We use cookies to improve your experience. Please read our cookies policy here.


Venturefest 2016

11 minute read


It was the 18th Venturefest in Oxford to date, and was the second year running Nominet has attended, highlighting the advantages of the .uk family of domain names and showcasing some of our new developments in the Internet of Things.

What we love about Venturefest is that it offers a great mix of start up businesses, investors, mature businesses wishing to develop their digital transformation, and local business networks who support small businesses doing more online.

With so many great ideas and thoughts floating around (not to mention robots wandering around!) we thought we’d provide a write-up of the sessions we managed to attend.

So, if you weren’t at the event, or simply weren’t able to jot down all of your notes fast enough, you might just find these takeaways useful!

You can browse through all of the session notes below, or use these links to jump to the session that most strikes your fancy.

– Welcome to Venturefest – Keynote

– Cyber Security #1: They want to steal your data

– Cyber Security #2: They can’t steal your data

– What is the Internet of Things and how can we use it?

– Experts in conversation: What is innovation?

– Growing your business online

Peter Tufano of Saïd Business School

A big focus of Peter’s keynote was Oxford’s community of 22,000 students, and the responsibility that we have to provide a learning environment that encourages entrepreneurship.

He talked about the Launch Pad, a small facility that supports students across the city and acts as a business incubator. To date, Launch Pad has supported over 1,000 students.

Peter also spoke about the Oxford Foundry, which aims to launched in 12 months’ time.

The Foundry will be a freestanding facility in Oxford, serving both students and the broader community. Its aim is to support students and individuals who want to be engaged or educated around entrepreneurship. The core aim is not just to build a vibrant ecosystem of new businesses, but also to build the character of people involved.

“Building character is the most important thing here. There is a strong link between character, and entrepreneurship”

Peter highlighted four key lessons of entrepreneurship that would turn out to be reiterated by other speakers throughout the course of the day:

1. You should be working in teams – you can’t achieve everything on your own

2. You can’t be selfish – focus on the customer, or people you’re trying to serve

3. You need to be able to deal with failure. Both the big and, perhaps more importantly, the day to day failure

4. You have to realise that projects have a life of their own. You have to stick with them and let them evolve.

To finish off, he brought his introduction back to the topical issue of the EU referendum. Leaving us with three thoughts about what the referendum result means for the entrepreneurial environment:

1. Scale – How do we continue to address scaling of UK businesses in a post-brexit world? We have to collectively think about what we can do in order to make sure we don’t inhibit the scaling of UK businesses.

2. Globalisation and localisation – Big politics and businesses are moving towards localisation over globalisation. Does this mean markets are smaller; do international firms need local partners to succeed.

3. Leadership and resilience – We need to focus on leadership both in the small and large sense. We all have a role as leaders and need to demonstrate calmness, clean thinking, tenacity and resourcefulness. Entrepreneurs are by their definition resilient. We need to celebrate and enhance the spirit of resilience – to deal with uncertainty and a change in circumstances.

Cyber Security – They want your data!

Oscar O’Connor (Independent advisor)

Always interested in developments of online security, this session hosted by Oscar O’Connor really piqued our interest.

Oscar is an independent advisor who’s been working in online security since the mid 90s, and in IT since the early 80s. He’s a fellow of the British Computer Society, and a member of the Institute of Internet Security Professionals.

This was part one of two sessions he delivered through the day; this one focusing on who wants to steal online data from individuals and businesses, and why.

The most interesting information we got out of the session was some of the key facts and statistics:

  • On average it takes 371 days for individuals and businesses to realise they’ve been hacked or had their security compromised.
  • New malicious websites with malware are appearing on the web every few seconds.
  • In total, 100,000 new pieces of malware appear every day, and it takes 14 minutes after software applications become aware of new malware to figure out how to stop it, and then send this process to the antivirus database.

And there was even some information about SMEs and how they perceive internet security:

  • A quarter of SMEs believe that cyber security is too expensive to implement.
  • 22% of SMEs don’t even know where to start with implementing and managing cyber security processes.

The total security fallacy:

One of Oscar’s first points was to wage war on the term “lock-down”. He explained that in the modern, online day and age, total security is a fallacy and the only secure computer is an “off computer”.

Who is your information and data interesting to and why:

  • You – The obvious person who wants your data is you. You collect data for a reason and probably need it to effectively run your business.
  • Your stakeholders – Your different stakeholders will often have legitimate reasons for wanting access to parts of your data that are relevant to your relationship with them, and that allow them to make decisions on their involvement in your business.
  • Regulators and law enforcement – Different regulators and law enforcement bodies will require the ability to request and have access to your data in a range of different circumstances.
  • “The bad guys” – Oscar explained that people typically understand that people out there want to illegitimately access your data – and wanted to dig a bit deeper into their respective reasons for this:
  • Criminals – want to turn data into cash or the ability to coerce people with access to data into giving them hard cash.
  • Competitor – want to know and understand what you’re doing so they can compete on product or price.
  • Activists – more prevalent in some industries than others, but activist groups may not like what you do or how you do it, and they may want to access and leak, or destroy your information.

Oscar also explained that customers may make legitimate enquiries and can submit Freedom of Information requests – so long as they’re not breaching any confidences.

The problem is not the computer:

Majority of the problem is between the chair and keyboard – it’s us.

Often, we and our staff don’t have the knowledge or understanding of what’s in front of us, and that it may be sensitive.

You can’t mitigate that, but you can plan for it.

The business’ dilemma:

We need to balance what we want to prevent, with what we want to allow.

Things you want to prevent:

  • Misuse
  • Leakage
  • Theft

Things you want to allow:

  • Business operations
  • Monetisation
  • Legitimate distribution
  • Authorised access

Cyber Security: They can’t have your data

Oscar O’Connor (Independent advisor)

Following on from his morning session, Oscar’s afternoon session aimed to provide the audience with some practical steps to increase cybersecurity effectiveness.

Top tips for basic passwords:

  • Set your devices (like mobile phones) to lock, erase, or notify you after certain number of failed password attempts.
  • Use phrases with punctuation, rather than words.
  • Use password managers to generate random passwords.

What is information security:

Security is not just about locking stuff up or down. It’s about:

  • Managing confidentiality – authorised access management
  • Integrity of data – ensuring when you get information, you can rely on it to be what you expect it to be
  • Availability of data – making stuff available in a way that you can use it, when you need

Basic measures all businesses can take:

  • Understand what information you have and its value to you/your company, as well as what this value would be to others and its cost if you were to lose it
  • Assess your information security risks
  • Understand what your customers and regulators expect
    • Making sure that people with a right to your data can be granted this in line with regulations (e.g. Freedom of Information Act)
  • Determine your appetite for risk
    • This includes the amount and type of risk you’re willing to take to achieve your objectives. This could include risk to your reputation, not just financial
  • Implement policies and management systems to manage your risk
    • Compliance should be a consequence of being secure, it’s not the same thing
    • Policies and management need to be embedded in the organisation’s DNA

He also referenced CESG’s 10 steps to Cyber Security which you can view below:

What is the IoT and how can we use it?

This session was a panel discussion with contributions from a range of professionals working with the Internet of Things in various capacities and industries.

Involved in the discussion was Nominet’s own Bryan Marshall, from our Research and Development team.

What is the Internet of Things (IoT) and how is it being used?

The Internet of Things can be described as the collection of data from remote assets, to use in practical application. Matt Hatton, the CEO of Machina research, used the phrase “Digitalising the physical environment” to explain it.

He explained that the IoT can be used to create smarter, more connected consumer products, as well commercial applications, such as a move towards more innovative business models and transformations.

Some of the diverse applications he referred to include:

  • Regulations – for example smart metering and ecall
  • Efficiency gains – for example more efficient use of resources
  • Introducing new features to products – for example connected cars and games consoles
  • New business models – which is usually seen as an operational shift from products to services.

Nick Scott-Ram, Director of Commercial Development for Oxford Academic Health Science Network was also on the panel, talking about how the IoT is being deployed within the health sector, specifically the NHS.

He explained that in health, there’s an increasing emphasis on patients looking after themselves. Challenges that are currently faced are to do with adoption of technology into the NHS system, and the effective delivery of the system to the patient.

IoT will play a huge role in prevention. And the interface between patient and system will be the key drive in obtaining buy-in from the public.

Bryan, from Nominet’s Research and Development team, brought a key issue to the table. That it’s not the information that’s important, it’s what you do with it.

“The Internet of Things should be about solving real problems, not just creating data for the sake of it.”

Llewelyn Morgan, from Oxford County Council, talked about how in the public sector, there’s a big focus on using the Internet of Things to improve mobility in the context of transport and congestion.

When explaining how the Internet of Things can develop and grow, his main thoughts were to do with facilitating better collaboration.

“We all need to realise that you need collaboration to succeed. Something that allows public, research, and private sectors to all collaborate. We need to change the way we think and provide teams of people that understand and can support collaborations. But this could take quite a long time.”

All panelists agreed that what is fundamental in using the Internet of Things for innovation, is that you first identify a problem and then thinking about how you can use the Internet of Things to collect the right data, in an accessible format to come up with a solution.

Experts in conversation: What is innovation for?

Alex Davies, John Boyle, Grant Hayward, Jane Bromley, Mark Stevenson, Roy Gunter, Sian Gaskell

This was one of our favourite sessions. Over lunch, the floor was opened for delegates to ask questions about innovation.

We’ve included the questions that were asked, and some of the responses made by the panelists.

What is innovation for?

Jane Bromley: “I don’t think innovation’s just about learning, or the social aspect. I think it’s about a market that’s severely limited/restricted in achieving what they want. It’s about understanding this and coming at it from the customer’s perspective and creating a solution that takes that section of society to the next level.”

Mark Stevenson: “Innovation must be sustainable, humane, equal and just. If it’s not – it’s pointless.”

What makes a great entrepreneur:

Alex Davies: “The ability to deal with failure. To be able to ignore it emotionally, but to acknowledge it and learn from it.”

Mark Stevenson: “Great entrepreneurs find joy in uncertainty. They have to become comfortable in being uncomfortable.”

I’m 83 years old. Is there a place for older entrepreneurs?

Mark Stevenson: “If you’re 83 and still an entrepreneur, you’re probably a systems thinker. Which is something the world’s lacking – and we need this a lot more.”

What more can we do to encourage entrepreneurship amongst student bodies?

Alex Davies: “We’re about to begin teaching entrepreneurship at University of Oxford. Which I think is a step in the right direction, whether it’s something you can actually teach or not. We also need to remember that there are many different types of characters of entrepreneurs, and we need to teach this. People forget that cafes and restaurant owners are entrepreneurs too.”

Roy Gunter: “Students are, and have been for a long time, taught to look for jobs in corporations. Now – Oxford has an opportunity to have its student body understand it’s okay to go out and create or build a business.”

How do I foster innovation within my company:

Grant Hayward: “We have to accept not everyone is an entrepreneur. There’s a lot of people who want to do good, without that entrepreneurial attitude. Encourage them to fail, and provide them with opportunities to try new things without reprimand.”

Roy Gunter: “The first company I worked for became Nokia – the reason it grew from a tiny company to a global corporation was due to its “swimming pool culture”. They’d throw you in at the deep end and if you couldn’t swim, someone would save you. It wasn’t your fault if you couldn’t swim, but most of the time you did learn – and you learnt quickly.”

How do we encourage people to innovate on the problems that really matter:

Grant Hayward: “We should look for social good that’s ALSO good for business. Creativity is paramount.”

Roy Gunter: “Let’s go back to the idea of education to promote innovation as career path. We need to connect the dots for the population as a whole. I challenge the idea that innovation is just in the top 1% – it’s being driven in all parts of the world. Innovation has been democratised, and it’s happening for everybody. It’s something to celebrate. It’s investors that are lagging behind.”

“We should be celebrating entrepreneurs who are solving the biggest problems, not just those with highest valuations.” – Audience member

We’ve included a link to either Twitter, LinkedIn or a personal website for each of the panelists below:

Alex Davies

John Boyle

Grant Hayward

Jane Bromley

Mark Stevenson

Roy Gunter

Sian Gaskell

Growing your business online

Bianca Miller

We invited our .uk brand ambassador, serial entrepreneur Bianca Miller along to talk about the importance of developing a consistent personal brand.
Your website, and your social media need to work together to help you convey what you do, how you are different and why customers should check out your products and services.

Bianca Miller

To kick things off, Bianca gave us a very relatable definition of personal branding:

“The things people say about you when you’re not in the room is essentially your personal brand.”

As individuals, we have three different attributes that contribute to this personal brand:

  • Sensorial attributes – how we look and sound.
  • Rational attributes – how do we look on paper? What are our skills, education and experience?
  • Emotional attributes – how do you make people feel when they’re around you? What’s your legacy?

To build our brand, we can use the PACK model and work on our:

  • Presentation
  • Approach
  • Communication
  • Knowledge

Bianca then delivered five practical tips for developing your brand:

1. Buy your website

  • This helps you secure your business name as a domain.
  • Having your business in a website format helps people find you online.
  • Choose the right domain name for you. If you’re a UK business, based in the UK and serving UK community/client pipeline, then opt for a .uk domain name.
  • It’s a good idea to buy a couple of the most relevant domains (.com etc.) and redirect through to your .uk URL.

2. Understand the purpose of your website

  • Understand your target audience so you can create a website that resonates with them.

3. Build your platform

  • Is the layout and navigation clear and suitable for your audience?
  • Can you make content updates yourself to keep your site current?
  • Have you looked at your competition? What does their website say about them and can you tell your story better?
  • Is your website multi-device friendly?
  • Could you set up emails so that your email address matches your domain name?
  • Use client testimonials on your site

4. Build consistency online

  • Is your brand message consistent across all social platforms?
  • Do you understand and leverage different social networks?
    • LinkedIn
      • The professional network.
    • Facebook
      • The network for personality and showing the face and humanity of the brand.
    • Twitter
      • A network where it’s essential to show interest in other things than selling – think about issues that surround your brand and join conversations.

5. Have authenticity – be YOU online and in person.


Natalie Wood is Digital Communications Lead at the UK Domain. Natalie leads the email and social communication strategy. She is responsible for advising and implementing all online communication strategies to promote brand awareness.

Sign up to the UK Domain newsletter

Get all our monthly news and updates direct to your inbox