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Business Innovation - Matthew Rusk

National Business Awards & Wedding Band

There has been a lot happening since my last post in August 2015! Firstly, I was very privileged to be able to join the University of Exeter at the National Business Awards in November, where the university had been nominate for the Duke of York Award for University Entrepreneurship. Despite Exeter missing out on the award to the University of Leeds I think our invitation and nomination was testament to the progress that the University of Exeter had made in recent years in terms of entrepreneurial support, with the likes of Joe Pearce and Tracey Costello needing to take a lot of credit for driving forward this programme. I was joined by other current or graduated students that had benefited from this investment, both financial but far more importantly in terms of an investment of time and skill development. While not all of the “student entrepreneurs” can continued to run their businesses post graduation everyone of them that I spoke to talked of the impact that it has had on their career being involved in creating a start up business.

The National Business Awards

The National Business Awards

That evening was also made very special by the keynotes speech given by Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on The Moon. Buzz, spoke with passion about the “space race” and the ingenuity and invention needed to achieve dreams that no one had thought possible before, alongside the respect needed for those that had achieved feats of human endeavour (for example his respect for Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space) as well as the often unseen consequences of achieving these feats. Clearly his experience on The Moon had deeply impacted him as he talked about the “magnificent desolation” of The Moon’s surface that was covered in a “soft grey talcum powder”, indeed, with something so profoundly different from any experience another human had had (apart from a small number of NASA astronauts) I was left wondering whether Buzz’s life thereafter had shown signs of undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder – a topic that I had studied at university in regard to WW2 soldiers.

Two things he spoke about will always stick with me – firstly a story from Buzz that upon hearing that the USSR had successfully got the first man into space in 1961 President Kennedy was determined that the USA should demonstrate their space capabilities…by sending their astronauts to Mars. Gathering his scientists together he sent them away for a weekend to plan it, only to have the news presented to him on the Monday that the scientists didn’t think it was possible and that the USA “should shoot for The Moon instead”. Kennedy was devastated (according to Buzz), but eventually came onboard with the new plan – one that Buzz Aldrin was able to execute alongside Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins.

Secondly, that Buzz was utterly convinced that the human race should be aiming to land astronauts on Mars, as well as set up a colony on Mars as soon as possible. Indeed, he had even written a book about it noting the benefits that such investment in space travel would bring in terms of technological advances, advances in communications, medicine and material designs. While he acknowledge it was not for his generation he made clear that the future of the human race depended on it – such passion for an idea that I am sure many of us would say is a bit barmy (though one that he & Kennedy might well be right about!) was interesting to listen to because the initial reaction is simply to dismiss it as “too crazy”. However, this really only goes to highlight our own barriers in terms of what we think is possible and of what we think the human race is capable of – strangely while many of us around the table agreed that “humans will one day live on Mars” none of us thought it should be our generation that took the risks to go and work out how to make it possible! Overall it was great night, with Buzz’s talk something I will take away with me for the rest of my life…after all it isn’t everyday you get to listen to someone that has stepped foot on The Moon!

Buzz Aldrin, the second man on The Moon, in full speech about why we should go to Mars!

Buzz Aldrin, the second man on The Moon, in full speech about why we should go to Mars!

Here at MGR Music Tuition I have been working very hard over the last few months creating a centralised platform to enable the teachers I work with to complete the admin side of things; specifically reporting the lessons that they have taught and making payment for these lessons. I was really excited to launch this in February 2016 – the platform also enables teachers to engage with one another in an interactive forum, a space where they can share best practise and gain advice about the many challenges of being a private music teacher. The team of teachers I work with has now grown to over 125, likely to peak at 150 later in the year, when the business will reach its full potential in terms of music teachers within the UK. Once that is reached this will mark a different stage of the business, moving from a start up business, through a phase I have jokingly referred to as the “teenage years” (sometimes temperamental but certainly more mature than early on) to something that is more akin to mid-twenties individual (more independent, with characteristics of its own). The analogy of comparing the life of a business to a humans, with a “birth”, early stages where the business needs constant attention before it can slowly become more independent, is one that I have heard about from other entrepreneurs and I would certainly that this has been my experience as well. With the music tuition business become more settled I thought I would explore launching a “project on the side” to work on during 2016.

With many of the teachers that I work with being active local musicians, driving their musical careers forward alongside their teaching, I decided to explore whether I can help them develop this aspect of their careers. Knowing that many of them generate revenue from “function band” performances and having researched the area thoroughly I decided to launch, a website where local bands can list themselves, enabling clients to select them for their live wedding / reception music. Having spoken with a lot of the teachers that do wedding gigs that major complaint was that often the gigs where long distances away from where the band is actually based. Therefore creating more gigs in the specific area where the band resides would be an incredibly useful service for these musicians. The website is just at a prototype stage at the moment but I am excited to try and develop it over the next 12 months to see if I can get bands onboard and ultimately make their experience as musicians even better!

Wedding Band

Posted under Business Innovation, National Business Awards, New Project

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Matthew Rusk on March 28, 2016

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National Business Awards

This morning I heard from the Innovation Centre that the University of Exeter has been shortlisted for the Duke of York Award for University Entrepreneurship. This is a great achievement for all areas of the university that have worked tirelessly to improve the support of students with business and product ideas. It is also a special moment for the Innovation Centre which has been one of the key partners in the this development of entrepreneurial provision at the university. I had the fortune of see this first had during the Exeter Start Up Weekend in July, where the university had clearly invested a lot of time and money into a fantastic conference to enable current and former students develop their business ideas within 54 hours before pitching them to a group of business experts.

National Business Awards

This shows how far the support for entrepreneurs has come during the time that I studied at the University of Exeter (09-12), where even basic provision was hard sort for. As an entrepreneur at the university you can now find support and help everywhere from the Careers Centre and Ignite at the Students’ Guild to specially tailored advice by business experts at the Innovation Centre. The appointment of a Student Entrepreneur in Residence enables students to approach a former student who has experience of running a business while studying a degree, this is invaluable as balancing your workload, business and social life can be an isolating challenge.

To know that there are students just like you, dedicating their spare time to start a business while at university is undoubtedly a liberating discovery – indeed, while individual businesses are different in what they produce the core components of a business are often very similar. Student entrepreneurs therefore often face the same challenges, whether it is cash flow, holding too much stock, product development, quality control, sourcing products, advertising, client experience, profit margin, scalability to name a few. If you are a student at the University of Exeter who has, or is thinking of, starting a business don’t hesitate to get in touch with . You can find out more about National Business Awards Finalists on their website.

In terms of MGR Music Tuition I have been continuing to launch new websites across the UK, most excitingly for me releasing the Guitar Lessons York website, following drum, singing and piano websites released in York and where we already have a large group of active music students and talented teachers. It has been an extremely busy time in terms of the infrastructure of the business, having moved all the websites onto a Virtual Private Server (giving me far more control over the hosting and management of the website, preventing them from crashing due to unwelcome updates).

In addition, I have spend the last few days adding a server monitoring service to these VPS. This will enable me to record all the server data, including any downtime of the server or websites – in which case I will be notified by a call/sms/email depending on the time of day so I can jump in to ensure that the website never go down without me knowing about it. If you run a busy website, whether eCommerce, news or social facing it is critical that your website downtime is extremely low (as noted by Mark Zuckerberg’s character in The Social Network film: “let me tell you the difference between Facebook and everyone else, we don’t crash EVER! If those servers are down for even a day, our entire reputation is irreversibly destroyed! Users are fickle…”. Therefore as any business builds up, investment in safety guards and contingency plans, is a wise choice (and perhaps highlights a gradual change within a business from a start-up to a more mature going concern).

As such here at MGR Music Tuition it has been a year of re-investment into the business, to ensure that I can keep it growing in a manageable manner by laying strong foundations to build upon. I hope to see the results of this in early 2016 and as ever I will keep you updated with my progress!

Posted under Business Innovation, Innovation Centre

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Matthew Rusk on August 6, 2015

Exeter StartUp Weekend 2015

The Innovation Centre is excited to be holding its first Google Startup Weekend this summer. Held between July 17 – 19th 2015, the event will be an opportunity for students with early stage business ideas (or no ideas at all!) to become part of an intense weekend designed to launch real businesses. Startup Weekend is a global phenomenon – 54 hours of fast and furious prototype development through to exploring potential markets and pitching. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to build lasting relationships with co-founders; mentors, and investors.

Whether you are the next big Tech thing, Food and Drink idea, social enterprise, Renewable Energy, Retail product, arts organisation or budding Start-Up Entrenprenuer then Exeter StartUp Weekend could be the place for you to launch. Calling on former University of Exeter students that have gone on to create businesses, including Stew Noakes (QualiTest), Tom Carrington-Smith (The Eleven), Ben Tyson (Born Social) and myself (MGR Music Tuition LTD), to help get your business ideas off the ground the StartUp weekend will be an event not to be missed.


It terms of my week here at MGR Music Tuition it has been busy as ever, updating the music websites to make the mobile friendly (thanks to Google’s new algorithm – read more in my “Google Mobile Update” post). I am currently managing to update two websites a day (taking 1 & 1/2 hours each!) – so it will be 50 day process to get all the websites updated! We have also managed to launch two new websites this week; Piano Lessons Norwich and for the fantastic Andy Smith, who is the current singing teacher we work with in Reading, a second website Piano Lessons Reading to enable him to tutor piano students of all ages and ability in Reading. However, the big challenge in the coming weeks will be to ensure that the speed at which I can hire new teachers will match that of the new enquiries coming in!

Posted under Business Innovation, Events, Ignite, Innovation Centre

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Matthew Rusk on May 15, 2015

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The General Election: Who is Best For Business Innovation?

With all the coverage of the 2015 election I thought it would be an interesting task to sit down and analyses the election manifestos of the main political parities solely from the point of view of which party would be best for business innovation. This means delving deep into each parties proposed policies around entrepreneurship, small & medium size businesses as well cultivating a wider economic environment that is favourable for business start up. This also means putting aside my personal political views (bit of a Labour man), as much as is possible, to make this hopefully an objective overview of which party is looking to support entrepreneurs the most. This article is certainly not designed to swing your vote but instead perhaps explore something that wasn’t really mentioned during the election process – namely who is best party for the entrepreneur?

Firstly, lets explore two major factors that are continuing to shape the UK’s economy for all businesses. This is of course the sustained fallout of the 2008 economic crash, that is still having profound implications in the way businesses and government are run – while the next five years is predicted to gradually improve there is no doubt that the UK’s economy is still in recovery mode. The second major factor is Europe; everything from a Greek exit to our own place within the EU, with the potential of an EU referendum during the next government should The Conservative party win a majority there is a very real change we might also be heading for the EU exit door. These factors certainly don’t lead to the most favourable of economic environments for business – recovery and uncertainty.

So what do The Conservative party offer to an entrepreneur in their manifesto – well good news. Not only does it have a clear focus on economic improvement, based on a track record of generally improving the UK economy (we saw in 2014 the UK economy grow faster than any other advanced economy) but defined incentives for entrepreneurs in the shape of Small Business Rate Relief. In addition some 27 thousand business mentors will be made available to entrepreneurs and small businesses that would not be able to afford the advice otherwise – so far so good. However, I am rather more skeptical about George Osborne’s promises of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ – despite the impressive figure of investment in national infrastructure and UK based business research (£2.9 billion) – cities like Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle to name but a few need far more investment on an entrepreneurial support level to build on the successes so far. For example Newcastle has become well known within the entrepreneurial community over the last four years for its developing “tech hub” – indeed you can read more about it on the Ignite100 website which is now one of the UK’s leading Startup Accelerator Programmes – nonetheless the original idea for a Newcastle based “tech hub” came from passionate individuals that came together to crowdsource funding to make it happen rather than from a top down initiative. Therefore, I would have like to have seen, from an entrepreneurial point at least, a commitment within the “Northern Powerhouse” promise to support, seed and grow “tech hubs” in all major UK cities north of London.


In addition the proposed referendum on EU membership has got to be a cause for concern for small businesses, indeed, businesses of all sizes, as it effect the status-quo of our ability to access the European market with new products. While the renegotiation of our relationship with Europe might not be a bad thing on multiple levels the threat of leaving the EU entirely will no doubt have an impact on businesses, especially those start ups that are looking to sell into the EU who now cannot easily predict what the environment will be to do so from 2017 onwards.

Turning to the Labour Party it is abundantly clear that they simply do not have a concise economic plan that could gain the support of entrepreneurs (or indeed the wide business community). Where the plan is set forth it seems remarkably similar to that of The Conservatives, namely freeze business rates, invest in national infrastructure and the north – yet, by sticking with planned austerity cuts (albeit not as drastic as The Conservatives, potentially leading to borrowing more) in the end there is little to distinguish between the two parties other than The Conservative party seems to be much clearer in exactly what their plans are for the economy. Beyond these general Labour points their manifesto is rather too descriptive, without the qualifications and details of that of The Conservative party. Yet, there is a saving grace – by their commitment to maintain the UK’s membership in Europe it will ensure that a period of EU uncertainty will be avoided.

The Lib Dems’ manifesto is somewhat of a strange one in the sense that they suggest that The Conservatives deficit cuts were unscrupulous, which they might well have been, yet rather than ending austerity the Lib Dems will do it more “fairly”. This is odd in the sense that inevitably cuts will effect individuals in society and the chances are even the Lib Dems cuts will hit the sick, disabled and poor the hardest – where exactly is the fairness in that. However, when it comes to the economy the Lib Dems talk about a “greener economy” based on new principles of capitalism – building on the new Green Investment Bank which backs “green” start up ideas and businesses around the country. This is good news if you are an environmentally conscious entrepreneur. It is also good news for a long term economic forecast, enabling a society based on greener sources of energy – something certainly worth looking into more depending on your business type.


Ultimately, therefore I would summarise the following (i) The Conservatives are the clear favourites on purely an economic level, categorically more impressive on the entrepreneurial support front than Labour – though the threat of Brexit looms (ii) Labour, despite hammering their economic policy into stone, is far more flimsy than The Conservatives clear plans though Britain’s membership of the EU would be assured and (iii) the “greener” economy promoted in the Lib Dems manifesto is certainly appealing for environmental entrepreneurs – however, I fear the Nick Clegg’s party will get crushed for a different point, remember those promises about University tuition fees?!

On the business front it has been another business week as the business is continuing to expand at a rapid pace. With over 100 students waiting for lessons in places we are still hiring teachers I know that the potential for the continued expansion of the business is massive. However, ensuring that the right structures are in place to enable that to be a smooth upward trajectory of growth is an equally massive challenge – this includes stepping back from business tasks that I always thought I would do so I can focus on other aspects of the business. Alongside the help I now receive with the website writing (mostly from Exeter Uni students!), I am having some help on the admin side of things with enquiries and invoices now being looked after by other people – this has freed me up to hire new teachers and focus on the management of the business rather then simply fulfilling its basic processes (scary stuff!). On the website front, thanks to the likes of Rhys Lewis (first year, Exeter Uni student), Belinda Lavin (ex-Exeter student), Adam Sumnall (ex-Exeter student) and a few others we are now cracking through the websites with Drum Lessons Birmingham and Piano Lessons Aberdeen going live this week – the later being a fantastic achievement as the first website released in the initial expansion was the Guitar Lessons Aberdeen website (due to me writing them in alphabetic order), so to be able to expand into a third instrument in Aberdeen is great news and far beyond my original ambitions.

This progress is in addition to hiring new teachers in for the Drum Lessons Derby and Drum Lessons Edinburgh websites where a very talented drum Italian drum teacher, Diego Zanelli, has joined the team. So the business is continuing to grow each week – yet, like any business the economic environment the the business exist within is critical to its success. Paying for music lessons at £25 to £30 per hour is certainly not cheap – that is a £50 to £100 per month commitment to learn that instrument and certainly one of the first things that goes when people want to reduce their outgoings in times of economic depression. Therefore, the election in a few days time will have an impact on my business as each parties different economic plans will foster an environment more or less favourable to the average person having disposable income. For it is in the disposable income that music lessons are paid for and the business is built. Ultimately the link between the political environment and the success of your business is ever-present and something that all entrepreneurs should keep an eye on.

Posted under Business Innovation, Politics

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Matthew Rusk on May 5, 2015

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Over the last few months I have had the pleasure of getting to know Edward Latham and Alex Nechoroskovas, co-founders of the iPhone repair company iMended. Having previously met Ed during the infamous Deloitte pitching event in 2012 where he pitched his innovative idea to sell advertising space on university paper – essentially to enable students to get free handouts at no extra cost to the university; while advertisers get the valuable student’s attention with great ad-space. Unfortunately although the product seemed a great idea one of the business leaders of Deloitte didn’t seem to take too kindly to Ed having used a rival company’s logo at the top of the prototypes.

Since this time, and who knows maybe because of that infamous encounter, Ed and Alex have pivoted to explore the ever expanding market of iPhone repairs. Indeed, iMended is a localised service that the pair have devised to enable iPhone users to repair their phones in a rapid, professional manner at much lower costs than the high-street competition. Having pitched the idea here at the Innovation Centre the duo won a Start Up award grant enabling them to launch their website and start growing their business. With customers coming in from across Exeter the duo have stationed themselves at the Innovation Centre, as well as down at Devonshire house to fix phones with all sorts of cosmetic and internal problems. They are now looking to start expanding across the south-west and further afield with a franchise model – whereby the team generate the clients and provide the knowledge and materials to enable specialists in that location to fix the iPhones. At this stage it looks a really exciting business proposition and we are all interested to see where Ed and Alex, two very promising young entrepreneurs, take the product. You can read more about the iMended story on the University of Exeter website via these links: iMended Case Study and University News.


In terms of the progress here at MGR Music this week has been super busy in terms of launching new a website, with Guitar Lessons Birmingham coming online which is great news. I am still trying to get the right structures in place to enable me to manage the growing business but it looks really promising at this stage that it can develop into a thriving music tuition business that extends well beyond Exeter where it was all started!

Connect with Matthew via LinkedIn or visit his latest entreperurial project

Posted under Business Innovation, iMended, Student Businesses

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Matthew Rusk on April 30, 2013