Archive for May, 2012
Chris Headleand runs Xsportmap, an online community for extreme sports. Together they create custom web systems through their company, Ogwen Publishing, but they were originally brought together by their shared love of extreme outdoor pursuits. Chris Headleand has been an accomplished wakeboarder in the UK and internationally and an avid kayaker. Xsportmap helps users navigate the landscape of extreme sports, from rock face to interface. We spoke with Chris Headleand about what they’ve created.
What is Xsportmap?
It’s a social network that’s based around locations and interests, rather than the conventional social network based around existing friendships. Those are usually the same networks as in real life. But we’ve got this group of people who like to go out and visit places, who have their local spots and interests, and we thought, “Let’s see if we can connect them, take them out of their own little groups and introduce them to new people.”
A lot of these extreme sports are dangerous. If you climb a rock face, for example, that will have been there for millions of years before you, and will be for millions of years afterward. But a rock can move. Or with rivers, a river can flood, a rapid can change, a tree can fall in — and that’s quite dangerous. The existing information is in books, or on static websites, so this makes it safer because it can be updated a lot easier, and is written by someone who knows that river or mountain very well. Xsportmap puts the content in the hands of the people actually doing these sports.
How did Xsportmap emerge?
We had a project about five years ago. It was called the Wet Patch, and it was an online forum for north Wales kayakers. We tried building a map system into that then, but the state of web systems and what was available at the time wasn’t up to the job — Google maps was still very much in its infancy. So we stuck our toes in the water and it was alright, but it didn’t go very far.
When I left university, to get experience I formed an online magazine called Xsport Magazine. That was really because I wanted to get a job in content management, and I needed some experience. In north Wales that’s hard to find, so my best opportunity at the time was to start my own venture. I used my existing contacts from sponsorship and in extreme sports, and had contributions from over 200 people from across a huge range.
So that’s two areas we’d dabbled in — we had the magazine and we had The Wet Patch. So we thought, let’s stick these together and see what comes out the other side.
CLICK TO READ MORE Who is the team behind the idea? I teach creative technology at Coleg Harlech. I studied Design in Education at Bangor and was originally going to be a secondary school teacher, but I enjoyed the design stuff more than the teaching. And we have Jack Robinson, one of the top student skiers in Wales. He’s also a member of my university canoe club, and just a very keen all-rounder. He helps to get content into the website. There’s Nicky Rudd, our kitesurfer, who is currently second in the UK in the BKSA. She’s a coach, and she helps us make sure what we do is inclusive. She’s really well-connected and you couldn’t wish to meet a nicer person — she helps develop the content side of the website. And there’s Dan Hayworth, a whitewater kayaker. He looks at our whitewater content and checks how worthwhile it is, but he’s also a bit of an ambassador. He gets people involved in the site and tries to introduce new groups and people into it. He’s a retired scientist who used to work for 3M. He retired at 35 to go kayaking around the world. How did you come to be involved with Inventorium? Our offices are based in the Ty Menai space, the offices formerly known as CAST. Our building manager was Caroline Thompson. She looked after us and was a business mentor as well; she helped guide us all a lot. Then Inventorium came in and Caroline moved into that. When we decided to develop Xsportmap it was really new for us because while we had developed websites for contract work, this was our first project. We knew it was an innovative idea, but we didn’t know what to do. So we went up to Inventorium and Caroline helped us develop a business plan. She pointed us in directions we needed to go, and that’s taken us to where we are now. At what stage is Xsportmap now? We’re about to spin it out into a new company. We’ve had chats with one potential investor, and we’re about to approach another one as well. What we’re looking to do at the moment is bring in a partner who potentially can help us extend our industry contacts and help with marketing. And if we can, find some financial investment to help the company grow. At the moment it’s all off our own backs, all sweat equity. We’re proud of our extended team, of all the people who’ve put time into helping the project grow. What’s your vision for the future? We just want to keep it growing. The position we’re in at the moment is that we’d like to completely open the system, so that everyone can just share information, similar to a Wikipedia philosophy. We’d like to see everyone sharing knowledge freely, sharing experiences — “I just went to this beach and it’s fantastic” or “I just paddled this river and it was the greatest experience of my life.” We’ll never compete with facebook, but extreme sports people are a special kind of enthusiast. They put their lives on the line to follow a sport that can be really dangerous. It breeds an individual kind of person and we’d like to have a forum where those experiences can be shared with the whole world. What have you learned that has surprised you? From what we drew out on a white board to what we’ve ended up with has been very different. Social networks is such a complex piece of mathematics. How people join and interact — you can’t predict it, and we’ve tried to roll with the punches and develop in directions that communities have wanted. And you can’t predict how it’s going to grow. What we planned and what it’s turned into is really different. It’s amazing how organic these things are. If you try to force it down a specific route, which we did — and got wrong. We had to completely change plans at one point, but it’s probably better than we’d originally planned.
CLICK TO READ MORE
Who is the team behind the idea?
I teach creative technology at Coleg Harlech. I studied Design in Education at Bangor and was originally going to be a secondary school teacher, but I enjoyed the design stuff more than the teaching.
And we have Jack Robinson, one of the top student skiers in Wales. He’s also a member of my university canoe club, and just a very keen all-rounder. He helps to get content into the website. There’s Nicky Rudd, our kitesurfer, who is currently second in the UK in the BKSA. She’s a coach, and she helps us make sure what we do is inclusive. She’s really well-connected and you couldn’t wish to meet a nicer person — she helps develop the content side of the website.
And there’s Dan Hayworth, a whitewater kayaker. He looks at our whitewater content and checks how worthwhile it is, but he’s also a bit of an ambassador. He gets people involved in the site and tries to introduce new groups and people into it. He’s a retired scientist who used to work for 3M. He retired at 35 to go kayaking around the world.
How did you come to be involved with Inventorium?
Our offices are based in the Ty Menai space, the offices formerly known as CAST. Our building manager was Caroline Thompson. She looked after us and was a business mentor as well; she helped guide us all a lot. Then Inventorium came in and Caroline moved into that. When we decided to develop Xsportmap it was really new for us because while we had developed websites for contract work, this was our first project. We knew it was an innovative idea, but we didn’t know what to do. So we went up to Inventorium and Caroline helped us develop a business plan. She pointed us in directions we needed to go, and that’s taken us to where we are now.
At what stage is Xsportmap now?
We’re about to spin it out into a new company. We’ve had chats with one potential investor, and we’re about to approach another one as well. What we’re looking to do at the moment is bring in a partner who potentially can help us extend our industry contacts and help with marketing. And if we can, find some financial investment to help the company grow. At the moment it’s all off our own backs, all sweat equity. We’re proud of our extended team, of all the people who’ve put time into helping the project grow.
What’s your vision for the future?
We just want to keep it growing. The position we’re in at the moment is that we’d like to completely open the system, so that everyone can just share information, similar to a Wikipedia philosophy. We’d like to see everyone sharing knowledge freely, sharing experiences — “I just went to this beach and it’s fantastic” or “I just paddled this river and it was the greatest experience of my life.”
We’ll never compete with facebook, but extreme sports people are a special kind of enthusiast. They put their lives on the line to follow a sport that can be really dangerous. It breeds an individual kind of person and we’d like to have a forum where those experiences can be shared with the whole world.
What have you learned that has surprised you?
From what we drew out on a white board to what we’ve ended up with has been very different. Social networks is such a complex piece of mathematics. How people join and interact — you can’t predict it, and we’ve tried to roll with the punches and develop in directions that communities have wanted. And you can’t predict how it’s going to grow. What we planned and what it’s turned into is really different. It’s amazing how organic these things are. If you try to force it down a specific route, which we did — and got wrong. We had to completely change plans at one point, but it’s probably better than we’d originally planned.
Posted on May 30th, 2012 by Jenny
Ireland’s vibrant culture of ideas doesn’t stop at The Pale
Our first Open Mic Jams ran last autumn, as part of Innovation Dublin. Participants pitched to packed houses at the Stag’s Head and The Odessa Club, and before we even get to the great ideas, we loved the sheer energy in the room. People seemed to like the stripped-down format, too.
So we thought we’d take the show on the road.
In Ireland, more than half our population lives outside an urban area, and of our cities, the resources, networks and attention are disproportionately focused on Dublin. “Most of the channels to express ideas are in Dublin, but there are a lot of people with good ideas outside of Dublin,” says Brendan O’Driscoll CEO of LaunchPad company, Soundwave, who pitched in Kilkenny. “It’s very important for there to be opportunities in other cities.”
Our Open Mic Jams in Waterford and Kilkenny were aimed at creative and innovative clusters in the southeast, but we also welcomed pitches from anywhere in Ireland — it’s not just about going where the ideas are, it’s about bringing people together.
Langton’s, Kilkenny (28/2/2012)
There’s already a thriving arts, culture, and startup community in Kilkenny, and we’re grateful for the enthusiasm of the people who got involved to help us spread the word. At our Kilkenny event, the networking opportunity seemed at least as beneficial as the open forum.
We heard eight pitches in total, including one from Kilkenny-based LaunchPad company, Instant Opinion, who talked about their feedback service that helps hotels and restaurants respond in realtime, so their customers leave happy.
“The three minutes makes you really focus and hone in on your message,” says Soundwave’s O’Driscoll. “In NDRC we had visuals to carry our message but we had to reinvent the pitch without visual aids or props. It really helped us focus on our message.”
But it wasn’t just established early-stage companies or LaunchPad participants. Or even tech companies. One of the benefits to hosting an event like this in a smaller city is that you get a really broad range of contributions.
“One woman had an idea for an arts festival, and everyone would dress as their favourite literary character,” says O’Driscoll. “That was a breath of fresh air, hearing a strong idea that doesn’t necessarily revolve around a next-generation web service.”
He’s talking about Clare Muldowney’s Literal Festival, a community-based event she wants to run, that would be both literary and theatrical. Inventorium is focused on digital ideas, but it’s still key to realise that not all digital ideas start out that way, and that traditional ideas might develop a digital element. And failing all of that, the exchange itself is valuable.
“There’s better crossover there,” he adds. “It was nice to have feedback from people in the arts about tech ideas, and vice-versa.”
Oh, and then there was the marriage proposal.
“We opened the floor after our pitch and one lady asked for more information. Then she asked if she could marry one of us,” says O’Driscoll. “I think we’re the first startup to get a marriage proposal out of an open mic jam.”
But you never know — look out, Lisdoonvarna.
Waterford’s tech startup cluster, based around Waterford Institute of Technology, meant that this event especially helped people forge some real, meaningful links.
We heard seven ideas in total, with some impressive breadth. These ranged from Elaine Larkin’s early-stage Freelance Availability idea, to help link freelancers with available work, as well as her second idea for a news syndication service, to Nicholas McNulty’s concept based on condensed matter and shock waves, with which he and some colleagues in the nuclear industry want to develop a process for smashing solids into powder
Dublin-based startup Popdeem, a current LaunchPad company, also came down to pitch. About three weeks into their LaunchPad tenure, they realised they had to make a major change to their concept.
“We were right in the middle of our pivot when we went to the Open Mic Jam,” says CEO Richard Whelan, one of its founders. “So instead of coming down with a really firm idea, we pitched the problem and talked about two or three solutions that we had.” When they pitched, they were still called StudyBuddy, but the event was part of a major shift that included a name change.
In addition to putting some things in perspective, the team liked the energy of Waterford. “There’s a good buzz down there because it’s a smaller community,” says Whelan. “It opened our eyes, and we met a group of guys [based there] who ended up developing our facebook timeline page for us.”
He also met someone from Waterford IT who suggested he contact the CEO of Wexford-based R Works, a company that sells a productivity application for managing distributed teams, since the ideas were similar, but for a different market.
“It was similar to what we wanted to get into, and I was lucky to get 15 minutes of the CEO’s time, where we had a really good conversation,” says Whelan, who quickly learned that what R Works does for large industries wouldn’t work for the student market.
“It put the final nail in the pivot coffin, and it was good to know I could open up a dialogue with people quite high up and it was comfortable.”
In Waterford and the surrounding areas it’s not just about catering to the Waterford market, or even the Irish market. In fact, a large urban area like Dublin can leave us with a false sense of a large market.
In smaller cities, towns, and rural areas, innovators have no choice but to look outside their own regions; it’s small communities of highly skilled people, focusing on the bigger picture.
We admit we’re more used to working within Dublin-based networks, where everything is within easy reach, but we also know how limiting that can be. The rest of the country isn’t like Dublin, and tapping into new networks can work to everyone’s advantage.
We’d love to hear more about how we can best meet the needs of innovators in areas outside of Dublin, and outside of our own comfort zone.
Learn more about music analytics company Soundwave.
And keep an eye on Popdeem’s site for a beta launch.
Posted on May 10th, 2012 by Jenny
Digital Culture Wales
27 March, 2012
We spoke with our own Martin Owen about Wales’s long history of collaborative creativity and what was learned about meeting the needs of Welsh arts communities in the 21st century. And we ended up learning something about Romanticism, wartime art rescue, and an unusual idea for an art museum.
What was the focus of the Digital Culture Wales event?
We had individual musicians, people who run performance spaces, art galleries, music ensembles, and we had people from the National Theatre Wales Community, who are peripatetic. It was a variety of people in the arts and culture space, all there to talk about ways that cultural businesses in Wales can improve their capacity to reach, build, and address their audiences.
We’ll get to the unusual art museum in a minute, but what were some of the problems and digital ideas people talked about?
They need to be able to up their marketing game. We need to help them improve their marketing capacity, find ways to help them get training, better business-to-business networking. They just don’t talk to each other enough across the value chain. So that was some of the focus.
You mentioned a concerted events database for north Wales. Can you tell us more about what that involves?
There was also talk about a good, central repository. It’d be the equivalent of something like Time Out, only digital, and without necessarily needing to approach an editor.
There would be properly structured APIs, so that, say, if I was running a series of guesthouse websites, and you were looking at my guesthouse, you could easily find out what else is happening during the time you would be visiting. And local papers, businesses — they would automatically have this updated database for events.
Wales has a history of loose but dynamic collaboration in the arts. Tell us how you came across a forgotten artists’ colony in Snowdonia
I was on holiday in Norway and I got kind of a shock. I had a day in Bergen, where it’s always drizzling, so I made for the art gallery. In amongst the Edvard Munchs was this painting of a local waterfall in Betws Y Coed.
I hadn’t been to the Norwegian hinterland yet, where there are waterfalls every few miles. But despite all of these waterfalls, this Norwegian artist had gone to north Wales to paint this relatively unimpressive waterfall.
He went, presumably, to hang out with this colony of artists. In this very picturesque mountain village of Betws Y Coed, in north Wales, there was one of the largest artists’ colonies in the world in the end of the 19th century.
What was it called? And why isn’t it remembered?
It wasn’t called anything — it didn’t have a name. But it was a fairly significant Romantic period colony but it somehow slipped from art history and was rapidly replaced by early 20th-century modernism.
The idea [for a collection] was brought up by a local artist called David Woodford, who was at the event. There’s no permanent collection and no collective memory of this fine art movement in north Wales. So you can see things on the walls of galleries in New York or Norway, but you can’t see them on the walls of galleries here.
People didn’t respond particularly strongly to it specifically, but one of the things that interested people is the idea that there’s a lot of “hiding lights under bushels” in north Wales. And it brought us back to an idea for a virtual gallery of fine art.
Can you tell us more about that?
We had a meeting on digital technology and tourism in late 2010, and there was a suggestion that we create a virtual art gallery in a quarry in another mountain town, Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Why a quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog?
In World War II, the artistic treasures of the nation that were held in London — the Queen’s pictures, the contents of the National Gallery — they were all stored in a disused quarry in this mountain village, to protect them.
So the idea that was pitched then was that we create a digital or digitised national fine art museum with the treasures of the nation. We would have digital images and because it would be completely dark inside the cavern, we could do whatever we wanted, and have interesting ways of displaying these digitised works.
We could juxtapose works of art in ways that other galleries can’t. For example, if you were to take a single subject, say, The Last Supper or St Jerome, in the way that they’re hung in the National Gallery in London. If it’s an 18th-century French painting, it’s with the other 18th-century French paintings. But we could have a space where we could compare the interpretation across lots of artists and periods.
There are so many interesting ways we could use this space to rethink art galleries in a digital form. And it would also be an experience because you’re in an interesting space. One of the things north Wales needs, too, is more wet-weather attractions.
What has happened with this digital museum idea?
It’s an idea that the community around Blaenau Ffestiniog are still addressing. They have some money to support their regeneration. They’re considering a number of ideas.
One of the reasons we love our Inventorium event participants is the way that the growing and ever-changing community and collaborations introduce us to ideas we might not have thought of, or have thought to put together.
The more people we meet, the more confident we feel about the creative and exciting ideas and projects that are either happening, or have the potential to happen. So when we’re addressing the digital needs of the culture industry in north Wales, how can we best tap into the strengths of these communities, so they can perform better?
We hosted a follow-up event on April 23 in Ty Menai, for anyone who wanted to take some of these ideas forward, so stay tuned for updates. Martin has also started a discussion on LinkedIn, where the conversation continues.
Posted on May 10th, 2012 by Jenny
What happens when you combine experience and youthful exuberance without making young innovators feel they need to choose between education and ideation?
We’d intended to do an event in collaboration with Coleg Harlech because we’ve already been working with Xsportmap’s Chris Headleand, who lectures in creative media there. Coleg Harlech ran a seminar in the morning with a series of great speakers, focusing on creative businesses. We heard from Rebecca Colley-Jones, who talked about the impact of technology on the environment. We had a talk from Tom Beverley and Rhys Jones, who develop mobile applications for education.
At the Inventorium workshop, we ended up with students from Coleg Harlech and a group from Coleg Ceredigion. The idea was to give young people a chance to generate ideas, evaluate them, and look for business opportunities in them.
We split the 18 students into groups, where they played Inventorium Poker, then chose two of their best ideas to explore for business viability. They looked at the obstacles, the market, how to get customers — in general, how to take an idea and look at it like an entrepreneur. They presented the initial ideas to each other, and then spent the rest of the afternoon developing.
A lot of the students are studying filmmaking, so one group had a recce app, which would make it easy to source filming locations that met certain criteria. For example, if you needed a location by the sea with mountains in the background that looked good at night, the app would help you find that. It would take in tidal information, information about the moon and artificial lighting that would tell you about brightness, etc.
There was a pair of students who want to convert old buses into environmentally friendly and bespoke mobile homes. They’re really keen on doing it, so we worked closely with them on how they would source the buses, do the design and conversion, and market themselves.
Another idea was a farm that would be controlled by virtual shareholders who would control what the farm did. They could watch through webcams and follow online, and make decisions about animals, crops, what to buy, and what to sell.
Young people as natural innovators
We’ve done a lot of idea generation workshops, but this was a different, much younger group than the ones we’ve worked with before. Young people add a really good angle to our events, I think. They have so many fantastic ideas, and they’re really boundless in terms of where their minds will go. They’re really good fun, and not afraid to say stuff.
When it comes to technology, and especially creative technology, they know what they want and they know what would work. They’ve been brought up with the technology, so they’re vital to the process of developing more of it. The challenge is helping them to be creative with the technology that exists already.
They were more aware of the entrepreneurial side of things than I thought they would be, so we’re excited to help them learn how to develop that kind of thinking. I was surprised how mature they were, and not only how interested they were in ways that you could make money out of creative media, but also how much they’d already thought about it.
And their presentation skills were really very good — they were so confident standing up and explaining their ideas. That’s something that can be built on to make them successful entrepreneurs.
We’ve been following up on the ideas and we’re looking at going to Coleg Ceredigion to run another workshop with students who want to take their ideas on further. If they’re interested — which we hope they will be — we’ll help them source people working in industry who might be able to see where the ideas will go, and perhaps develop a product. The idea will come from students, who will always be involved, but the industry expertise can help make it a reality.
We’ve talked before about creating situations where young people are encouraged to make their ideas happen, and we’re hoping that we can help them build on this without feeling they need to leave education before they’re ready.
Posted on May 10th, 2012 by Jenny
Adaptics is building hardware applications that will allow you to collect and visualise measurement data using pocket-sized electronic tools — even a complete measurement toolbox — that connect wirelessly to your phone. Tim Redfern tells us about their line of products for measuring voltage, current, distance, area, and even the weather.
What idea did you start with, and how did it start to evolve?
We initially planned to design an electrical measuring circuit from scratch, but it’s much more practical to use this chip that manages the whole instrument.
Multimeters are used by electricians and people who design electronics, to measure voltage and current, but there’s a burgeoning market for artists and hobbyists who work with electronics, and that would be the market we initially envisage would be interested in [our product, Electic]. It’s quite niche, but the world market for multimeters is about 75 million — it’s not a market that’s going away anytime soon.
And since we started with LaunchPad, we’ve come to think of [Adaptics] as being a family of products, rather than thinking about it as being just one thing. We started thinking about a whole phenomenon of hardware and software products.
Can you describe what you mean by hardware apps?
We’re thinking about them as hardware apps because they’re products that have both a hardware and a software component.
It connects to your device via bluetooth and lets you make measurements. The advantage of it is that the kind of user interface you can make on a smartphone, and the features you can provide using the smartphone are much more advanced than the low-end multimeters. You can buy a basic multimeter for 20 euro, but with the smartphone, you can record the information, have a much more sophisticated interface, and save the information.
Higher end meters that do graphing can cost about 500 euro, but we’ll be able to offer features that are on a higher end at a lower price, and a lot more portable.
What else are you working on?
We started focusing on another measuring device that has wider appeal. It’s a sensor accessory that uses a laser to measure distance, and would have another couple of related sensors that will also have what’s called an inclinometer, which is like a spirit level. It will have a measuring wheel, which can be used like a tape measure to measure around curved things, or say, a path on a map. It can do things like measure area and volume.
We call it Constructic, and our initial research shows that loads of people will use it. We’re also hoping to keep them all below a hundred euro.
Tell us more about your approach
There’s never been an app that had a manual — the whole philosophy demands that everything has to be self-explanatory. And we want to make these products from that starting point, to blur the distinction between software on the screen and the accessory it works with.
The instructions for using it will be on the screen of the app, and you’ll be able to download it for free and preview it. Obviously you can’t do anything without the hardware, but the app will be a strong business lever for it — you can make the purchase inside the app.
Eventually we will be able to offer different versions of the software, once you’ve bought the hardware, and it will be more specific about what you’re using it for.
What was your engagement with Inventorium like?
I’d been to quite a few Inventorium events and was enjoying the discussions about devising ideas for tech startups and pitching them. It’s a different way of thinking about things, and I hadn’t had that background. I’ve been involved in creative industries and media, but the idea of actually making things and selling them is quite alien.
How did the team form?
On the round of LaunchPad 4, I was having a few chats with Jack, whom I worked with for Playhouse — a large-scale media project where we turned [Dublin’s] Liberty Hall into a big display — and a few other things. We thought it would be interesting to do something, and this was based somewhere in the centre of our interests, knowledge and abilities.
I’d been more involved in the electronics and low-level programming. Jack’s been more involved in hardware and physical design, and [fellow co-founder] Johnny, is focused on user interface and user experience design. Patrice is Johnny’s sister, and has been advising us on marketing and financial things.
It’s hard to start a business with a bunch of creative people. It would have been easier if we had someone to just take on the business end.
Where is the business now?
We’re working with a product designer who is hopefully going to come on board. We have to look closer, and look at the costs of getting into the small-scale manufacture of a prototype range. Then we’ll put them in front of people who will review them. Once we get funding together for the physical prototypes, it probably be a 3-to-4 month process to produce them.
And what else is on the horizon?
The third one, Meteotic, is the idea of a weather sensor, a mini weather station. It’s a wind speed measurer and thermometer, and measures moistures in the atmosphere. The idea would be that you could crowdsource the weather through it, mainly for outdoor activities. And we’re talking about one that’s even simpler and more mainstream, which is basically a scales for measuring weight, and it would tie in with recipe wizards. It would be a really neat, featureless cylindrical disc that you sit things on and it measures things for you. We’re quite excited for it.
Posted on May 8th, 2012 by Jenny