After Bethnal Green Ventures’ third cohort (in partnership with Nesta and the Nominet
Trust), its first under the Cabinet Office’s Social Incubator Fund, Paul Miller, partner,
talked about having more diversity among his teams, better space, more
organisation, and more contact with Alumni and Angels. He described how mentoring
had been planned and had worked out, and the popularity of war stories.
We had 134 applicants, of which 90 met our criteria. We short-listed 30 and selected 10 to join the programme. [They included several projects that would help people with special conditions; two that were about digital skills for certain groups; and two that were about helping would-be students and science writers to make use of the internet: all were IT based.] On completion, four of the teams have managed to secure grants from the Nominet Trust – of £50k each; and two weeks on after the completion of the programme, none have gone bust. (Of the previous cohort’s six, three are doing very well; one has its founders working part-time, and two are winding down.)
I found that to have ten teams was certainly better than just six. Here at Nesta the space we used was better because all our activities could be more integrated. We have had better systems for organising and capturing what we were doing, for example for finding customers and investors. And we have been able to work more with our Alumni, as regards hirings, legals, and investors; and for acting as sounding boards. As all being UK teams, they were quicker to shake down, quicker into action, and there was less need for them to adapt – to new circumstances. We had more Angels present in the later stages (they came via recommendations to us), and we held a separate Demo Day for 20 of them.
In each cohort, we have included teams who are working in all of the three areas that the Bethnal Green Ventures programme focusses on [health, education and sustainability] where some organisations funded by the Cabinet Office are choosing to focus each cohort on a particular subject area, i.e. public services, healthcare, etc. This means that for us there is less competition between participants in each cohort, and more mutual help; and this will be enhanced as our Alumni grow in number. And I have sought to include as much diversity as possible – in problems, people and kinds of issues, so as to decrease the chances of unintended consequences.
We had 60 mentors, as opposed to 30 for the last cohort [ie a ratio of 6 mentors to 1 team, as opposed to 5:1 previously] and we started our work with the mentors with their putting up their USPs and special experience etc, and then on Day 3, we held a structured speed-dating session. Mentors either offered their time to the team via half-days surgeries in our offices during each week or they would offer office hours slots in their offices (early on, expertise in design was more sought after, and later it might be expertise in investment); we did not assign mentors to teams. Some mentors attached themselves to individual teams, working as official or unofficial board members and/or advisory board members.
As before our Monday talks were rated most highly: they were often an Entrepreneur’s story – which would lead participants to think ahead.
And we have been able to offer participants office space for a further three months after the end of the formal programme.
See also: Bethnal Green Ventures, a social enterprise Seed Camp
Three pieces of Pixie Dust – Bethnal Green Ventures’ Accelerator