New technologies helping start-ups shoot for the stars

Spaceship New businesses can plug in to ready-made IT platforms to give themselves a growth boost

Setting up a business in 2013 was almost "comically easy" compared with when he started out in 1989, says video games entrepreneur Martin Kenwright.

Technology of Business

With two multimillion-pound games companies - Digital Image Design and Evolution - under his belt, he is hoping his third enterprise, Starship, will achieve even greater things.

One key difference between then and now is the sophistication of the technologies on offer, he says, which are enabling start-ups in all sectors to punch above their weight and go global far faster than they ever could before.

"When I started doing graphics for video games, I would draw everything using pencil on graph paper, then input the co-ordinates manually into the computer," the Liverpudlian boss, responsible for best-selling 3D games such as Motorstorm and World Rally Championship, told the BBC.

"The biggest technological breakthrough for designers was the invention of the mouse," he says.

Agile business
Martin Kenwright Starship CEO Starship boss Martin Kenwright chose his new company's name to reflect his ambitions

Scroll forward to the modern era of high-speed internet, cloud-based services and hugely powerful computers, and it's clear the world has changed radically.

Now Mr Kenwight's developers have a range of off-the-shelf tools at their fingertips, from game design engines, such as Unity and Unreal Engine, to 3D digital art packages, such as Photoshop, Maya and ZBrush.

"What used to take me three days on paper I now do in three minutes," says the 46-year-old "scally from Netherley".

But the biggest, and most advantageous, change he has seen over the past 35 years is the easy access to developer talent that can be bought in ad hoc according to the specific needs of the project.

"Keeping overheads down means you can take more risks - you can be more agile," he says.


Starship's 20-plus staff communicate and collaborate using a range of technologies, such as Skype and FaceTime, and the company aims to be paper-free and cloud-based.

During the Games Developer Conference in San Francisco last month, the team synchronised their iPad presentations in real time to prospective partners and publishers using Keynote collaboration software.

But while off-the-shelf tools and the move towards online streaming have led to a "democratisation" of the sector, they have also contributed to a homogeneity in the games on offer, Mr Kenwright argues.

"All the technology in the world can't replace a good idea," he says, brandishing his ring-binder pad in which all his ideas are written down.

Starship plans to inject "gamification" technology to other "trillion-dollar" sectors, such as retail and health, but with products under development for a summer launch, Mr Kenwright remained steadfastly tight-lipped on the details.

Starship creative director looking at screen Starship creative director Paul Hollywood works on some early-stage designs

"We're building software for hardware that hasn't even been invented yet," he said cryptically.

Utility computing

Start Quote

The real digital revolution has only just begun”

End Quote Martin Kenwright Starship

For CloudSense, a cloud services company with an annual turnover of £10m and offices in Zagreb, Pune, New York, Leeds and London, the big technology breakthrough was the advent of "platform-as-a-service" (PaaS).

"When the four of us started in 2009. we just had a bunch of ideas, but instead of building everything from scratch, we were able to piggyback on's existing platform," says co-founder and chief executive Richard Britton.

"This gave us access to servers, software and developer tools that helped us turn our ideas into products quickly, all for a monthly fee of about £80."

This kind of "utility computing model", now also offered by the likes of Windows Azure, Amazon Web Services, Google App Engine and Red Hat Openshift, "allows small businesses to cling to the coat-tails of big business and market to a global audience," says Mr Britton.

Richard Britton, CloudSense CloudSense boss Richard Britton says his company was able to grow fast thanks to cloud technology

"It levels the playing field and allows us to concentrate on research and development rather than worrying about IT infrastructure."

It is also far easier to market products via platforms such as Salesforce's AppExchange and Apple's App Store, he argues, while recruiting talent for specific projects can be done via freelancer networks, such as oDesk and Elancer.

Physical presence

Start Quote

Software and platform services have drastically reduced the costs of setting up a business”

End Quote Liam Collins Nesta

CloudSense, which helps telecoms, media and utility companies manage their customer subscriptions and cross-sell other products, now employs about 130 people worldwide.

Ironically, given the virtual nature of CloudSense's products, physical offices are still important, Mr Britton believes, because "global brands still don't trust cloud companies completely. A physical presence is comforting for them."

This is a point echoed by Gary Turner, managing director of small business accounting software company Xero.

"We didn't have a physical location for the first four years of the company's life," he says. "I worked from my spare room for the first two-and-a-half years after joining in 2009."

But as the IT services company grew fast - it now has 700 staff worldwide - it found that "larger groups need physical collaboration. We found a real boost in creativity when we started setting up offices," he says.

Start-up renaissance

Liam Collins, senior researcher at innovation charity Nesta, says: "Software and platform services have drastically reduced the costs of setting up a business.

Person using smartphone Smartphone apps are giving small companies greater reach

"And online marketplaces have made it easier to get goods and services to an international market, which is particularly important for developing economies."

Research from enterprise campaign StartUp Britain shows that 526,446 new businesses were registered in 2013, compared with 484,224 in 2012.

While this increase can partly be explained by the recovering global economy, it is also a testament to the enabling power of technology, Mr Collins says.

Mr Kenwright concludes: "I was never going to return to the industry to do something that people expected. We're aiming to disrupt the market with revolutionary products that fulfil a genuine use and need for consumers.

"The real digital revolution has only just begun."

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories


BBC Business Live

    RETAIL SALES 09:36: Breaking News
    shoppers carrying shopping bags on Oxford Street

    UK retail sales volumes in the second quarter were the strongest in 10 years, official figures have shown this morning. The month-on-month figure is up just 0.1% in June, but for the three months to the end of June sales were 1.6% higher. That's the strongest quarterly rise since early 2004, according to the Office for National Statistics.

    CATTLE CLASS 09:20:
    Commuters travel on a crowded Northern Line tube train

    One for those who live and work in the nation's capital, this one. If you've been getting the London underground in the last few weeks and struggling to cope with the heat - maybe even nodding off on the central line on the way home - then this is why. According to the London Evening Standard temperatures on the Tube have hit "brutal" highs that would be illegal for the transport of livestock!

    An EasyJet plane

    EasyJet says it expects its annual profits to be 14% higher this year, assuming there is no further disruption to flights over the next two months - that's in line with analyst expectations. The low-cost airline forecasts pre-tax profits for the year to September of between £545m and £570m. EasyJet said its third quarter trading performance was "solid" with sales up 8.6% percent to £1.2bn and capacity up 6.8%.

    Robinsons Orange Squash

    British soft drinks maker Britvic has said today it expects full-year operating profit to be near the top of its guidance. Fourth quarter trading has started well and it has achieved cost savings targets, it says. It expects operating profit to be between £148m and £156m. The upbeat assessment comes a year after Britvic rebuffed a merger proposal from rival AG Barr.


    The rumours over Peter Sands and Sir John Peace shouldn't come as a major surprise given that last month Standard Chartered issued its second profit warning in two years. It wasn't a small warning either. The bank said first-half operating profits would be 20% lower than a year earlier, blaming a slump in income from its financial markets business. That came only three months after the Asia-focused lender reported its first fall in annual profits for a decade.

    MARKET UPDATE 08:42:

    European markets have opened lower this morning as investors try to digest a raft of company announcements and economic data. In London, the biggest rise on the FTSE 100 so far is mining firm Antofagasta which is up 1.3% to 845p. On the fallers side Kingfisher leads on worse than expected second quarter trading, down nearly 7% to 312.7p.

    • The FTSE 100 is 0.37% lower at 6773.08
    • The German Dax is down 0.62% to 9693.22
    • France's Cac-40 is 0.51% lower to 4354.07
    CEO of Standard Chartered, Peter Sands

    A rather terse statement from Standard Chartered this morning, a UK bank that does most of its business in Asia. Some rumours suggest they may be looking to replace chief executive Peter Sands and chairman Sir John Peace. The board is "united in its support of both Peter Sands and Sir John Peace," it says. "No succession planning is taking place as a result of recent investor pressure."


    "Part of what we are announcing today is that the companies are paying out money to charities that work on the ground helping with these situations [the winter storms]," Maxine Frerk, senior partner at Ofgem, tells the Today prgramme. She adds both SSE and UKPN have "learned lessons", particularly around communication both through call centres as well as on the internet and social media.


    Crucially, Ofgem says the extra £3.3m SSE and UKPN are paying out is going to organisations like the British Red Cross rather than back to customers who were left without power over Christmas. What is interesting is Ofgem has decided to up the minimum compensation for customers who are left without power for 24 hours from £27 to £70. The regulator is also upping the cap on compensation payments from £216 to £700.

    MARKET UPDATE 08:07:

    Tokyo stocks lost early gains to finish down 0.29%. The benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 44.14 points to close at 15,284.42. Geopolitical worries about Gaza curbed risk appetites. Hong Kong shares ended the morning session 0.39% higher after preliminary figures showed an index of Chinese manufacturing activity hit an 18-month high in June.

    WINTER STORM COMPENSATION Via Twitter Adam Parsons Business Correspondent

    tweets: OFGEM says SSE and UKP "could have done more to get customers reconnected faster" during winter storms

    WAGES 07:53: Radio 5 live

    "Wages are still flat," says Paul Mawdsley, a recruiter who runs Mawdsley Consultancy, talking to 5 live. "There isn't a great demand in the labour market yet," so that's keeping salaries down. He's also seeing a "dire shortage" of engineers in such areas as pneumatics and hydraulics. Not enough people are being trained.

    Bank of England Governor Mark Carney

    Meanwhile, the Guardian thinks the Bank governor is worried about low interest rates leading households to take on too much debt. As you might imagine that puts them on either side of the when-are-interest-rates-going-to-rise guessing game that is fast becoming a national obsession.

    ENERGY PROBE 07:40:

    The CMA's probe will see whether energy companies should be wholesalers as well as selling to retail customers (you). The gas market appears to be working better than the electricity market, and they'll try to find out why. They won't be looking at big business customers because that market looks fine, the CMA says.


    Bank of England governor Mark Carney is in all the newspapers today following his speech to the Commonwealth business conference yesterday. The FT interprets Mr Carney's speech as revealing deep concerns about household indebtedness and the effect an interest rate rise will have on households' ability to service their debts.


    Unilever, the food giant, has said first half net profit rose to 3bn euros (£2.37bn) from 2.68bn euros even as sales fell. Its cost savings plan is working well, it said. Excluding businesses sold or otherwise disposed of, sales rose 3.7%.

    SSE logo at the SSE Training Centre in Perth

    SSE and UK Power Networks (IKPN) are to pay an additional £3.3m for delays in getting power back up and running to households in southern England following last winter's storms. That's on top of the £4.7m the two energy companies are paying out to customers under guaranteed standards and in goodwill payments. It brings the total paid out by the two companies to £8m.

    ENERGY PROBE 07:04: Breaking News

    The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will carry out an independent investigation to see if there are any features of the energy market which "prevent, restrict or distort competition and, if so, what action might be taken to remedy them," it says. It will report back by Christmas day 2015.

    INTEREST RATES 06:56: Radio 5 live

    Kathleen Brooks of thinks January will be the time for a rate increase from the Bank of England. Maybe a 25 basis point increase to 0.75%, she says. Bank governor, Mark Carney, said yesterday there may be more labour supply than previously thought. Wages growth is thus being held back.

    RUSSIAN SANCTIONS 06:44: BBC Radio 4
    Russian President Vladimir Putin

    Kathleen Brooks has now popped up on the Today programme. She says sanctions against Russia "are toothless at this point....Russia has a lot of energy that the West wants." She adds divisions in the West over energy policy have been exposed by the fact "the UK and France have a spat about sanctions and that just plays into Vladimir Putin's hands." Ms Brooks says there have "also been rumours that Russia has been unofficially propping up the rouble. The sanctions are not going to hurt the European Union's energy links to Russia."

    ENERGY PRICES 06:31: Radio 5 live

    If you have to steel yourself with a nice cup of sweet tea before opening your latest energy bill, spare a thought for Nigel and Linda Brotherton, who were told by Npower that their monthly direct debit was going to increase from £87 to £53,480,062. Npower has apologised and the incorrect bill has been cancelled. "It's a massive shock," he tells 5 live.

    GLAXOSMITHKLINE 06:24: Radio 5 live

    David Buik of Panmure Gordon is helping us digest the GlaxoSmithKline results on 5 live. "Sales to China is only about 3% of its total business," and so the bribery scandal there is an unwelcome distraction.

    ROUBLE 06:15: Radio 5 live

    Kathleen Brooks of is on 5 live talking about Russia. The Russia rouble has been "resilient" bearing in mind the new sanctions against Russia. "They are able to shrug off geopolitical risk quite quickly," she says. President Putin may be "breathing a sigh of relief," she adds.

    POUND 06:01: Radio 5 live

    The pound buys about 1.27 euros, its strongest in nearly two years - don't get excited that's not what you'll get from your local foreign exchange. Still, Kathleen Brooks, a research director at, is on 5 live talking about it. The strong pound has helped ease inflation, she says. "Over the period of the financial crisis we had sky high inflation," she adds. The recovery is consumer-driven, which is aided by a stronger pound, which means cheaper imports.

    06:00: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Good morning! Get in touch via email at or on twitter @BBCBusiness

    06:00: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Good morning folks. So what's new? Facebook has posted some stonking profits for its second quarter, the US has - just - lifted its ban on flights into Tel Aviv and it's Thursday, so General Motors has decided to recall another couple of hundred thousand cars overnight. There's plenty more to come, stay with us.



  • Shinji Mikamo's father's watchTime peace

    The story of the watch that survived Hiroshima

  • Hamas rally in the West Bank village of Yatta, 2006Hamas hopes

    Why the Palestinian group won't back down yet

  • Mary WayaQueen of the court

    Woman who beat "fat" jibes to turn Malawi into netball champions

From BBC Capital


  • A man holds a sign which reads Bring Back Our GirlsHARDtalk Watch

    Why there is still hope and optimism for the rescue of Nigeria’s kidnapped schoolgirls

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.