Key Learnings from NYC

Life has a funny way of going about its business. One of my goals in 2013 was to be out in the U.S. at some point, interacting with a local startup community (I didn’t specifically have a preference where in the U.S). Since last Tuesday (19th Feb), I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of one of the most highly coveted student-run organisations in the world- The Kairos Society.

Fellows from the U.K, U.S, India, Scandinavia, Canada, France, Germany, Holland and many more countries – gathered in New York for the annual summit. Kairos is an organization which aims to gather the top student innovators and entrepreneurs (somehow I’ve fallen into this bracket?!) from around the world to be able to facilitate a valued network of peers to collaborate and design solutions to the pressing problems the world currently faces.

I’m particularly keen to direct this article to some of the insights that I’ve learnt during my trip,  so I’ll focus on key learnings, and briefly speak about any other personal memories.

I’ll start by saying stop worshipping a particular city, and look more closely at WHY you look to that city. The mindset and work-ethic of NY’s inhabitants puts the U.K to shame. They rise early, they don’t take lunch breaks and they work till late. Now, I’ve been a keen proponent of work-life integration for sometime, but the U.K needs to appreciate the trade-off between “work” and “life”.

Onto the city:  I find the NY people and its culture are what shapes the city more than anything, along withthe vast skyscrapers glittered across the city. I find that in all major metropolis’, you will always have certain landmarks such as the World Financial Center in Shanghai and the Empire State Buildingin NY, but they all share similar characteristics. I wouldn’t go as far as saying, “once you’ve been to one you’ve been to them all”, but it is important to bear in mind that travelling to a particular location shouldn’t be an end goal. Key learning: Stop looking at everyone else, look at your surroundings and think about how you can be the best in the world at what you do.

Onto Kairos: The themes for the 5th Annual summit were 3-D printing and Mobile Health. I’ve read around Mobile Health, but it didn’t ignite as much interest as 3-D printing did for me. In addition, with mentors from Autodesk (a company which I admire) and Shapeways, I decided to follow this theme a lot more closely. The prototypes developed by some of these companies were amazing and I believe, the UK will start to notice 3-D printing late this year whereas in the U.S it seems to be the craze right now. I’d encourage more students from the UK to look at the potential of 3-D printing and track what’s happening inthe U.S in 2013. I envision a global social enterprise coming out of this industry in the near future if anyone can utilise 3-D printing with a wide variety of raw materials in different shapes and sizes.

Friday’s Kairos dinner allows me to fully appreciate the  breadth of talent and extraordinary energy around me- I had mentors who’ve gone on to create multi-million pound businesses to my right, and students from Berkeley who are in the middle of creating drones using military technology provided by NASA. I was incredibly humbled by the occasion. Key learning: Being part of an incredible network of talented entrepreneurs can never be seen as a bad thing. Grasp more of these opportunities with both hands. 

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 In the UK, it seems the media (including students) are very quick to lament the “lazy student”, but they wouldn’t have thought about using those two words in tandem if they were on that same floor as I was on Saturday- The New York Stock Exchange floor that is.  Key learning: Don’t ever take a stereotype at face-value, it’s most probably false. Obviously I couldn’t write a blog post on the Summit without mentioning Madeon, Lady Gaga’s DJ, opening up the party on Saturday night and making history as the first DJ ever to perform at NYSE.

Overall, the Kairos Summit, the Fellows and New York have all given me so much to ponder, and so many opportunities to consider. I will never forget my first trip to NY, nor my first Kairos Summit. I look to develop these relationships further in over 2013 and help Fellows reach their goals whilst working on mine. So, if you were at the Summit or if you’re a Kairos Fellow and you are reading this, let me know how I can help!

Key learnings: 

–       New York is an amazing city. But there’s so much more to the skyscrapers and NY Yankees. Explore, explore and explore.

–       The U.K need to take more opportunities, optimally collaborate, and develop long-standing partnerships with the U.S, as they seem to already be doing. And we need to build more businesses at a ground level (starting with scientific innovation at universities).

–       There are a larger number of businesses in more advanced areas such as healthcare, education, manufacturing, biotech, clean tech and energy. We need to encourage students to look at commercialization of their ideas and research in order to have 1st, 2nd and 3rd years thinking about applying their research in a more practical manner.

–       The food in NY is awesome. But it’s not really authentic.

Have you ever been to NY? What did you think of the city? And the food? Are there any places I should’ve gone to? 

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How to get business ideas at University

If you wait for opportunities to occur, you will be one of the crowd – Edward De Bono 

I hear from a lot of students at university that they want to start a company in the near future, either once they’ve graduated or in a couple of years, once they have experience in one particular area, such as graphene engineering (what even is that?).

In my experience, it’s easier to start a business in a particular  field once you’ve already set up and worked in a business beforehand. There are opportunities all around us, especially at university, and it has become increasingly important to not necessarily engage in enterprising activities; but to at least identify opportunities (although the former is a huge leverage point, and it’s one thing to identify, and another to act upon your perspective).

This is something I’ve spoken to many people at Manchester Entrepreneurs about; many individuals wish to start something, but have no idea what to start. Therefore, this post isn’t directed to individuals who are THINKING about whether starting a business at university is a good option- I hope most of my readers already understand that it is, and are just short of a little inspiration.

I’ve done a bit of research around this, and most of the stuff I’ve found have been outdated, traditional (and quite frankly, boring) ways to earn money at university. I like to think people in the UK have a bit more ambition than just mowing someone’s lawn for a fiver or finding unnecessary clothes and selling them at a car boot sale (considering these to be actual businesses are questionable at best, but nonetheless you can make a living out of them. Someone is, somewhere in the world).

How to find ideas:

1. What’s your problem?: University students have problems all the time. For most of them, university is the first time they’ve had to leave home and live somewhere permanently. Things which we take for granted such as regular cooked meals, heating, travel and much more. Your friends are constantly having problems, and you can identify them by finding those keywords they may mention…”I wish X was run better”, “I honestly think I could do a much better job than they are at managing Y”, “I don’t understand why they don’t supply/serve Z”. Finding clear and simple solutions to everyday problems has much more scope to expand if you know of people who share the same problem. That usually means a vast majority of individuals in the same segment at least, may have the same problem. Most students I know complain about the amount of time they waste, or their sheer inability to track their spending.

It still holds true that man is most uniquely human when he turns obstacles into

opportunities. – Eric Hoffer 

2. Latching onto trends: A friend of mine recently set up a website where you buy Christmas Trees. Now, this might not be one of my pressing needs in March/April, but during November and December you can be sure many students, especially 2nd and 3rd years with houses, are probably looking to invest in affordable Christmas trees to go along with Christmas festivities. While he made a small profit out of it, he learnt a lot from the experience (I can testify to this, he was complaining to me how his supplier massively increased the wholesale price without informing him in advance and he had to react quickly to this setback) whilst being able to say he built a credible website, used social media tools to boost awareness, and even engaged in content creation in order to improve his own SEO. So Valentine’s day is coming up….

3. Look around you: Glasses Direct Founder James Murray Wells started his business, which sells glasses online at rock-bottom prices, by actively keeping his eyes peeled for opportunities. He reiterated that being able to flick the switch in your mind which involves harnessing the mentality of keeping your mind open to problems that need to be solved. Seriously, I can’t cook- if someone can either teach me/provide me with meals, I’d consider paying depending on the end-value creation and whether it is sustainable for me to do so. In all seriousness, I believe many students suffer from the same anxieties (aka “laziness”), and it’s worth delving into a bit more.

4. Leverage what’s out there: In The Straight Story, the 1999 filmabout a 73-year-old man who drives a lawn mower 300 miles across Iowa, I’m pretty sure he could’ve found a young snapper who would’ve done that for him for less than $10. In the 21st century, however, we’re thankful to have apps such as PocketMUni and Sooqini, which can help students indefinitely earn extra income. If you want to write a press release, teach a class, cook meals- you can pretty much do anything on these platforms and get paid for it. Now, this blogpost isn’t entitled “How to get more money at university”, but I merely point out these services as they demonstrate demand- if it’s something people want, you have a market to sell your product or services to.

“Opportunities are multiplied as they are seized” – Sun Tzu 

I’ve listed a number of my own ideas which I feel there is potential to expand and to think about and at least conduct some very basic market research.

My ideas: 

1. Library books

As a student of social sciences, I’m supposed to be checking out a large number of books per week, but its increasingly difficult to find these books in one of the largest university libraries in the UK. People misplace books, put them on the wrong shelf, or throw them out the window (OK, I made that last one up, JRUL is really an orderly place). One idea I thought of would be a service which collates all my library readings/books/e-books/journals all into one document, or all in one shelf or area for which I’d pay a £5 service and have a range of books varying in depth and topic.

2. Confessions/Spotted and Matchmaking

After being part of the Hottie In The Library craze during June 2011/Jan 2012, there have been numerous University “Confessions” and “Spotted” sites enter the fray, and as I mentioned to my friend who created the HITL site, there must be something in matchmaking, or building a strong community ( or even a social network) around this concept. I currently see all of these pages and sites pop up, but I just see a large number of users accruing, and the owners seem content with this for now. I’m eager to see how they attempt to monetize their coveted platforms.

3. Time-management

This is one of the biggest problems for students (myself included), and I feel there is a real innovation here. Whether that be condensing lecture notes more efficiently, helping students learn efficiently or just organising my time by tracking and monitoring how often I perform badhabits or encouraging me to adopt good ones. There’s much I can delve into, but I feel I can write another blog post on this.

What untapped ideas do you feel are left behind or where do you think there are the most problems at university that students can simply solve? If you’re a current student, or a graduate I’d love to hear your answers in the comments! 

 

FounderBus UK: My experience

Starting a business in less than 54 hours is something I’ve been accustomed to over the past nine months. I’ve had the privilege of being part of more than one Start-up Weekend in 2012 and my latest exertion did not disappoint. Only this time, my team and I were building our prototype on a bus. On the way to Paris. Via Belgium.  Yikes.

FounderBus UK was an initiative launched in tandem with Start-up Bus Europe, whereby groups of 25 individuals from a number of cities ranging from Toulouse, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Berlin and Oxford made their way to Paris over the course of five days, whilst forming teams, building prototypes and getting traction. Oxford Entrepreneurs did a fantastic job as facilitators for the FounderBus UK cause, and I’m sure Manchester Entrepreneurs will be working closely with them in the near future.

Being around such an ambitious individuals was the primary reason for accepting my place on FounderBus UK only two days before the journey began. The usual start-up weekend format took place here, whereby those who had ideas had a 2-minute timeframe to pitch what their idea entails. Not wanting to break tradition, I decided to pitch two ideas- both which I had scrambled together on the train journey to Oxford.

In the evening, two inspiring speakers spoke to the group about their current ventures and some words of advice for the journey ahead. Luke Lang from Crowdcube, a crowdfunding platform, and David Sutton, Founder of BagThat.com, gave us words of wisdom around building relationships, being in it for the long-haul and what Entrepreneurship is really all about.

We spent the large part of the next day brainstorming and attending workshops- one which stood out to me was “Idea Generation”, thanks to Matt Clifford and Bay, from Entrepreneur First. The government-backed initiative is proving to be a popular choice for ambitious graduates aspiring to set up their own scalable and high-impact venture. We decided to acquire some customer validation on our new concept (Finally!) and whether we should be fixing our Customer Segment (e.g. personal and social, or business and professional), or fix our Value Proposition.

A trip to Central Working at Google Campus in London led us to meet some interesting individuals, work on our idea some more, and pivot some more. Having a team of seven was, I felt, quite difficult to manage and led to long-periods of stagnation where we couldn’t agree on a microscopic detail. Nonetheless, we also were able to cover more ground when it came to speaking to potential customers. Golden Nugget: Don’t work in big teams if you don’t need to. Be ruthless with who is in your team and make sure everyone has complementary skill sets.

The next day on our trip started off at the London Business School, where an inspiring talk came from the Founder of Flat-club (a peer-to-peer accommodation site based on trust), Nitzan Yudan. If you’re going abroad to study, you might prefer someone who is moving to your university to study for a year to take your room, as opposed to a random stranger. One particular phrase stood out to me: “Time is our most valuable asset, so use your time wisely”. A realisation struck the team from then on.

By the time we arrived in Cambridge, we were still at a loss over our idea, which was particularly frustrating, as I’ve never had to contemplate pivoting an idea at such a late-stage before; our work over the first two days was wasted. In retrospect, it was an immense learning experience. Golden Nugget: Ask the Right questions. You have to make sure that there is NO bias in whatever you ask, otherwise you may as well just ask for an endorsement for your concept.  

 

Before we left Ideaspace, I was sure to add Manchester Entrepreneurs, TechHub Manchester and RightCrowd to the list of “Partners, Sponsors and Attendees at Ideaspace” at Ideaspace. Don’t look at me like that.

old man shrugged shoulders

We found ourselves en route to Antwerp, Belgium at the quirky yet creative co-working space at the heart of the city, Idealabs. This was the semi-finals and less than 24 hours to go we decided to change our idea completely, break off from the team and form a duo, and come up with some sort of mock-up to show the judges and everyone else. The run-up to Ideaslab was filled with discussions around what to include in our presentation and how best to implement Stock.io (A platform to buy and sell shares easily online).

The two winners out of the FounderBus UK, Time^2 and Spinning Jennie were both great ideas, with a good team behind the both of them. I encourage both teams to continue with the path they are on, as I feel they can generate sufficient interest to further their ventures with added expertise and investment.

An interesting night in Antwerp followed, whereby we had to be on a bus at 4am en route to Paris for the Finals. Meeting other Startup Buses was a major highlight of the entire trip, and meeting those in Europe doing amazing things was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. Golden Nugget: There is a plethora of talent from around Europe present at these sorts of events- make the most of it and have business cards at the ready.

With the winners of the European StartUpBus competition having the opportunity to present their start-up at Le Web, competition was fierce, but the party atmosphere outweighed any hostility (if any!) between competing teams in the final.

Overall, this was an experience of a lifetime whereby I met a number of extremely talented and ambitious individuals who I’m sure I will cross paths with somewhere down the entrepreneurial yellow brick road. As I’ve already mentioned, there’s nothing like attempting to build a business model and a prototype in a mere few days, while interacting with European counterparts along the way cannot be understated. Talented individuals combined with credible ideas can lead to the opening of a new frontier for innovation and collaborative human endeavor right here in Europe, which we must hone and foster through shared determination for creating a better landscape for us all.

 FounderBus picture of everyone