Finding support for your great idea(s)

The sociable existence of the techie type

As mentioned in my previous post, this year we’ve launched a new award category, the Young Innovator Award. But what's out there for innovators over 25 (other than all the other NMA categories, of course)?

Events and conferences

Most nights of the week in London and in other large cities across the UK there are technology events taking place that are great for finding out the latest thinking and are fantastic for networking. If you still think that techie people are anti-social, think again. There are a huge variety of topics, themes and industry sectors catered for, from groups devoted to talking about the programming language Ruby on Rails to nights showcasing the latest start-up companies. And a month rarely goes by without a large technology/new media based conference of one sort or the other.

If you have a digital idea or concept you'd like to take further then these events should be your first port of call. They’re ideal for finding like minded others, encouragement, and building your contact base – you never know you may even find someone to invest in your plans.

Naturally, online social networks have become the way to find out about what is going on, and the top favourite at the moment for finding out about UK tech events is Upcoming, where the New Media Awards listed here.

Investment from government agencies
As well as running services such as Business Link, Regional Development Agencies across the UK are investing in various ways in technology, creative and digitally based ideas, events and businesses. One of the ways that the London Development Agency supports this area is via the strategic agency Creative London. Creative London is particularly active in supporting the new media, digital and computer games industries and recently sponsored ten companies £5,000 each to attend the week long London BBC Innovation Lab.

Venture Capital and Angel Funding
Many Venture Capitalists got burnt back in 2001/02 and as a result those who are investing in the UK technology sector are being far more cautious. Recent success stories include Trampoline Systems and Trusted Places who recently received £3 million and £500,000 investment respectively. But there is nothing like the billions of dollars sloshing around as there is over in the US. To get this kind of investment your idea needs to have got off the ground and already proven to be a success, you’ve also got to be ready to part with a considerable share of the business you’ve built up.

There are a number of sites and organisations providing information and support in this area, here are just a few of the main ones:

Chinwag
Ecademy
e-consultancy
NMK
Open Business
Vitamin

Warner Bros
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Harry Potter and the Minotaur’s Rage: how fanfiction got me into writing

My fanfiction was almost uniformly awful, like most of the things I did or liked when I was becoming myself.

The source of the noise was clear. Some kind of monster was emerging from the wood.

"Easy, Harry," counselled Hagrid, "Easy.”

Nervously, the bespectacled wizard approached the hulking beast cautiously. What was it? It had red leather skin, like a sofa, was bigger even than Hagrid and had a pair of cruel horns.

You may not recognise the above passage from any of J K Rowling’s seven entries in the Harry Potter series. That’s because it’s not by Rowling at all, but is taken from Harry Potter and the Minotaur’s Rage by awideeyedwanderer, the alias under which I, with the addition and subtraction of a few dashes and underscores depending on the platform, wrote fanfiction from 2000 to 2006.

To deal with the obvious questions, no, it was not about the Labour party, and no, I don’t think anyone ever had sex, except perhaps very briefly towards the end of the story. (As such, it was a fairly accurate reflection on the life of its author during that period.)

Fanfiction often gets a bad rap, in my case deservedly. One former editor of the New Statesman used to say of one of his staffers that he was “the Fred West of prose”, and my fanfiction was not much better. I hacked my way through the universes of Harry Potter, Doctor Who, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Final Fantasy and Star Trek. I also perpetrated my own, highly derivative “original” fiction, featuring a character called Mr Jones who was basically Doctor Who with a gun.

My fanfiction was influenced by whatever novel I was reading and whatever the current state of my politics were, which meant that as the Noughties wore on it became increasingly dominated by thinly-veiled allegories for the excesses of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.

What got me started? Well, it’s all J K Rowling’s fault. I was an early adopter of the Harry Potter books, and though the first three books came out every year, there was a three-year gap between The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix. So without a new book, Potter fans had to write their own, of which Harry Potter and the Minotaur’s Rage was one.

At this point in this sort of article, it’s usually customary to defend fanfiction by pointing out that some of it is actually very good, while some of it has made a great deal of money. My fanfiction was neither good nor financially lucrative, but I always think this misses the point a bit. Very few people think they are producing high art when they write fanfic – people are doing it to have a good time, to expand a world they’ve enjoyed.

My fanfiction was almost uniformly awful, like most of the things I did or liked when I was becoming myself. (In its defence, I think my fanfiction has aged better than Evanescence, a band which provided the soundtrack and most of the chapter titles to my fic.) But I had a great time writing it, and if nothing else, it taught me never to begin a sentence with “nervously” and end it with “cautiously”.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.