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Experts in Conversation

Venturefest Oxford’s Experts in Conversation articles, interviews and videos are dedicated to giving businesses a voice to converse about an area of their expertise to further our objective of supporting the innovation ecosystem in Oxfordshire.

Experts in conversation

Latest articles

How UX can help your business grow

How UX can help your business grow

As UX designers, we have often been asked how UX benefits businesses. This article tries to address this fundamental question and demonstrates how UX design can equip businesses to gain customers and achieve growth. READ MORE

What you need to know about leasing a commercial property

What you need to know about leasing a commercial property

In the beginning serviced offices are a quick and easy solution, but once your business is off the ground and you are scaling-up, finding the right ‘space’ for your business to grow is imperative; getting it wrong can adversely affect your bottom line. READ MORE

Using Artificial Intelligence in Recruitment

Using Artificial Intelligence in Recruitment

The hiring process is a critical gateway to economic opportunity, determining who can access meaningful employment and who can achieve financial success. READ MORE

The new Milk-Round: if students all want jobs in start-ups these days, how do you attract and retain them?

The new Milk-Round: if students all want jobs in start-ups these days, how do you attract and retain them?

Oxford University runs many careers fairs annually where established organisations present their graduate programmes, to attract the 3,000 people who leave the university each year. READ MORE

The UK Ageing Society – the opportunity for business is right now

The UK Ageing Society – the opportunity for business is right now

Nearly one in three workers in the UK are aged 50 or over. How can we take advantage of the knowledge and skills of older people, and how do we enable our employees to age well at work? READ MORE

The Oxford Trust: Accelerating Growth

The Oxford Trust: Accelerating Growth

Looking for support to develop your science and tech start-up? The Oxford Trust can help. READ MORE

Is there a perfect place to locate a business?

Is there a perfect place to locate a business?

If you run an innovative company you’re probably looking at more than price per square foot to ensure your business doesn’t just take the next step, but the next staircase. You may find some of the elements that successful entrepreneurs that I speak to require of the wider ecosystem useful to consider: Funding: As a start-up, funding and support are essential, so do look for business incubation, accelerators, grant funding bodies, as well as venture capital funds. Talent: If you are a rapidly growing company, you are going to need to recruit people, so consider whether there are skilled people nearby and check that re-locating staff will want to live in the surrounding environment. Remember that it’s unlikely that 100 clones of yourself will make the best business, so look for diversity in the broadest possible sense. Facilities: If your business needs testing capabilities for hardware or software, it is worth considering how far those facilities are from your office. As the orders ramp up you will need to spend more time travelling to use the facilities so chose a location nearby. Customers: Every business needs to grow and to do that it needs orders, so look at the location in terms of potential customers and whether there are on-site networking events to help you meet them. Collaborators: Innovation often requires partnering with others, particularly as a small business as you can’t possibly do or know everything. Build a partnership and deliver a great product rather than settling for a mediocre one. Before you sign on the dotted line, consider who in the area you may want to collaborate with. Oxfordshire is rich with opportunities for entrepreneurs from all sectors and there are several locations that offer all of the above. Harwell Campus is one of these. Why? Well, I’ll use the example of the Harwell Space Cluster, which includes 80 organisations employing 800 people and spans start-ups to multinationals. For funding, there are Venture Capitalists and grant giving agencies such as the UK Space Agency and European Space Agency (including its Business Incubation Centre). Networking is an essential part of Campus life with events such as the Satellite Applications Catapult’s Satucinno (yes, cappuccino with satellite shaped sprinkles on). Testing and validation facilities provided by the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s RAL Space, which enables companies to shake, bake and build bits of kit to go into space. The Campus’s other Clusters in Life Sciences and Energy create opportunities for diversification into new markets. The exceptional quality of people at the Campus will be demonstrated by the two all-female Space panel sessions at Venturefest Oxford. If you want to hear more about the opportunities that Harwell Campus could offer you please do get in touch: [email protected] READ MORE

Mastering your pitch

Mastering your pitch

This guidance seeks to develop your confidence in pitching to investors by helping you to avoid the pitfalls and mistakes often heard and seen in business pitches and encourage you to think in the mind-set of a lender or investor. There are typically 3 different types of business pitch: The Introduction or “One-liner” The Elevator Pitch The Investment Pitch Having the knowledge and ability to deliver a well-rehearsed and natural pitch in different scenarios can be an invaluable asset and one that is often overlooked by entrepreneurs. You should always make sure you clearly cover the key points below in all your communications: What problem are you solving and how does your product or service solve it? How do you take your product/service to market and how will it make money? What’s in it for an investor? Why should they invest? The introduction or “One-liner” A short introduction and/or elevator pitch will often be required in various situations which may not necessarily relate to raising finance, for example at a networking event. Although the shortest in length, ideally one or two sentences maximum, an effective introduction is often the hardest one to get right and it can affect your chances of making that important great first impression. Top Tip: Have a number of introduction 'scripts' ready for different scenarios, e.g. networking, sales meetings, exhibitions, etc. Elevator Pitch The name Elevator pitch reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver a summary of your business during an elevator ride from one level to another, typically a duration of no more than 1-2 minutes. It positions the scenario of an accidental meeting with someone important to your business in the elevator and if the conversation inside the elevator in those few minutes is interesting and engaging, the conversation will either continue after the elevator ride, or end in exchange of contact details and a follow up action. Top Tip: Remember the following structure; problem – solution – benefits. Investment Pitch At this point, you have successfully introduced your business, delivered your elevator pitch and you have now have been asked to present your business to an interested investor or panel of investors at a formal meeting. You now need to bring your business to life and provide further detail on it as a rewarding investment opportunity. The key areas an investor will expect to learn about your business in your pitch are: Business overview Product/Service Target market Management team Financial information Funding Requirement Exit Top Tip: Your business is about far more than what you are selling; investors want to understand how your business makes money, not just how the product/service works. An investment pitch should be supported by further detail within a documented business plan, which can be provided to interested investors after the pitch. It is also good to have a one-two page summary of your business available as a handout during or after your pitch too. If you’re thinking about raising investment for your business and would like to understand your options, visit our website here for more information or get in touch to speak to our team today on 08081 722350 or drop us an email on: [email protected] and quote Venturefest. READ MORE

The crucial role of Theory of Mind (ToM) capabilities in developing a next generation, human-centric artificial intelligence

The crucial role of Theory of Mind (ToM) capabilities in developing a next generation, human-centric artificial intelligence

Emerging applications of artificial intelligence (AI) are raising awareness of the limitations of established machine learning (ML) approaches in situations in which humans are involved. Smart cars, for instance, need to make reliable predictions about human behaviour in real time, e.g. in order to pre-emptively adjust speed and course to cope with a group of children’s possible decision to suddenly cross the road in front of them. To date, the automated recognition of present behaviour builds on the recent successes of deep learning (a technique based on artificial neural networks with an increased number of layers) to efficiently identify motion patterns in the available streaming videos. Motion patterns, however, can be deceiving, as humans can suddenly change their mind based on their own internal mental dynamics and things they spot in the scene (e.g., children seeing an ice cream van on the other side of the road). Intriguingly, humans are capable of making reliable predictions of future behaviour even when no motion is present, just by quickly assessing the ‘type’ of person they are looking at (e.g. an elderly person standing in a hallway is likely to take the elevator rather than the stairs). Theory of Mind (ToM) capabilities, i.e., the ability to ‘read’ other agent’s mental states, are crucial to develop a next generation, human-centric artificial intelligence. In a mutually beneficial process, computational models developed within AI may provide new insight on the way these mechanisms work in the human brain. Within cognitive neuroscience, the theory-theory paradigm argues in favour of the existence of a set of rules humans possess regarding human mind functioning. The simulation-theory view defends, instead, a simulation process consisting of taking someone else’s perspective to understand their reasoning. The simulation standpoint, we argue, has the potential to bring together machine learning and neuroscience in a radically new approach to the problem. A fruitful cross-fertilisation of neuroscience and machine learning can enable significant advances in both fields, by allowing both the formulation of computational theory of mind models in humans leveraging current frontier efforts in AI, and the development of machine theory of mind models informed by the most recent neuroscientific evidence, capable of going beyond simple pattern recognition for prediction in complex, human-centred scenarios. ‘Belief-desire-intention’ models are so far the dominant approach in computational ToM. However, as they lack the ability to learn from past experiences, such methods have been subject to much criticism. In opposition, composable deep networks have the potential to provide solid foundations for a simulation-theory approach. The reasoning of various classes of complex agents can be flexibly simulated by dynamically rearranging the topology of the connections among a base set of neural modules. The way the simulation adapts to agent class and scene is learned from experience via reinforcement learning. Successful machine Theory of Mind models would lay the foundations for the creation, among others, of autonomous vehicles able to negotiate complex road situations involving humans. Next-generation robotic assistant surgeons can be envisaged with the ability to understand what the main surgeon is doing and foresee their future intentions. Empathic robotic healthcare tools would become possible, as well as a new generation of ‘bots’ (e.g. for customer service or financial advice) able to interact more effectively and empathetically with humans. Research in this area would also impact on the current debate on moral AI, helping machines make ethical, human-like decisions in critical situations. READ MORE

Ethical Artificial Intelligence in Business

Ethical Artificial Intelligence in Business

Artificial intelligence (AI) and the data economy together form one of the four grand challenges in the UK Industrial Strategy. Many, if not most, companies are now using AI systems in their daily operations and business processes including, for example, HR function (talent acquisition, employee engagement), customer relations, business intelligence, logistics, and supply chain. The increasing commercial interest in the area has led to a deepening awareness that AI raises some serious ethical and business risk issues. For example, many AI-based HR systems for talent acquisition use machine learning to make initial shortlists of applicants using the data from previous recruitment campaigns. However, this will tend to lead to the selection of predominate stereotypes based on historical precedents, exposing the company to the risk of creating an unbalanced workforce, possibly incurring severe brand damage and potentially breaching equality law. Many similar issues have been identified over recent years including AI-based medical systems designed around Caucasian health and life styles, adverts appearing next to inappropriate content on social media and databases for image recognition systems that are racially biased. In addition to these recognised issues, it is highly likely there are other currently unidentified issues from the deployment of AI systems that could emerge many years after implementation, potentially causing brand damage and increased legal risk. Once these issues come to light, they could be difficult and very expensive to correct as the AI system concerned is likely to have become deeply embedded in the company’s IT architecture. All of these potential risks can reduce business confidence and trust in AI systems. The business community has started to get to grips with these issues, seeking to introduce standards and regulations that minimise the risk of deploying AI based business solutions. At Oxford Brookes University, we are seeking to support businesses in this endeavour, helping them to understand and plan for both the opportunities and the risks that AI technology presents. We are particularly interested in exploring how AI systems can embody the values of an organisation and operate within its brand. To this end, the university is bringing together a diverse group of world-leading experts who together blend knowledge and skills from technology, business, social science and the life sciences. We seek to offer expertise in areas that include AI and machine learning, psychology, business development, economics and accounting, marketing, gender based law, equality and diversity, coaching and mentoring, digital health and wellbeing. This support can be given to businesses in a number of ways including consultancy, contract research, CPD and training, funded PhD studentships, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (Innovate UK), and research projects funded by Innovate UK, the research councils and various charities. Come and visit our stand at Venturefest Oxford 2018 where we can discuss these opportunities with you. READ MORE

Software as a Medical Device – the development process demystified

Software as a Medical Device – the development process demystified

Software as a Medical Device (SaMD) is software intended to be used for one or more medical purposes without being part of a hardware medical device. Previously referred to as ‘standalone software’, ‘medical device software’ or ‘health software’, SaMD can be used across a broad range of technology platforms, including medical device platforms, commercial off-the-shelf platforms and virtual networks, and its use is increasing. If you are new to SaMD, a natural question is, “How do I get my medical software CE-marked (for sale in Europe) or FDA-approved (for sale in the US)?” And it is likely that you will be frustrated by the answers, because no one will give you the process to follow. Instead, regulators define constraints on the development process, such as traceability, and leave the details up to you. For a start-up, this is a difficult situation to navigate. But there is help out there. The International Medical Device Regulators Forum (IMDRF)  is a voluntary group of medical device regulators from around the world who have come together to reach harmonisation on medical device regulation. They have written an easy-to-read guide to medical software development and the only one we have seen that includes illustrative examples, using both a large company and a start-up. If you are a start-up building a medical device, go to their document online and search for “Parva” to see the examples relating to this fictional start-up company. Note that medical device software development can follow either Agile or iterative methodologies, provided that the process is traceable, evidenced and includes risk management. This usually implies a process by which product, safety and clinical requirements are translated through functional specification and development tasks into software, and in which the results are tested, verified and validated – and the results recorded. The process often uses a traditional ‘V-model’ to distinguish distinct levels of software development and testing. This is a model which describes increasingly detailed software design and the corresponding level of testing. The {design, test} pairs are (in order of increasing detail): Development tests are the lowest level, automated and run very frequently. At the highest level, validation is a manual process of checking with users that the product built meets the requirements. Note that we use the V-model to provide our terminology, but we do not interpret it as requiring a waterfall approach to software development. OCC has been developing software for research, health, engineering and social services for over 25 years. If you’d like to know about the intricacies of developing software for medical devices or other applications, contact [email protected] READ MORE

Spin-Outs and Start-Ups: Common Pitfalls – Don’t Forget the Research & Development Tax Credit

Spin-Outs and Start-Ups: Common Pitfalls – Don’t Forget the Research & Development Tax Credit

Research and Development tax credits are a valuable company tax relief that can reduce a company’s tax bill, or, for some, provide a cash repayment, of up to just over one-third of the company’s R&D spend. A company must be carrying on a project seeking an advance in science or technology, through the resolution of uncertainty.  The allowable expenditure includes four main areas – staff costs, subcontractors, software and consumable items. The company must qualify as an SME to obtain this very generous relief (headcount below 500 staff and at least one of; turnover below €100 million or gross assets less than €86 million). There is less generous scheme, known as RDEC, available to companies which do not qualify as SMEs.  The RDEC is a taxable receipt, and is paid net of tax to companies with no corporation tax liability.  The rate was recently increased from 11% to 12%, effective from 1 January 2018.  The net cash benefit is 9.7%, (the 12% rate reduced by the corporation tax rate, currently 19%). Where grants are received for an R&D project, there can be restrictions on what claims can be made under the SME scheme, depending on the type of grant.  If this is the case, you should still be able to claim via the RDEC scheme.  This is quite a complex area and it is best to get advice in advance. Make sure you don’t miss out on these valuable reliefs.  Speak to us for specialist R&D advice. Alison READ MORE

Experts in conversation

Business Development

With Covid-related lockdowns, travel restrictions, cancellation and postponement of conferences and events, business development activities have had to change over the last 15 months.  Business relationships and partnership activities have to be developed and maintained on line and lead generation has also changed fundamentally.

In this series of conversations, we explore the shift that has taken place in business development, drawing on the experiences of three different Oxfordshire-based companies: The Electrospinning Company, Enara Bio and Saietta.  Through these discussions, we explore how each company has changed its approach to business development and consider how Covid has changed the way we work, looking back over the last year, and looking forward beyond 2021.

 

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Venturefest Oxford will be returning on Thursday 25th November 2021

Make connections that lead to new investments, new businesses and new ideas in the high-tech sector in Oxfordshire.