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The EU’s pot of gold for small innovative businesses

February 09, 2015 by Guest contributor

The EU’s pot of gold for small innovative businesses{{}}

Start-ups in the UK are booming, with Tech City now the third-largest technology start-up cluster in the world after San Francisco and New York. Start-ups also provide the main source of recovery growth in the UK and Europe. The European Commission knows this and has set aside billions of Euros for innovative small businesses. However, very few businesses in the UK seem to know about this pot of gold.

The EU’s new research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, was launched last year and has €80bn to spend over seven years. Some 15-20% of this is earmarked for innovative businesses, either on their own or in collaborations with universities and other businesses. The grants are prestigious and can open doors, as a House of Lords report noted: “We believe that EU R&I programmes represent an excellent financial and networking opportunity for UK businesses”.

Funding for SMEs

The Horizon 2020 ‘SME instrument’ will provide €3bn over the next seven years to small and medium-sized businesses that develop products and services. This covers everything from feasibility assessment (€50k grants), to development and demonstration (up to €2.5m) and then access assistance to risk capital.

The €100m ‘Fast Track to Innovation’ pilot opened in January 2015. Frustratingly, you won’t find Horizon 2020 opportunities on Innovate UK’s main funding page; they are displayed through a separate resource centre called Horizon 2020 UK.

A much broader source of money opens up if you collaborate. The Eurostars programme, which boosts competitiveness and open markets, is for groups of innovative small businesses. However, the lion’s share of Horizon 2020 funds is available for big multi-national collaborations of universities and small businesses teaming to deliver solutions to societal challenges. More than 70% of projects funded so far have at least one SME partner.

Finding partners

To enter such collaborations you need to be in networks that enable you to find the right partners. If they have previous experience, that helps a lot. One such network is the Vision2020 Horizon network, which I work with. It has nearly 40 universities and more than 100 SMEs, all seeking to cluster into groups to target Horizon 2020 funding. Another network is the Enterprise Europe Network. EU grants and University-business networks are a great way to put booster rockets on your innovative start-up.

Copyright © 2015 Dr Mike Galsworthy. Mike is a consultant in research and innovation policy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Posted in Financing a business | Tagged Funding, EU | 0 comments

Seven key lessons for new entrepreneurs

January 28, 2015 by Guest contributor

Seven key lessons for new entrepreneurs{{}}Intended to help you if you have recently started your own business or currently work for someone else and you’re seriously considering it, here are seven key lessons I’ve learnt in my 20-year career in technology and communications, a journey that has taken me from more junior level to senior corporate positions to CEO of my own successful business.

1 Despise the 9-5 working day

If you enjoy what you’re doing and you’re learning – keep going. Working for yourself often means making sacrifices and having to work long, hard days is often par for the course. But don’t be a martyr. Don’t neglect your family or miss important family moments or events – they won’t come around again.

2 Learn from bad bosses

Many of us will have had them and you can learn much from their shortcomings. This can help you later on when you become an employer. Don’t normalise poor management or their unhealthy habits; it can prove very harmful when running your own business.

3 Don’t compromise your values

Values are important in business. If you think something is unacceptable, it probably is, so don’t do it.

4 Don’t be afraid of new ideas

Avoid the ‘but it’s always been done that way’ mindset. Be prepared to challenge established thinking; look for new ideas that will enable your business to be more successful. Bounce your ideas off people close to you who you can trust. And if you’re currently working for someone else but have an original idea you plan to turn into a new business, be very careful about whom you share your ideas with.

5 Know the difference between tenacity and insanity

Nobody likes a quitter, but, equally, being successful at failure doesn’t help anyone. Set goals and judge your performance against them. Avoid deceiving yourself.

6 Embrace brick walls

Sometimes brick walls are big red warning signs that you’d be foolish to ignore. Ask yourself why there is a brick wall or even if the brick wall is really there. Breaking through such barriers is part and parcel of being an entrepreneur, but if you see more brick walls than opportunities, starting your own business might not be the best option for you, at least for the time being.

7 Overnight success stories are rare

When I came up with the idea for Compare Cloudware, the market wasn’t ready, so it was incubated for about a year so I could concentrate on creating a robust business model. After that, a visual concept was developed, followed by a working model, then a minimum viable product (MVP), then, finally, something I was ready to share with investors. I only gave up my day job once I had an MVP. I learned this diligence in my previous corporate life and getting to grips with large projects has also proved invaluable. So be eager to learn, but show patience when it comes to ideas that need cultivating and stress-testing.

Copyright © 2015 Gary Gould, CEO of Compare Cloudware, one of the first comparison sites for cloud applications. 

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Could your hobby provide you with additional income?

January 19, 2015 by Guest contributor

Could your hobby provide you with additional income?{{}}Despite the ever-increasing demands of modern life and our changing leisure habits, thankfully, many of us retain our love for our hobbies, But it seems we're a dying breed.

Research carried out by Santander, reported by the Mail Online in December 2013, suggested that a quarter of us listed watching TV as our favourite pastime, with just 5% playing a team sport. Only 4% practised a musical instrument, while fishing, once one of the nation's favourite pastimes, was enjoyed by just 2% of the population (the same percentage that still collected stamps or coins).

According to the Mail: "Campaigners [the National Obesity Forum] said the demise of traditional hobbies was symptomatic of a society preoccupied with celebrity and reality TV." Interestingly, researchers identified lack of cash as the main reason why 10% of us has given up our favourite hobby, a stark reminder of the austere times in which many of us live.

Top 20 hobbies

In April last year the Mail Online reported that almost half of the UK's 20 "favourite hobbies" now involve the internet (and you can stop smirking at the back). It said: "Facebooking, tweeting, online gaming, bargain-hunting and internet dating have exploded in popularity as traditional pastimes like stamp collection and trainspotting decline."

Travelling, baking and sport still occupied the top three spots, but trainspotting or birdwatching didn't feature at all. Sewing and knitting made number 10, and arts and crafts were number 7 (with the Mail questioning TV's absence from the top 20).

Many Britons are earning much needed additional income from their hobbies.  As reported by David Prosser in The Independent in October last year: "Research by the payments company Visa suggests that 9% of adults now makes money from a hobby, producing an £8bn windfall for the economy.

"These hobbyist business founders are cashing in on their love of everything from photography to jewellery-making and from sport to baking. And while they may not be pursuing these enterprises full-time, they are making decent incomes."

The "typical hobbyist businessperson in the design sector", he says is "making more than £3,700 a year, according to Visa's research. The figure for photography is more than £2,400." Prosser says that although this isn't enough to "give up the day job", for some it represents the "first few baby steps towards self-employment".

Key enabler

It's hardly surprising that the internet is the key 'hobby-into-business' enabler, allowing hobbyists to sell to a mass audience while minimising their sales and marketing costs. "A whole ecosystem for this type of small business has developed almost without mainstream commerce noticing… with specialist marketplaces now operating for almost any type of business you can think of… [and] many hobbyists trading in this way [thinking] of themselves as running a small business," while having built up their businesses with "little or no support from government agencies."

He concludes: "Those making money in this way are displaying all the entrepreneurial characteristics we value in more conventional business founders, they're making a substantial contribution to the economy, and they've done it with no help. This isn't the march of the makers that the Chancellor once spoke of, but the march of the micro-entrepreneur is to be applauded nonetheless."

Blog written by Start Up Donut editor and freelance SME content writer Mark Williams.

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2015 - the year you finally start your own business?

January 12, 2015 by Mark Williams

2015 – the year you finally start your own business? {{}}Why do so many of us bother with New Year's resolutions, especially as so few of us ever stick to them?

Somewhat shamefully, about 2% of UK adults who make New Year's resolutions don't even get to the end of New Year's Day with their resolution intact (source: Think Money). Australian research published in December 2014 concluded that almost two-thirds of all New Year resolutions made Down Under are never achieved, while a 2007 University of Bristol study suggested a much higher UK failure rate of 88%.

Common New Year's resolutions

If you resolved to lose weight in 2015, you're not alone, it is believed that almost a third of UK adults plan to become leaner this year. Almost a fifth want to improve their fitness by exercising more regularly, and more than a tenth resolved to improve their education or learn a new skill. Other popular New Year's resolutions probably included drinking less alcohol, quitting smoking and taking on more significant physical challenges, such as running a marathon.

As reported by Forbes, Facebook chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, is well known for his ambitious New Year's resolutions. In previous years, as a result of his New Year resolutions "he learned how to speak Mandarin, met a new person every day who does not work at Facebook, wrote a thank you note every day, became vegetarian (except for animals he killed himself) and wore a tie every day." This year he has resolved to "read a new book every other week", with "an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs and histories". He's created a Facebook page called A Year Of Books so you can "follow his challenge and read the same books".

Writing recently for Huffington Post, health and fitness coach Adam Strong says there are seven key reasons why we don't stick to New Year's resolutions. These include overly complex or ambitious resolutions; not creating a 'vision board' or diary to help keep us on track; keeping our resolutions a secret and (least surprisingly of all) – lack of will power.

Start your own business?

Another common New Year's resolution is likely to have been to finally address lack of workplace contentment, fulfilment and reward. Job satisfaction research conducted last year by recruitment consultancy Robert Half suggested that a significant 40% of UK workers were not happy in their jobs.

Starting your own business could provide the ideal pathway out of your current employed doldrums. It's a growing trend. According to Start Up Britain last year 581,173 new businesses were registered in the UK, significantly more than the 526,446 registered in 2013.        

Finally stepping out on your own and working for yourself could enable you to earn more money (although this isn't a given), enjoy a more favourable work-life balance and gain greater satisfaction and reward from your hard work. Who knows, maybe you could even join the growing legion of people who supplement their earnings by generating extra cash from their hobbies or interests? It's probably never been easier to start and run your own successful small business.

Maybe your New Year's resolution for 2015 was to finally start your own business – so what's stopping you?

Blog written by Start Up Donut editor and freelance SME content writer Mark Williams.

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Time to switch banks?

January 08, 2015 by Guest contributor

Time to switch banks?{{}}It isn’t just personal current account customers who can take advantage of the free Current Account Switch Service to swap between banks, because small businesses up and down the country can make the most of the service, too.

Launched by the banking industry in September 2014, the service ensures that existing payments such as direct debits or standing orders will be moved to the new account automatically, and any transactions that do go through to the old account will be redirected to the new one for 13 months, so payments won’t go missing.

The company making or taking the payment using the old account details will also get a message instructing them to update their records with the new account information. On top of that, the service is backed by a guarantee that means that if something should go wrong during a switch, any charges or interest will be refunded.

Until the service was brought in, changing from one account to another could be a lengthy process, typically taking between 18 and 30 days after the new account had been opened. That was a huge hurdle for cashflow-reliant small businesses, with worries about invoice payments ending up in the right account or suppliers not being paid according to terms, with the possibility of late payment charges being incurred.

But that time’s been reduced to seven working days from the day the switching process starts to when the switch takes place.

One of the drivers behind the Current Account Switch Service has been to increase competition between banks and make it much easier for small businesses to vote with their feet when it comes to picking the account that works best for them.

So, is it time for you to look at whether you’re getting a good deal with your business banking? Here are the things you should consider…

Do I need a business bank account at all?

If your business is a limited company you must have a business account. If you are a sole trader or partnership, you could use your personal current account, but that can make your finances messy. Keeping personal and business accounts separate is the better option.

Am I spending too much on bank charges?

Some banks charge a fee for business banking services, some don’t. Other costs are transaction-based, such as fees for cash withdrawals, cheques, Bacs transfers and overseas payments. Think about what you need to use and check the charges for each service. Some providers offer free banking, either for a set time or with limits on the number of transactions per month. Look at the penalties for exceeding those limits, and any charges that kick in when the free banking period ends.

What if I need an overdraft?

Costs can be quite high but will vary between banks. Check interest rates, set-up fees and the amount you can borrow this way.

And what about a business debit card?

Many business accounts come with these facilities, but ask to see if you’re eligible for a debit card – and a cheque book, if you need one – before changing to an account where you might not qualify.

What if I’m not happy with my new bank?

With the new Current Account Switch Service you can change your provider again, quickly and easily.

Will switching affect my business credit rating?

Not as long as you repay any outstanding overdraft with your old bank or building society. If there are any problems with payments as part of the switching process, your new bank or building society will put them right and make sure your credit rating is not affected.

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How to cut costs and become more profitable in 2015

January 05, 2015 by Guest contributor

How to cut costs and become more profitable in 2015{{}}Save money on accountancy fees

Before you can cut your costs you need to understand your finances. Up until now, you may have been just bundling your paperwork into an envelope and sending it off to your accountant, crossing your fingers that you're in profit. But, obviously, that’s not a great idea.

Use online bookkeeping software to enter and track your finances electronically in real-time. Once you're doing your bookkeeping online, you can then use a certified accountant to process your accounts quicker, directly from your online records. This way they don’t have to wade through a messy stack of paperwork, meaning their fees will be lower.

Get a better price from suppliers

Every year I hunt around to see if there is a better car insurance deal available. There's no reason not to apply the same principle to everything your business spends its money on.

First, contact your suppliers’ competitors to see if they can offer you a better deal for the same goods or services. Then speak to your existing suppliers and try to negotiate a better deal from them using your conversations with their competitors as leverage. If no one budges on price, you've not lost anything by trying. On the other hand, the upside is that you could instantly increase your profit margin.

Reduce your office costs

Hold off paying for office space for as long as you can. If your business doesn't need physical premises, you can operate in a virtual office from home instead, using mail and call forwarding services.

For meetings, join the 'cappuccino commerce' generation and use Wi-Fi connected coffee shops, or hire a room/desk space on a pay-as-you-go basis using drop-in business centres such as Regus. Or carry out an online search for a “virtual office" in your town to see what’s available.

If working from home isn't an option, look for local start-up hubs offering free communal workspaces. Once you have a few staff working remotely, the team can stay organised using Trello, a free online collaboration tool to help track tasks and plan project activities.

Claim use of home as office expenses

If you’re working from home, you can claim expenses that contribute to your utility bill costs and mortgage or rent. Paying yourself expenses for “use of home as an office” can reduce your tax bill. This article provides guidance on how to approach calculating your entitlement. 

Avoid capital expenditure

Avoid buying expensive things outright, because it ties up your working capital. Consider renting or leasing expensive items, such as a company vehicle, machinery, high-end camera and audio or video equipment.

Copyright © 2014 Simon Horton of hosted shopping cart ecommerce plug-in provider ShopIntegrator. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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