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  • Kate

Taking Opportunities: Techstars Startup Weekend

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend Plymouth's first ever Techstars Startup Weekend - if you're wondering what on earth I'm going on about, check out my previous blog post Techstars Startup Weekend. I have to admit, on the build-up to the weekend I was getting increasingly nervous, I had no clue what to expect! What if I couldn't muster the courage to talk to anyone and ended up stood alone like a lemon? What if the other attendees are all experts in their fields? What if the mentors are really intimidating? What if I wear the wrong thing? What if when I am speaking to someone, I say the wrong thing and look like an idiot? (Ah, the joys of anxiety). The truth is, no one knew what to expect, everyone was just as nervous as me, so we were all in the same boat!

An Outline of the Weekend:

We had about an hour-or-so of chatting, getting to know the other attendees and mentors and having some (really delicious) food. The mentors, who are incredibly knowledgeable in business, technology, startups and life in general, couldn't have been more approachable and friendly. They were floating around the room chatting to the attendees about who they are and the work they do, as well as hearing the attendee’s different plans and career/academic backgrounds. The great thing about an event such as this is, even if you're a super awkward and socially-anxious person like me, you can easily make conversation with people because you have a common denominator: the event. I mainly spoke to people about if they had a pitch or idea, where they found out about the event, if they worked or were a student and the conversation flowed easily from there. It was such a great range of people, some were students like me, some had businesses of their own, some had PhD's and were experts in their field; it really was an incredible opportunity to connect with people from so many diverse walks of life.

Cindy Spelt's presentation of the weekend plan.

After the conversations and food, the Techstars Facilitator Cindy Spelt who is an author, has been a CEO and a managing director of multiple successful companies and has spoken at many of the Techstars Startup Weekends worldwide, gave an inspirational speech to all the attendees, outlined what would be happening over the course of the weekend and gave us lots of great tips for creating a startup. The attendees who had pitches then went up and presented them; although I didn't do a pitch myself, everyone was rooting for each other to do well in their pitches, which created a supportive and encouraging environment for pitching.

A little bit of important info: the pitches on Friday night can only be a minute long and you can't use PowerPoint although you can bring props!

Each pink sticky-note represented one vote on each pitch. Here, the attendees are giving more information of their proposed product.

All the attendees were then given three votes each, and the people who pitched were given the opportunity to talk more to their fellow attendees about their idea and business plan. All the pitches were such brilliant ideas based within the theme of 'Health and Wellbeing', it was evident that everyone had worked really hard on outlining their idea and how they would present it! Once the winning pitches were announced the attendees got together into five groups with diverse ranges of skill sets and once the groups had registered with Cindy, the night was brought to a close.

The second day the teams began planning their startups, there were multiple talks from experts and the mentors walked around the room and spoke to the teams at their tables, discussing strategies and offering lots of great advice and guidance. Once they had a clear and simple idea for a product, the attendees were encouraged by Cindy to get out and speak to the public; if they would use their product, how much they would pay for their product (so that they have a realistic idea about whether their product would sell), and if their feedback was negative they would be able to adapt their idea to better suit their target market. Although the attendees were nervous about approaching the public with their short surveys, a number of them said that the people they spoke to were in fact very friendly and they were happy they had pushed themselves out of their comfort zone.

Stewart Noakes giving an excellent talk on how to approach public during customer validation.

Although I was not there to experience it first hand, the last day of the weekend was for the final piecing together of the business models and to begin building the final pitch which the attendees presented at the end of the day to the judges. HUGE congratulations to the winning startup MemoryPad and runners up One Link One; they are both incredible ideas which are really going to help so many people, I can't wait to see both of your company names on my App Store! Also, I want to say well done to every one who participated in the weekend, although you may not have won this weekend, all your ideas were fantastic and I really hope you decide to keep going with your startups!

My view at BBC Radio Devon (a very scary/exciting view).

A key part of the weekend is that you will really push yourself out of your comfort zone, which can feel incredibly daunting. However, when it then comes to the end of each day, you will be surprised by how much you really can achieve in a single day, once you push yourself past your worries and fear.

I was also lucky enough to be asked to go on BBC Radio Devon to talk about the weekend and why I think this is such a great opportunity for anyone who wants to be involved. When I received the email asking if I wanted to do the interview, I was sat on my sofa in my PJs and instinctively typed out an email saying, 'thank you for the opportunity but I don't feel confident enough to do that’. Just before I hit 'Send' I rang my mum, you know just for a second opinion, I knew I was holding myself back from an incredible opportunity and I needed my mum to tell me to sort it out and say YES. Of course, she told me I should go for it and that I would regret it if I said no, so, before I had the chance to change my mind, I deleted the first email and with sweaty palms and a racing heartbeat, agreed to do the interview. It was at 7:30 on Saturday morning (I drank A LOT of coffee that morning) and although I felt a lump in my throat and could barely talk beforehand, I got through it! I did the interview, managed to not completely mess it up (I pictured accidental swearing, constant stuttering or just becoming completely mute) and it was one of the proudest moments I have ever experienced.

Myself, Chris Bennewith and Cindy Spelt at the Radio Station (smiling through the crippling nerves).

Only a little over a year ago I was suffering from daily panic attacks and would avoid seeing friends or family because social situations made me too anxious... At this weekend, I have spoken on the radio, held conversations with CEOs, professionals and academics and approached people who were strangers and learned that I actually have a lot in common with many of them. I feel incredibly proud of myself and also so thankful to the Plymouth Startup Weekend organisers for asking me to be involved in the event; I have met so many incredibly inspiring people with amazing stories, challenged myself and gained so much experience which I will be able to use in every part of my life.

So, what could you gain from taking part in a Techstars Startup Weekend? Confidence through challenging yourself and learning what you're really capable of; Public Speaking experience which is an invaluable skill to have in both an academic and professional environment; Knowledge and advice from a whole range of mentors who have created their own successful startups, ran their own companies and have a wealth of experience to share; Networking with similar, like-minded people which is a prime part of both building your career as well as any business ideas you may have. It's so exciting that this is only the beginning for Plymouth; more of these affordable and innovative events will be coming to Plymouth in the future, which means more opportunities for students, creatives and those with entrepreneurial minds! You don't have to be in the 'big cities' to have access to big opportunities anymore, they are coming to us! Make sure you don't miss out!

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