A new incubator with a difference in Tech City

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IDEALondon, a new incubator space in London’s Tech City, opens this month  (Dec 2012), an unlikely alliance between Cisco, DC Thomson and University College London, which furthers UCL’s far-sighted objectives and strengths – – in entrepreneurship. (For comparisons, see final para.)

IDEALondon enables twenty early-stage businesses to be co-located for up to nine months – primarily for launch and trials, as pre-cursor to seeking investment etc. (early-stage businesses are nowadays more often looking less to build something – the means of creating a website or an app are relatively easy to come by – than for customer validation and trials, which IDEALondon can help facilitate).  Candidates must be championed by any of the three partners; and their progress must be justified to a quarterly board meeting.

Completed almost a year to the day after it was announced by the Prime Minister in 2012, it is a significant outcome of UCL’s 2005 decision to establish the department UCL Enterprise with the aim of suffusing enterprise throughout the whole university as well as extending its knowledge and expertise to all its collaborations.

Occupants of IDEALondon have a less tightly determined regime in terms of time and objectives than in classic Accelerators, and are less fulsomely supported with mentors, though with almost every imaginable form of support available somewhere in UCL. Mentoring support is provided on a one-to-one basis with three or four meetings per month, and there is a small amount of ‘education’, for example in marketing, though not in entrepreneurship as such. And there are a small number of specialists-in-residence including designers, developers and entrepreneurs.

More specialised support is also available in the form of commercial testing and concept validation. Cisco provides mentors for CTOs in SMEs in the incubator; and it has its own forms of bespoke support. It also has a leadership programme. UCL intends to offer several other specialist courses such as in machine learning and mobile technologies.

The alliance has also opened a facility in Scotland to support Abertay and Dundee University in their collaboration with DC Thomson. (http://www/idea.scotland.co.uk)

For UCL, candidates would be businesses in areas such as Future Media (one project is with Atos and the BBC), Healthcare or Mobile, that also need specialist support from elsewhere in the university (such as clinical trials or ethical approvals), and that might need several commercial contracts to put a demonstrator into place or more than nine months in the incubator. For UCL’s partners, candidates will be relevant to their businesses, and in Cisco’s case companies include BIG Award Winners. Eight places out of the twenty are already filled.

UCL also operates jointly with Mobile Monday London the ‘Mobile Academy’, a pre-accelerator network in the form of 12-week programmes of twice weekly evening classes, 40 per cohort– for SMEs, start-ups, would-be entrepreneurs and enthusiasts – for the many potential students who are not necessarily at university (http://themobileacademy.co.uk). UCL also operates several other programmes relating to entrepreneurship. For example on behalf of Goldman Sachs, it runs their 10,000 Small Businesses programme (http://www.10ksb.co.uk) ; it runs internship programmes, and knowledge transfer programmes, eg in support of post-docs providing specialist knowledge for relevant companies. (UCL works with up to 500 companies annually.) IDEALondon also provides space pro bono for community events.

With its 20 places and 9-month+ duration, UCL’s new Tech City facility is more of an incubator than a classic ‘accelerator’ (like Springboard http://wp.me/p3beJt-z or Bethnal Green Ventures http://wp.me/p3beJt-V), and has a less formal supervisory regime and provides less specific support. And it is unique in being an alliance with its industry partners. It is more oriented to UCL itself than Cass University’s (http://wp.me/p3beJt-6o) – which is oriented to local Tech City businesses, or than the Royal College of Art’s (http://wp.me/p3beJt-k) – which is both longer (at 2-years), and tackles different kinds of problems (engineering and design, and the building of its teams). 

Dreamstake, the free website for aspiring entrepreneurs

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Dreamstake, the free website for aspiring entrepreneurs which measures their progress, is growing, and expanding its offering; and it has done some diagnostics

Dreamstake is a free interactive startup platform for entre-preneurs which has a rating feature that acts as a marker of their progress. Membership is growing fast and has increased from 6,000 in April 2012 to 10,000 now. It is has added regular educational events at Google Campus in Tech City; and enables its members (and others) to see how well they are making progress by comparison with other members. And some recent statistical analysis reveals aspects of their businesses.

 

Dreamstake acts a bit like an online Accelerator by taking startup founders through a process to get them ready for investment and then introducing them to potential investors.

An algorithm enables each member to keep track of the progress of his or her startup, by measuring team size and mix, progress with the product, fund-raising, number of pivots and other key measures of success. The speed with which this measure progresses also acts as an indicator of the dedication of its entrepreneurs. All of this is available for potential investors to see.

Dreamstake has introduced regular educational workshops for startups – at Google Campus, where it is now the largest provider of events. They take place every Monday evening and there are funding-related events on a monthly basis; and all of these are provided free. For those that sign up for a full Accelerator programme – weekly academy, monthly bootcamps, performance review and mentoring – Dreamstake charges a success fee upon successful introduction to investment.

The data which has been input by the entrepreneurs has revealed some interesting analysis. Social media is a dominant theme and that for some 70% of its members their vision is their primary motivation – followed by the concept of a product – for 25%, and money for a mere 5%.  Forty percent work from home, 25% from an office and a third say that they are in co-working spaces. (Over half had English as not their first language, the vast majority of them European.) Among their technical skills, HTML comes top, followed by web development, PHP and CSS. Of the kind of businesses they are developing less than 20% are described in terms that are other than IT related; over 60% are clearly internet or mobile related.

Progress is hard to interpret in a fast-growing community like this, but the statistics show that nearly a quarter have had one pivot, and about a third of the total have had two or three pivots (a quarter have as yet had no pivot at all). Eight percent are at the idea stage, 58% are at the prototype or beta stage, 17% have a full product, 13% are in revenue, and 4% are profitable.

Dreamstake offers universities and their ilk an attractive  and low-cost way of supporting their aspiring entrepreneurs.

Small, elite university incubator launches into new space

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Focusing on a small number of technologies that are ripe for commercialisation, and a small number of students or alumni with an interest in entrepreneurialism whose careers it seeks to advance, the Incubator of Cass University Business School has a new home which is unique in having alongside it a co-working space where students and alumni have the opportunity to be matched up with Tech City entrepreneurs.

On 21 August, Cass University’s Business School Incubator launched its new space in Tech City. ‘The Hangout’ is a start-up space for City students and alumni, providing an interactive environment where ‘talent meets tech’ ie where students and alumni from City University have the opportunity to be matched up with Tech City entrepreneurs. Sharing space with The Bakery, a small, private 8-week brand and marketing Accelerator, each has about 20 places, with a mixture of desk spaces, conversation area, small meeting rooms, a table tennis table and a kitchen area.

The founder of Cass’s Incubator, Leo Castellanos, then working for one of the big four ‘accounting’ firms, happened four years ago to be interested in some of the work of the Technology Transfer offices, and was induced to run a pilot. It had an enviable early success rate, and now the resulting Incubator has no difficulty in recruiting some twenty interns in a new programme every six months.

The Incubator has three strands: it seeks to work with a small number of technologies from its related University Technology Transfer Offices that appear to be ripe for commercialisation and so accelerate the launch of innovative products and services; it seeks to provide internships in entrepreneurship for a small number of students and alumni who have the necessary technical and commercial skills and the potential to become the managers and directors of the future; and its third strand is the provision of consultancy to high growth companies – for whom it also offers meeting space.

Every six months, the programme starts with a six-day business learning programme; and the interns are put to work on the task of commercialising specific technologies drawn from the parent universities – in the fields of journalism, informatics, design, and finance. Run by Leo, whose passion is the development of new businesses, with the help of four or five other people, and the occasional introduction of a mentor, its interns move on at the end of their time, with some 70% going into existing SMEs, and the others into their own startups.