Sync The City – Build and Launch a Start-Up in 54 Hours for Fun or Profit

October 27, 2014  |  Disruptive Innovation, Innovation  |  Comments Off on Sync The City – Build and Launch a Start-Up in 54 Hours for Fun or Profit

John Fagan and I have been working together again to put on another big Norwich event, similar to TechCrunch Visits Norwich in 2013. This time, we are challenging entrepreneurs, product developers, software developers, designers, digital creatives along with students from the University of East Anglia and Norwich University of the Arts to form teams to build and launch an innovative start-up in just 54 hours.  We have called this event Sync The City.

Sync the City, a collaboration between SyncNorwich, HP, the University of East Anglia and Norfolk County Council, aims to help place Norwich firmly on the tech community map over three days in November 2014.


Participants will arrive on Thursday night (20th November 2014) and Emma Swift of TechCity UK – which champions the digital and technology industry in the UK and internationally – will give a keynote presentation about what makes a successful tech cluster and how different clusters can work together to make the whole UK a digital hub for innovation.  Participants will then pitch their start-up ideas in 1 minute slots.  Over drinks and some networking, teams will form around the ideas and the start-up process begins!

Friday and Saturday the teams will work together supported by a great line up of mentors including: Ha Cole, Enterprise Architect at Microsoft; Ben Riches, Digital Integration Director at Aviva; Ali Clabburn, Managing Director & Founder of and Ben Taylor, CEO & Co-founder of Rainbird.

On Saturday night, at the end of the event, there will be an endnote presentation by Neil Garner of Proxama.  Then the mixed business and student teams will pitch their ideas, for a chance to win a £3000 prize, to a panel of high-profile judges including: Anastasia Emmanuel from crowdsourcing platform Indiegogo, Jon Bradford from TechStars and local investors James Duez and Tim O’Shea. The presentations, judging and prizegiving are open to members of the public, with the award presentation concluding the event.

John and I have been quoted in the local press as saying: “Norfolk is already home to a rapidly growing number of technology innovators turning their creative ideas into real business, and Sync the City will bring together the strength of Norwich’s tech community in one place. The judges and mentors can offer real-life advice whilst we hope the competition will kick start the developments of the next generation of Norfolk tech companies.” And “Start-up weekends are a global movement in the tech community.  They prove it really is possible to create a tech business from scratch in 54 hours. Sync the City is a platform to bring people together from public, private and education sectors to collaborate in small teams and have fun.  If the teams come up with an amazing product concept and prototype, then that would be the cherry on the cake.”


Photo: John Fagan

Patrick Stephenson, HP General Manager Digital Norfolk Ambition Partnership, said: “HP is delighted to be a sponsor and active participant of Sync the City. I am excited about the disruptive innovation this event will drive and collaboration amongst local entrepreneurs, SME’s, public sector and private sector organisations such as HP.”


Cllr Bev Spratt, Chairman of Norfolk County Council’s Economic Development Sub Committee, said: “Norfolk, and Norwich in particular, has a thriving community of excellent ICT and digital creative businesses. The sector is strongly supported by our two Universities which produce dozens of high quality graduates every year. I hope, by supporting this event, we can help some of those graduates to become entrepreneurs of the future.”

SyncNorwich was founded in 2012 as a virtual community to support the growing digital economy in and around Norwich and is now one of the biggest and most active tech meet-up groups outside of London. SyncNorwich has over 900 members, of which approximately 50% are software developers and architects, 20% are founders, entrepreneurs, directors or investors and 20% are project managers or others.

Sync the City will be held at the King’s Centre, King Street in Norwich from 20-22 November. Participants will pay £25 to enter which will include food and refreshments throughout.

The event has been funded by HP, Norfolk County Council, NEMODE (New Economic Models in the Digital Economy), Rainbird and the University of East Anglia.  Thanks also to Purple Tuesday and Everpress for their website and design work.

To register

Anyone wishing to be part of a start-up team for the whole event, or interested in being an audience member on Saturday night only (free entry), can register and get tickets at The website includes information about the agenda, judges and mentors, or contact the UEA Events team with any queries by emailing

Press Coverage of Sync The City so far:





Starting, Building and Selling a Business – The Multimap Story

July 17, 2014  |  Disruptive Innovation, Innovation  |  Comments Off on Starting, Building and Selling a Business – The Multimap Story

Audrey Mandela is an entrepreneur, consultant and angel investor. She co-founded Multimap with Sean Phelan in 1995, where she was Marketing Director, Board Director, Company Secretary and General Counsel. Before that, she had been Senior Vice President, International for the Yankee Group, where she worked from 1980 to 1998. She is currently Board Chair and Acting COO at Informilo, a news site and print publisher for global tech sector developments. On Thursday 10th July, Audrey came to speak at SyncDevelopHER, hosted at the Virgin Money Lounge in Norwich.

Rewind to 1995. The internet was just starting to take off, Netscape had just gone public and Microsoft had just launched Internet Explorer. The key players in a growing mobile phone market were Motorola and Nokia. Sean Phelan, a software engineer and sailing enthusiast, had just bought a GPS system before they had become consumer products. The initial idea that Sean had was to put maps on phones. Sean took the idea to Nokia, but they dismissed it – this was not what a phone was for! So Sean and Audrey decided to put the maps on the internet instead. They took the idea to Ordnance Survey and offered to buy their maps to put on the internet, but Ordnance Survey were worried that people might steal them. They did come around eventually! Multimap was founded in 1995 and began filing patents and in 1996 began software development. 1997 saw the launch of the public site and their first fee-paying customers. By 1998, Multimap needed some funding. They went to 3i, but 3i didn’t want to support Multimap’s mixed business model. How could they be serving both business (B2B) and consumer (B2C) markets? They said that Multimap needed to do one or the other, but not both. Multimap argued that it was the same platform that could serve two different customers, but unfortunately could not convince 3i. Eventually they were able to secure funding from Flextech and Audrey put some funding in as well, raising nearly £2m.

 Audrey Mandela at SyncDevelopHER

By 1999, they rented some office space and had hired some employees. The first hire worked on a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database. There was nothing available in the market that could do everything they envisioned and so they had decided to build one themselves so that they would be ready to serve customers. In 2000, they went from 5 people to 23 people, including SyncNorwich’s co-founder and organiser – John Fagan. They also began their first advertising campaign, with the clever idea of finding shapes within maps, like a crab near Brighton, a guitar near Abbey Road, a cocktail glass in the West End of London, a dinosaur near the Natural History Museum and a sheep in Wales. By this time, the boom was in full force and Multimap were competing for advertising space and attention. But the campaign, although expensive for Multimap, worked – it increased traffic to their site by nearly 50% and more importantly, traffic stayed high after the campaign. Awareness of the brand had been raised and the sheep advert won ad of the week with Campaign magazine.

In 2001, Multimap moved to their own offices and launched in the US. The bubble had burst and Multimap needed to raise more money to survive at a time when investors’ enthusiasm for tech start-ups had all but disappeared. They considered VC funding, strategic investors and follow on funding from existing investors – each option came with different pros and cons, and Multimap did not want to lose control of their company. Flextech were not keen to invest, as only 2 of the 8 dot.coms that they had invested in had survived. In the end, Audrey, Flextech and a key supplier did provide investment. This enabled Multimap to expand beyond the UK and Europe and to grow the number of B2B customers from 400 to 800. By 2003, they had served one billion maps, they had added Australian and New Zealand maps, had secured some big customers, including Argos and Ford US, and had made it into the Sunday Times Tech Track 100. In 2004, they partnered with Microsoft and began to expand in the US market. They had their first £1m month and celebrated their 10th anniversary in the Natural History Museum.


2005 also saw the rise of Google Maps. Google Maps, previously focused on the US only, had started to penetrate the UK. Google had draggable maps, whereas Multimap used the tab system. So in 2006, Multimap developed their own draggable maps API and implemented a new site design in response. They also won a Queen’s Award for Innovation. In 2007, Multimap launched a new public site with draggable maps and added more Asian country coverage and started to look for new investors.  But, competition was starting to heat up, with more new entrants, big competitors like Google and Microsoft with very deep pockets, and the rise of satellites. 2007 also saw TomTom buy TeleAtlas and Nokia pay $8.1 billion for Navteq.  Multimap agreed to entertain the idea of selling the business, as there were signs that the industry was about to change significantly.  They then sold to Microsoft in December. Microsoft incorporated Multimap into Bing about a year later.

At the time of sale, Multimap had close to 200 million page views per month, was the number 1 business mapping service provider in Europe and number 2 or 3 in the world and one of the top 10 most visited websites in the UK. They were delivering maps to more than 1200 business customers and they had over 120 employees in London, Boston, Sydney and Istanbul. They had been consistently profitable since 2002 and were only one of three companies to appear in 4 consecutive years (2003 to 2006) in Tech Track’s Top 100 fastest-growing technology companies.

After this interesting and informative overview of Multimap’s birth and growth, Audrey then offered advice on what they had learned by starting, building and selling a business. Some of these included:

  • Be clear about why you want to start a business – it’s not for everyone and it’s hard work!
  • Know your strengths/core competencies and weaknesses
  • People – find the right people, motivate these people, keep them and if they leave – get them back!
  • Be clear on and nurture your company values
  • Understand how you will make money and sales
  • Let the market drive development and operations….but balance and allocate resources based on market potential for tomorrow as well – Be ready to scale!
  • Go for as many awards as you can – they boost employee morale and make good PR
  • Watch the cash – but do pay for the right external advisors
  • Speed is important, but big decisions shouldn’t be made too hastily
  • It is not about raising investment money, but about growing your business – make the right kind of money at the right time
  • And finally – don’t believe your own predictions!

Audrey Mandela

After a short break for beer and wine, sponsored by Tipsy & Tumbler , Audrey went on to talk about Women In Tech. She started by telling us about a survey by the British Computer Society. They asked whether there would be a benefit to having more women working in IT – 9% of men responded NO! A 2013 European Commission report states that of the 7 million people working in the ICT sector, only 30% are women. Women also drop out of the sector early, from 20% at aged 30 to less than 9% over the age of 45. They estimate that if women held digital jobs as frequently as men, Europe’s GDP would be boosted by approximately 9 million Euros per annum.

Audrey also champions more women getting onto Boards. She is on the Steering Committee for Global Board Ready Women – supporting gender diversity on corporate boards – and is the Chair and Company Secretary for Women in Telecoms and Technology (WiTT) – an informal networking group on education and enhancing women’s careers. She presented studies to show that companies that are more inclusive of women in management achieve a 35% higher return on equity and a 34% better return to shareholders than other organisations. Women who do choose to work in the ICT sector earn approximately 9% more than women in other sectors and are less likely to become unemployed. Women make up approximately 31% of self-employed Europeans, but only 19% are ICT entrepreneurs.

The Female FTSE Index for 2014 shows that there has been some improvement in the number of females on Boards, but most progress has been made for Non-Executive Directors (NEDs), with very little progress in increasing the number of executive directorships.

Audrey offered some advice for improving this situation:

  • Introduce more diversity programmes and remove genders from CVs to reduce unconscious bias in recruitment decisions.
  • Use quotas to get more women onto Boards – this may be controversial, but so little progress has been made – we’re all getting tired of waiting for this to change! Public companies must reflect their users and women are still very under-represented.
  • Introduce more coding into schools – get kids developing apps and doing more fun stuff in ICT – current teaching is generally outdated.

There were lot of questions for Audrey and the comments on the SyncNorwich meetup site reflect how much her talk inspired the audience and how much they enjoyed it!

TechCrunch Visited Norwich

November 28, 2013  |  Disruptive Innovation, Innovation  |  2 Comments

Mike Butcher speaking UEA were delighted to be the first UK university to host Mike Butcher, Editor-at-Large, for TechCrunch.  Mike is one of the most influential tech journalists in Europe right now and is on a mission to excite students about tech startups.  It started with a tweet back in May 2013 and then finally, last night – November 27th 2013 – we hosted, with SyncNorwich, the biggest tech event and geek meetup in Norwich ever, with over 300 attendees. TCnorwich audience John Fagan of SyncNorwich and I opened the event with an overview of the growing digital creative community in Norfolk.  Then it was the turn of a great line up of tech and startups from the region, with some great success stories and a sprinkling of UEA graduates in the line up too.   It was fast and furious with fantastic presentations from all involved. FxHome’s Josh Davies (a UEA graduate) kicked off the tech showcase and demonstrated how FXHome’s products are used by children to make their own films right through to Hollywood creating the special visual effects in blockbusters like Salt and the short film, Prism. Next up was Liftshare, with Ali Clabburn explaining how his company was born from a need to get to Bristol and not enough cash for the train fare!  From this start in 1998, Liftshare has grown to support 1.5 million trips per month and a typical member can save about £1000 per year by using the service. Then Rainbird’s James Duez and Ben Taylor shared their vision of building smarter software to capture knowledge and solve problems by joining up the dots – lots of potential applications and one to watch as they head for full release in March 2014. Richard Churchill of Service Tick presented and session replay.  This product picks up how users are interacting with your website, where they are touching and looking and so can help to increase conversion and reduce basket abandonment.  Proxama finished this session with James Taylor explaining how they connect the physical and digital worlds with their TapPoint platform, offering next generation mobile market for brands wanting to better engage with their customers.  They offer proximity marketing and contactless payment via smartphones. slide6-techcrunchThe agenda then turned to a series of ten 2 minute pitches:  Get3Sixty offer the ability to gather, store and view anonymous feedback from the people you work with.  99squared have developed Kuoob to support personalised advertising.  Everpress presented their Haberdash app to create your own personalised photo-cushion.  Betahive showcased their Pingle app to match and connect groups of people.  Photocrowd set photographic assignments and allow users to vote and provide reviews from experts and then showcase the winners.  Supapass are building the music ecosystem of the future, linking musicians and fans.  Blurtit presented their social question and answer site. helps source talented software engineers with their matching service.  Zealify, started by UEA graduates, is a recruitment platform to help small companies to identify the right interns and graduates to recruit.  Last up was a 16 year old Norwich School student, Michael Ni’Man, aiming to raise literacy rates with an educational app – Wordwides.  What a brilliant showcase of innovative products and services!mike butcher speaks After a quick networking break, came the energetic and engaging keynote from Mike Butcher.  He took us on a whistlestop tour of the history of tech and the highs and lows of being a startup.  He explained how Web 2.0 has taken innovation out of the labs and into the bedrooms and coffee shops, creating “absolute chaos” – but in a good way!  He emphasised that people are what matters most in the early stages of technology businesses.  He stressed the power of serendipity and the need to keep on meeting at events like this one and the other meetups that SyncNorwich and Hot Source provide.  He encouraged Norwich to build silicon bridges to link up the ecosystem and was impressed with the incredible display of talent that Norwich has to offer.  In the Q&A session he encouraged those pitching their ideas to keep it simple – strip back the text in presentations, make it visual, be enthusiastic and tell a story. Boil down complex concepts and get to the point.  Identify the problem and how you will solve it! The evening was rounded off with big thanks from Peter Schmidt-Hansen of Norwich Business School at UEA to all who helped to make it happen at SyncNorwich and UEA and to the events other sponsors: Smart 421, Naked Element, Lambda Films and Tim Stephenson Photography (including photos in this post).  Thanks also to the OPEN team for the venue, technical support and catering. And of course, to Mike Butcher for travelling up from London and supporting the event for the Norwich tech community and UEA students!

Check out the slides here, great photos from the event here and don’t miss the doodles of the presentations by Chris Spalton.  Inspired by Mike’s presentation, Everpress are building a map of tech companies in and around Norwich at  Watch it grow!

Read other blogs on the event by:

Naked Element at

Smart421 at

ip21 at

Tim Stephenson Photography at

Press coverage by EDP24 and Norwich Evening News24 sites and a feature in the Norfolk TechJournal.

Overcoming Obstacles to Pursue Disruptive Innovation Opportunities

March 19, 2013  |  Disruptive Innovation  |  Comments Off on Overcoming Obstacles to Pursue Disruptive Innovation Opportunities

Official disrupt it logo

This research led from the previous blog post on Disruptive Innovation Explored and showed how the project developed deeper understanding of how organisations reject disruptive innovation opportunities and what can be done to help overcome this tendency. 

Thomond P and Lettice F.  2008.  Allocating resources to disruptive innovation projects: challenging mental models and overcoming management resistance, International Journal of Technology Management, Vol 44, No 1/2, pp 140-159


Downloadable pdf

Companies face increasingly turbulent business environments with many potentially disruptive threats and opportunities.  For most of these companies not innovating, or focusing only on incremental improvements to existing products and services, is not enough.   They need to pursue radical or disruptive innovations.

We were inspired by Clayton Christensen’s and Clark Gilbert’s  books and papers on the topic.  We defined disruptive innovation as processes, products, services or business models that offer lower performance.  This means they are often under-valued by lead-customers and dismissed as ‘low-end’ by incumbents.  But, these disruptive innovations introduce new types of performance criteria to niche markets.  Over time, their performance improves and they migrate towards higher end customers and eventually redefine the paradigms and business propositions on which existing industries are based.


We wanted to know why organisations struggled to respond to disruptive threats and opportunities and how they might be supported to overcome the barriers faced.  We collected data from 4 organisations, using questionnaires, in-depth workshops, interviews and many email exchanges.   This helped us to identify the five rejection strategies that prevent organisations from funding potentially disruptive innovations:

(1)    Rewarding Incrementalism – many traditional reward systems focus on maintaining the status quo and do not encourage the pursuit of creative and potentially disruptive new projects.  ‘More of the same’ is rewarded over ‘do different’!

(2)   Ignoring the Positive Aspects of Disruptive Opportunities – Potentially disruptive opportunities are often rejected as being too risky.  Resources are instead diverted to incremental or sustaining innovations.  Often new and emerging markets are seen as too small and are dismissed before proper evaluations can be made.

(3)   Focusing On Historical Perceptions of Success – Past success can make managers and their organisations feel immune to disruption.  Ideas that go against the grain of history generate feelings of uneasiness and often do not get the funding needed to open up new and potentially disruptive innovations.

(4)   Creating Perceptions of Success with High Effort – Many organisations have examples of prestigious innovation projects to improve mature products or to develop next generation technological advances for familiar markets.  More and more effort is invested with the aim of delivering immediate and measurable benefits.  Again, this is at the expense of investing in potentially disruptive opportunities, which offer longer-term benefits, but may require less resources.

(5)   Holding Beliefs in the Face of Disconfirming Evidence – Managers have a tendency to hold onto their existing beliefs even in the face of contrary evidence.

Within the research project, we developed, piloted and tested a range of tools to help organisations to overcome these rejection strategies.  We felt that managers needed tools to help them to see differently.  We therefore created a visual tool based on portfolio management to help to deliver an holistic understanding of disruptive innovation.

The Disruptive Portfolio Management (DPM) tool uses a simple questionnaire to :

(a)   Assess individual innovation initiatives on a range of standard innovation measures, plus a cluster of qualitaitaive and quantitative measures focused on how disruptive the innovation is, and

(b)   Assess individual innovation initiatives at varying stages of maturity, from early stage idea to advanced innovation project.

As well as assessing live projects, managers are also asked to assess recently killed projects to see what types of innovation projects don’t get developed.  The results are mapped onto seven portfolio maps, which help to give managers an holistic view of their projects and to see gaps in the types of innovation being supported and resourced.  The maps help to generate dialogue between managers and to surface implicit mental models that may be blocking the pursuit of potentially disruptive opportunities. 

In many of the workshops we ran, companies were focusing on a narrow range of innovation projects and not pursuing potentially disruptive opportunities.  The portfolio maps helped them to see this and to start to think about broadening their investment in new innovation projects. 


Disruptive Innovation Explored

March 3, 2013  |  Disruptive Innovation  |  Comments Off on Disruptive Innovation Explored

Official disrupt it logoThis paper was the result of an EC funded project on disruptive innovation (DISRUPT IT).  It was an intensive three year project with multiple European partner organisations that enabled us to collect a lot of data about how they were dealing with disruptive opportunities within their organisations.  It also enabled Pete Thomond to get his PhD and become a leading innovation expert and consultant with Clever Together and Sport Inspired.

One of the interesting first activities of the project was to try to define what disruptive innovation is.  Many authors have written about it and used different ways to talk about it.  This paper explored what other researchers were saying about disruptive innovation and used this to define what disruptive innovation meant to us.  This then guided our research on the topic and still underpins our work in other areas like social innovation.

Thomond P and Lettice F.  2002.  Disruptive Innovation Explored, 9th IPSE International Conference on Concurrent Engineering: Research and Applications (CE2002), July, Cranfield University, UK


Downloadable pdf

We found a number of different terms being used to mean essentially the same thing – a more revolutionary type of innovation – the opposite of sustaining or incremental innovations.  Some of these terms include: discontinuous, disruptive, radical, non-linear, breakthrough, and paradigm-shifting.


We were interested in how research in the area has developed over time and how this might help with defining disruptive innovation.

Clayton Christensen in his influential book The Innovators Dilemma (1997) had identified that emerging or niche markets that had not been satisfied by existing products and technologies, but had a potential to disrupt or threaten key players in mainstream markets.

Earlier, Tushman and Anderson (1986) had usefully split discontinuous innovations into 2 categories:

(1)    Competence-enhancing discontinuities – These give an order of magnitude improvement over prior products, but they basically build on existing products and know-how.  They are usually initiated and delivered by existing firms in that sector.

(2)    Competence-destroying discontinuities –  These deliver a new product class, a significant product substitute or a radical new way of making a product.  They require new skills, abilities and know-how and are often initiated by new entrants or spin-off companies.

Veryzer (1998) made a useful distinction between “product capability” (the benefits of products as perceived by customers and users and “technological capability” (the degree to which a product involves expanding capabilities beyond existing organisational boundaries).  Organisations can therefore deliver three types of discontinuity:

(a)    Commercially discontinuous – for the organisation the technological capability is the same but the product capability is enhanced.  An example of a product in this category is the Sony Walkman

(b)   Technologically discontinuous – the product capability is the same, but the technological capability is enhanced.  An example here is the move from cathode ray to flat screen TVs

(c)    Technologically and commercially discontinuous – both the product and technological capability are enhanced, for example with the shift from vinyl to CDs to mp3 technologies and related products.

Hamel (2000) suggests that it is at the level of the system that the real benefits of disruptive innovation can be found.  The business model needs to be unpacked and exposed to disruptive thinking.

For our project, we defined a disruptive innovation as: “a successfully exploited product, service or business model that significantly transforms the demands and needs of a mainstream market and disrupts its former key players”.


But there are also some common pitfalls to successful disruptive innovation:

(1)    Existing organisations often focus primarily on the familiar and on exploiting existing products.  They struggle to explore potentially disruptive opportunities, focusing on incremental or mildly radical innovations instead.

(2)    Standard market research techniques provide little or no benefit for exploring the potential of disruptive ideas and can even obstruct radical idea development.

(3)    If internal support can be found, the mass market needs convincing to adopt the innovation.  Moore (1995) highlights the difficulties of crossing the chasm from early market acceptance to get the product or change more widely adopted by the mainstream market.

In the next post, there will be some examples of techniques that organisations can use to help them to pursue disruptive innovation opportunities and overcome the common pitfalls to successful disruptive innovation.


Christensen C M. (1997) The Innovators Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Massachusetts.

Hamel G (2000) Leading the Revolution, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Massachusetts.

Moore G A (1995) Inside the Tornado: Marketing Strategies from Silicon Valley’s Cutting Edge, HarperCollins, New York.

Tushman M L and Anderson P (1986) Technological discontinuities and organisational environments, Administrative Science Quarterly, 31, pp 439-465.

Veryzer R W (1998) Discontinuous Innovation and the New Product Development Process, Journal of Product Innovation Management, 15, pp 304-321.