Life at the sharp end of hi-tech

BOB JONES is a serial entrepreneur. This 52-year-old former electronics engineer from the rural west of Wales is now on to his fourth hi-tech start up - an Internet company which he has set up with the backing of Schroder Ventures and which, if the publicity is to be believed, will achieve for the Internet what the telephone exchange did for Alexander Graham Bell's contraption. He also has little time for the conventional diagnosis of why Britain lags behind in the hi-tech start-up game.

In his view, it is the lack of what rap musicians would call attitude rather than a any real shortage of cash that is to blame for Britain's failure to turn the steady flow of bright ideas emanating from its universities into the new Microsofts and SAPs.

"They still mortgage their homes in America," Mr Jones says. "But they are probably more prepared to do it. Here, the most able people have had 10-15 years of career behind them. They have families, they have homes and they are not prepared to take the plunge."

He should know. In 1982, he quit a well-paid job with US electronics giant General Datacom, then one of the world leaders in modem technology, and mortgaged his house to fund a leap in the dark. He and a group of senior engineers had suggested that the firm could make a fortune by adapting its modems to meet the demands of the burgeoning European market.

"It was," he says, " a classic case of not-invented-here syndrome. I told them `if you won't do it, I will do it on my own'." The gamble paid off. His firm, Steebek, hit the market just as demand for computer modems took off in the UK. Soon the big American manufacturers who had failed to anticipate the shift in the marketplace were knocking on Bob Jones's door.

He eventually sold Steebek to Dowty, the British aerospace and electronics group which was later taken over by TI. With the proceeds, he was able to pay his debts and found a new company, Mayze Systems, which targeted banks and airlines that needed specialised high-capacity modems. Mayze was also sold to Dowty.

Having a track record obviously helped with finance. His success was starting to be noticed by the venture capitalists. In 1992 Schroder Ventures and Greylock, an American venture capital firm put up pounds 2.1m for Mr Jones's third venture, Sonix, which he claims, without a shred of inhibition, singlehandledly created the market for ISDN-based Local Area Networks. Once again the timing was impeccable. ISDN was still very new. Sonix quickly captured 46 per cent of the UK market. In May 1995 it was sold to 3Com, the US hi-tech communications group for pounds 50m - a 25-fold return on the initial investment. Schroder Ventures was impressed enough to offer him a job advising it on IT ventures.

Equiinet, his latest venture, involves technology that allows companies to receive e-mails centrally and then sort them so that they can be handled by the right person within the firm. It can also log them - which is particularly helpful to accountancy or law firms who need to have a record of everything.

Britain is still a hi-tech backwater compared with the US and Germany. "It is tougher to raise money, it is tougher to get the best people, it is tougher to get an exit," Mr Jones says. But things are improving. Ten years ago, he says, the eyes of the average City venture capitalist would have glazed over at a business plan from a hi-tech entrepreneur. Mr Jones says: "The default option when you don't understand something has to be no." Now there are half a dozen specialist technology funds with the expertise to weigh up technology-based ventures.

The Government too is making noises about targeting the small entrepreneur. But Mr Jones is sceptical how many of Gordon Brown's schemes will be followed through.

But his big bugbear is UK big business. In the US, established technology firms source components from fledgling businesses. Often they bankroll staff who have an idea they want to pursue. It is an example, he says, UK companies ought to follow.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Build & Environment Management Team Leader

£500 - £550 per day: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Build & Environment Manage...

2 x Risk Analysts Required - SAS - Banking

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A world leading banking organisation are...

Brady Business Analyst - Syseca - (EBIS / EDIS) - London

£500 - £1000 per day: Harrington Starr: Harrington Starr are urgently recruiti...

Systems Accountant

£75000 - £100000 per annum: Cameron Kennedy Recruitment: We urgently require f...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil