BT, a company not generally recognised for its innovation, is to spearhead a group aimed at cultivating small business start-ups.
Innovation Network, which was set up in conjunction with BT's Clearsky initiative, includes companies such as the DTI and HSBC alongside entrepreneurs, incubators and VCs (venture capitalists). The aim is to improve the UK's ability to support start-ups and to provide an informal method of sharing best practices, ideas and business issues.
The group will have face-to-face meetings every two months to exchange views with online backup in the form of a community Web site including chat rooms, a diary of events and a directory of incubatees.
On the VC side, a varied group of organisations are involved. BT's Clearsky initiative specifically targets the needs of technology-dependent small businesses by drawing together consultants and specialist partners. HSBC Bank's approach has been to introduce Technical Business Managers across the country who are specifically trained to encourage small businesses.
Cambridge-based Library House puts VCs in contact with small businesses in need of funding. Chairman Doug Richard said there is not as much VC money around now as there used to be. In the past, speed to invest was of the essence to ensure a good price, said Richard, but today it pays to wait as the price will almost certainly come down. "VCs are not economically inclined to invest right now," he added.
Attendees at Tuesday's launch of Innovation Network, in the BT Tower, said the current economic climate makes life difficult for entrepreneurs. "We're now living through a period where the goldrush has finished," said entrepreneur Andrew Goyder. "You can't raise five million with an idea anymore. We now need better incubators and support for these good ideas."
Graham Fisher of Simply Trading, a company providing managed portal solutions, has had a number of experiences with start-up companies, and agrees with the need to share ideas. Fisher describes himself as a "serial entrepreneur." In the spirit of sharing information and ideas, Fisher said, entrepreneurs should "steal with pride. If someone's already had a good idea, you should take it and use it."