We’re back with our ‘Media Insights’ series as we catch up with Joe Bush, managing editor at Electronic Specifier, the design engineers’ resource guide to news, products and technology from the global electronics industry; and contributing editor to Startups Magazine, a digital and print magazine helping tech startups connect the dots on their entrepreneurial journeys.
What excites you most about the UK Start-Up scene at the moment?
Startups Magazine is the brainchild of my colleague and founder Daisy Stapley-Bunten, when she recognised just how vibrant the space was in the UK, and that these fantastic entrepreneurs we were talking to needed a platform to be showcased and championed. When you look at the innovation that’s taken place in the UK’s startup scene over the last 18 months, you can’t help but be inspired.
I guess the most exciting element of the startup scene is the attitude of the founders themselves, the level of disruption they are bringing to all aspects of society, and where that disruption may take us in the future. It takes a huge amount of bravery to launch your own business and many of the startups we speak to talk about giving up what is often a well-paid job, taking a leap of faith and ‘just going for it’.
A recurring theme is that despite having to learn some valuable lessons along the way, the vast majority of the startups we speak to are happier in their career than they’ve ever been. And when you hear people talk so passionately about what they’re doing, it can’t help but inspire and put a smile on your face. The feeling you get around the startup ecosystem is that, as a founder, your only real limitations are the ones you place on yourself.
When I hear startups talk about their ambitions and inspiration, it always puts me in mind of a scene from Star Wars (please allow my inner geek to flourish momentarily)! Luke Skywalker is trying to persuade a reluctant Han Solo to help him rescue the imprisoned Princess Leia, and in doing so says: “She’s rich, powerful and the rewards would be worth far more than you could imagine.” To which Han replies: “Well, I can imagine quite a bit!”
In other words, there’s really no limits to what can be achieved and when you see that manifest itself in the ideals of startups companies, it’s certainly very exciting.
What are the most promising innovations you’re seeing from UK start-ups?
It’s difficult to highlight any one startup or innovation as we speak to so many. What I can say is that we’re seeing innovation and disruption in just about every business sector in the UK, whether that be health, finance, public services, consumer, food and beverage or the environment. Startups are making an impact everywhere which is great to see.
Having said that there are some that we’ve spoken to that have the potential to really change lives, for example, disrupting the healthcare sector (no easy feat with the legislation and regulatory pitfalls that industry can present) or make an impact on society or the environment.
Honourable mentions should go out to Change Please, a startup that retrains homeless people as baristas – giving them a job, roof over their head, cheque book, counselling etc; Andiamo, who deliver a medically effective orthosis for children within two weeks using big data, 3D printing and an advanced clinical service; and Choco4Peace, a Montreal-based company that uses blockchain and cacao (the base ingredient of chocolate) as economic tools to support the construction of peace, and bring an end to over 50 years of civil war in Colombia.
How is Brexit set to impact the start-up market in the UK?
It may be a clichéd answer and one heard from all four corners of the realm, but who knows? If the last three years since the referendum has taught us anything, it’s that even the politicians can’t say what will happen post-Brexit with any degree of certainty (deal or no-deal), and to take what they say with more than a generous pinch of salt.
What I will say is that, regardless of who you speak to and whatever side of the fence they reside, the ‘B’ word is something that is discussed in very black and white tones. However, the reality is that it’s more 50 shades of grey, and its impacts will differ from individual to individual and company to company.
Without a doubt Brexit will hit some companies and research institutions very hard, whether that be via staff recruitment issues, trade restrictions or the drying up of overseas innovation expertise. For example, the vast majority of UK research published over the last decade has involved a co-author from overseas (that’s talent we need to keep in the UK).
However, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, UK spending on research and development rose by £1.6bn in 2017 to £34.8bn. While such figures are impressive, it was recently reported by innovation funding specialists, MPA Group, that this spending is restricted by EU regulations. R&D tax credits are classed as ‘state aid’ by the EU and as such there are currently limits on how much the government can hand out. MPA predict that once the UK leaves the EU, this cap will be removed, potentially opening the door to higher value handouts and less strict qualification criteria – a bonus for some of the UK’s startups and SMEs who are engaged in innovation.
So, I think it’s a swings-and-roundabouts issue that will spell disaster for some, but present opportunity and spark impetus for others.
Will the high levels of tech investment in the UK continue?
This is difficult to answer as again the impact of Brexit is still unknown. However, it is likely to differ from business to business and from sector to sector. It is worth noting that there are a multitude of funding options available to small businesses, so for any that are seeking investment there are viable options to explore.
What do you most value from a PR person?
Quite simply to have an understanding of your market and the audience you’re trying to reach. It can be frustrating when you receive a pitch on a potential story that is completely irrelevant to your publication as the PR person hasn’t done their research beforehand.
What do you want to see a) more of and b) less of from PRs?
I would say that it’s important that information is presented as simple and concise as possible. As an editor we receive a significant amount of email traffic (I’m probably looking at around 150 per day), so anything that makes the admin of that information easier is welcome. The last thing I want is emails where you have to do a lot of scrolling to find the relevant piece of information, superfluous links in order to reach that information, or attachments that won’t open.
As I said I receive an enormous amount of emails which need sorting, so it can be a little frustrating when I receive that dreaded follow-up phone call to check if a; I received the PR in the first place and b; whether I’ll be using it. The general rule of thumb is that if the information is relevant then it will be used, if it isn’t, it won’t be. The follow-up phone call is not going to influence that decision.
How do you see the state of the media changing in the future?
This is an interesting question. The obvious and most popular view is that of course, print media is slowly dying and will over time be totally usurped by digital as people, and the millennial generation in particular, lean more towards using mobile phones, tablets and social media as a means of consuming information.
However, delving into the issue a little deeper, I think that it’s a little more complex than that. Whilst I admit that the UK engineering industry has a fairly older age demographic, and as such is a little more set in its ways, the feeling is that having something physical to touch and feel still has its place.
Indeed, it’s something we’ve certainly noticed since launching Startups Magazine. Despite the majority of startups we speak to having been founded by people under 30, their reaction when finding out they can receive a print issue is one of very pleasant surprise.
In a strange way, I think in some circles print has almost become quite a fashionable, almost artisan format. In the same way that vinyl and gin have experienced a resurgent renaissance over the last ten years, so print seems to have had something of a rebirth. Long may that continue.
How do you see the journalist/PR relationship evolving in the future?
Something that I’ve already seen in the last few years, and which I think will certainly continue, is the method of presenting information. I’ve only been in the industrial trade press for little over ten years, but even during that time I’ve seen a notable reduction in the number of invitations to face-to-face press conferences as webinars and conference calls have become increasingly popular.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Editors are busy people and deadlines can be tight, so anything that can streamline the process in a more time-efficient way is great. The downside is that however efficient other methods might be, they all lack a certain personal touch. I may be old fashioned, but I still believe that there is an element of our business that is about building relationships and that’s just harder to do from the other end of a phone.