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James Rutherford

Web, design, Newcastle, games and fun!

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Tag: The Difference Engine

As a counterpoint for the rant about startups and politics yesterday, here is a selection of fine new web tech businesses that are gathering their wings in Newcastle:

Happiest

Happiest helps positive attitude flow, encouraging happy habits for self improvement and facilitating a happy peer support network.

The project is fuelled by a very respectable and eclectic team of local talent, is currently in private beta, but should be going for full public launch very soon.

Take a look at Happiest.

ScribeSub

ScribeSub has a different take to traditional article publishing models, allowing individual authors to release their content on a pay-as-you-go $1/read basis. It permits a more direct, rewarding bond between reader and author.

It’s in early public launch phase and hopes to gather a decent critical mass of users/content in order to get traction.

Take a look at ScribeSub.

65 Hours

Time banking turns time into currency. 65 Hours works as the centralised bank for individuals wishing to share their skills with each other, but not wishing to involve the complication of cash.

65 Hours is launched to the public and ready to try.

Take a look at 65 Hours.

Love Your Larder

Love Your Larder is an online marketplace for artisan foods. Local-scale producers can benefit from the site’s ready-to-go structure and social reach, selling with little time investment and for a minimal percentage cost.

The site launched before Christmas and is continually adding new producers. Any intermediate-expert PHP developers interested in helping to build the project further should get in touch with them.

Take a look at Love Your Larder.

Wedding Tales

My own business… writer’s privilege. ;)

Our first release from MemoryMerge is an online service to make it as easy as possible to collect in photos from guests’ cameras at a wedding, keeping them privately shared just for those who were at the event to enjoy.

We’ve currently launched to private beta (i.e. it’s working live, but we’re limiting the release). Please get in touch if you’re interested in the service for your event.

Take a look at Wedding Tales.

Other hot tips include…

Poster-child of the first Difference Engine, ScreenReach, currently rolling through funding rounds and picking up critical acclaim.

The enterprising folk behind 1DayLater, the King Brothers. Currently keeping other projects warm, but always full of ideas.

The Usable HQ team. Their first project is still under wraps, but expect some noise from them in the latter half of this year.

CustomerSure – a SAAS solution for customer service, shortly to launch.

Say ‘Hello’

It’s been exciting to feel some of the buzz from these projects. Interested parties should check out SuperMondays and the Geekest Drink meetings to rub shoulders with these folk!

The Government has backed a new ‘Startup Britain’ initiative. I find it hard to see it as much more than a spin of optimism to smooth over a messed up economy (…cynic that I am…) “Recently lost your job? Don’t be too upset.. it’s an opportunity – start your own business!”.

It comes at a time when the funding axe is hitting Regional Development Agencies. These will either be reconfigured or will disappear. The days of generous match funding are closing.

This is both a bad and good thing.

Bad because it’ll make it harder to start a business – and good for exactly the same reason. Free-flowing funding has encouraged the seeding of new businesses which don’t have solid models, and supported business owners who don’t have total commitment to their ideas. Alongside this, many third-party benefactors of funding (i.e. suppliers) know that the system has been abused by inflated costs and unsuitable delivery.

I’m not sure where this twin prong of startup evangelism and tight purse-strings will lead. I hope it will enthuse a slice of smart entrepreneurs with well-formed business ideas and lean spending trajectories, but there’s a risk that it offers false hope to many who fall into starting a business because it seems like the only open door, one that the government is ushering them towards, and one that they’ll painfully fail at.

That’s not to say that new businesses can’t get money. For tech businesses, funding is available via loans (via JEREMIE in the North East) and private capital is available at a few levels- both will are likely to cast more scrutiny on your plans than has been the case for RDA match funding. This is a good thing.

For the first three months of this year I’ve been running a new business through The Difference Engine tech accelerator with my business partner Oli. It’s been an honour to do so and an amazing personal journey. Our project idea was selected by potential to allow us to enter the programme- and we’ve been able to bounce it round some very sharp business types to hone it into something that has a decent chance of success. We have some seed funding in exchange for a small amount equity and had a fostering environment to grow it so that it’s now market launched (though currently private for testing). The scheme has been an fantastic launchpad, because it combines practical help with a smatter of capital for some promising ideas/teams – and we’ve all worked damn hard for it.

The strongest element has undoubtedly been the steering we have received. All rookie entrepreneurs should harbour a strong desire for mentorship to help them along.

Due to the RDA kickabout, I’m not sure what will be happening to The Difference Engine next year- I hope it continues to run in some potent form. It’s worth keeping an eye on alongside its spiritual sister, Springboard, which is entirely privately funded.

2011 is a year of opportunity for me.

First- big news. I’ve been accepted as part of a team on The Difference Engine (TDE). This is an acceleration programme for tech businesses, similar to the more established TechStars scheme in the U.S. By all accounts it’s an amazing course- well respected, a great intellectual environment and supported by some very clever people. They accept ten teams to develop over three months – with the aim of slapping, moulding and building our ideas into something commercially successful. It’s the second time it has run- and I hope our teams replicate the stellar success of the previous intake, many of whom now have valued businesses.

I’m co-founder of a company called MemoryMerge with Oli – this is the project we’ll be taking on TDE. I met Oli somewhere around the local network- he’s into electronics, cooking quirky food and brewing his own drinks. I expect he’ll be taking the lion’s share of technical development while I add design and some code into the mix. If you’re interested in following our progress, we’ll be maintaining a development blog and a Twitter account- I think it’s going to be a blast whatever happens!

Alongside this, I’m making plans with a friend of mine, Rob- another great guy I met around the Newcastle tech network, who is a rock solid web developer/project planner. We’ve worked on a couple of jobs collaboratively through 2010 and have a great idea for a web service which we’re expecting to kick off relatively soon.

Finally, during the latter part of 2010 I was meeting regularly with a few tech friends of mine to discuss a software development tool we might be able to build. I’m not going to be able to take much of a hand in initial stages (TDE will be taking up most of my time) but it’s hopefully something I can put something of myself into a little further down the line.

What about my existing work?

My current web clients needn’t panic- I’ll be able to find a small amount of time for general maintenance; larger jobs may be tricky in the near future, but I have the backup of Rob and others around the network to cover if needs be.

I’m really looking forward to the phenomenal opportunities opening up here, and wondering what I’ll be looking back at this time next year!

This month’s SuperMondays event pulled the magnifying glass over the first intake of tech start-up accelerator, The Difference Engine.

Jon Bradford opened with an introduction to the scheme- a model which runs most successfully in the US (they have ten placements to every one in Europe).

The Difference Engine provides seed fund and mentoring for promising tech projects, in exchange for an 8% business stake. £20k funding is provided (from a mixture of public and private investment) and the mentoring runs over a 13 week period at Middlesbrough’s Boho One.

Introductions, contacts and experience are brought to the fledgling teams, and after the incubation period, they are given the opportunity to demo to venture capitalists in the North and London.

This first round had 70 applicants across Europe, of which 10 were selected (and one was lost before the 2nd March start).

He was followed by representatives from five of the nine groups:

(Interested parties should be able to glean information about their projects from Twitter feeds)

The remaining four start-ups are headed by:

Further info: