Start your own business – DKIT – North East

Apologies for not gettting this posted by the closing date. But the ‘closing’ date on these things tend to be flexible, so if you’re interested if worth checking out the NEPP site. Mulley has already blogged about similar programmes at hothouse (docklands), sepp (south east) and m50 (Tallaght IT)  if you’re located outside of the North-East.

Our claim to fame is that FirstPartners.net went through this program in 2003. And failed. But failed quickly – we realised within months that the mad business idea (selling open source technology to accountants) wasn’t going anywhere. We were able to bring the lessons learned back into the main consulting business. Far better than a lingering , drawn out half-life.

More information is here (pdf format)

Enterprise Platform Programme
Enterprise Support for Innovative Knowledge based, High Tech and Information Technology Startups

Introduction
The Novation Enterprise Platform Programme (NEPP) is a programme of  support for graduate entrepreneurs with an innovative business idea in the Knowledge Based, High Tech or IT sectors.

The main objective of the programme is to develop the commercial and job creation potential of the participant businesses. The programme delivers comprehensive training in business and management to equip participants to successfully start up and manage a new business. The
programme assists participants in the achievement of personal and business development goals in relation to the project. It also assists participants in the completion of market or technical feasibility studies and/or the preparation of a business plan.

Past Participants
Since its conception in 2001, over 70 entrepreneurs have participated on the Programme. A survey conducted recently confirmed that over 54 businesses have been established by NEPP participants resulting in total employment of 311 people and sales of €27million per annum.
Participants have also raised over €39 million in VC funds.

 The programme will be managed by the Regional Development Centre, on the campus of Dundalk Institute of Technology. Participants may choose to be based in the professional, entrepreneurial environment of the Regional Development Centre, and will have access to the laboratories, equipment and resources of Dundalk Institute of Technology.

Eligible participants receive a consultancy / travel allowance of approximately €1150. Eligible participants may also apply for funding through Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation of Research and Development (CORD) grants, whereby they can receive up to 50% of their previous year’s verifiable income (the grant in total will be capped at a maximum of €38,000).

 

The Novation EPP is a comprehensive package of business development
support including:

  • Project management and on-going monitoring of progress
  • Travel / consultancy allowance
  • Structured business and enterprise training to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to start-up your own business.
  • Networking with entrepreneurs, industry practitioners, researchers and trainers. 
  • Access to office space and specialist facilities, equipment and resources.
  • Mentoring system which provides one-to-one advice and guidance
  • Business Coaching which aims to optimise participants’ business performance
  • The programme will commence in Sept. 2008 and there will be regular formal reviews of participants’ progress.
  • Prize Fund. The 2008/09 programme introduces a prize fund for participants. Eligible businesses will be judged on a variety of criteria including best improvement, degree of innovation, presentation before a panel and performance at end of year tradeshow.
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Why corporates should blog – reason one (of many)

I recently got into a conversation about corporate blogging. The sort of conversation that starts with ‘what is a blog?’ and ends with ‘it’ll never work here’. And, as always, the killer argument for corporate blogging popped into my head 5 minutes too late.

A tractor in a field yesterday

Many years ago, I used to work for Case, the company that builds big red tractors. It was great work, especially as people understood what you did – none of this ‘I work in computers’ malarchy. Only problem was that we were working in Navan Ireland, with most of our colleagues based in Racine, just north of Chicago.

Not too much of a problem for the first 15 or so people – people who worked out of Chicago for the first 4 or 5 months. We were able to build up personal relationships with a colleagues. We could ask later ‘how are the kids?’ or ‘are you still playing football?’. Small things, but make the real work discussions a lot easier.

The problem came with employees 15-100 – the ones that didn’t spend any amount of time in the US. Technically great people, but didn’t ‘click’ in the same way with Chicago. As a result, small misunderstandings became big misunderstandings, and projects got delayed.

And that’s where corporate blogging comes in. It allows people in far flung offices to connect. Doesn’t matter what you blog about – personal life, or some small project that’s happening in your local office. Chances are somebody else in the company will pick up on it and vital connections will be made.

And if you’re in the market for a big red tractor, click on the photo above. 125 BHP, Diesel Engine, a bargain at 16,500 Euro.

And now for something completely different

I’ve been very lucky in the 9 years that I’ve been working for myself. Lucky in the opportunities to travel and the people that I’ve met. Lucky in I’m doing something I love – playing with and building the latest technologies.  Lucky on the financial side of things that it’s given me a wide range of choices.

So, it’s surprised the people I’ve told that I’m now going to be doing something completely different.

Why?
No it’s not the economy. I can see the effects of the slowdown but I’m one of the most ‘low maintenance’ people I know (anybody who lives in Drogheda and drives a ’98 Toyota isn’t exactly into bling!) I’d be ok. And the uptick (in 18months – 2 years time) is the most profitable bit of the economic cycle.

No , it’s not through lack of clients. One of the most painful parts of the decision have been the 3 prospective projects that I’ve had to turn down. The sort of ideal projects that I’d working to land for the previous 2 years.

No, it’s not through lack of choices. Two other ‘life changing’ choices I had to turn down were to scale inside a well known consultancy, or specialise in one tool and go international (you know who you are guys, thanks for making the final decision so hard 🙂

So why then?
The basic reason is that I’m enjoying this now (as in big smile on Monday mornings), but can see that I might not be enjoying it in 3 years time. And chances like this one don’t come along every day. That, and I’m fascinated by the new area and people that these guys are working with.

And what you’re doing is?
This is a big change for me, so a bit nervous about it and will blog about the new job (and it is very much a job, rather than being self-employed) in due course. It will either be the very best, or very worst thing that I’ve done.

Luckily it’s still dealing with People and Technology so no need to change the blog title … and I’m still a techie at heart (in that I’ll play with the stuff even if I’m not paid to) so expect more in that area!

What does FirstPartners.net actually do?

Damien asked for blurbs from the sponsors of the Irish Blog Awards as to what they actually do. After years of trying explain in our 3 minute elevator pitch, I think we’ve finally got the answer.

FirstPartners slogan

FirstPartners.net build the ugly bits of websites. Not the lovely front ends but the bits that do the heavy lifting – the bits that ensure your bank balance is correct, that your ticket is there when you arrive at the airport, or bits that capture your teams’ knowledge . We deliver using a combination of Enterprise Java Technology, our custom Red-Piranha framework and Agile project techniques.

More at www.FirstPartners.net

Business Blogging in Ireland – Who, What , When, Where and Why

At yesterday’s Plato marketing training event, the topic of business blogging came up. Seems like our 100,000+ unique visitors is nothing in the blogging world, but most Small to Medium Irish Business (SME’s) would kill for that kind of traffic. So since I’m an ‘expert’ (and when exactly did that happen ?!) here’s the 10 minute guide to get your business on it’s way.

Plato rules presume that member companies remain confidential (until they choose to break cover!). So, if you want to leave a comment below (feel free to link back to your website) I’ll be happy to apply the advice below to your business. I don’t sell blogging advice (although there is a business idea!) – more Irish Business Bloggers there are the better (all, hopefully, linking from their websites back to here!)

What is blogging?

  • A Blog is a new way of doing that same old things. You already network, talk (and listen!) to your customers and are passionate about publicising the thing you love (your business idea). A Blog just helps you do the same things online.
  • A Blog is the easiest way to update a website. If you can email (remember how scary that used to be?) you can blog. And yes, I can give examples to back that one up. And that’s you updating it, not paying some web design company to do it.
  • A Blog is the quickest way to get a good website. If you haven’t a website, a blog is the quickest way to get one. It does most of the Vodoo Search Engine stuff out of the box. Likewise, a blog can easily added to your existing website.
  • A Blog is an online Diary. Think one of those reality TV shows. But about your business. And without Jade Goody in it. There is a reason that ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Blogs’ score highest in the ratings – they’re all about people. Remember ; People don’t buy your business, they buy you.
  • A Blog lets you have conversations with your customers. It allows customers to say what they think about you on your website.Scary? Yes. But not as scary as not hearing what they are saying about you.Yes you can delete offensive comments, but I’ve only had to remove 2 out of 700 comments in the last 3 years.

The Who, What, When , Where and Why of Irish Business Blogging

Who should blog

  • You, as the owner of your business. If you have people who are equally passionate, then (a) you’re very lucky and (b) you should let them write as well. But chances are, it’s going to be you.
  • Blogging works very well for people in the professional services area. There are hundreds of people in IT, but blogging lets me stand out and gives me credibility.
  • I’m confident (and can give examples) of ways of how Hotels and Tourism, Shops and Engineering Companies can blog successfully), but it’s a little be fuzzier (i.e. not direcly linked to my personal experience)
What should they talk about

  • Talk about what you love – your business. But remember who you’re talking to; your customers, and people who will either link to you online, or recommend you to new customers.
  • I find a personal style works best. We’ve all seen the bland corporate website and we don’t believe them. Speak personally of your experience.
  • Set your own red lines, and respect them. I don’t blog about my personal life (or lack of it!). I don’t reveal customer details. But outside of that, if it’s interesting, I’ll talk about anything it.
When (or how much time is involved)

  • Like all marketing , you’re in this for the long haul. It’s important that you measure using Google Analytics (free). You’ll be surprised at what works and what doesn’t.
  • Blogging is cheap in money but expensive in your time. I reckon about 1hr per week for a post like this one, sometimes more, sometimes less.
  • Don’t forget the extra time involved in publicising your blog; leaving useful comments / links on other sites back to yours. But you’d be doing this anyway as you surf the web.
Where do people find out about your business /blog

  • Those comments on other (relevent) sites and more popular blogs link back to yours. If somebody likes your comment, then they will often come back to your blog.Remember, useful comments not spam! – your comment /link should always add to the site you are leaving them on.
  • Google loves blogs, because of all those incoming links.
  • The links on the top left of the page allow you to subscribe to this blog as if it were an email newsletter. Some people like this. Most people prefer RSS; Like an email newsletter RSS notifies you of new content but, RSS gives you a summary of all the blogs you are interested in. And it doesn’t clog up your inbox. I use Google Reader, but there is plenty of choice out there.
Why

  • Because you’d like more business. You do want more business, right? The only question: ‘is blogging the best use of my time?’
How
Two main choices, the second one being better as it gives you more choice.

  • Sign up for a free blogging account at Blogger.com (backed by Google)
  • Ask your (existing / new) web host for the following. It should cost a lot less then Eur500 , including the first year’s hosting.

‘I’d like WordPress (free) setup on my website at www.mywebsitename/blog. Use one of the standard templates. Please add Google Analytics (free) to the this template. Please explain where I can get the number (from Google) that you will need for the analytics. When finished let me know the address, username and password to log into my blog.

Remember, blogging is cheap to try out (in money , if not in your time) . It’s still new enough to forgive people who make mistakes. Dive in , give it a go, and when (not if) you learn something new, tell me about it.

And after all that, you couldn’t be bothered blogging?
Try LinkedIn.com. As a business networking tool , it’s excellent, with more Irish business contacts than anywhere else.

Get ready for the Google Tsunami

A good rule of thumb is : if it’s covered in the Economist Magazine, then it’s just about to go business mainstream. When you’re evaluating new technologies you neither want to be too early (with a high risk of betting on the wrong horse), or too late (and miss the boat). The economist = mainstream rule of thumb has been true for trivial things such the Internet, Open Software , Agile Project development, Web 2.0 and Blogging.

So , this article in the Dec 19th – Jan 2nd Edition (tagline ‘Consumer technologies are invading corporate computing’) should make you sit up and take notice.

Economist Google Invaders

Basically, it states that such Web 2 mainstays such as WebMail (from Google) as well as Google’s Office replacements (for Word and Excel) are ready for the corporate mainstream. Introduced by employees familarity with these tools in the consumer market, the reason for their adoption will be financial : by specialising in these areas , Google can provide what were formerly in house desktop applications quicker , faster , cheaper and more reliable than any other provider (e.g. Microsoft) and better than the in house IT teams.

The 2 points that I take from this are:

  • ‘Software as a Service’ (i.e. something you get over the web , rather than in a shrink-wrapped box) has finally reached the tipping point. It’s a similar moment (with equal opportunities) to when the internet first arrived, or the move from Dos (text based computers) to Windows (Graphics and mouse).
  • With the amount of Viruses in existence, it can be argued that web based applications are now more secure than anything running on a PC. Google is a bit like Ryanair , the low cost Irish Airline, in this regard. One major crash and the damage to their reputation would put them out of business. Do you get the same ‘paranoid about safety and security’ feeling when looking at the average consumer PC?

An example of this trend is FirstPartners.net email. We could manage it ourselves, but allowing Google Apps for Your Domain to do it for us allows us to get on with doing things that clients will pay us for.

Grabbing people's brains and shoving them into a PC

It didn’t go down too well when an elderly relative asked me over Christmas ‘what exactly do you do?’. After fobbing him off with the usual ‘something in computers’, he was shocked to find out that I spend most of my time ‘Grabbing people’s brains and shoving them into a PC’.

This kind of blog-related-violence is normally associated with Twenty-Major (Warning , Parential Guidance required , unless you’re over 80), so before you call the police , let me explain.

Look at your hands. Unless they’re scarred and calloused (from the weekend’s DIY) the chances are that you work in the knowledge economy. You could work for a Bank , Insurance company, Legal company or be a medical professional but most of your work consists of one thing:  You push pieces of paper around that have some magical value.
Or you would push pieces of paper around if it hadn’t all been computerised in the last 10 years. Now you swap files and emails to get things done.  And you swear on a regular basis when the computer can’t find the information you’re looking for, or someone doesn’t understand the email you sent them. But the important bit, the information processing,  still remains in your brain.
Red Piranha Logo

Which brings us to Red-Piranha (site update in progress) and the shoving of people’s brains into a computer. While we can copy an MP3 music file (with Adam’s and Bono’s imagination in it) and send it around the world, but we can’t photocopy your brain. We don’t want all of it, just the part that gets the magical value-added work done. The bits about drinking beer and playing volleyball on the beach we’ll quite happily leave with you.

So this is what Enterprise Web 2.0 is all about : getting the computer to take a load off your brain so that you’ll have more time to spend on the beach drinking beer. Chapter 3 (draft) of our Enerprise Web book has just been put online, which shows you exactly how to do this.