What am I doing here? That was my first thought as I looked round a lecture theatre packed with incredibly smart science and business brains. But I had an idea, I wanted to test it and the entry fee was just £60, so here I was on my first Venture Creation Weekend without a clue what to expect.
A lecture from a successful entrepreneur who had started out with an idea and no money kicked us off. His honesty about the road blocks, failures and sheer hard work involved was tempered with the inspiring reality of his success.
Then we were in the thick of it – a pitching exercise when we were thrown two random words and asked to think of a business idea around them (my favourite? A dating app called Confused and Desperate!). After the laughter had subsided we were suddenly into the real pitching. I found myself lining up with 40 other hopefuls with one minute each to sell our idea verbally to the room. The atmosphere was more supportive than I had expected and warm rounds of applause greeted each idea. It was both nerve-wrecking and thrilling to be up there, explaining your ‘baby’ to complete strangers and the voting process after, when everyone gets three votes for their favourite ideas, left nowhere to hide! But it’s amazing how the momentum carries you along. Suddenly 11 ideas had gone through (not mine!) and we were all choosing our teams.
I attached myself to a small team with an intriguing idea for early stage skin cancer detection. Perhaps this was the thing I liked best – a room full of people putting their own idea to one side and immediately rolling up their sleeves to help those who ideas had made it through. Just a couple of hours after the weekend began, we were in teams and getting down to work. The team I joined had a quick breather and got to know each other on one of the school’s lovely balconies. Then we did an assessment of our skills and divided up initial tasks. By the 11pm finish, we were well underway.
Saturday began bright and early with a lecture on how to write business plans. One burning question struck fast in my head – does anyone actually want what you’re offering and what makes you different from anyone else in the market? It was one to both apply to our team and to take away to ponder for my own idea (still alive and kicking if only in my imagination!).
Saturday morning was spent researching the science, doing customer surveys on our long-suffering friends and looking at what the global competitors in our space were up to. The afternoon was taken up with speed-dating mentors, some very enthused by our team and idea, some less so, but all incredibly knowledgeable and generous with that knowledge. Wake up calls aplenty! But they all took us in the right directions and strengthened our offering. By the time we finished for the day we had already started on our presentation for the judging panel.
Sunday began with a lecture on how to pitch, which brought home the reality that in just a few hours we would be doing it for real and being grilled by an expert panel of judges. We focused on doing some final research and getting our slides polished. Some final ‘dates’ with mentors were encouraging and then it was practice, practice, practice. It was 4.30 before we knew it and we were all filing into the pitching room. Ten minutes to make our case and five of those were for questions – it flew by. But the intensive prep paid off and we all felt we had given it our best. Watching the other pitches and seeing what the other ten teams had achieved in just one weekend was truly amazing. It was actually quite moving to see how people’s initial idea had moved on so far and so fast and that they now had a team around them.
We weren’t one of the lucky ones in the end but by the time we clinked wine glasses at the final dinner, we all felt we had come on an amazing, frenetic, challenging but ultimately highly rewarding journey together. Achieving what we had over a longer period would have taken ages and the intense focus, energy and motivation would have been diluted. Our little team bonded quickly, had a lot of fun together and we intend to keep working on the idea.
The main impression I am left with is one of energy, fun, the generosity of so many people sharing their skills and expertise – both mentors and the cohort – and the sheer amount I learnt in such a short period. An amazing adventure and one I thoroughly recommend.