Small Talk: the story of your life – and a tale of modern business
Who says British companies can't be entrepreneurial as well as inventive? Meet OMG, the Oxford-based technology business which will today unveil its first foray into the retail sector: a new type of camera that stands a genuine chance of changing the market.
OMG's Autographer is a camera you can wear (round your neck, or clipped on to your clothes). It incorporates motion and light sensors and will take up to 2,000 photos a day as you go about your business with a lens that has broadly the same breadth of vision as the human eye.
The idea is to automatically capture moments both seen and unseen. OMG reckons it would be ideal, for example, to record the events of a stag do, a family day out or your bike ride to work. "It will occupy a space somewhere between video and stills photography," says Nick Bolton, the chief executive of OMG. "The idea is that your pictures will tell a story."
Priced at £399, the Autographer isn't cheap, but its back story makes interesting reading. OMG, which specialise in motion capture and a range of similar technologies, first developed the idea in conjunction with Microsoft's research team in Cambridge, to help people suffering from early-onset dementia recall details of their days where their short-term memories were failing. Having spotted the potentially broader appeal of the device, OMG teamed up with the media agency BBH, which has taken a stake in the venture in lieu of payment for its help, in order to develop it for the consumer market.
Mr Bolton, in his second stint at OMG, says he made "unearthing the gems" a priority when returning to the business. The implication is that the company's long-standing track record of innovation had not always been successfully commercialised.
It's a familiar story – British companies do not have a great track record when it comes to taking new products to market. Small businesses and individual inventors aren't short on ideas but they don't always get the support they need to develop them. Sometimes mavericks succeed against the odds by going it alone – Sir James Dyson springs to mind. More often, valuable intellectual capital is acquired by overseas developers, or simply lost.
Companies such as OMG buck the trend, but how do we ensure that there are more such stories? Well, one answer is to incentivise companies more generously to turn innovation into commercial success.
On that front, SMEs need to begin getting to grips with the "Patent Box'" taxation changes that take effect in six months' time. From April next year, they'll be entitled to pay lower rates of corporation tax on income generated by their own innovations (in practice, there are a wide range of qualifying criteria).
It's a really interesting idea. While tax benefits have always been available for businesses putting money into research and development, this is the first time the saving is so closely linked to commercial success. Let's hope it encourages more stories like the Autographer.
Bankers launch trading platform
An exchange listing for small chunks of stock can prove expensive and time-consuming. Look out for Asset Match, a new idea from two former investment bankers, which is launching this week. It aims to provide an online platform through which investors trade shares in privately owned small and medium-sized companies.
Bridge links Britain and Norway
Bridge, the North Sea oil and gas explorer and producer, makes its debut on the Alternative Investment Market on Thursday, and expects to be capitalised at £78m.
Bridge makes smart use of the tax rules in the UK and Norway, where many of its developments are situated, in order to make exploration more affordable. It has cash in the bank to the tune of $44m, as well as banking lines worth another $30m. It also has a number of developments where analysts expect imminent news.
The investment researcher Edison points out that the company is valued far less generously than peers such as Faroe and Valiant, and says a listing "could well make Bridge one of the best-value exploration and production stocks on the London market".
Small business man of the week: Jonny Goldstone, managing director, Greentomatocars
We launched our taxi business in 2006. We knew we wanted to set up a green business that would show people this sort of company didn't have to be expensive or to compromise on quality, and we settled on the car trade because it was an industry where we felt we could improve on a limited reputation for customer service.
"Our target audience from day one was corporates with a genuine corporate and social responsibility strategy and those that wanted to show customers and clients they were working this way. It was an immediate hit.
"We began with four Prius cars to service 50 accounts, and early on we met James Murdoch, who got us in to work with BSkyB, which really added to the pressure.
"The growth trajectory since then has been constant and steep – we now have 300 vehicles and we'll do 350,000 trips this year. We expect to turn over £8m.
"It has been challenging – we've had to watch cashflow very carefully, but we've also had to work on our corporate culture. We want to feel like a family business, but that gets harder to maintain – I knew the names of each of the first 100 drivers we had, plus the names of many of their families, but that can't continue forever.
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