It’s all getting very real

I’ve recently been taking part design sprints to allow our stage 1 SOSI Projects to explore their visions in a safe but critical, and most importantly, trusted environment. It’s an approach that aims to explore what the user’s experience might be for a particular idea, and is great for solving problems before they happen, and for maintaining and enriching the relationship between user and product/service.

What struck me most about the event was just how focussed and enthused the teams have become with our support. The ideas are so good that I honestly feel each one would’ve had a decent chance on their own but it felt to me like Jisc were providing a very unique level of support, allowing the ideas the chance to evolve and mature in a safe environment, and helping them to understand development processes that were scalable, demand driven and ready for the real world.

So, who/what are our stage 1 SOSI winners?

Project ViP

Many modern systems use visual programming, making them inaccessible to anyone with visual impairments. Project ViP seeks to solve that fundamental problem by using 3D printed nodes that have raised text, braille on one side, and text on the other, that can be connected together to design more complex ideas. Using this method the visually impaired user can learn about and write code in a visual way. Beautifully simple.

My Access Passport (MAP)

The MAP project is defined by its powerful vision – to provide accessibility to technology for everyone, anywhere. Accessibility is a very hot topic and is taken seriously by the biggest players in the industry but moving from computer to computer, even with a roaming profile, is hard work for someone with accessibility issues. Narrators, screen colour preferences, font sizes and many more settings are available but they have to be set up individually each time and reverted for the next user and without support that can be a real barrier. The idea is essentially based around a portable settings capture device that can be configured with support and then applied simply by logging in, setting up your computer with all the accessibility settings you need and reverting back when you leave.

U Can Cook

This brilliant idea aims to give independence to people with learning difficulties by supporting them to do them things other people take for granted. The prototype cookbook shows you how to boil an egg, or heat up some beans amongst other things, and uses augmented reality to achieve a seamless and engaging interface to how-to videos, all accessible on your mobile device. The scope for growth for this idea is huge, and they already have some very influential supporters.

Digital Stories

We all love a good story and we know they’re very engaging. This project aims to connect a community of people with learning difficulties by them telling their story; their challenges and how they’ve overcome them. It draws together experience in a non-patronising and accessible way and will be a formidable source of support for a community that feels fragmented.

We’re at a critical stage in the design process, and as one of the team leaders said to me during the last design sprint, “it’s all getting very real”. Their ideas have become tangible things, with fewer challenges holding them back and with clear goals driving them forwards. I will work closely with each team to define a suitable testing strategy that is geared toward the capture and analysis of user experience so that we can seek to strengthen the relationship the user will have with the product and uncover any other issues they may still have. We expect some surprises and probably some significant changes in the way each team will try to achieve their visions, but that’s what this process is all about!

Students – Bursting with ideas!

Students come up with three ideas for inventions every day, recent research suggests!


It’s no surprise that so many good ideas emerge through the Student of Summer Innovation programme and here in the development team we aim to make these ideas a reality. It really is a pleasure to work with students and education providers on such diverse and innovative applications of technology and we frequently gain important new insights into how students work and the challenges they face.

Some of those ideas are now in Stage 2 of our programme, which means they’re in development and have already overcome many of the challenges that you’ll face when trying to turn an idea into a product or service. I will be posting updates here on the SOSI blog so you can keep up-to-date and find out more about the ideas that really engage you.

until next time, thanks for reading!

Getting things done

How much time does it take to turn an idea into a product, business, or service? Every minute, of every hour, of every day. It takes commitment. Time, however, isn’t always easy to come by—especially for students who have to manage a whole range of commitments. That’s why our latest Summer of Student Innovation (SOSI) summer school was organised to let the students get on and get things done.

Jameson Gagnepain: (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Jameson Gagnepain: (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A key message emerging from the Summer School—failure is a very realistic outcome. Developing a product, business or service is not easy! SOSI provides students with a safe environment to test out their ideas, gather feedback and build upon what they have. Fail fast, move on! Jisc are not necessarily expecting students to have developed the next “big thing” within the three/four month time period available to participants but are interested in each project succeeding in one of four areas:

  • Define—clearly articulated their problem-space, investigated the existing market/competition, and reviewed options available to them.
  • Design—produced a range of product/service designs, whether they’re low-fi prototypes, wireframes, or user stories.
  • Develop—created and tested a working prototype or functional product.
  • Delivery—the piloting of a functional product/service and development of a business plan.

Success in one, or more, of these four areas then provides the student-led projects and Jisc with a range of options e.g. Jisc continues to support the project beyond the life of this year’s competition, a project partners with a relevant sector organisation to progress their project, the students go it alone (so to speak, the SOSI network will always be open to them), or the project is closed.

So, what happened at this Summer School?

This month’s Summer School was split into three “hack” streams. One focused on defining and designing; one focused on technical development; and one focused on delivery. A range of experts were on hand within each of the hack streams to help students with any questions they might have or to try and help resolve issues and move them forwards.

A photo of Paul Bailey introducing the Summer School at Conference Aston

On day 2 we had three great presentations, from Yvonne Quinn, Richard Jones and Joseph McArthur. Yvonne focused on what’s required to set-up a business and outlined five key steps (although this doesn’t do her advice justice!):

  1. Feasibility study
  2. Gather some evidence your idea works
  3. Quantify the opportunity
  4. Assess the competition—there’s always competition
  5. Write a business plan

Richard gave an overview of his experience of developing an idea and noted the importance of focusing on the user. Step back from what you think the solution is and ask the people that will be using your product/service what it is they would like and how that might be delivered. Talk with them about what’s possible, not at them!

From a personal perspective I think the work Joseph’s doing is outstanding, championing open access. In doing so Joseph and his team/network have developed the Open Access Button which anyone can use to highlight where research is being blocked by a paywall. Joseph reiterated the point made earlier about commitment, spending much of his personal time on this project for the past year and a half.

The final day was a chance for students to share their progress and practise pitching their ideas. I have to say, each and every project did a fantastic job. Projects were allowed two minutes to present, with a short time afterwards to answer questions from the audience. A lot of the presentations were developed the night before, some even off the cuff but they all delivered!

Here’s an example from Lingoflow < Thanks Kamil and Lukas!

Your funding and finance questions answered

Marc DaviesMark Davies works for Emerge Education, a start-up accelerator company exclusively interested in ed tech startups. At the Bristol summer school he answered your questions about finance and funding:

Who funds start-ups like this? Is there any money around?
It’s actually a good time to found an ed-tech start-up. One highly credible and professional London-based investment firm – Ibis Capital – have started up an ed tech funding stream, mainly aimed at later-stage projects. Aside from that there are plenty of venture capital (VC) investors in London who fund tech start-ups, one example being Balderton.

Angel investors are individuals who may have particular interests in funding a project; institutions can’t respond emotionally to investment decisions whereas individuals can. Such investors commonly deal with up to 100 investment requests every month, but they may also have other contacts who they can connect you with (perhaps we can get some Angel investors along to the event in November?)

Emerge Education offer start-ups a £15K living stipend for the period of the accelerator programme, plus a programme of support and 8% equity in the project. This is considered a ‘pre-seed’ level of funding; higher levels being as follows:

  • ‘seed round’ – typically £250K to £1.5m
  • Series A shares (£5-20 million)
  • Series B shares… (£20-50million

NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) has been revamped in recent years and has plenty of money to invest in innovation. Their support is typically geared at later-stage projects that can already demonstrate educational impact, but they are also interested in hearing from younger projects.

Finally, UNLTD ( support social enterprise start-ups through awarding prizes and grants. They are open to ‘pre-idea’, single-founder initiatives.

How do I pitch to investors?
Your first communication with investors is often called a pitch deck or slide deck. Dave McClure has written some good advice on puting this together that plenty of others have remixed ( Also try for examples. Always use numbers. Investors like numbers.

What about Kickstarter?
Revealing your idea to the world is a risk, but if you nail it, this is a great way of ensuring your proposition is attached to you from the start. Tim Ferriss (a ‘lifestyle design’ guru) has written a post on “How to raise £100K on kickstarter in ten days”.

Should I worry about a huge company like Google stealing my idea?
If they get to hear about it, you’ve probably already succeeded. Bear in mind though that ideas in themselves aren’t worth much – it’s all about the execution. Do you know how to realise your idea? Do you have a team?

How do I know how much my idea is worth?
Valuing a company or idea is tricky. There’s no point in getting too mathematical in the early stages, but don’t give away any more than 3-4% for an initial £10K injection. Do not undervalue the time that you’ve already put into the project – that £10K isn’t going to buy you much more, and is it worth the control you are giving up? When fleshing out the details of external investment, you need to take it seriously but at the same time realise that it is all a game. Take it as a compliment that the investor and wants to hear your story and your plans.

Will I lose all my users if I start charging for the product?
Remember you can afford to lose customers who won’t pay the fee as long as you keep some who are willing to pay more.

Why are some tech companies valued highly when they don’t have a clear revenue stream?
The UK invested in the East India Company as a huge operation but never actually made any revenue from it. Investment may be fuelled by the less tangible, indirect benefits of running/owning a large part of commerce, or – in the case of new tech – ‘owning the internet’. It’s more about power than direct financial return.

What if my potential investor doesn’t share my vision?
You may have to balance out your and their visions. This may require some compromise. So best not to go at it all guns blazing with potential investors in the first instance. Just outline your personal principles, be upfront and make your point intelligently. Make sure if you are giving away control to anyone, check that their leanings and motivations are broadly similar to yours.

Do I need to have an exit strategy figured out?
Investors don’t necessarily expect one at this stage. They are more concerned with whether the idea will work at all.


Knowledge sharing on Intellectual Property

IP sessionIn Bristol we had Rowan Wilson (OSS Watch) and Daniel Ratzinger (Call for Participants) fielding your questions about Intellectual Property. We noted down some key pointers:

What is IP?

  •  ‘Intellectual Property’ refers and applies to intangible creative works such as code and text.

 What can be protected and how?

  • Most likely protections for these projects are copyright and trademarks, sometimes registered design but unlikely
  • Registered vs unregistered protection

Who owns IP?

  • Some universities clearly state that as a student you own any IP you create (with some provisos) – e.g. Imperial College. They may also set out expectations of publicising or exhibiting work you create while you are studying at the university (see UAL’s policy – similar in principle to your agreement with Jisc).
  • Some universities will state that they want to know about any work you are creating (see the RVC’s policy). This is usually in case it can be useful for their publicity, but check because…
  • Some may try to claim a stake in your IP. Such claims are often loosely defined and difficult to enforce (e.g. Oxford’s IP policy), and are generally targeted at the traditional outputs of research students. A potential claim on student IP from a university would commonly be based on use of university resources, but enforcing such a claim might not be beneficial for a university’s reputation in the current climate.
  • What happens when students are from different universities? – bear in mind this may become an issue when seeking further funding.
  • If employed – ownership may depend on the nature of the work, e.g. writing a novel at a position where you were hired to code may get you sacked(!) but the IP is yours, whereas creating something similar to what you are hired to do can potentially be claimed by the company.

Possible IP issues around using university data such as timetables –

  • Database rights
  • Possible solution is to take a co-operative approach with the University.

Domains & Trademarks


  • licensing agreement for software libraries
  • open source software – Software licensing – such as GPL – states that any derivative work must be released under same licence (GPL) or not at all. So beware of what code you are using and aggregating. Check individual licenses of libraries and frameworks. Some may be under a non-commercial licence for example.
  • media – if you are buying images, video, music etc.. check the terms under which you are purchasing; also when you use CC-licensed material (e.g. Flickrcc for CC-licensed images)

User-generated content

  • Default position is that users own what they contribute.
  • Risk of users uploading offensive or libelous content.
  • Use Terms & Conditions to get consent from users to use their content (see Youtube’s T&C’s for example)
  • Risk of users uploading content that is not their own – state in your T&Cs that those who are uploading have responsibility not to upload things they don’t own. Can also ask to check a box on uploading to confirm that the content is theirs.
  • If you moderate contributions first they become your responsibility, therefore the best strategy is usually to have a responsive takedown process.
  • New legislation will demand that – if you are providing a communication service that is available to the public – you have the technical infrastructure to provide an IP address and timestamp for contributions.

Data protection

  • Handling sensitive data & personal data e.g. emails, passwords etc.
  • Check data protection law and where data is held
  • Physical locations of servers & who can thus access it – e.g. Homeland Security Act for America

Bristol summer “school”–day 1

Bristol Sunny

Despite the glorious weather our first day got off to a bit of a slow start due to a range of travel disruptions. Nevertheless, it’s been an absolutely jam packed day with lots of interesting conversations and connections. After an introduction to what Jisc is and the student projects themselves, participants were asked to take part in a networking activity which recorded links between everyone in attendance.

To do this we used a tool developed as part of last year’s summer of student innovation: GraphDocs. It essentially creates nodes for each individual and project from which people can begin to build connections based upon a pre-defined set of interactions e.g. “spoke to” or “would like to collaborate with”. The image below provides a snapshot of the output but the tool also allows for statistical analysis. So you can begin to see who the social connectors are within the group, who might be on the fringes and require more support, or who else you should seek out based upon existing connections.


We then moved onto a World Café exercise where we allowed students time to explore different topic areas e.g. project management, institutional embedding, and technical. I was on the “project management” table and I must say Matt did an excellent job of trying to balance a wide range of queries from projects that were at very different stages of their life cycle. A couple of support needs arose from that session for me that we might be able to cover on day 2:

  • How a project might go about outsourcing if they have no technical expertise
  • How to run effective pilot programmes
  • Developing a clear project plan or work-breakdown structure
  • Web development
  • Defining your business model

At the end of the day projects were given the chance to meet their mentor who will work with them throughout the whole process. The role of the mentor is twofold: to provide support and guidance throughout the process providing the students with a sounding board; and to help each project realise its vision, or at least reach a major milestone on that journey.

I’m wary these posts are simple updates at this stage. Over the course of the three days I’ll be trying to think through what resources we have around that might be helpful to our student projects (and others) to try and smooth their journey.

Let’s get this show on the road!

Summer Holiday by Hai Thinh CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Summer Holiday by Hai Thinh CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

We’re finally here! The first Summer of Student Innovation event for our 2014 winners–38 ideas boiled down to 20 thanks to 8,400 votes from across 160 institutions. The image is a bit cliché (sorry) but for me it represents a number of things:

  • Ambition–the willingness to take a leap into the unknown and try something new
  • Companionship–there is a wide range of support available to help you on your journey
  • Excitement–we want you to have fun along the way

That last point is very important–have fun along the way! Some of you will succeed in realising your vision, others will struggle. Both results are equally as important to us. On the one hand we might solve a major issue for the sector, on the other we’ll have learned a whole load of lessons that can feed into future work.

What to expect

The event is spread across three days:

  • Day 1 is all about getting to know each other. As well as the wider support team we’ll also have a range of sector experts in attendance whom can provide you with valuable insights.
  • Day 2 is all about making a start, identifying support needs and getting some help from both your mentors and our range of experts.
  • Day 3 is an opportunity for you to learn from last year’s Summer of Student Innovation projects.

The full agenda is available here:

Keeping up to speed

In the first instance you might want to bookmark this blog! Also, if you haven’t already done so, get your team signed up to our mailing list:

A list of all the student elevator pitches, websites, and blogs are available on the “background” page of this blog. If there’s anything missing please let us know and we’ll get it updated! We’ve also created a netvibes site that quickly highlights the most recent updates from our student blogs:

Finally, but not least, we’re using the hashtag #studentideas. At the moment we’re using this for any tweets relating to the Summer of Student Innovation. It could be applied across a range of services though, for example I’ll probably use it on instagram. Just let us know how you’re using it and we can join in the conversation.


Hello and welcome to the Summer of Student Innovation, or SOSI (for short), blog! This space provides the project team with a way of providing informal updates relevant to everyone involved with the project, and anyone else that might be interested.

For more formal updates we strongly recommend you bookmark Jisc’s Summer of Student Innovation page, and visit it on a regular basis. We will of course endeavour to point to relevant information as and when we can.

If you’re an avid fan of twitter then you can also follow our progress via the hashtag #studentideas. Expect traffic to increase over the coming months as we get the show on the road!

I certainly look forward to keeping you up to date with our progress over the coming months and I’m sure I’ll be able to get some further insights from the amazing array of experts, mentors, students and support staff that are on board.

If you have any suggestions on how we can shape this blog (including any amendments you’d like making) just give us a shout. Over and out for now, spk soon 🙂