An Accelerator’s Mentor Day

I am a fly on the wall at an Accelerator’s Mentor Day
Experiments like these – in mentoring – might be as productive as any in the support of innovators in action.
Lucky as I was to be welcomed to Fintech’s Meet-the-mentors day last week, I listened to the ten teams pitching to some of their potential mentors and I could also be a fly on the wall at their subsequent small group and one-to-one meetings.
Startupbootcamp had previously held a Mentor Day (mentors numbers were in a ratio of slightly under ten to a team), to invite them to consider their availability and depth of involvement, and with the help of startup mentor-matching app eRipple, to write alongside their photos about their experience, motivations and expertise (hopefuly searchable by key workds), with the aim of developing capability in matching. (The research project hopes later to include aspects of personality.)
All of these teams were established SMEs with existing products that could be relevant to London’s banking industry, for which the 12-week Fintech Accelerator programme was grooming them. Several of them are dealing with customers whose risk profile or with markets which are currently outside the banks’ normal range of business. They were looking to adapt their products to the needs of this market.
Many of these teams came from overseas and hence were seeking introductions to elements of the UK market. In their pitches, some of the teams made no mention of their mentoring needs, some mentioned them in outline; and one or two – in extensive detail.
One team found the small group meeting too diverse to enable them to focus in enough depth on aspects of their mentoring needs. Another found itself with repeated small group meetings in which it could elaborate on its business. At each group meeting, potential mentors and teams could make appointments to meet later on a one-to-one basis.
The received wisdom is that the best among mentors are those who have ‘done it before’, either launched a new business or mentored one (or more) – or both; and everyone recognises the importance of ‘getting on well together’.
I eventually divided the mentors I met into five types.
Specific contributors. Among these were specialist experts, technical ‘challengers’, sector merketers, and ‘introducers’ ie to individuals in intermediaries or among potential customers or users.
Coaches. Providers of help in identifying and focusing on the best objectives and lines of attack from one moment to the next as the venture moves forward.
Advice givers. Providers of their opinion about what they heard. Most effective when well-grounded and undogmatic, but difficult if in conflict with the opinions of others (eg grounded on different experiences, contexts or values.)
Supervisors/facilitators. In close and frequent contact, asking regularly about progress and plans, obstacles and learnings; often with fat adddress books from their extensive experience, and willing to make instant introductions.
General contributors, including people who were groping their way to how they might be able to help, among them people who were running or had run other Accelerators.
I saw one participant being offered advice (I think to the effect that he should do more extensive tests of customer reactions) by a didactic and rather imposing mentor. As he left him, he passed me muttering ‘f…… c…’! The mentor later button-holed me to tell me, in triumph, that this guy had returned to make another appointment with him. I hope to discover who then said what to whom!
Serendity at its most evanescent!

John Whatmore
Sept 2014


A variety of seed-beds is helping banks to confront change


The internet has thrown transactions into a cauldron of change

In a world in which innovation is mandatory, corporates are using and creating opportunities to explore new technologies that could influence their business models and even change their culture. And banking is in the spotlight.

The financial world is facing an earthquake of disruption as mobiles begin to become managers of people’s money; and as they play an increasing part in almost all kinds of transactions. Walmart’s discovery that as many as half its customers who order goods online could be in its stores at the time has highlighted the role of mobiles in transactions; and the rapidly growing volume of peer-to-peer transactions on the internet has highlighted the way in which the internet can displace intermediaries.

The internet is already playing a rapidly increasing role in banking, and the banks are now busily exploring ways in which their online activities will develop; and they are readily looking at innovations that SMEs have to offer. Consequently London is the place to which to bring your ideas.

Fintech Lab London has just completed its second iteration – in which it brought five SMEs to Canary Wharf, each with a bit of wizardry for the financial industry that might be of interest to the banks – its aim, to help them introduce their products through a 13-week development programme in collaboration with the banks. Level39, its location, sits in the middle of one of the world’s most intensive clusters – in Canary Wharf, so not only can it host intensive development programmes like this one; but it can also provide incubation space for the best of them to grow on.

Now Startupbootcamp FinTech is bringing its development programme to London – in partnership with financial institutions including MasterCard and Lloyds Banking Group, which will provide access to a network of industry professionals, and is opening its doors to applicants in August. Innotribe is running the semi-finals of its Startup Challenge competition in London, in which 15 startups and growth-stage companies for the financial industry will pitch for a place in its Finale in Boston later in the year. And Barclays is going a step further in planning to run its own Accelerator – with Techstars later this year; while Banco Sabadell in Barcelona has already done so.

These approaches are about bringing emerging technologies to potential business users, such as 3D printing to the vehicle industry in the East Midlands, TSB grant winners to Life Science businesses in Nottingham, games innovators to Dundee, new playwrights to the National Theatre’s Studio etc. Long ago Mercedes Benz established a culture of encouraging innovative thinking among its suppliers: what is new is the formalisation of this approach, the wider world from which relevant innovations are being sought, and the intensive development programmes like Fintech Lab London and Startupbootcamp FinTech.

May 2014

Angels Association meets to discuss achieving successful exits


Exits was the focus of the UK Business Angels Association’s recent Winter Investment Forum. Nothing matters more to most startups than refunding at the next milestone; to most angels, how they will succeed in selling on their stake; and to many SMEs how they will fund their growth or sell the business to some larger organisation.

Sir Nigel Rudd, chairman of the Business Growth Fund as well a of UKBAA, and a man with a great deal of experience in selling businesses made six points:

*         Identify likely buyers, their reasons, and their prospects as buyers

*         Choose one or more advisers who know the market for your business

*         Align board and managers alike to sale as well as to ongoing growth

*         High-light your weaknesses early

*         Don’t be too greedy!

*         Expect a last-minute hiccough!

Other speakers emphasised the importance of:

  • Alignment between the managers of the business and their angel investors eg over objectives (angels may well expect to get out within three years).
  • Yes, focus on growth first
  • Consider how it might be possible to structure a sale differently that would make it more attractive
  • Recognise that it takes a great deal of time and effort to arrange and complete a sale
  • Enjoy the ride!

Among speakers were representatives from the Angel Co-fund and the Business Growth Fund, both of whom seemed to stress how accessible were their funds and how relatively small their investments might be, together with the British Business Bank, and Angel Funds ECI partners, Sussex Place Ventures and Avonmore Developments.

Jenny Tooth, CEO of UKBAA who has steered it along a clear path with enormous energy and drive, outlined the ways in which the organisation is approaching four objectives:

  • supporting standards and good practice in Angel investing
  • creating mechanisms for enabling Angel Funds to complete investment rounds by deal-sharing
  • building the Angel market-place – by blowing the trumpet – in various locations, to new audiences and with other organisations
  • research and market intelligence: data, impact of investments and the pulse of the angel market.