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The Independent Online

Energy boost

Cella Energy has been named the 2011 winner of the Shell Springboard Awards, which support small businesses with ideas for combating climate change.

The company’s invention uses nanotechnology to store hydrogen safely and cheaply in tiny micro-beads (smaller than a grain of sand), which release the gas when heated to produce energy that can fuel cars, ships or planes. The micro-beads can be safely transported and are compatible with standard combustion engines and can either be used as an additive to conventional fuels, reducing carbon emissions, or on its own to make hydrogen-gas-creating, zero-carbon vehicles. The company said the £40,000 prize would enable it to scale its technology to an industrial level. Vphase was runner up for its product that lowers and regulates household voltage, immediately cutting energy costs without the need for customers to change supplier or lifestyle.

Beating the Blues

The London company responsible for Beating the Blues, a mental health treatment for mild-to-moderate depression and anxiety based on computerised cognitive behavioural therapy, has agreed a joint venture with US healthcare company UPMC. Ultrasis developed the treatment in conjunction with the Institute of Psychiatry in London, which was approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence for NHS use in 2006. However, uncertainty about changes in the health service have led to a drop in revenues in the past year and it is hoped that the US venture will give the AIM-listed company fresh impetus.

Encouraging youth

Up to 40,000 UK schoolchildren will get £10 each to help start a business under an initiative backed by Enterprise UK and entrepreneur Peter Jones. The “Tenner Tycoon” campaign – named after Jones’s book, Tycoon – aims to promote enterprise education in schools by helping pupils “make money, make a difference and give back”. In what is said to be the UK’s largest ever enterprise competition, pupils up to the age of 19 will have access to £10 each from the Tenner Bank and will have until the end of March to make a profit and a difference in their communities. The initiative coincides with youth unemployment passing the 20 per cent mark.

One jump ahead

High-performing companies recognise that continual shake-up at the top and early injection of new leadership blood are keys to success, according to the book, Jumping the S-Curve by Paul Nunes, executive research fellow at Accenture’s Institute for High Performance Business. Nunes identifies that orderly and well orchestrated transitions in the upper echelons of the business, especially between CEOs, are imperative; that structured planning can ensure the selection of the right CEO for the challenges being faced, not simply the next person in line; and that by changing CEOs early, the company gives its new leadership time to produce the required reinvention, well before deteriorating revenues and dwindling options become a crisis. Nunes adds that to survive the current economic climate, companies need to reinvent themselves “before the cracks begin to show”, digging deeper than the financial curve, to track competition, renew capabilities and build a surplus of talent.

Getting later

UK businesses of all sizes have been hit by a significant increase in late payments for goods or services. The Late Payment Index from Experian, the global information services company, shows that while the average payment performance for 2010 as a whole saw a small improvement from 22.81 days in 2009 to 22.58 days, payment performance deteriorated during the final quarter, with firms paying their bills 25.70 days late – the highest recorded average since 2007. Businesses with 500 or more employees still take the longest time to pay, but the biggest decline occurred within the small-to-medium-sized enterprise sector. In particular, firms with 100 employees or fewer paid their bills an average of 22.24 days late in the fourth quarter of 2010, three-and-a-half days slower than the equivalent period in 2009.