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I was recently in London for the Tech City UK Entrepreneurs Festival, as part of Britain’s Global Entrepreneurship Week with over 300 tech entrepreneurs from around the globe. The experience was educational, to say the least, and gave me some insight into what any initiative aimed at developing entrepreneurship in the tech sector should be doing.
Throughout the course of the week long conference, it became evident that emerging market initiatives like Silicon Cape in South Africa and the iHub in Kenya are definitely on the right track. There were, however, a number of guidelines I took away from Tech City UK that could easily be replicated by any entrepreneurial programme in the emerging world. A number of initiatives may already be implementing these guidelines, or at least ones like them. These insights are, nonetheless, worth taking note of.
- Acknowledge and celebrate local talent
During the week, there were two award ceremonies which celebrated promising innovations by local startups and acknowledged entrepreneurs who are part of the change. They also showcased local entrepreneurs who are building the community and businesses that investors may be interested in.
- Arrange mentorship
Part of the conference included a speed-dating type of mentoring session, where entrepreneurs met with investors and funders who they pitch their businesses to. The sessions lasted for about 10 minutes, during which the mentors advised start-ups on how to strengthen their pitch, which in turn prepares them for meetings with investors. Some of these mentors were early stage funders and they were open about what kind of companies they would be likely to invest in. On average, entrepreneurs met with 12 mentors over two days.
- Partner with government
Government has become synonymous with bad a word for entrepreneurs, but the conference was opened by the Minister of Trade Investment and the ministry’s commitment is evident. The project was led by a number of entrepreneurs in residence, who attract investment to the Tech City hub. This also piques the interest of international startups and rapidly builds an ecosystem that encourages growth.
- Create a hub for Tech Startups
Tech City grew out of an area of London known as the Silicon Roundabout, which became the focus of an initiative to support and develop the local tech community. Now with UK Trade & Investment behind it, the buzz has grown and local companies are increasingly looking to take up office space in that area of town.
- Build a favourable ecosystem
One of the conversations we had with other entrepreneurs from Africa and the UK revealed that one the upsides of having such a high-growth tech community is the ecosystem it creates. Tech startups, like any other business, need favourable conditions out of which grow and have a solid foundation.
- Rise of the nimble startup
During an interview at the conference, CEO of Mind Candy Michael Acton made the point that “This isn’t a moment in history to work for a big corporate, this is a moment for fast nimble startups.” Mind Candy is the creator of Moshi Monsters, one of the world’s fastest growing social games. Many predict it will be the next billion dollar valuation to emerge from the UK.
- Pitch! Pitch! Pitch!
Although the VC community in a number of emerging market countries varies from small to non-existent, the art of pitching still goes a long way. One of the skills the people at Tech City UK shared with entrepreneurs was how to pitch a startup to potential investors and know exactly what they are looking for. The pitch training was offered by Annette Kramer who does pitch coaching, works with VCs at an international level and has over 20 years’ experience in business development.
- Mentor the next tech startups
Tech City has partnered with a local university, which also has an incubator, where startups network with students. The networking enables students to know what it takes and for entrepreneurs to select potential interns for their ventures.
- Know your potential investor
One of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make is including unnecessary details in their pitches to would-be investors. It was also clear that the VC network in London is quite small and that word gets around. So if yours is the next great idea you are likely to get connected with the money. Here are the four things investors look for, according to what emerged at the pitch training:
- Your market
- Return on my investment
- Connect techies with business minds
Most of the techies and developers have entrepreneurial minds as part of their teams, who range from advisory boards to people who assist in the daily running of their businesses. One of the main things to emerge from the conference was the warning from investors not to create a situation in which techies avoid meeting potential customers and users, which in turn leads to developing products that don’t meet market requirements.
Image: J. A. Alcaide