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Hertfordshire Tech Meetup, Syncherts

SynchHerts is an example of an informal meeting of like minds. In the sense that most if not all are present because they are thinking about or are involved in the tech sector. If you're reading this you're probably already familiar with the concept and buzz around the term itself, not least by the sheer sums of money spent by the likes of Google in snapping up companies that are only a few years old. On the back of this maturing tech scene, many people have begun to organize their own forums designed to bring together those interested in networking, collaboration and learning.

To quote the SynchHerts meetup site.

SyncHerts strives to build a thriving technology community and enable local business growth....

On the occasion of my visit the evening was titled, 'Starting & Leading Technology Companies'. SyncHerts uses a room at the Business & Technology Center in Stevenage, England. What drew me was the broad backgrounds of the other attendees and the first talk of the night. The talk itself was by Nicholas Whiteley, a tech entrepreneur and CTO of the company Ground Vision which built a PHP/MySQL based system to process patient data recorded by nurses at bedsides. The aim of the system was to reduce the error rate in the recording of patient observations, manage staff levels and to alert nurses to any actionable information as regards the well being of a patient. The intended effect of this would be to reduce patient mortality.

The meat of the presentation was how the project began, his choice of technology for his solution, how he introduced it into the market and its reception. Without turning this article into an advert for the company I can say that any venture is a lot of hard work, choices and a bit of a gamble, but underneath all this must be a passion for what you are offering because without this you will give up when setbacks arise. To give you a concrete example, Nick told us of his initial prototype for the product which was rolled out on smart phones within a hospital for trials. The reception from the patients was not favorable because to them, it looked as though the nurses were texting from their smart phones. After this feedback the smart-phones were replaced with tablets; a perfect example of the importance of customer feedback during the trials. It also became clear during the trials that their was sometimes a need to take and store a photo, the solution was not a native 'app' and the technologies used did not allow access to the camera. After some research a JavaScript library called Brigeit which bridges the gap between the solution and the features of the mobile device was integrated. This is an example of the need to adapt and reassess your solution when you hit a wall.

Nicks initial team was small and they came from contacts he had built up over the years. They were people he knew and trusted. Outside factors affecting the project were competitors one of whom had developed a native iphone app that had received press coverage. Also, after the launch of Nicks solution, the government had launched a Nursing Technology Fund to provide money for the purchase of technologies that would help their work. This sounds good in principle but there is a tendency as with company budgets for government hospitals to spend it all on expensive solutions, thus removing one of Nicks selling points which was the low cost of his solution. The takeaways from Nicks presentation were:

  1. Have a plan.
  2. If you are going to fail, to fail cheap and fail fast.
  3. Gain as much customer insight as you can.
  4. Manage your risk.
  5. Identify the gaps in the market.
  6. Persistence.
  7. Understand that innovation can be incremental.

During the break the sponsors of the meetup provided drinks and pizza, giving ample opportunity to mingle with the other attendees. I had the sense that in order to benefit from the social aspect of the event one must go more than once to give your self more chances of bumping into someone with similar interests, making friends or finding a potential collaborator.

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