Meet one of the Martin James Network’s very own entrepreneurs, Tim Luft

Meet one of the Martin James Network’s very own entrepreneurs, Tim Luft

I have always had a passion for technology – from my early days in school operating a BBC Microcomputer where I would play the latest games (many of which were extremely basic, 2D, with very poor graphics). 

Jump 20 years on and the games industry has changed beyond all recognition, new games consoles have appeared, Apple iTunes have brought out mobile games and computers that are able to process highly engaging 3D graphics.  It is from this that I recognised an opportunity to create highly innovative products from the skill set of the games industry. However, instead of building entertainment games, I felt we should look towards gamification and 3D virtual environments to assist with everyday tasks such as teaching and learning. 

Before I set up my own Virtual Reality Studio I went through the process of running other businesses – my first being a French Restaurant (but my cooking skills were pretty questionable and I am not sure whether Wolverhampton was quite ready for Crepes in the mid-1990s), I ran my own consultancy business (advising blue chips and the UK Government on Innovation and IT) for many years and then decided the time was right to go it alone with a technical development studio in the West Midlands. 

As a small business focusing on Virtual Reality and Simulation I was able to slowly build up a company and generate a mix of clients from Arriva Trains to the Gwent Police. But it was clear, I needed to invest in products if the business was going to grow, at this stage I started with the Rail Industry, developing a learning tool using a virtual 3D environment to increase safety on railway platforms – it worked, our first client experienced a 60% reduction in incidents on the rail stations as a result of training their staff with our software (Result!). This gave us the confidence to explore similar products for the UK Police and before long we had two titles in the market. 

As I progressed the business I often presented at events, conferences and workshops, it was at such a presentation that Jim and Ayyab happened to be in the audience. They had an interest in VR/ AR and it wasn’t long before I had a call from an old friend of mine, Faye. One thing led to another and the opportunity to join the MJN family of businesses became real – this was an easy option for me, I recognised that as a small business with little or no investment we can only grow at a certain pace, but being a smaller part of something bigger (TalkOut Group) we could grab with both hands the real opportunity to innovate and scale. Jim and Ayyab recognise the potential of technology as a source for good if developed properly, they have also created an enviable group of companies, all of whom I felt could be great partners and collaborators going forward. 

I feel that we are still on an exciting journey and with the support of the Martin James Network, and the wider teams across the globe I am very excited to see where this journey takes us. The appointment of Paul Putman as our new TalkOut CEO and a focus on combining our VR tech team with world class experts in mobile development also offers tremendous potential for growth. We recognise how significant the TalkOut App will become and are fully onboard to support the company with a portfolio of Virtual Reality Worlds. Watch this space!

No, seriously – I have a dream too!

No, seriously – I have a dream too!

This month the Martin James Network are celebrating and supporting Black History month. We have events, workshops and support going on throughout the month as well key talking points from colleagues around the business. In the latest blog, Cliff discusses what BHM means to him and what having a dream is all about.

Hey, my name is Cliff Faulder and I recently had a dream. In all fairness, I often have dreams.

Some involve world cup winning goals, others involve me eating the world’s largest marshmallow only to awake and find I have nearly devoured my pillow!

But I do have one recurring dream. A dream that feels like a millennial update on the great Martin Luther King “I have a dream” speech.

My dream is a little less profound and very simple.

My dream as an entrepreneur, businessman, husband, father, and son is that my attainment in life is not seen as an achievement. But just standard, fair, and well…. just what you’d expect from the average black dude.

Sadly, in 2020, this is still not the case for all sections of society. Every black person you know will understand exactly what I mean when I refer to phrases like, “doing well for a black person”, or ,“it’s not often you meet many people like you in senior positions”.

The uncomfortable truth is that those statements are often true.

So how is it that in today’s day and age successful people of colour are still largely seen as an anomaly? Is it a lack of drive, ambition, or aptitude?

Of course not.

But it has everything to do with how we see and acknowledge what black people and other people of colour are capable of and how they have contributed to the world we all live in.

Are we conditioned to dream big dreams for people of colour and expect great things from them in the same way we do of those with European heritage?

If not, why not?

Who kills those dreams?

As a black child growing up in 70s, 80s and 90s Britain, I was acutely aware that I should treasure my dreams as they were the only thing that the world could not limit.

You see, in my dreams about the life I wanted to live, I could accomplish anything! Become a doctor – yes, no problem. Be an astronaut – easy peasy. In my mind, I only had to conceive the notion and allow my imagination to do the rest.

As I grew throughout my primary school years, something began to change. Adults in a position to influence me, such as teachers or community figures, began to discourage my ambitious dreams and replace them with what they thought was realistic for a black boy.

Gone was the encouragement to attain careers that took skill and academic achievement. What replaced it was throwaway comments like “you’d make a good basketball player” – not due to even a passing interest on my part but more to that fact that I fit a racial profile and was tall enough to evoke a lazy stereotype.

Even as a child I understood that other people’s limited perceptions of who I was or what I could be was down to their own limitations of what they knew.

Afterall, if the only black people they knew were poor or famous athletes/entertainers, telling me I could grow up to be a basketball player was most likely their version of a compliment.

So, I began to think about how I would educate the masses. How could I persuade the world to consider that yes, many young black children may well be gifted sportsmen and women but just as many can lay claim to being exceptional in a variety of industries.

The challenge I set myself as a child is as relevant today as it was then. That challenge was primarily to expose people to more knowledge of exactly what people of colour have contributed to the world in all its facets and forms.

Firstly, I had to upskill myself and supplement the history taught in school curriculums with additional knowledge about how black people also appeared in the narrative. For instance, I like many of you learned about the first and second world wars. I however took special interest in identifying how many black soldiers fought and died in those wars.

Alas my many visits to war museums, such as the Tank Museum in Bovington on the Dorset coast, failed to have even one picture of a black person on display – let alone information of how people of colour have paid the ultimate price in the name of Queen and country.

In this link you may get a sense of how unjust this is.,served%20in%20uniformed%20Labour%20Units.

While there are many examples like the one found in the link below, it is clear that while amazing contributions have been made, they can often go unrecognised.

This is why Black History Month is necessary.

It is necessary because information of this type fuels dreams. It allows people to expand their mind to accept that the advancement of humankind can be found in all men and women of all colours and cultures.

In short, it’s great to recognise what black folks have done in the past and acknowledge what they can do in the future. It’s great to upskill each other through the sharing of knowledge and brave conversations.

I can’t wait to dream a new dream where Black History Month is not necessary because it’s just what we learn about in our everyday lives.

I have a dream that this is the new normal.

Cliff Faulder, Philanthropist, Managing director of AboutFace, Creator of the “Bravery Award”, Liverpool fc supporter and Social commentator. (LinkedIn –


Mayor of West Midlands officially opens ‘CoLAB’ – a creative incubation centre to nurture young talent

Mayor of West Midlands officially opens ‘CoLAB’ – a creative incubation centre to nurture young talent

On Wednesday 6th October, Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlandsvisited the Martin James Network offices to officially open CoLAB – a creative incubation centre to mentor and support entrepreneurial talent across the Midlands. 

In December, Martin James Network launched EPIC Youth – a charitable project to help young people who have experienced adversity by providing them with pathways to business and entrepreneurial success. Fast forward to today, where it’s opened its doors to CoLAB to further enable the ongoing nurturing and mentoring of those individuals who form part of the project. 

The launch of CoLAB will provide a dedicated safe space to cultivate entrepreneurial mindsets within the Martin James Network, for those involved in EPIC Youth to utilise to further their business, as well as external people such as local schools, local community groups and other business minded groups in the Birmingham area. 

Equipped with all the tools and inspiration that people need to get creative and turn ideas into opportunitiesCoLAB will allow individuals to work collaboratively on projects, express themselves candidly, and pursue new ideas. And what’s more, a series of engaging taster workshops will be hosted over the upcoming months to help people develop skills in disciplines ranging from photography and cinematography to coding and virtual reality. 

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “We know young people are most at risk from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, and we must do all we can to support them. 

“The work of The Martin James Network and Epic Youth is a brilliant example of the kind of help that is already available to young people, including mentoring, business advice, and financial support. 

“Their new CoLAB will help to build on this great work, and I was honoured to be asked to officially open the new facility.” 

The Martin James Network strongly believe in supporting young people who have experienced adversity. Its mission is to unlock hidden potential through practices and products which challenge and empower communities to think, act and behave differently, in the pursuit of positive lasting outcomes for everybody. 

Jim Cockburnexecutive chairman at The Martin James Network, comments: “We’re hugely excited about the potential of CoLAB and we can’t wait to see the impact it has for anyone using itNot only will it serve as a creative hub for training and stimulate innovation, it will boost wellbeing by giving our communities the opportunity to get creative, learn new skills and express themselves. 

CoLAB will provide essential hands on experience and specialist skills thanks to the modern-day technology available – we can’t wait to watch individuals grow and prosper! 

World Mental Health Day: helping employees thrive in the workplace

World Mental Health Day: helping employees thrive in the workplace

Here at the Martin James Network, the health and wellbeing of our employees is a key priority. Human beings are the lifeblood of any business and we believe that by connecting people to a purpose, supporting mental health and giving everyone a voice, we can all thrive in the workplace.

So, ahead of World Mental Health Day on this Saturday (10th October), we wanted to take a moment to recognise some of the incredible mental health projects and initiatives happening within the network at the moment.

Unlocking silos with the TalkOut app

Before lockdown, we had been developing and testing an app to help unlock silos, build communities, and keep employees across the globe connected. Lockdown amplified our People team’s existing belief that connecting digitally would boost employee engagement and mental health. We knew that the key to success was to breathe a fresh new approach through our people in the form of a digital solution – and that’s where the TalkOut app was born.

As well as being used to share internal news and company updates, the app allows colleagues to communicate in real time, in a way that is best suited to them. They can chat to groups, individuals, or whole communities all from the one platform.

Crucially, at the heart of the app, is a system that offers employee mental health support through useful resources and advice. And soon, the app will allow individuals to speak to a counsellor via a specialist chat function too.

Campaigning for better workplace mental health

Team members at our mental health organisation, TalkOut Group, have been busy campaigning and urging the government to prioritise employee mental health at this difficult time. According to TalkOut Group’s latest research, over half (56%) of UK workers haven’t received any mental health support or advice from their employer since March.

On top of that, over a third (35%) of employees said that their mental health is worse now compared to before the pandemic. And just over half (51%) of respondents said they have felt uncertain about the future of their job.

The TalkOut Group has been busy speaking to the media – including the BBC and Forbes – and explaining why mental health in the workplace can longer be ignored.

Sharing mental health stories

At a time when supporting employee mental health has been crucial, we’ve increased webinars and online training for managers and employees across the business. We’ve also been sharing mental health resources so people can find out more or get further help if they need it.

Our People team have launched a range of initiatives to boost morale and wellbeing, including Mindful Mondays, and Wellbeing Wednesdays where key people across the business are interviewed and talk openly about their own mental health experiences. To simulate the social aspects of office life as much as possible, we’ve also regularly held virtual hangouts, pub quizzes and birthday celebrations for our employees.

Keeping our teams fighting fit

When the pandemic first hit and we were advised to work from home, a network employee – also a qualified personal trainer – set up a home workout group on Facebook. Created to help keep employees motivated and mentally fit whilst being confined to their homes, the HIIT and cardio workouts were uploaded live each day.

The workouts are still being streamed to this day and people outside of the network are even joining in!

Supporting working parents

With so many working parents having to look after their children during lockdown, another network employee created a Facebook group featuring recommendations and activities to keep kids occupied, home-schooling tips and positive news stories to lift parents’ spirits.

The group, called Mini Tribe Adventures, now has over 4.7k members and the founding employee made it onto local TV talking about why she set up the group.

Martin James Network founder marks National Poetry Day with city-wide graffiti trail, inspired by his experiences of Covid

Martin James Network founder marks National Poetry Day with city-wide graffiti trail, inspired by his experiences of Covid

To mark National Poetry Day (Thursday 1st October), Birmingham poet – Basic Existential Boy – has installed a city-wide graffiti trail, inspired by his own experiences of Covid.

Basic Existential Boy, or Jim Cockburn as he’s also known, launched his collection of Covid-19 poetry last month after falling ill with symptoms of the virus back in February.

Now, as we approach National Poetry Day, Jim hopes to inspire others and share his love of the written word with this thought provoking ‘clean graffiti’ art trail.

The trail aims to highlight the importance of art and poetry at times like these but also analyse how the pandemic has radically altered our society, rendering everyday life virtually unrecognisable overnight.

Showcasing excerpts of the poet’s work, the graffiti can be found in a number of locations throughout Birmingham such as Moseley, Harborne, Digbeth, Broad Street and New Street, as well as Moor Street and Snow Hill.

Speaking about his Covid poetry collection, Jim says: “Lockdown created time and space for me to reflect and writing this poetry has been a cathartic experience, helping me to deal with the mixed emotions the pandemic has brought about.

“The Coronavirus has disrupted every part of our lives in profound ways and no one has been immune from the effects. Within the pages of the collection, I have tried to capture some of these momentous times, good and bad.

Available to purchase on Amazon, Jim’s collection – called Covid Spring – features 17 poems reflecting on the world we’ve come to witness during the pandemic.

All proceeds from the collection go to EPIC Youth – a project set up by the Martin James Foundation to help disadvantaged young people with business and entrepreneurial success.

For more information visit or to purchase the Covid Spring anthology, go to

Follow @BasicExistentialBoy on Instagram and use the hashtag #BEBTHEPOET if you spot his work across the city.

Birmingham business expands with VR acquisition

Birmingham business expands with VR acquisition

Birmingham-based business, the Martin James Network, has expanded its portfolio further with the acquisition of VR company, VR Simulation Systems.

Headquartered in Edgbaston, and employing over 1,200 people globally, the Martin James Network is formed from a variety of organisations ranging from start-ups to well-established brands that have been in business for over 15 years.

The network has gone from strength-to-strength over the last two years, having started as a team of ten in rented offices in October 2018.

This latest move sees the network expand its mental health group, TalkOut, as it looks to help businesses navigate new ways of working and support staff wellbeing following the coronavirus outbreak.

Headed up by CEO, Jill Mead, TalkOut will now be able to offer workplaces across the country access to the best employee mental health support using the latest technology, in addition to its existing training and consultancy services.

As well as the new VR offering enabling employees to better understand and manage mental health through simulated environments, TalkOut has launched an app to help businesses connect and engage with teams as the nation adjusts to home working.

Rigorously tested for 18 months, and developed to work across countries and continents, the app helps businesses encourage collaboration, boost engagement, break down silos and provide crucial mental health support and counselling through a specialist chat function.

Ayyab Cockburn, chief operating officer at the Martin James Network, says: “We’re an ambitious network of businesses and we’re always looking at ways to diversify and grow, whilst keeping an eye on emerging trends.

“This latest acquisition is our response to what is a global issue. We’ve all been forced to work remotely, and whilst flexibility is an attractive benefit, this way of working can lead to isolation or silos.

“Businesses now more than ever are faced with both emotional and physical barriers that can and will impact on their success. Accepting that we need to change how we communicate with our employees, will be key in driving businesses forward during this challenging time.”

For more information about the Martin James Network, visit or