At least once, every day I’m reminded of why people move to the Cotswolds. Often it’s a picturesque view of rolling hills and lush green countryside, a chocolate box honey coloured, stone cottage, or a buzzing architecturally fascinating market town with friendly faces and fresh local produce. However last Friday was rather different; I spent the day in Wotton-under-Edge at Renishaw’s state-of-the-art HQ innovation centre, surrounded by entrepreneurs, investors, a few local celebrities and a host of Cotswold-based business men and women with a passion for innovation. I was truly astounded by how much the Cotswolds has to offer, not just as a lifestyle choice but for career and business opportunities, creativity and entrepreneurial platforms.
The day started with a warm welcome from the Rock the Cotswolds team; Oli Christie, Nicky Godding and Melissa Ormiston, all of whom are deeply passionate about their non-profit organisation aimed at changing perceptions to attract and retain talent, drive inward investment and introduce visitors to the unique things happening here.
Actor, comedian and author Ben Miller was a fantastic and highly amusing compere for the day. Ben has recently launched a new book – ‘The Aliens are Coming!’ – which is apparently very good and an absolute must-read, of which we were reminded regularly throughout the day.
Rocker Talk – Ben interviewed local inventor Tom Lawton whose inventions include Bubblescope, Bubblepix and Lockdown, he is also known for his Channel 4 programme ‘Tom’s Fantastic Floating Home’. Tom was inspiring. He is very much a family and lifestyle-first kind of person honestly admitting that if he had been a total careerist he would likely have gone to California/Tokyo/London, however he finds the Cotswolds far less distracting which enables him to use simple ideas with bold product design. His inventions mostly have a green-focus; he’s awfully fond of nature – his latest product being the Million Mile Light, a battery free safety light powered by motion, an idea that came to him whilst jogging home in the dark one evening. Costing just £20 each, the lights are designed to last over 300 years, not the most lucrative business model he freely admits, but a progressive and green innovation nonetheless.
Innovation Rocks Pitching – Over the course of the day six hopeful entrepreneurs were given a 7-minute opportunity to pitch their ideas to four local investors; Notion Capital, Oxford Capital Partners, money.co.uk and Angels4Angels. The calibre of presentations was exceptionally high with a variety of ideas, business models, creative concepts and all evidently fully prepared for which was reflected by each applicant receiving at least one green light from the investors.
Panel session – Mid morning we were treated to a fascinating panel session with:
Entrepreneur, Oli Christie (Neonplay)
Investor, Chris Tottman (Notion Capital)
HR and coaching expert, Ruth Cornish (Amelore)
Digital marketing expert, Brooke Cleave (Wonderbean)
Leadership and development facilitator and coach, Kim Harvey (Neuroleaders)
The topic of discussion being; ‘What makes a successful entrepreneur? Are you the right person for the job?’ Each panellist gave honest and frank advice with a general consensus that some characters are perhaps not suited to entrepreneurial life, but what was crucial to any business was passion, determination and a complete stubbornness to never give up, or as Tom Lawton suggested – ‘Forget how to give up’. An interesting question was put forward to the panel; what is success? For all but one, family and lifestyle came first and the ability to work and earn around that was paramount to happiness. For the exception, success was measured by wealth.
Rocker Talk – Our next Rocker was the animated and enthusiastic Tom Herbert, an award winning baker, self-proclaimed ‘crust-crusader’ (!) and newly appointed Innovations Director at Hobbs House Bakery. Tom has recently created a new generation of Gluten Free bread and claims to have made a couple of coeliacs cry with pure relief at a taste test. I was able to sample a slice at the end of the day and, having eaten Gluten Free bread in the past, can highly recommend this new loaf – it really is a game changer.
During our lunch break we had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with some of the panellists, innovators and entrepreneurs for a short 15 min advisory session. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Brooke Cleave (Wonderbean) who gave some brilliant and insightful advice on how to increase my online presence via the TBS website and through social media. With more and more of our clients finding us through the internet I am very grateful for the tips and I’m already seeing an improvement.
Heading towards the buffet I was completely side-tracked when I saw an architect wearing an oculus rift! Thomas Millar of Millar Howard Workshop explained that they used a gaming technology to show clients what their houses could like from inside, before they have even been built. Of course I had to have a go and was completely amazed to suddenly find myself inside an old barn looking down at a table with a model of the barn in front of me, all in Virtual Reality. This is exactly why Millar Howard Workshop refer to their practice as innovative and dynamic.
After ‘Pitch, Round Two’ we heard from two more Rockers, the first; Bob Griffin, Founder of award-winning Tomcat Trikes. Bob’s innovation came from a heartfelt desire to help his own child, who has learning disabilities, to become more mobile. This is not just important for the child, but also for their parents and carers and enables families to go on holiday and experience more together. The incredibly personal and honest talk was very inspiring, Tomcat custom-make every piece of equipment to each child’s own needs.
Following Bob Nicky Godding interviewed Clarice and Cicely Elliot-Berry, from Sibling Distillery, the name coming from the two sisters opening the distillery with their two brothers who are luckily the best of friends and, having grown up brewing with their parents; really do have a lot more experience than their youth portrays. The Gin was very much designed and created to the more modern consumer’s taste, a sweeter, delicate and distinctive flavour which is proving very popular during blind-tasting.
The talks were rounded up by Oli and we all set off on our way having been truly inspired and motivated. The Cotswolds really is an incredibly busy and exciting place to be, on top of the stunning countryside and plethora of local events, it’s pretty easy to see why so many more people are refusing the commute and putting family and lifestyle first.
One of my favourite innovations of the day: The Electroflight high-powered electric aeroplane – changing aviation as we know it!