On Thursday 18 May, we travelled to Smarden in Kent for one of the year’s most exciting – and exclusive! – business networking events. Join the Spots is the brainchild of entrepreneur and business coach Steve Sampson (M7 Connects, Prove Anything), who brought together his many and varied connections to fill a hall with some of the most interesting and innovative thinkers in tech and commerce.

The venue itself was no less exciting: the Big Cat Sanctuary, a conservation and breeding site which is home to leopards, pumas, tigers and lions, and more. With the sun shining on an exceptionally fine May morning (Steve joked that he’d brought the weather over from Alicante with him), we gathered together at the Founders’ Lodge for what would be a fascinating day full of bold and brilliant ideas.

Beneath the timber beams of the lodge, seating was laid out for 70 people… and by the time we had finished our coffees, biscuits, and morning meet and greet, the hall was at full capacity and ready for a day of fascinating presentations.

The Founders' Lodge at the Big Cat Sanctuary

Inside the Founders' Lodge, the stage is set for the Join the Spots presentation

The Speakers

Lynn Whitnall, The Big Cat Sanctuary

In past years Join the Spots has opened with a welcome talk from Sir Eric Peacock – philanthropist, entrepreneurial guru, and a trustee of the Big Cat Sanctuary. Unfortunately Sir Eric couldn’t make it this year, but instead we had a welcome talk from the sanctuary’s CEO, Lynn Whitnall.

Lynn talked about the work being done by the Big Cat Sanctuary, both here – such as Project Lion, the sanctuary’s successful mission to adapt a suitable living area for endangered Asiatic lions – as well as its conservation projects overseas in places such as Borneo and Sumatra.

Rhona Morrell, iReGen

After that, the day’s presentations started strong with a talk from Rhona Morrell – an investor, mentor, climate advisor, founder of Reclaim Earth and iReGen Ltd., and host of the Rhona Morrell Podcast.

Rhona’s big focus was on sustainability. With new legislation on its way with regards to Scope 1-3 emissions, businesses need to be ready and reporting before it catches up with them. Rhona talked about the application of blockchain in conservation projects (for example, one of her projects allowed sponsors to buy their own 3x3 metre plots of land in Panama), and she finished with an onscreen quiz. Attendees were able to participate in the game through their mobile phones, and the answers to her questions revealed some startling stats about the state of the environment – and the urgent need for the kind of sustainability measures that Rhona’s work encourages.

Gareth Langley, Piing

This segued nicely into our second presentation, from Piing – the company who created the tech for Rhona’s multiplayer quiz, and who are making innovative strides in the world of “games for crowds.” Piing’s CEO Gareth Langley opted to take a show don’t tell approach, by inviting us all to take part in a multiplayer game on the big screen. Scanning a QR code gave us access to the game on our phones, we picked our screen names, and then each of us appeared as a car in a multiplayer driving game. One by one, players were knocked out or fell behind, until it came down to nail-biting finish between two final racers – everybody was hooked on the screen, and as Gareth pointed out, a lot of brands would love to have that kind of excitement attached to their name. 

“The future of brand engagement is mass participation,” he told us.

Piing currently offer seven games, with mass scalability built in – their system can power Pong for 100 players, or a halftime stadium event with 55,000 sports fans playing a penalty shoot out game together. Piing also now holds the Guinness world record for the largest multiplayer game-show quiz ever. It was an exciting presentation that showed the very clear value of what Piing provides – and right now things seem to be going very well for them, with their upcoming US launch at a Tampa Bay Rays game, and some early talks already happening with Adidas.

Colm Moore, Ribbon

We heard from Colm next, about the importance of feedback, and gaining accurate insights into user behaviour. Ribbon provide their clients with the power to “build better product experiences with in-the-moment user insights.” Colm illustrated the importance of this with a comparison to “desire paths,” the phenomenon where pedestrians want something different to what urban planners provide and so end up treading their own shortcuts across the grass. The same is true for online or in-app experiences, he explained, driving home the important of conducting smart market research with real users.

Mike Southon, BeerMat Alchemist

Mike Southon is a writer and entrepreneur, and co-author (along with Chris West) of The Beermat Entrepreneur, The Boardroom Entrepreneur and Sales on a Beermat. In this cerebral and occasionally surprising talk, he introduced us all to his concept of “Beermat Alchemy” – and talked about the significant role of creativity in business and entrepreneurship. He also emphasised the importance of sharing knowledge, suggesting that all of us, at some point, should consider writing a book to pass on what we’ve learned in our own journeys.

Terry Byrne, Round World Group

Terry Byrne of Round World Group then treated us to one of the event’s most interesting – and moving – talks. Before founding his own talent management agency in 2006, Terry told us how he’d made the extraordinary journey from black cab driver into the field of sports massage, over time befriending David Beckham, as well as representing others including Pele, Gareth Southgate, and the England Football Team. Terry is a fantastic speaker, and his personal story had the crowd laughing one minute, then sharing in real tragedy the next.

David Higgins, Tagmata

Terry Byrne also introduced our next speaker: David Higgins of private security firm Tagmata. David definitely seems like the sort of person you would want to have on your side. This ex-SAS operator presented a fascinating talk on the changing nature of modern security. Today, he told us, physical guarding a client is only one tiny aspect of the job – Tagmata are also very much concerned with social media, online accounts and password management, and even the “internet of things.” He told us one eye-opening story about a client whose ex-husband had been spying on her through a wall-mounted tablet that controlled her home heating system. His company’s tagline nicely sums up their broad focus: “Good security protects the people, reputation and profitability of your organisation.”

Dean McFarlane, FETCHpay

FETCHpay is a mobile payment system with a big focus on efficiency and ease of use. Dean’s presentation was a great introduction to the company and their products, talking us through the five main features that their service offers: Payments, Tipping, Pay at Table, Order + Pay, and Donations. One really positive application for the last of those, is that it has been making it easier for homeless people and rough sleepers to received donations – and Dean also highlighted some of the work FETCHpay has done with Bristol-based charity BillyChip, to use innovative new tech in order to get aid to the people who need it most.

Paul Greaves, Zenergy

After a barbecue lunch on the lawn, we heard from Paul Greaves with Zenergy Solar Ltd. In his compelling talk, Paul explained how the cost of solar panels has dropped 88% since 2010, and that Zenergy’s installations typically pay themselves off in 3-5 years – with as much as a 10x return on investment over their lifetime. He stressed that there has never been a more crucial time to invest in renewables… with the government moving to make companies’ energy performance certificates (EPCs) a matter of public record, and businesses expected to hit EPC C by 2027, and EPC B by 2030. Many of the solutions offered by Zenergy seemed like absolute no-brainers though – such as vertically mounted solar panels on south-facing walls, or the idea of converting car parks to feature solar shelters capable of powering their own electric vehicle charging points.

Laura Edwards, Viral Talent

Laura’s talent management business consists of two brands. Through Viral Talent, she calls on her roster of influencers and internet personalities to provide companies with promotional services such as reviews, features and other product promos. The other side of this is Wild Vision – a management label through which she identifies, manages, and grows talent. It was a fascinating talk, as the online influencer industry is still such a new and dynamic field that it was interesting to hear about what goes on behind the scenes.

Mike Harding and Luke Green, Alvio

Next it was time for Alvio’s own Mike and Luke to take to the stage, and tell everyone about what it is we do. They explained our approach to collaborative commerce, and how an Alvio model can give independent brands, suppliers and retailers a powerful market boost by turning competitors into collaborators. Throughout the event many talks had touched on the running theme of “sustainability,” and it was relevant here too – as an Alvio model allows companies to move data not products, which has a significant effect on reducing the mileage travelled by consumer goods.

Steve Sampson and Ian Rabbidge, N1Fan Group

Steve and Ian are both men of many hats – in addition to organising this event, Steve was representing Prove Anything and M7 Connects, while Ian was dressed in his fetching Alvio gilet. Today though, they got up on stage together to present a talk on N1Fan Store.

You can read more about N1Fan Store right here on our site – we’re proud to have them onboard as an Alvio partner, as an outlet committed to delivering only the very finest in sports-related memorabilia and merchandise. The N1Fan Store presentation also served as a great advert for the collaborative spirit of the whole event – with products authenticated by Prove Anything, offered on a platform powered by Alvio.

Glenn Shoosmith, Prove Anything

Maybe it tells you something about Prove Anything… that we had already heard their name in at least three other presentations, before Glenn Shoosmith took to the stage himself. It was a charismatic and energetic presentation, which really drove home the limitless potential of the blockchain-authentication system that Prove Anything deliver.

However, while earlier speakers had name-dropped Prove Anything in relation to authenticating sponsorships, or proving the provenance of bought consumer goods, Glenn pointed out how the potential went much further still – giving the example that in many cases it’s now impossible to recycle or resell a used sofa without presenting its fire safety certificate. The value of a paper-free and provable digital ledger therefore has significant and broad application in our daily lives… from artwork, to trainers, to fridges and milk bottles.

Glenn’s talk was well received by all… and if you’d like to know more, visit our Prove Anything partner page here.

Lorraine O'Brien, My Debonair Dog

Last but not least, we heard from Lorraine about My Debonair Dog – a boutique brand for canines, which offers a wide range of classy products such as dog shampoos, “après poop” spray, and paw cream. We were introduced to some of the stars of the My Debonair Dog family, and we heard a bit about the dog charities supported with donations from all product sales.


Mike Harding and Luke Green present Alvio at the Big Cats Conference


Touring the Big Cat Sanctuary

At the end of a very full day packed with talks, networking opportunities and a barbecue lunch in the sunshine, we were treated to a private tour of the Big Cat Sanctuary – visiting these majestic creatures, and hearing about more of the amazing work the sanctuary is doing in its various in-house and outreach projects.

After that, we settled in for the night at The Plough in nearby Langley – a great little pub where we were treated to a three-course dinner, and carried on our fascinating conversations with new and familiar faces.

A puma enjoys the sunshine at the Big Cats Sanctuary in Kent.


Thoughts and Reflections on the Big Cats Networking Event

The next morning, driving home to Southwest England, Alvio’s Mike and Luke reflected on the day’s speakers. For Mike, the most exciting aspect of Join the Spots was: “Being in a room full of lots of entrepreneurial, engaged, clever people, with interesting ideas.”

Luke agreed, adding: “It’s just a great place to have a networking event. Such a relaxed and inclusive atmosphere, with lots of very engaged and intelligent people.”

The diversity of ideas and experiences on display was something they both commented on. “You can fall in a trap at these things of assuming that everyone is in a relatively similar industry to you,” said Mike – when in reality, the person you’re speaking with may have a background in commerce, in finance, in charity work, or even in the SAS.

All in all, Join the Spots 2023 was an excellent day of networking and knowledge, with lots of faces old and new, and more good ideas that we could possibly ever fit into a summary this short.

Finally, we would like to give our enormous thanks to Steve Sampson for bringing us all together like this, and also to Lynn Whitnall and the Big Cat Sanctuary, for being kind enough to host us. See you all next time!


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