Day One – Friday
Caleb Storkey, one of the speakers at the opening of the Start Up Weekend on Friday evening, asked the audience, “What would you do if money were no object? For if money is the most important thing, you waste your time.”
This was surprising, for the weekend is essentially the process of setting up a start up in 48 hours. Surely money is important? Surely you have to worry about cost effectiveness, profit margins, the fluctuating raw material price…?
Due to the ice breaker for the weekend being the smashing of a pinata (which I was bullied into hitting first with the pinata being lifted out of my reach whilst blind folded – as were the other two ladies present) alongside creative, energetic people and a large amount of pizza, the concept of being nervous of stepping up to a start up challenge, financially challenging as it would be, seemed impossible. As the pinata was obliterated by one of the attendees, words that were suggested by the attendees spilled out of the pinata, and these words would form the ice breaker pitch.
The ideas were nothing if not delightfully imaginative. The Peachy Dinosaur was an insurance company for reptiles (the pitcher parodying every insurance man ever) and Cauliflower Pinata, where vegetables would contain treats inside for children to eat their veggies.
Then the real pitches began. In all, twenty pitches were made, Many included the use of phone app technology, such as a particularly popular idea for finding gym friends, called GymFriend, which finds where you are on the map, and identifies the nearest gym and nearest available partner looking for a gym partner, and an anatomy app, documenting the different names for parts of the body for medical students. Others were a little more flamboyant, such as an idea for parachuting at certain stops off civilian aircraft and 3D printing of chocolate gifts.
Eventually, eight ideas were chosen according to popularity, i.e. the number of post-it notes placed upon each piece of paper representing the idea. Teams were then quickly formed, and the plans for the start up were laid, with many of them working right into the early hours of the morning to finish.
This is a rather unusual event. Most society events wind up in Jesters, despite many people promising themselves, “Just a quick pint”. Yet whilst we mortals look for chemicals (such as alcohol) to get us excited, the people I have met at this Start Up Weekend look inside themselves to feed their addiction to this drug – achievement.
Alejandro Saucendo, one of the organisers for the event, explained it thus; “If I manage to inspire them to break this barrier of ‘what if it doesn’t work?’ I would say it was a well spent weekend. I want to get them to take this leap…I know what I love and I don’t love.” It remains to be seen if the participants are sufficiently inspired and ready to take the risk of a start up.
Day Two – Saturday
On this second day of the start-up weekend, it was easy to come away with the impression that one was stuck in the Star Trek films. I arrived at 9am to several serious faces, gathered to get their project on the road.
Even I was pulled into a project. The project I am currently involved in is called Felix Chocolates, and, perhaps indicative of the optimism and ambition of the attendees this weekend, we hope to print moulds to make personalised chocolate gifts via 3D printing. I wouldn’t like to divulge too much of the project, for that stinks of self promotion, but like the other projects which I went around to and visited, work began at 9am, and at the time of writing, is still continuing at 2am of Sunday morning. It is true that entrepreneurs are mad; they have to be to continue working into the night, passionate about their ideas.
The projects taking flight in particular this weekend include Unidhelp and Gymbuddy, of which are both platforms for connecting people; appropriate projects in this age of widespread communication. Unidhelp looks to connecting current international students with up and coming students from abroad, giving them advice on living and studying in the U.K, concerning finance, accommodation and good ol’ fashioned taboos. As the group spokesman, who comes from Slovakia, told me, “I wish we had something like this when we started university…when I came here, it was my first time in England. It was so scary!”
Meanwhile, Gymbuddy concerns itself with linking people up with potential gym partners in their area, as well as pin-pointing the nearest gym. Brilliant and simple idea, but it conspires that the execution is a “challenge”. The technology required for two mapping algorithms (one tracking the nearest fellow user, the other the nearest gym) has proved to have been quite tough for the group, but they are the most diligent workers at the weekend, as far as I can see.
All the groups today have been beavering away, setting up social media sites, using their free domains, conducting research on their product, interviewing an (occasionally) willing fellow student about their new project, getting their heads around codes and eating a lot of pizza.
A particularly exciting moment today occurred at the arrival of the 3D printer. Despite many of us clutching smart phones and sporting speedy laptops, we were all transfixed by the machine. I suppose we all envisioned the Sci-Fi films that have come out of Hollywood, that a meal could be at first printed, then the Forces of Evil would take over and use it to mass produce weapons. There, very Star Trek. What a moral choice. Yet the human race has little to fear, for the printer would pass out upon being introduced to chocolate. We have nothing to fear from machines, for now.
Due to the limitations of the printer, however, the four projects that needed the printing found their imaginative ideas were slightly curtailed by the technology. Such was an important lesson learnt by the entrepreneurs today; you start with a marvellous idea, that fills you up. Then informed pessimism tells you of the flaws in your brilliant plan, which can lead you to falling out of love with the idea. But if you stay passionate and inspired, you can work through the problems, and find solutions. If you give up upon falling over, Captain Picard would have taken the one way way ticket out of the pressured door without a suit. The rewards for persevering are too great to deprive oneself of.
For those of you who did not participate this weekend, and are watching wistfully the events reported on the platform, you can still participate in your own way. If you have a dream, no matter how wild, then as a student (assuming you are of course) you have little responsibility and plenty of time. With the right enthusiasm money is not a problem when you secure sponsorship, and the lack of experience doesn’t matter a jot as you dive into the world of inventing yourself – entrepreneurship.
Day Three – Sunday
The final day of the Start Up Weekend started with slight bleary eyes, due to enthusiastic attendance to a Mexican themed part on campus, that involved enough tequila to (probably) fill a swimming pool, as well as those who stayed up all nigh working on their project (Gymbuddy in particular).
But we were there, 9am on Sunday morning, ready for the final push, so to speak. There was quite a bubble of interest in the room, due to the arrival of two 3D printers, which for many were being seen printing for the first time. Three of the teams used the printing machines to create models for their project, which included Felix Chocolates, Fastkey and Keything. The process was quite laborious, as each model had to be printed layer upon layer, but the end results were impressive, as shown in these pictures. The Catwoman model (pictured with the team) was from Felix Chocolates, Fastkey the USB sticks (no images available unfortunately!) and Keything the little token.
These were showcased in their presentations, and showed clearly to the judges the application of the models to their business. Felix Chocolates intended to use the mould to create chocolates in the shape of Catwoman (Felix = Cats = Catwoman), Fastkey to store the passwords on fingerprint secured universal USB sticks and Keything to attach to keys to remind you that you have forgot an important item. These were all possible to make at a cheaper price than the rival models in the market at the moment.
It was clear that the judges were struggling to choose, for the other projects, as well as the ones just mentioned, were refining and honing their ideas as well as their presentations right to the last few minutes left, and their projects were all creative and there were all real needs for them.
The winners were well deserved. Unfortunately, I can only tell you that Gymbuddy came second and Fastkey third, for the first prize winners requested me not to write their name anywhere due to their going to a conference next week in London where they will present their idea, due to it being so volatile and unique (However, if you really want to know…http://www.hackasoton.com/startup-weekend-southampton-2013/)
There were also individual prizes to be awarded. One of the team members at Gymbuddy was awarded the Most Dedicated Hacker, and it was well deserved, for no one saw him sleep the entire weekend and probably was significant in contributing to the team’s second prize placing. The Best presenter was given to the designer at Felix Chocolates.
I should like to conclude this piece by acknowledging the wonderful zest and energy that I was personally treated to this weekend. It has been a sleepless, stressful blast that I think many students, perhaps out of shyness more than anything, are missing out on; the committee of University of Southampton’s entrepreneur society, Fish on Toast, do an event every week and have strong connections with employers, which at this weekend included Bloomberg, who provided significant amounts of funding, offered internship opportunities and rather a lot of free goodies!
But, most of all, I have to acknowledge the real entrepreneurial spirit in the individual members of the committee. Alejandro Saucedo, Izidor Flajsman and Ali Maleklou were open, friendly and never ending in energy and enthusiasm. Despite being essentially a straggler, they encouraged me to join in, and should they ever encourage you, you will find yourself on an exciting and innovative path that we can all follow if we’re brave enough to try it.
Don’t worry about missing out! There will be another one in November. Watch this space!
The event is being organised by Alejandro Saucedo, Ali Amouzedah and Izidor Flajsman of Fish on Toast.
Official website of the event http://southampton.startupweekend.org/
Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/HackaSoton?hc_location=timeline