If I'd known then...

Many people ask what advice do I wish I'd been given before I started OpenLX and while transient flashbacks of working well past midnight elicit an overwhelming urge to respond “Don't do it!” overall starting a business is amazingly rewarding. Joking aside, there are always things that you wish you'd known earlier, done earlier...or avoided altogether.

Probably the best piece of advice that I can pass on, though, is: Focus on what you're good at. This is why you started the business in the first place; because you're good at copywriting, because you're creative, because you can design new products, etc. Try not to waste too much of your time on the day-to-day running of the business (once you've got things up and running); your time is more valuable elsewhere. Get something in place to deal with it.

So work out what value your skills bring to the business and consider outsourcing anything that you can pay someone else to do for less. You are what makes your start-up unique; you need to exploit that power and skill-set as much as possible to make your business a success.

One of my other favourite tips – and one that it's always useful to remind yourself of, however long you've been in business – is: Never think that you know it all. Even when you've been running a business for years, there are always new things to learn (and old things to remember!).

It's easy to feel quite alone when you're starting out; as if it's you against the world. But it doesn't have to be like that. There are lots of courses and support networks out there to encourage people to set up their own businesses, as well as excellent (UK) national and local government resources to keep things as easy as possible.

This is probably the best place to start: In particular, check out your local support options, e.g. your nearest Growth Hub in England, as well as what is offered by your local council. Plus look for funding opportunities, especially grants to get you started.

I don't pretend that I've got it all sussed; I still find myself running round doing admin and buying loo roll (though we've now got a spreadsheet that proves it's cheaper at Tesco than via Amazon!), but I like to think I'm getting closer to spending more of my time on my key activities of designing and testing new products, consultancy and training...which just has to be more rewarding than doing the shopping!

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CodeBug Wearables Competition: Rooting for STEM

Wearables are becoming increasingly popular at the moment with the rise of smart watches and fitness bands. Although perhaps a slightly strange concept when you first hear it, a “wearable” is exactly what it sounds like; a piece of tech that you can wear, e.g. a badge, bracelet or even clothing. So it felt rather well-timed that yesterday I had the very great pleasure of judging the element14 CodeBug Wearable Technology Schools Competition (not the catchiest of titles, perhaps, but at least it's descriptive) at Leeds Beckett University.

Back in December, we delivered a CodeBug workshop for the teachers from the ten participating schools – empowering the teachers to empower and support their pupils. Each of the schools were then given a design kit, which included CodeBug and various other bits and pieces, and their Year 7-9 pupils were challenged to create an original wearable tech device. And they certainly rose to the challenge!

STEM subjects are often written off as being 'boring' or 'too difficult' once pupils get to secondary school, but I think that's because they become disconnected from real world relevance. There was no doubt that the youngsters had excitement and passion for STEM from the astonishing array of fantastic ideas on show, ranging from a 'winter warmer' coat with heated back and pockets, to a glove that keeps firefighters safe by warning of temperature or harmful gases.

With so many excellent projects being showcased, it was a pleasantly tough job to decide on the overall winner. In the end, the Judges' Choice award went to Netherwood ALC with their light-up t-shirt to encourage children aged 4-8 years to be more active. Taking inspiration from dance mat games, pupils mounted lights and buttons to the arms and legs of clothes and created a program that randomly turned the lights on and kept score of when the corresponding button was pressed in time.

Seeing CodeBug helping to inspire these pupils to be so creative with technology was really simply fantastic. There was such a buzz in the room and the pride in the pupils' faces was clear to see; they had designed something, made it and it worked! The absolute icing on the cake, though, was hearing several pupils stating that the CodeBug competition had inspired them to study STEM subjects, further. My work here, though far from done, is certainly starting to bear rich fruit.

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CodeBug and PiFace get creative to wish Raspberry Pi Happy Birthday

29th February saw a very early start for the launch of the Raspberry Pi 3 at The Shard, London, which also coincided with Raspberry Pi's 4th birthday. Of course, it wouldn't be a birthday party without “happy birthday”…but why keep a PiFace and play the tune yourself? We simply couldn't resist the opportunity to pair PiFace Digital 2 with the Raspberry Pi 3 to demonstrate their capabilities and celebrate in style.

I mean, who wouldn't want a glockenspiel-playing Raspberry Pi to wish them happy birthday?

Not content with one new toy, we also had to do something else to celebrate the launch of the Raspberry Pi 3…especially as we were lucky enough to get hold of a few in advance so that we could show off their new features. I'd been keen to build a camera that took instantaneous 360° pictures for some time, but the technology simply wasn’t available…until now! The new wireless networking capability of the Raspberry Pi 3 allowed us to network a ring of cameras without bulky wires or network switches, while the simple, compact display of CodeBug showed their status.

And of course the natural place to test the new rig was at the launch of the Raspberry Pi 3, 34 floors above London at The Shard. See what the launch was like for yourself. Scroll around the picture from the hat below; can you spot any famous faces?

If the panorama viewer doesn't work in your browser you can view the full panorama image here.

The hat is built from 8 of the new Raspberry Pis, 8 Pi Cameras, and 8 CodeBugs mounted on a custom laser cut rig attached to a yellow hard-hat. Pressing button A on a CodeBug tethered by USB cable triggers the cameras. The 8 CodeBugs surrounding the top of the hat then initiate a colourful countdown inviting all around to strike a pose for the picture. The images are copied over WiFi to a laptop that stitches them together instantly into a panorama. With the 8 cameras evenly placed in a circle to capture a full 360°, nobody can be camera shy!

Making the crazy projects come to life is one of the best bits of my job. Not only do they inspire other people by showing what is possible, they can also lead to (somewhat more sensible) functional products. Another plus, though, is that they do tend to get you noticed, which is rarely a bad thing!

CodeBug PanoHat on BBC News

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