Thursday, 29 November 2007

Connecting Yorkshire

I very much enjoyed spending most of yesterday at the Connect Yorkshire investment forum. Over the years I think I’ve been to nearly all these conferences; they’re a great way of seeing some of the companies that are around, and in bringing the technology community into one place too.

I suspect that Nick Butler and Glen Hopkinson who lead the team at Connect Yorkshire don’t have the easiest of tasks; but they do a great job of making it look easy! They have to screen lots of potential companies to select and coach/cajoale/coax those who present towards the best way of pitching their proposals. Today the companies represented ranged from a device to detect leaks, to a cancer drug targeting technology.

As usual you could rely on the Connect process to have helped the presenters make their proposals clear and reasonably thought out, whatever one thinks of their individual commercial prospects.

I tried to talk to as many of the presenting companies as I could; whether or not I was interested in them as a potential investee. This is really important to me; I find I can learn so much from these people and their intimate knowledge of either technology or market niche, and I think that in return I owe it to them to be as frank as possible about what I think lies ahead for them. As usual, the reaction to the feedback varied from the heatedly defensive, to the open and constructive, which tells you something else about how that team would be post-investment!

The format of all these kinds of events still doesn’t seem quite right to me; somehow the idea that someone stands at the front for half and hour and tells you about their business and its plans is a very one-way process, and there is a tendency for the candidates to want to talk far more about their plans, which after all are pretty fluid, than they do about their product and market opportunity/competition. I’ve suggested to Glen that something like a IRC backchannel might be the way to go, but you might need some house rules about only asking questions. Given the UK hasn’t adopted the laptops-in-sessions culture to the extent that the US has, you might need some kind of SMS based thing…?

P.S. I found this interesting commentary about backchannels on Techcrunch

Nick and Glen were also busy promoting their initiative to bring the community together between their events. Those involved in forming, managing and funding technology companies always benefit from becoming more of a community and learning from each other. Bringing people together on the internet has proved to be an amazingly powerful way of breathing life into specialist communities elsewhere and I really hope that Glen’s initiative can do the same for this group.

Over the years I suspect we’ve backed more teams that we first met at Connect than anyone. On this occasion I had the opportunity to meet again a company I was introduced to a little while ago, which I think has some of the characteristics to develop really well. Hopefully I’ll learn over the next few weeks if we can work with the team to develop a really exciting business with them.