All posts filed under “Entrepreneurial

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Amir Nathoo, WebMynd, Cambridge & Y Combinator

Amir Nathoo is a Founder and the CEO of WebMynd.com, a really interesting startup company founded a little over a year ago. He spoke on Wednesday this week at an event organized by the Cambridge Network at the offices of Red Gate Software.

Amir spoke about his company and his experiences getting accepted to and going through the Y Combinator program. If you haven’t heard of it, Y Combinator is a really innovative program for software start-up companies. You get a small amount of funding and go through a three-month boot camp of getting your software ideas up and running. The whole time you have incredible mentoring from some of the best web/software advisors in the world, and the program concludes with a Demo Day, where companies show off their software and businesses to press and investors.

It was a great talk, and really brought out the benefits and realities of the Y Combinator program. Matt Schofield, the CEO of the Cambridge Network, wrote a blog post about it here.

Before I forget, you MUST try out WebMynd. They released a brand new version just a few weeks ago and it is AWESOME. You have to have the Firefox browser installed, which I highly recommend. (Go here to download Firefox.) Once you’ve got it, just head to WebMynd’s home page here and click on “Install WebMynd.”

WebMynd does four things:

  1. Gives you more (and potentially more useful) results whenever you do a Google search. This is a fantastic feature.
  2. Records what web pages you’ve been do, so you can literally go back visually to web pages you’ve seen recently.
  3. Keeps a listing of the web pages you’ve been on recently, which lets you easily go back and/or share links.
  4. One-click sharing pages with friends via Twitter, Facebook, etc.

There was some interesting talk on the night about Y Combinator. A few of the Cambridge Angels were there, as well as other investors like Laurence John (CEO of Amadeus Capital Parters Seed Fund). It seems like people are interested in the model, but want to create something that is appropriate for Cambridge. While Cambridge doesn’t have the same level of expertise in web technology as Silicon Valley does, there is some really advanced technology being developed here and a latent entrepreneurial spirit.

Laurence has started discussing this a bit on his blog, and I look forward to hearing more about it. Based on some things he said Wednesday night, it makes sense that any program needs to come from a consortium of angels or VC’s. This eliminates any negative connotation if a particular angel or VC chooses not to further invest in a company that was accepted into the program.

Perhaps I might be able to provide some perspective later this year… I’ve applied to this summers’ Y Combinator program. (With a thank you to Amir for his feedback and perspectives which were incredibly helpful!) With so many applicants it may be a long shot, but will know more in just a week and a half.

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Kevin Roberts & his challenges

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Kevin Roberts, the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, is also the CEO-in-Residence at Judge Business School. He came in to talk to us recently about Winning with an MBA, which was particularly useful considering the somewhat dismal job market that we’ll be entering later this year.

First off, he’s really an incredible speaker. His staff has a virtual command center to run his presentation, with multiple laptops and a sound mixer! Impressive, and it certainly created a good first impression toward Saatchi & Saatchi. I’m really, really looking forward to the Creativity Workshop that he’s going to be running for the MBA class later this year. From what I’ve heard, it’s a very unique experience.

I don’t want to write too much about his talk with us, but do want to point out three challenges that he set out for us. I think these apply no matter who you are or what stage in life you’re at. We’ve been tasked with thinking about these and writing the answers down; you should do the same:

  • What’s my 5-year dream?
  • When am I at my best?
  • What will I never do?

Particularly on the 5-year dream, he pushed us to push ourselves. He called the 5-year dream of running your own business, etc., “pathetic.” It was a bit of a shock, but a fair point. That’s not much of a dream; we can do that right now if we chose. What’s our real dream, something that seems completely impossible right now? That’s what we should be aiming for.

The other two questions are more straightforward. Still, we need to be brutally honest with ourselves when we answer them in order to really get an insight into our own abilities and preferences.

I went out to dinner with some of my classmates straight afterward, and we started talking about these questions – specifically our dreams. It was interesting to hear what people thought. Perhaps it’s the current job market, but it was generally difficult for everyone to really expand their horizons to answer the question.

While I think I’ve come up with my answer, I’m going to hold off from writing it publicly. But I invite you to really think (and feel) hard and answer the questions above for yourself; it could make for an interesting revelation.

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Cambridge – putting the pieces together by opening up

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Cambridge is an incredible city for science and technology. For the Americans reading this, imagine if you put Harvard and MIT together and you’ve got a good idea of what Cambridge is like. (With a short note to point out that both Harvard and MIT are in Cambridge, MA… named after THIS Cambridge!) It’s the Ivy League of the UK and Europe, with scientists and engineers that are on par with anything MIT, CalTech, Stanford or Michigan produces.

I’ve been talking with a lot of people about the Cambridge startup ecosystem recently, and it’s been both very frustrating and very invigorating. Invigorating because there are a TON of cool ideas and startups getting going. Frustrating because we still aren’t building links amongst all these companies in order to take full advantage of what’s being developed.

Opening up

One of the themes I keep hearing about the area is that so much of what is done in Cambridge is silo-ed. The University has not just one or two, but a half-dozen groups dedicated to entrepreneurship! (CfEL, Cambridge Enterprise, CUE, CUTEC, etc.) Cambridge Enterprise and St. John’s Innovation Centre provide office space and serve as hubs for startups. The criticism I hear is that even in the “hubs,” most people/companies just work in their own offices, and there’s not a lot of interaction between them… a huge missed opportunity. There are lots of high-tech hardware startups that come out of Cambridge labs, and there are a lot of scary-smart computer scientists building crazy software in their labs. Rarely do these people even talk to each other, but imagine if they did!

We need to start systematically work on opening up the Cambridge startup community. (OpenCoffee Cambridge is just the first step in doing this, though I think a valuable one. But why, as just one example, doesn’t St. John’s Innovation Centre host startup-only BBQ’s in the summer?)

Putting pieces together

Part of the solution to solving this is to get people talking. OpenCoffee helps to connect people and companies, but that’s just once a week. Working in the same space with others would be another great step. I know that Martin Kleppmann has been working on a Cambridge CoWorking space to do exactly this, and look forward to hearing more about that. Let’s face it… all we need is a covered room with power and a bathroom, and internet/wireless access. In today’s market I’m sure there are some offices going spare where the owner would appreciate any kind of income. (Again, this would be even more ideal if both hardware-focused and software-focused startups came together under the same roof!)

Phase 1 – Full Moon Madness Demo nights

The first phase I’m working on is Full Moon Madness Demo nights. These would revolve around themes, and involve demos from both hardware startups and software startups. Five to six companies would have 5 minutes (strictly limited, once decided) to demo their technology. After that ~30 minutes, the rest of the evening the demo companies would be available to do in-depth demos, and the audience could network.

Startups would NOT be pitching their business idea, they’ll be DEMOING their technology/product. Powerpoint will NOT be welcome. By seeing all the technology in person, I hope to build links between these hardware and software companies to build very powerful businesses.

The event would be open to everyone in the tech scene. I imagine that it will start out being Cambridge-focused, but I hope that it will grow to be an event that people come to from across the UK to see the future of technology early.

On a more practical note, as I mentioned in my last post I think it would be interesting to switch around the days of the week. A favourite pub of mine in the US held “Full Moon Madness” specials every Full Moon, year round. I suggest that we hold demo nights on the same schedule, though anything that fell on the weekend would move to the closest weekday night.

Based on that, here are the suggested dates in the coming months:

  • Thursday, April 9th
  • Thursday, May 7th
  • Monday, June 8th
  • Tuesday, July 7th
  • Thursday, August 6th
  • Thursday, September 3rd

I’m thinking of centering the first night around the theme of new media technology. Based on that, I have the following questions for you! –

  • Does anyone have any recommendations for companies that are ready and able to demo next month?
  • Or recommendations for other themes?
  • Does anyone know of good venues to hold a night like this? (I’ve got a few in mind, but would appreciate suggestions.)
  • Does a 7:30pm start sound reasonable?

Future plans

I’m interested in your thoughts of what Cambridge can and should do to invigorate the startup scene. I’ve got a number of things simmering in my mind, but want to hear what you’ve got to say first.

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OpenCoffee Cambridge & thoughts and ideas on the startup scene

First of all, thank you to everyone that came out to the first OpenCoffee Cambridge today! I wasn’t sure what to expect, and thought the worst case would mean about 3-4 people would just chat in the coffee shop. I didn’t try to make an accurate count, but I would guess about 30 people or so turned up, which was fantastic! I had a great time meeting and talking to a lot of interesting people.

Here are some photos from the day (my apologies for the blurry ones):

You’re getting close when you see this… you can’t miss it

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Here’s the venue, Caffe Nero on King’s Parade

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This is the view from the front door of Caffe Nero

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In this photo I managed to catch Laurence, Geoff, Peter, and a couple others. (Geoff also blogged about OpenCoffee here.)

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Louise was one of the women to show up (a fellow MBA)

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The group ended up taking up a good chunk of the back of the shop; this was taken after people had started leaving.

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It was a fantastic day, and virtually everyone I met and talked to today was either an entrepreneur or an investor. I want to specifically thank Laurence John and Richard Brockbank from Amadeus and Alex van Someren from Cambridge CfEL for showing up and being so enthusiastic for the idea of OpenCoffee.

After a little bit of research, it seems the two best options for organising a group like OpenCoffee is a Meetup group and a LinkedIn group. Since LinkedIn groups are free, that’s what I’ve setup first. Please click here to sign up. (Currently moderated to prevent spammers.) I think it would be great to start a Meetup group, too, but would like to gauge opinion before the $144/year charge. UPDATE: Peter Clark/Broadersheet has sponsored the Meetup group: sign up here! Please sign up so that we can let everyone know if/when we change venues… if we have a few more weeks packing Caffe Nero like we did today we won’t be welcome there much longer!

On a completely different note, a number of people had some interesting conversations about Cambridge and entrepreneurs. Talking with people today, it seems there are a few different issues that currently exist in the Cambridge startup ecosystem.

  • Social events – OpenCoffee Cambridge is meant to address this. Entrepreneurs just need a place/time to meet each other, demo what they’re doing and network.
  • Demo nights – Cribbing off of the NY Tech Meetup, I think Cambridge needs a night where entrepreneurs can show off what they’ve been working on, get feedback, and have a broader networking event.
  • Judge Business School – Judge is a great business school that could really make a difference to startups, but not enough MBA’s, MPhils, etc get involved in the startup ecosystem.

Initial thoughts on furthering the Cambridge startup ecosystem

Cambridge is an incredible cluster of startups, but it’s not perfect. These are three things that I personally think would be useful in order to address the issues above.

OpenCoffee Cambridge

After today’s success, this is certainly going to become a regular event.

Based on the feedback I got from everyone today, I think this will be most valuable as a weekly, daytime event. It ensures more angels and VC’s can attend (since that’s their day job), and needs to be weekly to develop the kind of relationships that are necessary. That doesn’t mean people need to show up every week! Just that it happens every week for the people that want to meet up.

Full Moon Madness Demo nights

A monthly demo night for entrepreneurs looking to demo their software, products, services would address the second issue. It would take place at night, ensuring as many people as possible can attend. (Both current and aspirational entrepreneurs.) Let’s face it… all entrepreneurs are a little bit mad so let’s celebrate it by demo’ing during a full moon!

This would mean that the first demo night would be Wednesday, March 11th. Are there any conflicts with that night? I’ve got one volunteer to demo already… are there any others? If there’s interest I’ll look into setting something up.

Cambridge Entrepreneurial Speed-dating

I’m not sure how this would work, but there’s a real opportunity to connect science and engineering students working on new ideas with business school students that have the business background to help commercialize them. Sometimes this will be science/engineering ideas looking for business help, other times it will be business ideas looking for science/engineering help in building prototypes, etc. I think it’s critical to get some creative types involved with this, too, but I’m not sure how.

This would ideally happen very early in the school year, and perhaps be repeated after a few months. It may be too late to effectively do this year, but perhaps if it gets developed a bit it would be ready for the fall?

Summary

OpenCoffee Cambridge is ON. Please stay tuned in for more information, but the next one will happen next week at the same time & place. (Thursday, 26 Feb, 10am-12noon at Caffe Nero on King’s Parade)

What do you think of the other ideas? Useful, not useful, something else entirely? I’d be happy to chat in the comments below, off-blog or at the next OpenCoffee.