Based on the Raspberry Pi Compute Module, which contains the core elements of the computer, Slice is aimed at users who prefer not to use internet streaming or trust their media files to cloud storage. In accordance with Raspberry Pi’s founding principles, Slice is designed so that it can be tweaked, hacked and upgraded to the user’s content. But with its sleek design, it’s intended for the living room rather than the workbench.
“We didn’t want it to look like a mass-produced plastic box,” says James. “It’s a premium product with a lovely aluminium case and moving LED lighting. You’d want it to be seen – it’s like a high-end hi-fi component.”
His involvement with Slice came through Raspberry Pi’s engagement with its user community. “There was a company called Pimoroni, with two guys who had got together with a music entrepreneur called Mo Volans. He’d had the idea for something similar to Slice, and they thought it was a good idea and were looking for funding. But it soon became apparent that what they needed was engineering resources”.
Five Ninjas founded
Both James and Gordon Hollingworth, Raspberry Pi’s director of software engineering, were impressed enough to take a role in the project. “Between the five of us, we founded the company, finalised the design and went forward with it in our spare time – we’ve been working hard with it for the past nine months, making it happen”.
Finance was secured through the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter, with 1,500 people signing up to offer backing. Their units have now been built, and are about to be sent out. “We’re now contemplating the next move,” says James. “After shipping the Kickstarter units, we have the ability to build a few more for people who missed the opportunity to invest. Then we’ll be looking at higher-volume production, either through finding an investor or seeking someone to license the design and build it.”
Setting up a business needs more than a great idea
This is the sort of scenario in which James is already realising the benefits of the Cambridge EMBA – a course recommended to him by Eben Upton (co-Founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation) for its entrepreneurial focus. “Anyone can come up with a great idea, but it takes a solid understanding of business to be able to talk with venture capital firms and persuade people you know what you’re doing. That’s because people don’t necessarily invest in projects or products; they invest in teams.”
How the EMBA has helped
James believes that mixing with people of different backgrounds in the EMBA cohort is greatly beneficial when it comes to planning further entrepreneurial projects. “I’m really enjoying their company. I have been in the tech space for a long time so I have a lot of very good contacts in a narrow field, but having a broader contact base is extremely valuable. It gets you thinking and shakes you up a bit – and it’s very exciting to be challenged and be learning in that way again.”