In our regular series, we speak to new arrivals at Sussex Innovation about their business, why they joined and their plans for growth. In the latest interview, Catalyst project manager Eva Poliszczuk chatted with Bhairav Patel from Atom Ventures.
Who are Atom Ventures?
Atom Ventures is a group of ex CTOs and CEOs of businesses who came together to provide technology advice to small businesses and start-ups. When we worked in big businesses, we were all helping small businesses on the side; we were essentially doing our day jobs then visiting incubators to advise companies. We were all living abroad then when we came back to the UK we thought, "well, why don't we carry this on and try and help businesses get the right strategic technology and operational advice from the start?" We came in originally with consulting advice, then we re-focused on helping start-ups grow to get investment. Using our network, what we call our Atom Network, a network of about 30-40 businesses we've all worked with previously, we realised that the best way forward was to act as a virtual CTO or a virtual CEO; we can offer them a service whereby we don't have to come in full-time at a high wage and work for them on a small distinct project such as helping build their IT strategy, aligning that strategy with their business strategy and form projects out of that through the Atom Network.
What sort of companies do you work with?
When we started we were working in the SME market, but over the last few months more start-ups have come to us. Some tend to be start-ups that have some money and there are some who are really starting to build their MVP and are trying to find the best way of getting the most from their money. We work with them to essentially provide a sort of 'reality check'. Saying "this is how much money you have, you can't get a huge full-on system for that, but what you can get is something that helps you, for example, raise the next round of funding or onboard a few customers." We also work with better funded start-ups who want to create their full enterprise platform strategy. With small businesses, if they're already running, what we tend to do is a 'health check', by either going in and talking to their IT department or talking to the people they use IT with. Generally, the reason we're brought in is because the business either wants to expand or grow and they see that there may be a problem with scaling the IT; they're happy with the rest of the business, but they think the IT may lag or that it will cost them quite a lot to scale.
What has been one of your most exciting projects?
The most exciting thing has been launching this new business, Avrium. We only had the idea in February, and so it was a very quick turnaround. Avrium is targeted towards the smaller end of the SME market to help them better understand their financial position and potential risks, such as the financial health of their suppliers. We give them access to solutions such as invoice financing and debt collection services, they can utilise the platform at any time and help control their cashflow.
This is an idea we're expanding into insurance and loans. We hope to help businesses run a 'one stop shop', where they can go and get the help they need to grow their business. We have recently found that we're now a QuickBooks partner! The great thing about this is that we’re working with the guys at Sussex Innovation, for example Nigel Davey from SME Needs who is doing our marketing strategy. What I wanted to do when we launched was look at how can we help businesses in the Croydon-Gatwick area. Working with people like Nigel and Mike is great because they have a huge network and all the knowledge of businesses in this area; we're currently working on a strategy on how we can approach these businesses and what messages we can deliver. From a Sussex Innovation perspective that’s been amazing, Saffron's been very good in helping us promote the business as well.
What was the hardest thing you found about setting up the business?
The name! It was crazy, we had built the platform, we'd done all the integrations and we still couldn't figure out what to call it! That was weirdly the hardest thing to do. I'm quite lucky in that the team I work with, we've been working together for many years. We don't have a lot of the traditional issues that new companies face. We had a ready-made team, knowledge of the space and no need to work too hard on training because they all knew everything. We were a well-oiled unit to begin with, that's why we were able to get everything done so quickly.
Why did you decide to join Sussex Innovation?
I must give full props to Mike Orchard from Skills Hive. Mike and I met when he was facilitating an event up in Greenwich, the European Startup event. I saw what he was doing with Skills Hive, I got in touch and he introduced me into the whole Croydon network. I met Shaking Hands, Sussex Innovation, then I met Saffron and it seemed really exciting. There's a lot of noise around Croydon, there's a huge business community here. I have family who have businesses in Croydon and for me it's quite exciting to get involved in an area with such diversity of business, people and cultures. It's a place where people do really want to get something done. You don't find that community in central London, we spent a lot of time there and had working hubs in London, but it really wasn't the same - the network in Croydon is much stronger and tighter. It's easier to have a conversation in Croydon; people are friendly.
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone looking to start their own business?
A lot of people come up with these great ideas, but they have no idea how to execute them. The reality of the world is that there's a lot of people with the same ideas, but all businesses come down to execution. You need to be concrete in what you're trying to achieve and have a clear vision, this is what I tell a lot of start-ups. You must ask yourself "what am I to achieve by starting this business?" and "What is going to separate you from the rest?" A lot of people who say someone else is doing it, so why should I bother – but that's not really the point. If you believe in what you're doing and have a clear vision, I can guarantee most of those other companies won't share that vision.
Finally, from a tech point of view, don't get hung up on technology. I think if you can't do it on paper, you can't do it through a system – unless of course you're doing something way out there. You don't want to build something, then find out you'll have to spend money to change it.