Two days at the Digital Agenda Assembly 2012, Brussels

This time two weeks ago I was in the middle of a really interesting and exciting two days at the Digital Agenda Assembly, Brussels. I was invited to attend by the European Commission along with the other OpenIDEO web start-up challenge winners – what an experience! The commission had sponsored the OpenIDEO challenge and therefore invited us to Brussels to be part of the discussions and to have an opportunity to present our concepts to the group and other members of the EU Commission.

The main objectives of the Assembly were to:
– Assess progress to date on implementation towards the Digital Agenda’s goals and actions and seek ways to improve delivery;
– Identify challenges ahead for the implementation of the Digital Agenda and for the information society in general;
– Mobilise stakeholders’ actions to make further progress and address challenges.

Digital Agenda Assembly poster

And the days were broken up with 8 different workshops in the European Commission on day one, (followed by an OpenIDEO specific concept workshop in the afternoon, a dinner with the commission and speakers in the evening) and day two was a plenary session in the Hemicycle room at the European Parliament.

Here is a summary of my learnings…

Day 1: workshop 8 innovation and entrepreneurs, European Commission

The workshop was opened by MEP, Pablo Zabla who was very clear that Europe’s barriers to innovation and entrepreneurialism are caused by low funding, increased global competition from China and India and too high a level of youth unemployment. He felt we need to grow entrepreneurs, repeat events like the DAA and encourage institutes to listen and learn.

Zabla felt we should replicate the US model and in turn understand the importance of entrepreneurs in Europe. Amy Bonsall tweeted the following during his talk: “Why is Silicon Valley what it is? talent (stanford), failure acceptance, and funds” – Google via Pablo Zabla #da12innov #oi_startup. Zabla was the first (but not the last to mention the word failure). I loved the quote he used

“falling down is permitted but getting up is compulsory” – this is something we should all remember!

Workshop 8: innovation and entrepreneurs

The next person to talk was Laia Pujol moderator of the innovation and entrepreneur community of Digital Agenda for Europe. Pujol summarized research findings and stated that ‘start-ups don’t grow in the EU due to a lack of funding and support’. Unlike the US, there’s a lack of entrepreneurial culture and we need to stimulate hot spots or clusters for specific entrepreneurial areas to help them grow. The problems the EU face for these to be achieved are providing internships to encourage more people into the industry, highlighting sources of funding to help entrepreneurs grow and then retaining the talent it’s created!

Interestingly, 50,000 jobs were created due to the introduction of ‘Apps‘. This has clearly been a valuable new ‘hot spot’ – how can we learn from this to create another 50,000 jobs?

A really poignant point that came up during the discussions was the need to find ways to listen, learn and inspire others to spark ideas. We must ‘follow our curiosities and if something disturbs you, that’s a good thing’.

The first non-EU speaker was Derek Holt of StartUp America, a start-up for start-ups (who boast to have he world’s shortest URL!) who are there to help ‘inspire and celebrate entrepreneurs’. StartUp America are not there to create jobs, they are there to help others grow by taking the idea, ramping it up and speeding it up. With 1/2 million start-ups every year in the US, there’s clearly a need for an organisation like this one!

Holt rounded up by saying that we must ‘celebrate failure – visibility of mistakes means you will make your own mistakes and that’s when innovation happens’.

The other speakers, including Amy Bonsall and Haiyan Zhang from IDEO, Nico Perez from MixCloud, Jose Jimenez from Telefónica I+D, Spain and Gary Stewart from Wayra Spain broke off into smaller groups to talk about their initiatives, journeys and stories connected to innovation and entrepreneurship.

Workshop 8: innovation and entrepreneurs

Nico Perez gave an insightful talk about how to run a lean start-up without receive VC funding. Perez and his team spent 18 months living and working in a (not so glamorous) warehouse with no salary and no funding but the skills to get their business off the ground. Once MixCloud had built up enough traction and a good user base it was time to go looking for investment – even at this stage it was taking too long to negotiate a deal, by which point they had already started building revenue.

Interestingly, their lawyer turned out to be their most useful mentor; someone who had worked with similar companies in the past.  They realized early on that they were forced to work out a robust business model as cash flow was their life line. His advise for determining a budget and forecast for a start-up is to talk to others in a similar situation. ‘start collecting data points from your network to try and estimate your budget as best as possible’.

The other area of advise was to do with building your online community, a problem that many start-ups face. The ‘cold start’ problem of building up a user base can be a real challenge. Perez suggested immersing yourself into the community that you want to use the site. It is essential to know and understand the desired user group and build on the network you already know.

OpenIDEO Challenge winners enjoying lunch

After lunch we broke off to discuss our winning challenges concepts but I will write about these in a separate blog post.

Day 2: the plenary session, European Parliament
The hemicycle room in the European Parliament is an impressive room and I never imagined I’d ever get the opportunity to sit in it!

European Parliament, Plenary session, Hemicycle Room

The morning was full of innovation, start-up, funding, technology and entrepreneur experts – to save a very long explanation of my leanings, here are a number of quotes which I felt really stood out from the opening speakers:

‘80% of European citizens are connected to the Internet, the Internet has created a 25% increase in jobs in the last year and ICT grows by 3.8% every year’
‘we need to improve our innovation culture without being scared of failing’
‘it is easier to steal a movie on the Internet than it is to buy one – how can we better protect our copyright?’ Alexander Alvaro, VP of the European Commission.

Neelie Kroes speaking at the, Plenary session, European Parliament

‘we can achieve when we act together. We must listen to the outside world’
‘the Internet matters for citizens, it is a platform for astonishing crape activity and we haven’t found it’s limit yet!’
‘there are too many barriers to the internet. 1 in 3 Europeans have no internet access at home and 1 in 4 adults haven’t been online’
‘it’s important to unlock finance to support the entrepreneurs who can provide jobs in the future’
‘what will future generations say about us? Did we adapt to disruptive change? Did we create a better connected continent? Did we make easy tools for elders to join the digital world? We need to act now – the future is in our hands’ Neelie Kroes, VP of the European Commission

The next sessions were panels sharing their views on the topics already discussed to do with eliminating barriers:

‘don’t over tax entrepreneurs’
‘the younger generation are most familiar with the digital world but universities are too slow and because of that there is a skill gap’ Guiseppe Zocco, Index Ventures

‘don’t forget the elderly or disabled. They must be art of the digital community’ Adriana Ticau, Member of the European Parliment.

‘never compromise on research and development’ Ben Verwaayen, CEO Alcatel-Lucent

‘there is a (perceived) lack of access to early stage capital and growth capital.
There is a lack of entrepreneurial culture.
There is a lack of acceptance to failure.
Why are Europeans more risk adverse than the US?’ Stefano Parisi, President of Confindustria Digitale, BUSINESSEUROPE

‘we need to change mindsets and improve the culture’ Robin Wauters, European Editor – The Next Web

‘we must foster a community that supports entreprenures’
‘the Israeli culture learn from role models and encourages school leavers to start their own company straight away. In Europe it’s seen as safe to go and work for a big company when you graduate’
‘society is driven by numbers. Let’s create an incentive culture’
‘education is good but we need practical experience’
‘you can’t copy Silicon Valley by copying the buildings – you need the people’ Eze Vidra, Head of Google Campus

‘there’s a perceived fear of looking stupid. That is our reason for not wanting to fail’
‘Steve jobs was an innovator, not an inventor – he delivered other peoples ideas better… We don’t need to make the next billion dollar idea but make what’s out there, better’ Yossi Vardi, Early Stage internet investor

The last presentation I saw was given by Juliana Rotich, executive director of Ushahidi, ‘a non-profit tech company that specializes in developing free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping’.

Rotich’s talk was very powerful. She based it on the theme of cognitive surplus ‘learning how to use more constructively the free time afforded to people since the 1940s for creative acts rather than consumptive ones, particularly with the advent of online tools that allow new forms of collaboration’

Rotich’s work which is mainly based in Africa but used globally, crowd sources data via an online platform. She stated that only 13% of Africans have Internet access yet they make use of all the resources that they have – Ushahidi’s work helps turn these  resources into invaluable tools.

The organisation she heads up is an incredible platform for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories. ‘Technology gives us the opportunity to magnify power – it’s taken 15 years for the Internet to make as much change as the industrial revolution did in 50 years!’ She went on to explain that we need to view the world from the ground, not just from main stream media and luckily, the Internet allows this. Now there are global voices and people online blogging about their experiences. Open systems are providing people with a skeleton to flesh out their ideas and co-working spaces and incubators in Kenya like IHub are allowing stimulation instead of regulation. ‘We need to remember how important feedback loops are for changing behaviors; they are like a dashboard to our social lives.’

Should we be supporting leaderless networks?
Should we stimulate or regulate?
What we need are gate keepers or trail blazers to empower and open doors.

A fantastic final presentation providing a heart felt message to a very insightful, information filled couple of days.

I captured all these quotes, lessons and insights but what did I learn?

  • Europe has the right people to help nuture and grow digital entreprenurial start-ups but access to funding and support needs to be easier and more approachable.
  • There are ways to support entrepreners better (tax relief, policy changes etc) and we need to drive awareness for a likely hood of these happening in the near future.
  • We need to drive innovation forward making sure we use the talent of the younger generation.
  • Failure is a known problem for start-ups – we should embrace it, change our culture and not shy away from it.
  • The internet has so much potential, we have only scratched the surface and we need to seek out the opportunities lying ahead of us.

And the last thing I want to point out is the lanyard we were all given with our name tags. I had forgotten that the clip for the lanyard doubled up as a memory stick! A nice touch.

DAA Lanyard

All I need to do now is put it into my computer to see what’s on it…

(the hashtag for the workshop was #DA12innov and the whole event hashtag was #DA12 for those wanting to read up more via twitter)

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What do you make?

Charlene Lam‘s story-telling at the IDEO Make-A-Thon reunion last week was really entertaining. Her talks allowed me to reminisce and make me think back to my ‘making days’.

Charlene is a creative who works with materials and textiles. Her company Creative Clerkenwell looks to connect creatives in London and will feature at the Clerkenwell Design Week in May. Charlene told a great story of the things she makes. Meet the ‘operation red rabbit‘:’To celebrate the Year of the Rabbit, a warren of red rabbits were made from papier mache and placed around the streets of East London’.

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Charlene’s story telling inspired me to question what I make…

When I was about 9 years old my dad bought me a hot glue gun. Accompanied by a scalpel and balsa wood, I used to enjoy making structures and boxes. They weren’t anything in particular but I loved it. My dad enjoyed encouraging my creativity and I loved making things – it was a win-win!

A number of years later, I took the then called ‘CDT’ craft, design, technology A Level
and discovered the wood work and silversmith workshops. I’d find any excuse to turn objects on the lathe or make pieces of jewelry.

Then I went to university and built on all these skills by discovering the soldering iron. It’s amazing what you can create by soldering an electronic circuit board together…! I designed the ‘anti-theft handbag‘, a biometric handbag which only opens when the correct finger is scanned. I thrived on making prototypes and models.

One theme I have carried through all my life is enjoying making birthday cards, wrapping paper out of old paper and making purses or small bags to hold objects. Give me an old piece of card, scrap material or unusual packaging and I can guarantee it will be kept for a rainy day.

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When I graduated from my undergraduate degree, however, I moved into London and no longer had the space for much model making or workshop equipment. Life changed too and London had lots to offer and plenty of places to explore. My interests also change slightly. I became very interested in sustainability and reusing objects. It was Victor Papanek’s ‘The Green Imperative‘ that changed my view on ‘life’. I started to view objects and consumerism in a different way and set myself the challenge of not buying new clothes for a year. I found this remarkably easy and I got a real kick out of rediscovering my wardrobe again.

So, this is where my ‘I make….’ story comes in.

I (like to) make old clothes comes to life. Not buying new clothes did nonetheless mean I could continue indulging in my love of buying from charity and vintage clothes shops. There’s something really exciting about knowing that a piece of clothing has a story behind it, is cheaper than its original price and has potentially been saved from landfill. The only problem is that most people are turned off buying second hand because of the smell, it may not fit properly or more often than not, hasn’t been displayed in a way that they can relate to.

Talking of clothing with history, DoTheGreenThing recently created Glove Love ‘an initiative where we take lonely single gloves that have lost their original partners, wash them and then pair them with brand new glove lovers’. The best bit about buying the gloves is the lovely message that comes with them. Each pair of gloves is tagged telling you a story of where they were found. Seriously, it’s worth £5 to just read the story (and to have an odd pair of gloves with a Do The Green Thing label on them).

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I don’t often find a garment of clothing fits perfectly but that’s where a pair of scissors, needle and thread and accessories come in handy. I wish I had taken “before and after” photos of some of my creations but instead will have to list them out and hope you can use your imagination.

– The ugly 70s dress that ended mid calf: 15cm off the length gave it a new lease of life.
– The shoulder padded ‘Dynasty’ dress: removing of the shoulder pads and a brooch made it this season.
– The 80s pencil skirt: a tuck in the top made it sit higher and therefore more flattering.
– The black, sleeveless, moth eaten, shapeless dress: stitching up of the holes and a retro belt transformed it.
– The boring tweed jacket: now with red button holes made it this seasons must have.

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Sometimes a new belt, change of length, additional stitching or different combination of accessories can transform an outfit. Trust me, it’s very satisfying when people ask where an outfit is from and the answer is ‘part charity shop, part old garment, part hand-me-down’.

I worked on a project a couple of years ago which is very relevant to this love of making old clothing come to life. In collaboration with [re]design, we took ‘Chalky Van’, the chip-fat-powered-chalkboard VW van to the Vintage Festival at Goodwood. I facilitated a few engaging sessions with the festival goers around the reuse of clothing. The most insightful was when I placed a nasty old shirt on the van and asked people what they would do to give it a second life. People of all ages came to write or draw their answer on the van.

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Some of the best responses that really touched me were:
‘use the buttons as eyes for my puppet’ – girl aged approximately 6 years old.
‘blow my nose on it’ – man aged approximately 50 years old.
‘tie a belt around it and wear it with my tapered chinos’ – girl aged approximately 25 years old
‘make a scarecrow’ man aged approximately 30 years old.

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I’m clearly not the only person who sees the value in an old piece of clothing!

Making old clothes come to life is a passion I have. I will never have a fashion label from it, nor will most people ever realise the story behind my wardrobe but it does make me happy knowing that I wear second hand clothing. Keeping spare buttons, boxes of material and never throwing away clothes my infuriate my boyfriend but that’s the designer in me….! Forever curious about what I can get my hands on next and adapt.

Feeding 5000 in Trafalgar Square

They say there is no such thing as a free lunch but the Feeding 5K event in Trafalgar Square on 18th November got pretty close!

The very inspiring ‘Feed bellies, not bins’ banner created the perfect backdrop for the event.
Feeding 5K banner

The event was organised by Tristram Stuart, (the author of the acclaimed book ‘Waste‘) to raise awareness and to promote the activities of the partner charities; FareShare, Love Food Hate Waste, Recycle for London, Friends of the Earth, FoodCycle and School Food Matters – using only ingredients that otherwise would have been wasted, the aim was to provide a free lunch for over 5000 people.

Having seen plenty of posts about the event on Twitter, I had to go down to see what it was all about. It also helped that it was a beautiful, sunny afternoon which made it a lovely way to spend a lunch time.

Feeding 5K - Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square was buzzing. There were large stages where cooking demonstrations were taking place, there were boxes of vegetables being given out, there were animals to stroke and there was food to eat and drinks to enjoy. The food was delicious and the demonstrations very entertaining and informative.

Feeding 5K - cooking demonstrations
It was good to see a wide variety of food being cooked – soup, vegetable curry and pigs cheek were the few things I saw (and had the option to try). Although I’m a vegetarian it was good to see people being encouraged to cook pigs cheek to be a delicious food instead of it being discarded which is so often the case.

People need educating about food waste. The fact that an estimated 20 million tonnes of food wasted in Britain from the plough to the plate shows that we still do not understand the issue or do not know how to deal with it.

Supermarkets will not always accept fruit and vegetables unless they are perfectly formed, sell by dates are used which makes people throw food away before it’s actually too old to eat and people still buy more food than they need. Not only are there starving people in the world but the environment is being harmed by the CO2 emissions created when it is disposed of. There were boxes of ‘wonky’ carrots being given away, people making apple juice from excess apples and vegetable curry from a whole variety of delicious vegetables.

Feeding 5K - carrot giveaway

My favourite part of the event was not only seeing many of The People’s Kitchen volunteers helping out but also a family who were walking around eating raw vegetables; the mother had a fennel in her mouth, one kid had a red pepper in her mouth and the other kid had a carrot in his mouth. That’s the attitude, I just wish I had captured the moment on camera!
Feeding 5K - People's Kitchen volunteers

I left the event with a very full stomach and a pocket full of chillies….

Sustainable business models: Green Growth Business Boot Camp

I was invited to take part in a panel at Kingston University for their Green Growth, Business BootCamp. The aim of the sessions is to address the increasing need to develop environmentally more friendly products and services and help enterprises & entrepreneurs make the most of the opportunities created by increasing consumer demand, resource costs, and regulatory controls in the eco-field.

The second event in the series was looking at sustainable business models and innovation; What business models are available, and how can they be introduced? What are the elements of a business model?

Ecoinomy

goCarShare

Markers

The panel session included myself talking about Ecoinomy – the behaviour change company who motivate employees to use less energy in the workplace, GoCarShare – helping people car share by hiring out the spare seats in their car and Makers – connecting designers, manufacturers and retailers with the very best UK manufacturers.

All three companies have strong values, focus on a sustainable business model and have society and the environment in mind.

  • I discussed how Ecoinomy have had to approach different stakeholders in different ways to explain the value of the system and about the importance of using the correct language to engage with people. The business model relies on direct cost savings being made; the system produces opportunities to reduce energy consumption, opportunities to motivate employees and ways to change general office behaviour – we call this a win-win-win system – the environment gains by CO2 emissions being reduced, the economy gains by people being efficient and using less and society gains by employees forming community groups to save money for a local cause of their choice.
  • goCarShare encourages people to think about sharing car journeys to help reduce the number of empty seats on the road (and in turn reduce the amount of CO2 and pollution) and help share costs. Drummond Gilbert (founder of goCarShare) opened by saying that he learnt there are 38 million empty car seats in Britain everyday and he wanted to do something about it. Based on a Collaborative Consumption model which uses swapping, sharing, bartering, trading and renting to create business, goCarShare rents car seats on journeys. The environment gains because there are potentially less cars on the road which means reduced emissions, the economy gains because the driver gets help with petrol costs and society gains because….well, I car shared once with Craigs List in California and had a great experience. Whether it’s a case of having help stay awake, potentially sharing the driving or just enjoying the company, car sharing is a great way to change attitudes to the way we use our cars. goCarShare had a lucky break last summer when they partnered with UK music festivals to encourage festival goers to share the driving to the events. The Secret Garden Party even taxed people who had empty seats in the their cars!
  • Chris Pett of Makers discussed how important it is to make the designer the heart of any manufacturing process to add value to the end result. Keen so use local materials and a sustainable supply chain, Makers turn sketches and prototypes into real products making sure that the product has not travelled miles to the end user but made the product where the end user is – while making sure their products are tested to international standards. The right supply chain and pricing is as important as the look and function: Makers’ design service is focused on producing commercially viable designs ready for manufacture. Our design clients can also use the Makers production service to produce the finished product.

After the panel discussion we answered questions from the audience. This is what I took away and hope everyone will remember when developing their sustainable businesses:

Do you believe in what you do? It is essential to believe 100% in what you are trying to achieve. The ‘green’ and ‘eco’ world can be a tough place to succeed in if you want to quickly prove that you are sustainable. You must persevere, be articulate and not let people put doubts in your mind.

How are you adding value for the end user? You need to remember that although you believe in your business, service or product, you still need to think about why the end user will use it. Whether you are changing behaviours in the workplace, offering a sustainable supply chain or helping provide cheap car journeys, you need be clear what makes you different to your competition.

How do you explain what you do? Not everyone will understand the language you use to describe your business. You probably talk to like-minded people most of the time but there will always be people who either don’t want to understand or who are unfamiliar with eco focussed business. Think about changing the language you use to target the person you are talking to if you want to engage with them.

How many times have you written your business plan? It’s important to have a business plan that you are happy with but it’s also important to not be afraid to veer away from it. If an opportunity comes along to collaborate with others, partner with another business or change your model, then do it if it feels right. With the changing economy and people becoming more environmentally conscious, it is sometimes worth being ready to change your business if it will help you reach your end goal quicker.

Who did you last speak to about your business? Networking is essential. You never know who you might meet who could help you and your business. Not only at networking events or conferences but everyday! A small link may lead you to a large connection which could open doors and even raise your profile considerably.

The Green Growth events is a great series for entrepreneurs wanting to be exposed to ways to succeed in business. Next week the session is looking at marketing. I hope everyone that attended the series is able to go away and set up one of the next successful eco-businesses.