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
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Latest stories from i100
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

Junior Research Analyst - Recruitment Resourcer

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £25K: SThree: SThree Group has been well estab...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform