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The joys of Cambridge and farewell John

Image representing Robert Scoble as depicted i...Image via CrunchBase

On the day that this is published, I will be walking up Snowdon thinking of a very special person who we lost a few days ago, the Rev John Sweet of Selwyn College.  He helped my niece when she was undecided as to whether or not to take her studies seriously.  Gentle guidance was the key.  As I get older, I wonder whether to move from Cambridge but then I remember the special people in Cambridge like John.

Take last Friday;  I had an invitation to lunch with NW Brown, although finance is not always inspiring these days.  Just before I cycled into town, I read a Tweet saying that Robert Scoble, better known as the Scobleizer, was at a meeting of Travelling Geeks at the old CUP buildings.  Robert was here four years ago when he was Microsoft’s Technical Evangelist.  He now promotes new technology companies using social networks to spread the message.  As I cycled along Mill Lane, they were breaking for lunch, and I managed to talk my way past reception, fought my way through the crowd and shook his hand.  Amazingly he remembered me but his suggestion that I should join SecretScoble on Twitter by giving him a direct message from his FriendFeed account left me a little bemused.  I will try but it is better to press the flesh.

On to lunch; NW Brown operate from smart offices on Regent Street with a reception area once described as being like a dentist’s waiting reception – no flash and fish tanks.  It was like going back in time to be escorted up to the panelled dining room and to be greeted by the Deputy Chairman, Marcus Johnson.  NW Brown is a passive equity company operating from the one office.  I knew that the Cambridge Evening News had reported a recent change of control so I had done my homework, read the bios of those attending and looked at the latest accounts.  It is a very profitable and succeessful business employing nearly one hundred people.  The interesting comment in the Deputy Chairman’s report was that they had disposed of the non-core businesses investing in the Active Equity Companies which are at the centre of the Cambridge Cluster.  As I know to my own cost, investing in new cluster companies is a not an easy business.  The of each requires careful scrutiny.

Marcus is very different from the stereotype business people we see on the TV who star in Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice.  His short bio lists that he has spent “over 30 years in the investment industry” so I was a little confused as to how he had bought out Nigel Brown.  I waited until the third course to say rather pompously that no one else present, according to the bios, had started a business.  At this Finance Director Phil Burke smiled  and stated “Marcus has”.  I took out my list of bios and read them more carefully and then the penny dropped.  Mr Burke also had “over 30 years in the investment industry”.  It turned out that Messrs Johnson and Burke had worked together for many years and then had decided there was a little gem in Cambridge with a founder looking for a change.  As with the shaving company, they liked it so much they bought it!

I felt rather humble.  These quiet self-effacing people at the table (ably supported by the long serving, 33 years, Ron Dart and key Cambridge networker Hugh Parnell) were not dreamers of the type who start Active Equity Companies but highly experienced, very successful operators who know how to turn a profit out of a very focused business.  One might describe them as a breath of fresh air in the cluster; people used to selling and looking after customers face to face.  I gather that Marcus has another persona when he dons his Chief Executive hat but he was all smiles today!

As coffee was served I took a glance at the hardly touched bottles and wished I had a doggy bag with me. How different from the days when we had proper lunches.

The Deputy Chair (or was he wearing his Chief Executive hat?) allowed me to demonstrate DuoFertility (in which I am an angel investor) and all provided excellent advice which I passed on to the company.  A proud Sarah Squire, President of Hughes Hall, said that DuoFertility was founded by three of her student.  It is always a small world in Cambridge.  The meal finished by Marcus kindly offering the use of a downstairs office on Regent Street, which has busy footfall, to DuoFertility for a Saturday so it looks as though the company could be having an infertility day of talking to customers.

So with my mind in a whirl, I rushed off to DuoFertility to collect the sales brochures for my forthcoming presentation to the fertility clinic at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.  I am now a part-time drugs rep trying to be more than a passive angel investor.  Such fun to be going from an established business to a start-up in one afternoon; the joys of Cambridge.  At the weekend I heard that another angel investor in DuoFertility, social network guru Geoff Jones(just back from three months in South America) had arranged for the Scobleizer to video DuoFertility founder, Shamus Husheer.

Entrepreneurs now have another High Table to gather round and I urge you all to cultivate an invitation and listen and learn.  But we in the Cambridge Cluster must never forget that our opportunities are built on academics like John Sweet who give so readily of their time to encourage and guide the young and we, in our modest way, must always follow their example.  Let us banish those who glory in “Back to back meetings”.

PS For those who missed the article on my visit to Cornwall, please read and comment at www.cambridgecluster.com

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