Start-Ups Blog


Why you need to protect your Intellectual Property?

For many businesses, intellectual property protects more than just an idea or a concept – it protects genuine business assets that may be integral to the core services of the business and overall long-term viability.

Intellectual property can consist of many different areas, from logos and corporate identity through to products, services and processes that differentiate your business offering. It’s when these ideas are used without permission that an organisation can suffer.   Almost all businesses have undoubtedly benefited from the internet, where products, services and marketing communications can reach vast audiences at relatively low costs – but this has also increased the chances of intellectual property theft. Companies of all sizes are at risk of having their unique ideas, products or services infringed upon, even if they are on the other side of the world, making intellectual property protection more important than ever.


Keep your ideas 

When you have a great idea for a product or service, there will always be people who will want to duplicate your success and sell your ideas as their own. Depending on individual circumstances, you can use patents, trademarks or copyrights – all of which cover different areas of intellectual property. These can be used to prevent competitors or anyone else from using your ideas for their own profit without your consent. IP protection applies to businesses of all sizes; even huge corporations have had their ideas infringed upon and have made multi-million pound lawsuits; just look at the on-going disputes between Apple and Samsung over their smartphones.


Protect business growth

If you are a small business, it’s very important to protect any unique products or services that you own as competitors can use your success to take away market share, resulting in slow growth or loss of revenue. Losing market share early on in a business’s development can be devastating and time consuming if trying to chase up the guilty party without any legal protection. It’s important to remember that no one else will check to see if your intellectual property has been infringed; it’s your responsibility to ensure that no one else is using your assets.


It’s easier than you think 

It may seem initially daunting or time consuming, but protecting yourself is well worth the time and effort and isn’t as difficult as you may think. When dealing with copyrights, there is no actual registration procedure to follow as protection is usually automatic. Although copyrights do not actually protect an idea itself, they protect the way it has been represented – for example if it has been written down, or recorded on video. If you want to apply for a patent, this can be done through the intellectual property office, either on your own or if you wish, together with a patent solicitor. If you want to know more about all areas of intellectual property, Start-Ups Work organises and has links with a number of business events and services that can help you find out which areas of your business you need to protect, and how to go about it.


At Start-Ups Work we run a host of workshops designed to give you a greater understanding of which intellectual property protection is most suitable to help your business succeed. We have Mini Group Masterclasses covering

  • Patents Searching
  • Trade Marks Searching
  • Copyright for Business
  • Registered Design Searching

To find out more and to arrange a 1:1 or group consultation or workshop please contact us. 


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The Seed Enterprise Investment (SEIS)

The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) was introduced in 2012 by the UK Government. It was designed to boost economic growth in the UK by encouraging investment in small and start-up businesses, whilst offering tax-efficient benefits to individuals who invest.

To say that the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, or SEIS, is incredibly generous is somewhat of an understatement. Of course we all hope our investments do well, but if you pay tax at 45% and make an investment of £10,000 that fails completely, you only lose £2,750 due to the tax relief.

That’s what makes the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) so attractive to investors and why we encourage all entrepreneurs to seek advance assurance from HMRC that they are eligible for SEIS.


What are the benefits of SEIS for investors?

  • Investors can receive initial income tax relief of 50% on investments up to £100,000 per tax year in qualifying shares issued on or after 6 April 2012
  • A CGT exemption will offered in respect of gains realised on the disposal of assets in 2012-13, that are reinvested through SEIS in the same year
  • The individual investor can be a director of the company, but not an employee
  • An individual’s stake in the company can be no more than 30%
  • SEIS tax relief applies only to recently incorporated companies
  • The company must have 25 or less employees and gross assets of up to £200,000
  • For 2012-2013 only, a CGT exemption will be offered in respect of gains realised on the disposal of assets that are invested through SEIS in the same year.


We’re going to keep the numbers straightforward and assume you invest £10,000, pay income tax at 45% and capital gains tax at 28%.

Case 1: The company does well and doubles in value

Investment = £10,000

Income Tax Relief = £5,000 (you get 50% of your investment back as a tax bill reduction)

Profit from sale = £10,000

Capital Gains Tax = £Zero (if you have held the shares for three years)

Tax free return = £15,000


Case 2: After three years the company’s value is the same

Investment = £10,000

Profit from sale = £Zero

Your gain = £5,000 reduction in your income tax bill


Case 3: The company folds and the shares hold no value

Investment = £10,000

Income Tax Relief = £5,000 (you get 50% of your investment back as a tax bill reduction)

At risk capital = £5,000

Loss relief = £2,250 (45% of at risk capital)

Your actual loss = £2,750 (£10,000 – [£5,000 + £2,250])


Carry Back

Did you know that you can carry back your SEIS tax relief back to the previous tax year?

An investor may elect under ITA07/S257AB(5) to have part or all of an issue of shares treated as though acquired in the tax year preceding that in which the shares were actually acquired. This is subject to the maximum annual investment limit for that earlier year (£100,000). The SEIS rate for the earlier year is then applied to the shares treated as acquired in the earlier year and relief given accordingly. As there is no SEIS rate for periods before 6 April 2012 an election under S257AB(5) will be effective only for shares acquired in 2013-14 and later tax years.

For further information please visit the HMRC website.

Here are two examples…

Example 1
Jenny invests £20,000 in the tax year 2012-13 (6 April 2012 to 5 April 2013) in SEIS qualifying shares. The SEIS relief available is £10,000 (£20,000 at 50 percent). Her tax liability for the year before SEIS relief is £15,000 which she can reduce to £5,000 (£15,000 less £10,000) as a result of her investment.

Example 2
James invests £20,000 in the tax year 2012-13 in SEIS qualifying shares. The relief available is £10,000 as for Example 1. However his tax liability for the year before SEIS relief is £7,500. James can reduce his tax bill to zero as a result of his SEIS investment, but loses the rest of the relief available of £2,500 (£10,000 less £7,500).


Things to remember

First of all, check that the pitch you’re interested in has got SEIS ‘advanced assurance’ – this is a certificate emailed to the investor by HMRC confirming that investors will benefit from SEIS.

Secondly, you can claim your money back once the business has been trading for a minimum of four months or has spent 70% of the investment they received.

Finally, and this is a big one, SEIS relief can be claimed up to five years after the 31st January in the year you made the investment.


How to claim

When the company you’ve invested in has been trading for four months or spent 70% of the total investment, the company must submit form SEIS1 to HMRC (or, more specifically, the Small Companies Enterprise Centre otherwise known as the SCEC).

Once SEIS1 has been reviewed and the requirements met, the SCEC will issue a copy of form SEIS3 for every investor. These are sent to the company of they can be passed on to each investor for them to complete and submit as part of their tax return.


The availability of any tax relief, including EIS and SEIS, depends on the individual circumstances of each investor and of the company concerned, and may be subject to change in the future. If you are in any doubt about the availability of any tax reliefs, or the tax treatment of your investment, you should obtain independent tax advice before proceeding with your investment.

Please visit the HMRC website for further information on EIS tax relief.


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The Mainstream Retail Apps

Smartphones are the Swiss army knives of this day and age. People keep their phones within reach 24/7 and this has a huge impact on shopping behaviour. Browsing, buying, and payment patterns are changing rapidly. Retailers simply must “adapt or die” now that most traffic to online stores comes from mobile and mobile purchases are starting to overtake desktop in more and more countries.

This means developing a strong mobile strategy goes beyond just offering a mobile responsive website. Native shopping Apps provide a superior shopping experience and can meet the expectations of today’s demanding mobile customers. Now that native Apps are affordable for SMBs through SaaS technology, shopping Apps are sure to become mainstream in 2017. Just look at these 5 telltale signs.


1. Consumers are demanding mobile shopping apps

To become and remain a successful retailer, you will have to listen to your customers’ wishes and requirements. Contemporary customers simply prefer retail Apps. Research has shown that 90 per cent of mobile use takes place within Apps and only 10 per cent via web browsers. Just think of everything you use an App for on your phone. That’s why App use keeps growing, while browser use keeps

Research has also taught us that consumers prefer retail Apps specifically because of convenience, speed, a personalised experience, and a smoother checkout. Mobile Apps are creating a transformation in retail, more than in any other industry. The use of shopping Apps increased by a whopping 174 per cent in 2014, which was the highest of all categories within mobile App use. Statistics show that, with no less than 17.5 sessions per month, ecommerce and retail apps were used most in 2015. With these clear signs of rapid development, no retailer can stay behind.


2. Mobile shopping apps give a richer user experience

Consumers prefer mobile Apps to mobile websites because their shopping experience is made better and more personalised. A shopping App is a perfect vehicle to enhance the customer experience, as it is an addition to the retailer’s brand, and it offers unique features that aren’t possible in any other medium. For example, the possibility of sending push notifications, offering one-click checkout, offering stored user information to provide an interruption-proof and smooth shopping experience, and deleting any irrelevant content to keep the shopping experience simple.

That being said, it doesn’t mean that any App will do. Your customers will simply forget about your App if you don’t offer the right experience the first time they use it. Research shows that 79 per cent of people would use an App once or twice if it didn’t work the first time, only 16 per cent of people will give it three attempts or more. When developing an App, customer experience should be a primary consideration. Native Apps – meaning that the App is written specifically for a mobile operating system like iOS or Android – offer a far superior experience. It will follow the existing technical and user guidelines of the operating system, making it more intuitive, faster, and much easier for customers. Additionally, there are several other advantages of native Apps that you can read here. This makes it clear that retailers should keep in mind that the user experience very much depends on the type of App you choose.


3. Mobile apps are the best performing channel in ecommerce

Another reason why Apps will become big for SMBs (and maybe even the most important one): Apps are the best performing channel within retail. Mobile Apps lead to more customer loyalty and conversion than mobile sites or desktop. This is due to the appreciated user experience and functionalities such as push notifications but also thanks to constant branding of the App icon. Criteo research shows us that mobile Apps create two times the new user retention. With a mobile App, a user is twice as likely to return within 30 days. On top of that, Apps result in 3x more conversion than mobile sites and 1,5 times more conversions than desktop.

If we look at leading mobile retailers, we see that they get a much higher conversion from Apps retailers that are less mature in App marketing.  This has been partly due to their ability to invest heavily in this development but now that ecommerce Apps are widely available for SMBs too, the results will only increase in the coming years. Once the customer has been convinced to download the App, using it should come easily with a good user experience and relevant push notifications.


4. Google wants you to invest in an app

Search Engine Land, the number 1 online marketing site, says: “SEOs who are not paying attention to Apps are missing a large part of the mobile SEO picture. Even if your company does not have an App, recent changes to Google mobile results allow apps to compete with your website for the same rankings. In many cases, App results are winning.” According to this article, there have been significant changes to the way Google ranks entire Apps, often directly at the top of the search results. As a retailer you can keep on optimising your webstore on small things that will influence SEO, but smart retailers go for huge impact like launching their own App.


5. Native apps are now affordable for SMBs

Whereas ecommerce giants like Amazon are already enormously successful with their own native Apps, smaller retailers still saw a financial and technical hurdle. But with SaaS technology, such as JMango360 uses, a native ecommerce App is now affordable and attainable for any retailer. Normally, a custom-made native App would have cost anywhere between $25.000 and $50.000, multiplied by the amount of platforms. Based on Saas technology, retailers can now build an iOS & Android App without any set-up costs or coding skills being needed, just paying a small monthly subscription fee. Due to the plugin that’s being installed in the backend of the webstore, the App is communicating in real-time with all the product, pricing, payment & shipping methods in the existing webstore’s backend, making it very easy for SMBs with small teams to keep this channel up to date.

Now that customers are demanding Apps — due to the far superior user experiences, Apps being the best performing revenue channel in retail, and SMBs no longer having any resource hurdles to overcome — native shopping Apps will definitely become mainstream this year.


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5 ways to Promote Your Training Course through Effective Marketing

Devising an effective course that meets a demand in your industry is only the start of a long journey towards making your training course profitable. In order to fill your course up with attendees, you will need a multi-faceted approach to marketing.
To maximise the reach of your training, and to ensure that the people looking for training courses in your industry find yours, there are five specific marketing channels you can use.


1. Use an online marketplace for training courses

An online marketplace for training courses allows course providers to directly market their training products directly to companies, HR/L&D managers and individuals. The Jivjav website, for instance, allows training providers to market and sell their course bookings through a single, easy-to-use interface. It is completely free to list courses and publish course descriptions, and providers have several marketing options available, including inclusion on a ‘Featured Courses’ list, pay-per-click adverts and a referral scheme which allows users to click directly through to a website or email address.

2. Embrace social media

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are ideal places to engage with your target audience. Not only do these platforms allow you to amplify your content through key players in your industry, they also allow you to learn about the educational needs of your potential course attendees.
Rather than pursue a hard-sell strategy using social media, try to provide real value to your followers, such as career advice and details about educational requirements for specific careers. By all means, link to your website and blog posts, but don’t simply use social media to force your training courses on people – as this will simply get you unfollowed.

3. Create glossy brochures

A glossy brochure, filled with relevant information about your courses (and the careers they can make possible), will undoubtedly make a positive impression on your target audience. However, the production costs alone can be prohibitive, and even with an expensive mailing strategy, the number of people you will be able to reach out to will always be severely limited. There is definitely a place for glossy brochures in the marketing of training courses, but they will only deliver cost-effective results when used to promote several courses in the same industry.

4. Email a monthly newsletter

Email newsletters can be an effective way of building authority in a particular industry, and growing loyal support among your target audience. However, amassing a database of potential customers can be a time-consuming, laborious and costly task.
There is also a growing tendency for recipients of regular newsletters to become blind to weekly and monthly mailouts arriving in their inbox. In order to make your newsletter a success, create a catchy, informative subject line, and give your recipients value through informative and easy-to-read content.

5. Run a forum

People in your industry will undoubtedly be looking for information and guidance right now, and engaging with those people will grow your online presence organically. A great way to engage on the Internet is to run a forum in which people can converse with you and other thought leaders in your industry.
Use your forum to start discussions on trending topics, encourage people to start their own discussions and create a community that people look to for accurate information. This will gain you a great reputation within your field of expertise, and provide you with a powerful platform from which to sell your courses.
There are thousands of courses available in all areas of business and academia, and students have lots of options when it comes to booking the right one. But by creating quality content, and communicating it effectively, you can make sure that your courses are given the exposure they need to make them profitable.


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Tips on choosing the right business bank account

Business banks accounts can offer a wide variety of features and incentives that can make the day-to-day operation of your business that much more smooth and hassle-free. Here we take you through some of the things to consider when choosing your business bank account

What kind of business you are, and your needs

Business bank accounts can differ based on a number of factors. For example, whether or not you are a sole trader, an already established small business, or a start-up still in the fledgling stages of business formation and operation.

The important thing to keep in mind is that every bank account is different in some way. They will all offer different incentives to secure your business. Your decision will come down to a mix of what you need and the incentives on offer to use a particular provider.

For example, lets say that you’re a sole trader who has been in business for 6 months, and you currently uses a personal bank account for all business cash flow. There isn’t anything wrong with this approach, but it does require an extra level of oversight and precision when it comes to noting down your business-related expenses and outgoings. If your margins are particularly low because you haven’t built a large client base yet, you might opt for an account that offers one to two years free banking, so the transition is a little smoother.

Bank accounts such as these that offer the free banking period are usually reserved for start-ups that apply within the first 12 months, so you do have time to make the switch if you choose to. Alternative benefits to weigh between banks can include:

  • Overdraft and how much, for those slightly tougher business periods
  • Ability to get coins as change from a local branch, if needed
  • Lack of charges on paying into your account, withdrawing, or transferring
  • Availability of customer support for any issue that arises

Even with the question of what you need and your kind of business you are answered, choosing the right business bank account for you can, and often does, come down to more than just the features of the bank and the benefits that choosing them can provide.

Culture and ethics

The bank you choose might seem better on paper because they could provide a good interest rate and free electronic transactions. However, maybe you also deal with a particularly large rate of cashflow in and out, and you need your business bank account to guarantee a certain speed at responding to queries and dealing with queries, which that particular bank can’t seem to offer.

In that sense, it’s a case of taking the features and benefits hand in hand with the corporate culture and effectiveness of the providers, and weighing the two against each other.

There is also the question of how much you value the ethical standpoints behind the bank you choose. Ethical banking providers still do have to make money, but the premise they build themselves on is how they make that money. You might appreciate knowing that your money is being invested in ways that make a difference somehow. It could be from anything as simple as backing environmentally-friendly developments within the country or local community, to helping invest in eco-friendly start-ups.

It’s also important to highlight that a bank identifying itself as “ethical” doesn’t mean that they somehow offer less to you as a customer. Most banks will still be able to provide you with the services you are looking for regardless.

Whatever you’re looking for in your business bank account, weighing the pros and cons of each and giving the topic due consideration will lead you to the service and product that you feel comfortable with, making your general business operations that much easier to manage.


Start-Up Funding: Private and Public Options

There are some very generous tax breaks and reliefs that encourage investors to back your business. 85% of equity crowdfunding is through Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) or Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS). Also it is common for angels to invest through syndicates to take advantage of the generous tax breaks that SEIS and EIS incentives provide. Leading public funding expert Barrie Dowsett, CEO of Myriad Associates outlines the most common sources of funding and tax breaks that are available to start-up businesses.

Equity financing

Equity financing requires you to surrender part of your business ownership in return for cash. This includes surrendering part of future profits.
Equity financing covers a wide range of activities, from raising money from family and friends to an initial public offering (IPO), when the stock of a private company is offered to the public for the first time.
Equity financing sources include:

  • Venture capital funds, which are professional groups looking for start-ups to fund. Venture capitalists are often looking for larger, more established companies. If you want to work with a venture capitalist, you will need to be flexible and willing to compromise, as you may have to give up more control of your business.
  • Angel investors, who work on a smaller scale than venture capitalists, and generally invest in smaller start-ups. Angel investors provide capital in exchange for convertible debt or ownership equity.


Crowdfunding, a form of alternative finance, is a way of funding a business or project by raising money from a large number of people.
Types of crowdfunding include:

  • Reward-based crowdfunding, for creative projects, which allows entrepreneurs to pre-sell or finance a product or service with a fundraising goal. Investors receive rewards based on their level of investment. Reward-based crowdfunding platforms include Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
  • Equity crowdfunding, for commercial projects, which allows investors to fund start-up companies and small businesses in return for equity. Equity crowd funding platforms include Funding Tree.


Whether from a bank or an alternative loan provider, loans must be repaid, and some lenders require security.
Alternative loan sources include:

  • Government-backed loans, such as those provided by the Start Up Loans Company.
  • Peer-to-peer lenders, such as Funding Circle, which allow investors to directly lend to SMEs.

Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme

A company can raise up to £150,000 in total under the government’s SEIS incentive. The investors receives 50% income tax relief through the self-assessment return. An investor can hold up to 30% stake in the start-up and invest up to £100,000 in a single tax year. No capital gains tax is paid on profits earned on shares held for more than three years. If the SEIS investment makes a loss, an individual will also be able to offset the capital loss against income. HMRC operates an Advance Assurance facility which certifies that at the time of application, the business was SEIS-compliant.

Enterprise Investment Scheme

The maximum amount of investment that a qualifying company can receive is limited to £5 million. An investor can invest up to £1 million in a number of companies and secure tax relief of 30%. It is also now possible to carry-back current year EIS investments to the previous year and this means that as a one-off a subscription of £2 million can be made. The investor must retain the shares for a minimum of three years or the relief will be clawed back. There will be no Capital Gains Tax charged on any gain of EIS shares disposed after the minimum holding period.

R&D Tax Credits

Many start-up businesses don’t claim for R&D costs because they think the scheme doesn’t apply to them, or because they are reluctant to approach HMRC who administer the scheme. It is worth speaking to a R&D tax credits specialist to see if you qualify as you could be missing out on recovering up to 33% of your development expenditure. You can benefit from R&D tax credits whether your business is making a profit or a loss. Loss-making businesses can claim a R&D tax credit payable (cash) amount from HMRC, while profit making business can significantly reduce their corporation tax bill. Use a free R&D tax credit calculator to discover how much R&D tax credits could be worth to your business.

Innovate UK: R&D Grants

Innovate UK drives innovation across the UK by investing in high-potential innovation projects to accelerate sector growth. In 2016-2017, Innovate UK will invest £561m in innovation.
If you are a UK-based business, you can apply for funding to:

  • test the feasibility of your idea and make sure it will work;
  • create a new product, process, or service, or improve an existing one, through research and development; or,
  • Work with other business or research organisations on collaborative projects

Funding from Innovate UK can range from £25,000 to £10,000,000, depending on the specific conditions for each funding round. In general, the further away from commercialisation you are, the more funding you can receive from Innovate UK.

EU Horizon 2020 SME Scheme: R&D Grants

The EU Horizon SME instrument helps high-potential SMEs to develop ground-breaking innovative ideas for products, services, or processes that are ready to face global market competition. Highly innovative SMEs with a clear commercial ambition and a potential for high growth and internationalisation are the prime target.
Funding is available for:

  • Phase 1 – Concept and production of a technical and commercial feasibility assessment, including a business plan, for a breakthrough innovation. Funding is provided as a lump sum of €50,000. Projects should last around 6 months.
  • Phase 2 – Activities aimed at bringing innovation projects to investment readiness and maturity for market take-up. Innovation projects must be underpinned by a sound and strategic business plan, and should last between 12 and 24 months. The amount of funding ranges from €500,000 to €2.5 million, covering up to 70% of eligible costs.

As outlined above the funding options for UK start-up businesses are plentiful especially with the generous tax breaks that are on offer to investors and research and development projects. Further support will be made available from the government as they have promised to review the tax environment for R&D to ensure that the UK tax system is strongly pro-innovation and builds on the introduction of the ‘above the line’ R&D tax credit to make the UK an even more competitive place for companies to do R&D. The Chancellor’s announced boost for R&D is a welcome reassurance for companies who may have been concerned about funding after the referendum vote.


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So you’ve created an Invention and need a Patent?!

Patents are by far and away the most complex, time consuming and expensive of the types of intellectual property dealt with at the IPO. First time applicants are often confused by the requirements of the Patents Act and amazed that it can take up to five years before an application is ultimately granted or, in the case of many applicants, the application is refused.

This blog is not to tell you how to apply for a patent, the IPO website does that; it’s more to highlight some of the misconceptions and common errors that applicants make, sadly all too often. Read on to learn more!

You’ve got an idea for a new product or process! Please resist the temptation to immediately post it all over social media, put it on your website or seek money via a crowdfunding exercise. If you put technical details of your idea in the public domain before filing the patent application then it’s likely to be refused. Play it safe – keep it secret before making the patent application. You can discuss it with others but you should use non-disclosure/confidentiality agreements.

Don’t submit an outline of the idea thinking you can add further information at a later date. Once an application has been made you cannot add to or amend the description or drawings. If you leave out crucial information you will have to start afresh, making a new application paying the application and search fees again. Please supply sufficient information to allow the application to be searched. Applications should be clearly worded, avoid ambiguity and use a concise turn of phrase

File the claims and pay the search fees on the date of filing. Your application will probably be searched six months after you pay the search fee. So if you delay paying the search fee and/or submitting claims then you may get the search result too late to enable you to make an informed decision regarding a possible international application. By the way, don’t underestimate the cost and complexity of international applications.

It’s an international legal requirement that all applications that have been searched are then published 18 months after the filing date. The IPO cannot delay, defer, postpone or prevent publication. However, if the applicant chooses to withdraw the application (an irreversible act) before publication then this stops it entering the public domain.

Read the letters that the IPO sends you and where required act on the contents straight away. If you don’t understand what the letter says then ring us to discuss. Many applications are refused due to inaction by the applicants.

Moved house?  Please write in and tell the Office. If you don’t the correspondence will continue to go the old address. Applications have been refused due to such errors.

Consider using a patent attorney registered with CIPA. A badly drafted application is unlikely to get granted and will have no commercial value. Read Why you should use an IP attorney to find out more.

In parallel with the patent application, formulate a detailed business plan. Lots of applicants have no idea of possible markets for their products, unit costs, profit margins, collaborative ventures. We have all seen people on Dragons Den, they soon get chewed up and spat out. I’m firmly of the opinion that the business plan is the most important aspect of your idea. Try to be sure you have a market. Consider licensing the patent and if you do license it you may wish to familiarise yourself with the basics of contract law.


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Why take on an Apprentice?

Government statistics show that there has never been a better time to recruit an apprentice in the UK.

75% of employers report that taking on an apprentice has helped their business improve the quality of their product and service, while 77% of employers (2015-2016) have retained their apprentice and made them a permanent employee.

Apprenticeship participation also stands at a record level – 899,400 funded apprentices participated on an apprenticeship scheme in 2015 to 2016.

With National Apprenticeship Week kicking off today, running from March 6 to March 10, we have created a handy guide on the business benefits of an apprenticeship.

Featuring honest advice and testimonials from small business owners who have hired apprentices, some for the first time, read on to learn how your start-up or small company could gain from taking on apprentice…


1. Apprentices are a cost-effective way to invest in the future of your business

Refused Car Finance managing director, Craig Rutherford, took on an apprentice at the start of 2016 and has found the experience to be wholly positive:

“Taking on an apprentice allows you to help grow and develop an individual, allowing them to secure a better future career and improving job prospects for the future. You’re investing in the future of the apprentice’s career and the future of your business.

“It’s one of the most cost effective ways of growing a business whilst plugging skills gaps in the UK.”


2. Hiring an apprentice lets you build talent from scratch AND upskill existing employees

Telecoms business PureComms employs apprentices from the local area, including Weston College. Its business development director, Jane Vivian, believes that employers need to look past the “dated perception of apprenticeship schemes”:

“Times have moved on and there are apprenticeships for most industry sectors and business functions.

“Too often [apprentices are] considered a second option by employers, but our experience is that offering an apprenticeship can add true value to a business and offer the opportunity to ‘mould’ somebody to understand and project the ethos and values of a business in their everyday work.

“The education system gets unduly blamed for not meeting the employability needs of the business community. But there is a dire need for a change in mindset by employers. For example, rather than just viewing apprentices as young entrants into the jobs market, they need to look at how they can support upskilling of existing employees in the workplace; or indeed retraining older workers as the working population continues to age.”


3. Apprenticeships offer a learning experience for you too

Louize Clarke is founder of Thames Valley’s ConnectTVT. Having recently taken on her first digital apprentice, Jack, Clarke believes that “his take” has been transformative for the business:

“ConnectTVT’s is all about fostering the next generation of tech talent in the region so taking on a digital apprentice was a no-brainer.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a transformative shift in attitudes towards apprentices, and increasingly, it’s the most ambitious, entrepreneurial and commercially savvy school-leavers opting for apprenticeships. There’s real untapped talent for the taking.

“For us it was about diversifying recruitment and bringing fresh talent in.  We have a digital apprentice so his take on social media and design is so light years apart from my own and has transformed the way we can connect with a major part of our audience.

“Apprentices work best when the business is prepared to invest the time in terms of training, coaching, hands-on experience.  It’s really a two-way process as Jack supports the wider business, making for an energised and productive team.”


4. Apprenticeships give you the chance to find your next superstar employee

James Eades is managing director of Bath-based IT support car company Systemagic. Eades originally joined as an apprentice technician in 2002 and progressed through management roles to become managing director in 2010, completing purchase of the business in 2015:

“I believe working with apprentices introduces enthusiasm and a willingness to learn as well as enabling the business to train the next generation and help young people in to a career in IT.

“The apprenticeship scheme is an excellent way to put a team member through structured training while giving them the hands-on experience that’s so vital in modern business.

“My advice is simple – treat the apprentices as your next superstar, not just as cheap labour. Give them opportunities to gain experience not just the basic tasks and you’ll find they’ll contribute a huge amount to your team and your business.”


5. Taking on an apprentice lets you scale your business at a comfortable rate

Simon Schnieders is founder and CEO of a boutique marketing agency. He currently employs five apprentices between the ages of 17 and 21. Schnieders says he “is a huge advocate of the apprenticeship scheme”, not only because it helps to bridge the digital skills gap but because he feels employers “have a certain amount of social responsibility”:

“Having both older and younger staff has been a great way to scale our business at a comfortable rate. We are able to develop younger talent into senior staff but also utilise the experience of our older employees to mentor and encourage the rest of the team.

“It also helps us think beyond profit as senior staff and focus on the social element of enterprise. It makes the business far more interesting to work in and grow.

“I’d advise businesses to have a clear strategy to hiring apprentices. We like to brief the National Apprenticeship Scheme training provider on our ideal candidate and they put forward CVs that meet our criteria. We then arrange a Skype call to test the candidate’s level of communication and identify what their strengths and weaknesses are and plan around these.”


Combined with these business benefits, the entrepreneurs we spoke to said that they felt it is an employer’s ‘duty’ to hire apprentices:

Lucy Werner, founder of PR agency The Wern, has recently taken on two new apprentices through the Digital Futures programme:

“Offering an apprenticeship allows us the opportunity to provide vocational training with a salary to someone who wants to gain experience in a PR consultancy.

“We strongly believe that all businesses owners have a responsibility to employ from a diverse talent pool who might not otherwise be able to afford to work for free. Whilst a degree is great, it didn’t teach me anything that I use in the work environment. The skills that our apprentice will learn (without getting into debt) will be applicable to whether she chooses to stay in PR or move a different sector.”



Deborah Meaden: How to pitch to a Dragon

The longest-serving female dragon in the Den, serial investor Deborah Meaden has graced our television screens for over 10 years now – and her appetite for investment shows no signs of stopping.

An entrepreneur from a young age, Meaden made her fortune in the travel and hospitality sectors, leading a management buyout of family holiday park business Weststar Holidays in 1999. After growing the company to provide holidays for 150,000 people every year, Meaden made a partial exit in 2005 in a deal worth £33m, before selling her remaining shares for a reported £83m two years later.

Having made a little over 50 investments on the series since being introduced in season three, Meaden, who also appeared on Strictly Come Dancing in 2013, certainly has an investor’s eye.

While the thought of entering the Den and pitching in front of five dragons ready to rip apart your business plan would be enough to convince any start-up to stay at home, luckily for us, Meaden isn’t shy when it comes to offering advice.

Speaking on stage as part of Sage Summit UK, the business mogul shared her five quick fire tips for start-ups looking to enter the Den – and come back out with a Dragon on-board…

Think about what the investor wants

Having run the gamut of pitches in her time on the show, Meaden says that nearly all unsuccessful applicants to the Den make the same mistake; they don’t think about what the investor actually wants and how they would make a return on investment.

Meaden argues that entrepreneurs are prone to overloading their presentations with superlatives, spending too much time talking about how marvellous and wonderful their product is –  when all an investor wants is cold hard facts.

“An investor wants to know ‘why me?’. Why would I want to get involved in this business? Why am I the right investor for you?”, she explains.

The Somerset-native, who’s invested in the likes of Magic Whiteboard, Zeven Media and, says entrepreneurs just need to think about things from a dragon’s point-of-view:

“I often say to people, pitch from your side, and then listen to your pitch from an investors side. Make sure an investor knows they’re the right fit and why they should be as excited as you are.”

Don’t worry about making mistakes

Over the years, viewers of the hit BBC Two show will have been treated to some amazing ideas, but also, some calamitous pitches.

A tense room with a lot at stake, it’s not unusual for entrepreneurs to fluff their lines, freeze on the spot or even be reduced to tears.

However, like any good entrepreneur, Meaden says that even mistakes can present start-ups an opportunity to showcase their commitment to their cause.

“The best pitches are often the ones that go wrong. I want to see someone who really understands their business. Even if they make a mistake, it proves they haven’t learnt it by rote”.

Meaden recalls how an 18-year old Jordan Daykin entered the Den with his plasterboard fixing start-up GripIt Fixings – a pitch that skirted disaster but went on to become one of her most successful investment.

Whist showcasing his product to seemingly interested Dragons, Peter Jones decided to take a more ‘hands-on’ approach to determine the suitability of the business and yanked the fixings clean off the wall.

However, a seemingly disastrous development was turned on its head by Daykin, who quickly retorted that wet plasterboard was the real offender, not his product, and this was the clincher for Meaden.

“At that moment, I thought ‘you’ve got something. You didn’t panic. You’ve got absolute competence in your business.”

Investing £80,000 for a 25% stake in the business, the Dragon’s intuition has certainly payed off – with GripIt Fixings becoming valued at £17.5m just 18 months later.

Sure fire proof that entrepreneurs need not panic if everything doesn’t go entirely to plan!

Run the businesses yourself

Taking over from Rachel Elnaugh in August 2006, Meaden admits that over the course of her tenure on the show, she’s actually changed her mind on what type of person and business she’s looking to invest in.

Originally investing solely because of product, the 58-year-old says that she now needs the right attitude and personality, before she’ll part with any cash – and doesn’t want to waste anytime “bolstering the human side”.

“I need calculated risk-takers, I need to understand they have a basic understanding of the mechanisms of business. I kind of assume they understand what P&L is and why cashflow is important.”

Indeed, businesses seeking investment in the Den should be looking for a hand-up not a hand-out and Meaden is clear about what her side of the bargain should entail.

“I should be spending my time helping them grow the business, not run the business. They [business owners] don’t need to be right, they just need to show they’ve got the ability to learn right.”

Keep it simple

It’s a hard truth to take for some, but after the TV cameras turn off normal life resumes for both successful and unsuccessful contestants on Dragons’ Den – with no guarantee of a happy ending. Indeed, even start-ups fortunate enough to receive investment can end up folding.

Meaden says that businesses can sometimes forget why their customers even love them in the first place and lose sight of their actual purpose and end-goal.

Deviating too much from their original pivot, businesses wind up in no man’s land – and few are able to make it back to where they once were.

Urging businesses to remember what really matters, Meaden says start-ups need not complicate the process.

“Business is simple. Do not over complicate it. I really admire people who take what appear to be really complex issues and boil them down so they know exactly what they want to do.

“It’s not easy, it’s very hard. But it’s simple if you allow it to be simply.”

Make sure your business is better not different

For many aspiring entrepreneurs still waiting for their lightbulb moment, identifying sector trends can prove fruitful on determining what type of business to start.

Meaden says that while our fundamental needs such as eating, drinking and having fun haven’t changed, the delivery of such is changing rapidly – and this presents huge opportunities.

“For me, it’s less about sector and more about the innovation behind that sector. Our expectation of delivery is growing”

While the pressure is certainly on for the next big tech start-up, ‘the Queen of the Den’ says that start-ups shouldn’t confuse something being different, for it being better – and should always remind themselves what the real value of their product actually is.

“Is it smarter? Faster? Cheaper? What is it that makes it better? If I can understand that, then I’ll want to get involved with that business.”


The Rise of The Incubators

The above map plots the spread of accelerators and incubators across the UK

The maps come from a report which reveals the UK’s accelerators and incubators provide £33 million annually in startup investment and is the first comprehensive map showing the spread of accelerators and incubators throughout the country reveals funding from corporation

Defining characteristics of incubators and acceleratorss is driving rapid UK growth.

Across the British Isles, the map pinpoints 205 incubators and 163 accelerators supporting an estimated 3,450, and 3,660 new businesses a year respectively. These provide £33 million annually in startup investment, according to the Business Incubators and Accelerators: The National Picture, produced by innovation foundation Nesta for the Department for Business Innovations and Industrial Strategy.

Head of startups and new technology research at Nesta, and one of the authors of the report, Christopher Haley, says that the growth of accelerators has been increasing since Seedcamp launched in London in 2007. Forty five new accelerators were created in 2016 alone.

“I think until fairly recently accelerators were perceived to be newcomers not having a huge impact but what we’ve found is they’re on par with incubators,” he said. “Growth of accelerators is definitely being driven by corporate funding because they look for ways to innovate and in which to solve issues they have internally.”

Map of incubator density in the UK

On the other hand, incubators – physical spaces that offer training, networks and specialist equipment to entrepreneurs in return for rent and membership fees – are more reliant on public or university funding.

Other trends found in the report include “very rapid growth in the number of programs and facilities; an expansion of incubators and accelerators outside London; a rise of corporate accelerators and a diversification of models.”

Haley says there have been attempts to map the landscape before but it’s proved difficult because it’s such a rapidly changing scene. He hopes this data set will be useful. “To entrepreneurs themselves who want to find an accelerator or incubator locally or in their field, to researchers and people with an interest in entrepreneurship, and policy makers who could use this

Map of accelerator density in the UK

data and question whether they need to do more to improve support in a local area.”
He continued that the report additionally raises questions and areas for further research. “There’s unanswered questions about what works for what types of programs for what type of company and also when we’ll reach saturation point. We haven’t answered that yet. And there’s questions around the extent to which an accelerator can actually stimulate more demand for their service”.

For more information on incubators and accelerators in your area please call or email us.