Investigating Entrepreneurial OpportunitiesDeveloping the ideaProfessor Colin GrayFor non-entrepreneurs, the challenge of identifying an idea for a business, product or servicecan be very daunting. According to Julian, though, the answer lies in being alert to everydaychanges and problems that occur around us and in developing a mindset for identifyingproblems and thinking up solutions. Simple ideas like Julian’s can lead to businesses thatprovide anything from a livelihood to fame and fortune!Julian BrowerIt was an advertising board. When you go into a corner shop and you want to put your little ereight by five advert in the corner you go and you pay your money, you wait for the person todecide where its going to go. It sits up on the screen – on the board outside for about a week–Professor Colin GrayAn electronic type screen –Julian BrowerYeah an electronic type screen. Well with modern day technology flat screens and mine wasparticularly focusing on a concept called electroluminescence screens – these are paper thinscreens and in a years time they are going to be an A1/AO size. You can cut the quadrantsup in to little eight by five inch and you can sell the advertising space. So you can use it forflogging your you know spare bits – logs that youve got from your garden or a local taxi orpizza company or national companies could advertise on it – all done on line so you don’thave to go to the shop.Colin GrayCan you just take us through the process of how you came to identify that original idea ofyours, the um the notice board – the electronic notice board in the various shopsJulian BrowerWell um that specific idea came from an observation er I went through this idea of trying toput um – I had a couple of months free and I decided to do some DIY and I went to the localshop and I put an advert in the board and I went to about ten shops in my local environmentwithin five miles and I wanted to put half – half of the adverts didn’t appear on the board.Some of them fell off. Some of them got the timings wrong. Some are still there two and ahalf years later. And it was just so inefficient. And I looked at them and I thought you knowthese boards are half-empty. Im sure there must be a modern innovative technological wayof doing this. And immediately I thought advertising screens which Id seen in London beingused by um – companies um promoting houses, estate agents, valuers, putting adverts inthese boards. They look fantastic. Theyre not boards. Theyre television screens. Theyreposh television screens. So I just put two and two together and I came up with this idea and Ithought you know if we can contact this board on line we can cut out the middleman, theperson behind the counter. Well we pay them twenty per cent of our income, turnover, of ourprofit for the purpose of keeping the board in. So we are never going to have a problemfinding people because people are going to take the money. All we want is a bit of their shopfront space. So that’s where the idea appeared. But I actually think there are a lot moreideas out there than people realise. The thing is Im not convinced we live in a society wherewe promote new ideas. I think often we’re told, you know, oh no it cant be done. Well myphilosophy is now of course it can be done but there is just another way of doing it. So I thinkpeople have a lot more ideas and if you actually stop and think about it there are a lot moreideas hidden away in your life than you actually realise.
Professor Colin GrayAre you going to return to the idea?Julian BrowerI may very well do so but Im waiting for technology to catch up to where I want it to be. Imhoping that nobody will steal it um and Im also hoping that er the the social aspects of it willimprove. But I also think there are other places to put e-boards. I think that shoppingcentres, garages, anywhere where people there’s a through put of people where they want tolook up on a board. Anywhere where people want to advertise locally. And the great thingabout this is that you type in your postcode on the computer. You then decide I want within afive-mile radius. An e-board will calculate all the potential outlets for you to see. And you saywell I only want fifty per cent of those so it will calculate all that for you. Its such a simpleidea. The software is manageable because I have someone on board who’s prepared to dothe software. The initial outlay was quite big. It was close to a hundred thousand quid. Wellyou know that’s a lot of money and in this working environment now with the way banks areplaying its not so easy. This is one side of entrepreneurialship – am I prepared to put ahundred grand mortgage on my house for an idea that I fee a little bit uncomfortable about?But this me as a person now not as a business. Youve got to be the right person and beprepared to take the risk.Professor Colin GrayHow long do you think you can keep on working in your laboratories? It sounds like yourready to go.Julian BrowerYes but once again its money. Its risk. How much risk am I prepared to pay and that risk isincreasing on a monthly basis. The cost is going up and I also have to be convinced thatgovernments er and councils and the like are going in the right direction for this type of thingto go ahead because you know its all about people um wanting to use these local shops. Itsthe – the throughput of people is critical. Um the other thing thats very important that I wantedto bring into it is a little bit of green because that’s the buzzword at the moment. You knowsolar power and all the rest of it and if I could put a green element into it, a sustainabilityelement into it that would also add a bit of value and I could put that through the marketingside of things and you know the more sustainable green e-board because you don’t have todrive to our shop so each advert saves x amount of carbon. And these are all part of the deal.So you just basically have to look for all these little things and you now what you learn onthese courses you turn them out and you pop them back into the marketing strategy becauseyou know you get all the buzz words out. People want to see these things.Professor Colin GrayYouve obviously got a lot of very useful tools from er doing an entrepreneurship course ofthat type. How has the experience of actually going through all those analyses that youvedescribed and also your actual experience in business and in changing jobs and thingsinformed your current views on entrepreneurship and your views on how you might be startingup a business in the futureJulian BrowerI think for me its just clarified some weaker issues in my knowledge by developing the toolsthat have come out of this course. I have really been able to condense out the areas of riskthat I needed to look at in more detail. One of the key areas of risk is myself you know andthese issues come out. As an entrepreneur I think I am a classic example. I think about ahundred ideas a week. I want things to happen instantaneously. And I want to get as muchmoney out of it or as much success out of it as I can. But you cant do that, especially inmodern day business. Competition is intense now. So for me it has simply etched in stonecertain rules that I have to follow before I go out and start spending my money on developinga new idea. And for that reason most ideas don’t get through but some do and one will getthrough that will make me a great success.
Professor Colin GrayAnd do you apply that sort of same sort of approach then to the products of the current umcurrent laboratories where youre now working with – coming up with scientifically and hightechnology based products and services. You apply the same …Julian BrowerI think its a very different world there. The world is very, very big science. Um the world is erthe forefront of science that is not so easily moveable. The – the whole business environmentis quite different from my little e-board stuck in the – however I can apply my rules or my littlebox to it but of course its going to produce completely different results. But the point is Ivegot the toolkit there. Um and in most cases well in fact in all cases so far nothing comes outof the box because its so big and your customer base is very limited. Not many people wantto buy the latest neutron gadget. Maybe a couple of rocket science companies. So yourevery limited. E-board gave me a lot more flexibility. But once again the toolkit which is taughton an entrepreneurial course is is the way forward.