empowerment Network, which is a small UK based non governmental organisation that supports villagers, mostly from the Meo community in Rajasthan, in taking charge of their own lives and the development of their communities. GEN works with a local partner ngo in India called End Poverty . The GEN website tells you more about our work, our news and our activities:

The Meo people of India are an interesting group. Most live in the remoter corners of rural Haryana and Rajasthan, in villages that lack basic facilities such as clean water, power, access to good schools and health services. They have Rajput origins, and follow a form of Islam that until recently has incorporated many Hindu practices. Today external influences are pressing the Meos to pursue a more pure form of Islam.

I have been a trustee of the GEN since it started in 2003. I invited Sue Burke, the Chair of the GEN, and Moyna Aicken, another trustee, to come along to the Enterprisers networking session on 13th January at the University of Warwick. They braved the snow on a journey from London and talked to quite a few of you.

Getting involved with the GEN and End Poverty
All three of us were impressed at the level of interest shown by participating Enterprisers and have been thinking about ways in which we could build on that interest and engage with you more actively. Here are some ideas. Please let me have your thoughts and suggestions about them, or any other ideas you may have.

• Contribute to focus groups (London) to discuss and explore practical and sustainable ideas on rural development for the kind of villages where GEN and End Poverty work, bearing in mind the ‘empowerment’ philosophy we hold
• Come to a think tank session with trustees of GEN on creative ways of stepping up our fund raising capacity
• Help develop our project for an ‘Echoes of India ’ city walk (or walks) in London, Birmingham and elsewhere that will promote east – west understanding and publicise and raise funds for the GEN. We need help with creative research and investigations to generate the content, innovative ideas on different ways to take the idea forward, help with testing the concept in practice, help with getting others involved. It promises to be very interesting and potentially a lot of fun.
• Undertake a self funded but GEN- EP supported study visit to the villages supported by GEN and End Poverty on the Haryana / Rajasthan border and let us have your thoughts and feedback on the experience, particularly about overcoming the challenges the villagers face
• Take on a 1 – 3 month internship in the villages to assist End Poverty with its work with village development groups. Might include: – needs analysis, business development analysis, offering specific skill development possibilities to children, young people, women and girls. (You pay your fare, we cover your basic local expenses - food, accommodation, transport)
• Come to the GEN – EP stakeholder event in a rural area nearish to Delhi when we will meet villagers from the village development groups, visit the villages, hold joint planning sessions between GEN and EP on how to take our partnership forwards – 11th – 13th March. (Sorry it will have to be at your own expense)
• Help us – GEN, EP and another small Indian ngo, the Satya Jyoti Trust ( , that is based in our area – to work through ways in which we could build on a small SJT women’s project that has already contributed garments to the international Fair Trade Fashion Event in Paris (September 2009). Can you help us to develop a business plan on: – how to expand on the initiative, involve more community based women, increase production, bring items to UK etc? You would have to spend some time in the area to do this.

We would like your ideas, great and small, on what would really appeal to you, and how you think you could make the kind of contribution that would make best use of your skills and expertise. I will pass anything you send me to Sue and other GEN trustees who will then continue the dialogue.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Nobel Prize winning science –creates a biotech industry, Enterprise Tuesday 19th January 2010

Cambridge Antibody Technology (CAT) was founded in the dying days of 1989 to develop human therapeutic antibodies. The early stages were difficult; the underlying science was only half done, and the large pharmaceutical companies and most investors did not believe that antibodies were viable drugs, although now it is an industry with a turnover of more than $25 bn per annum. Sir Gregory Winter (a founder) and Dr Kevin Johnson (an early recruit) will piece together the founding, and the development of the science and business of CAT, including the early development of the blockbuster drug HumiraTM directed against rheumatoid arthritis."
The story behind CAT though is just as fascinating and as background here is my attempt to summarize.
The creation of the business and the biotech industry goes back to a major misunderstanding about intellectual property ownership and its exploitation.
One of the articles is about who is at the heart of the nobel prize (1984) winning science – Milstein or Kohler? ( We certainly hear about this issue from many graduates and others who are anxious about how much of their new ideas they feel they can share openly. Ownership of the idea that then leads to a discovery or to a business that succeeds is close to the heart of individuals. And how this ownership of the discovery is subsequently commercialised is also an important debate for Universities, individual researchers, the venture capitalists and management teams.
The other part of the controversy is whether or not it was smart to publish and “give away” cell lines and the mice to those who might be competitors. This is a more serious argument and some think that the patenting regime can be stifling and restrictive to the ultimate benefits of society.
There are probably three major themes to this debate. First – whether all new knowledge generated through public funding actually belongs to society anyway – in which case it should be published for wider dissemination and this includes any commercial exploitation. The second line of argument has been that the way patenting and licensing is done – starts to become increasingly defensive and is a broken system and therefore acts against the best interests of what it is actually supposed to encourage. The third is simply that unless one has a system that can be understood the capital and resources from organisations that have the capability to commercialise the science will just not do so.
I am not knowledgeable enough to fully comment on this third aspect – but it seems to me that if the opportunity is big enough and the deals are there to be done, is the commercial exploitation not more to do with management and markets than about ring fencing the ownership of IP? In some industries now (e.g. internet) there is a greater push for open source and open innovation and in most technology clusters there is increasing collaborative working.
For those of us – who need to understand how or why this science is significant there is a layman’s description of the impact of monoclonal antibodies.