Monday, 24 April 2017

The merit of Start-Up weekends.

This short piece on the effectiveness of a burst of activity is based on personal experience.
My first engagement with this was some years ago with designing an event we called “The Real Alchemist Bootcamp”. It was a cheeky attempt at drawing on the Paul Coelho book and at the same time playing on words –alchemy - where we helped to turn ideas into businesses.
This project was run at Queens College – Cambridge around 2003 and provided us with a huge level of insight into how we might run them again. The main outcome or should I say outpouring was the positive buzz and energy that it provided. We did not have an ecosystem into which the students who took part could follow.
Several years later we became involved in what we called “IdeasTransform” and the notion of meaningful entrepreneurship. The reason for this was due to the increased decibels coming out of accelerators that seemed to be pushing out App based new ventures that had nothing other than retail, courier, concierge, fashion, dating and other such proposals. Many were me-too ideas some of which had succeeded and others which had failed spectacularly!
From this came other similar experiences and bit by bit we started to see the gestation of social ventures and new technology businesses. The two with which I have been involved and can see becoming successes are which is providing decision support for farmers and a host of other services that build on agricultural data. This firm was born out a start-up weekend I was involved in and came about when two strangers began to chat and found they had common interests. The firm raised around $1m in investment and presently employs nearly 30 people – with twenty in India. There are many other such examples.
More recently we established Start-Up weekends at Cranfield and already have three new ventures in the making and several others in the pipeline. (1) Corrosion radar will provide data and solutions to the oil and gas industry with sensors examining corrosion under insulation (2) PhycoFeed has technology that can accelerate the production of biofuels using solar energy. It provides a significant improvement in efficiency.  And (3) Datasolver is set to provide privacy security in the growing explosion of data. We have had other forms too that are coming along nicely and we can talk more about them in due course.
Happily we have also killed off ideas at these weekends before too much effort goes into them. 
So, what have we learnt?  First thing is to get quality ideas and people together. Secondly bring together a high calibre and experienced mentor group. Thirdly, have access to a pot of money people can aim at securing. Fourth, provide relevant content and process to generate ideas, perhaps pivot them around until something looks sensible. Doing this under time pressure seems to work because it is quality time that is not otherwise available to entrepreneurs.
From a purely social perspective – it is fun too! Yes there is merit. I feel that if we can get even one decent start-up out of a weekend that is sustainable, generates revenues and creates employment using novel research based technologies we win on many fronts. The input/output ratio is worthwhile!

Cranfield Start-Up weekends are free at the point of delivery. Our next weekend is 18th to 20th May 2017. We will report in more detail on the ideas and companies which flow through this event.  If you are curious to know more please follow the link: