May 12 2012

IdeaTransform – Cambridge startup weekend bootcamp

Saturday 12th May 2012 @13:10 @Barbican

I was at the Enspire 2012 event when I received an email from Lat asking me to attend IdeaTransform on behalf of Cabume. He asked me to live tweet from the finals, something that I’ve never done before. At first I thought it would be just fun, so I decided to turn up on the Friday (it is a weekend start-up bootcamp running from a Friday evening to Sunday evening) and do some ‘practice’ tweets.

Here is the article in full or you can read it from the Cabume website here. If you’re wondering why that title, though Lat did pick this for me, it is the message I wanted to get across. During the whole weekend I couldn’t help but feel as if I had gatecrashed their party and getting people to talk wasn’t as easy as it looked!

Idea Transform – An infiltrator’s perspective

Friday evening, for the majority of us mere mortals is an end to a long, hard-working week and a time to wind-down by whatever means that may be. At the Cambridge Judge Business School though, a bunch of (mostly) strangers conglomerated to kick-start the launch of the inaugural Idea Transform weekend, a not-for-profit competition open to all members of the public with the aim to form and support business ideas from inception to, well, as far as teams could stretch themselves. Read More
It’s hard to condense the event to a single description as it served different purposes to different people. In essence, it was an all-star gatheringof an entrepreneurial community in Cambridge, brought together by a common agenda to pass on their collective wisdom to a new wave of business leaders in the hope of making a meaningful difference to the society we live in.

It featured a Cambridge A-list of speakers including Alex Van Someren, general partner at Amadeus Capital Partners, Jon Bradford, CEO of top Europen accelerator, Springboard, Jack Lang, trustee of the Rasberry Pi Foundation and Shai Vyakarnam, director of the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning. The audience was also privileged to hear inspiring talks from two Cambridge-based success stories: Dr Ward Hills, CEO of Pneumacare and Billy Boyle, co-founder of Owlstone Nanotech.

A total of 26 ideas were pitched, from which eight teams formed. With the aid of a long list of mentors (each with an interesting story of their own), entrants participated in one-to-one mentoring sessions and group panel discussions to refine, test and develop the ideas into something tangible and ultimately deliver a final three minute presentation to a panel of prominent judges in the hope of taking one of the winning spots. The winners and prizes are listed here.

That’s the gloss. In all honesty, I wasn’t particularly bothered about which team won the overall prize. As judge Ian Tod put it, it’s like comparing apples to oranges to pears, and as mentor Massimo Gaetani quite rightly said, there’s a big difference between teams who win and teams who will go on to be successful. After speaking to a number of delegates though, the general consensus is that the four strongest teams justifiably won.

As a competition, it wasn’t an entirely level playing field either as some came with a ready-made prototype or a pre-formed team. However the important point is that a broad range of ideas were presented, all focussed on making a difference to the world. I personally like many of them and big differences can be made to a great many number of people if any one of them go on to be successful.

There may be people wondering if anything useful can be realistically achieved from a weekend event such as this.

Mentor Tony Short, AKA Jasper Apps, wanted to dispel the myth that an app can be created in a week, let alone a weekend – it took him five months to develop a commercial version of MyVacation (an iPhone and iPad travelogue app). That said, the teams were able to reach significant milestones despite the short timeframe of the fifty odd hours they had.

Though they did not win, Angel Alerts – a cloud based platform used to store a user’s digital data securely for retrieval after death – was regarded to be of practical use by some, and Lectora, an iTunes-like service offering users a micro-payment pay-per-view-article service to premium content, established contact with Reuters and Guardian who are keen to get involved with the idea.

James Freeman, a maths teacher from team Imvoto – a feedback learning mobile app for students – did come to the competition with an initial prototype, but by the end of the weekend his entire business model had changed. More importantly, the team now has a working product which will be rolled out to teachers next week.

According to team Ampium – new technology to charge electric vehicles whilst they are driving – currently have a patented workshop working prototype and a car sharing company conditionally committed to a pilot scheme as well as on-going discussions with councils and transport bodies throughout the UK.

Allan Maclean, member of the advisory board, said: “Ampium in particular is a very long term, ambitious, large-scale project. I am very impressed to see that sort of project being represented – you don’t often get that kind of big thinking at these events.”

ITAS – the Intelligent Transport Allocation System, a project to create a new service to combine the convenience of taxis with the economy of public transport – was immensely productive. According to its final presentation, 112 interviews with citizens from the city centre were conducted and received a 71 per cent positive response rate.

It also obtained transport data from Cambridgeshire County Council, ran a simulation to prove the technology is viable resulting in an estimated 1200 trips per hour with an average wait time of 10 minutes. It managed to secure funding from Downing College to launch a pilot scheme by the end of the year.

Attendees came from all walks of life and for very different reasons. It ranged from the young to the old, students to professionals and those who just wanted to find something fun to do on the side to those who were in-it-to-win-it.

A few individuals, including a manufacturing engineering student by the name of David Clark, has his finals on Wednesday and Thursday, but still made an effort to turn up just to hear the speakers (who also happens to be a huge Cabume fan which is why he gets the mention!)

Adam Knight from Mobile Mind has a medical science background, had very little business experience and so wanted to find out how to draw up a business plan, understand how to assess the markets and experience working with random people towards a common idea.

Paul from Lectora works in finance in London, came for fun but quite obviously had picked up the start-up lingo – happily throwing around USPs (unique selling points) and MVPs  (minimum viable product) in his new found vocabulary.

In asking what people had gained most from the weekend, a recurring word that popped up was networking. Regardless of how you feel about it – it is quite easy for those who have been indoctrinated into thinking it is the be-all and end-all of a successful business, to forget that many despise the sometimes superficial nature of networking for the sake of networking – I personally am fascinated in discovering interesting individuals and prefer to think of it as a form of social knowledge-sharing.

In attending this event in particular, you’d be hard-pressed not to find someone from Cambridge with an interesting background. As an example, on the Sunday just before the teams were due to make their final presentations, I discovered Chris Arnold – a tech entrepreneur whose product Percollate helps marketers discover their audience using social media, actually helped Idea Transform target and encourage more developers in the surrounding area to take part in the event.

Even the photographer, Sam Kuper has his own business – Techno Wrangler – offering a number of technology services. If that’s not enough, I inadvertently discovered the face which is Puffles the dragon fairy!

During the course of writing this article, being a nerd-in-spirit I decided to award the fictitious prize of best anecdote of the weekend to Billy Boyle. Boyle chose to have his business in Cambridge ultimately because of the people. It went something likethe square root of i without an answer using maths symbols this:

He and a few friends were at the Champion of the Thames pub having a drunken conversation over what the square root of ‘i‘ is. After a heated debate, he found a blackboard in the gents, onto which he randomly decided to pose the question (right). Fifteen minutes later, upon returning to the toilets, he saw a response (below).

If you wanted to take part in the event but couldn’t make it this year and really wanted to, be sthe square root of i answer in equationsure to put it in your calendar for 2013, you never know what lies in store for you – in Bradford’s words, it’s all about the journey.



UPDATE: This is an update but by no means an afterthought. This feat of an event could not have been accomplished without the vision of the organisers: Chris, Mauro and Jeremy. Mauro said that so long as you have a good idea people are always willing to help. A little modest I’d say, have a moment and take some credit for it!