Think you’re pretty hard-core when it comes to getting your ideas across? Ever watched The Apprentice or Dragon’s Den and thought to yourself – I could do that. Sounds like you need to apply for the next Founderbus scheme; a four day competition of entrepreneurial innovation that pushes you to your glorious limit. Resident Enternships maniac Paolo decided to give it a go – and what a time he had…
If there’s one thing to be said about Founderbus – it’s that it’s not for the faint of heart. It requires motivation, flexibility, creativity and passion – helpfully, all qualities an entrepreneur should have – as well as a love of hard work. However, it’s also an experience that gives a lot back. In just 4 days I met, learned from and worked with some of the brightest students in UK, travelled to 5 cities in 2 nations, attended workshops and conferences from the hottest UK entrepreneurs, incubators and business professors. Intense? Yes. Worthwhile? Absolutely.
So, what exactly is the Founderbus experience? Read on, and I’ll do my best to explain it.
Day 1: Oxford, Christ Church College
The meeting point for all 25 buspreneurs was the spectacular Christ Church College, (the setting of Harry Potter’s best scenes, none of us said but everyone thought). Once we were all there, Matthias, FounderBus UK CEO introduced us to the plan of our tour; in just 4 days we “buspreneurs” had to form a team, come up with a “money making” business idea, build a prototype and finally pitch it in a business competition against five other buses from Germany, France, Spain, Holland and US, at LeWeb in Paris. All of that while travelling from UK to Paris with stops in Oxford, Cambridge and London for seminars and workshops on entrepreneurship. It was time to get mingling, form teams and get some ideas going.
Next, we listened to two speeches from Andy Sutton and Luke Lang, two successful British entrepreneurs, both riding he crowdfunding wave with their respective companies: Bagthat and Crowdcube. Their stories were full of highs and lows but they continued to emphasise the need entrepreneurial spirits and ambitions alive, no matter what.
Lessons from day 1:
1. Don’t ever allow failures to weaken your entrepreneurial ambitions but learn from them
2. No matter which global ambitions you have for your startup just keep it really simple
3. Make sure to invest in the people working with you instead of in an office in the Gherkin
4. It’s never too late to be a good entrepreneur. Instead, it’s quite often too early.
Day 2: Said Business school in Oxford, Google Campus in London
No rest for the entrepreneurial. Day Two started at the prestigious Said Business school meeting Matt Clifford, CEO of Entrepreneur First; a UK government-backed incubator with top startups in London. Matt talked to us about the importance of validating our markets; finding out if there is demand for the service/product provided and if people are willing to pay your bills to use it. There was just one day and one night left before the first pitch; the one which decided which of the 6 FounderBus teams could compete against the other fellow buspreneurs from US and Europe. Pressure was mounting, and no-one wanted to let the bus down. Luckily, it was time for pizza.
As we munched away our stress in a haze of cheese, a panel of UK based entrepreneurs talked to us about the future of British entrepreneurship. All agreed that there has never been a better period to set up a business in Britain, but that patience is required if you want it to be successful – start-ups are like babies, they said; it takes immense dedication if you want them to turn out well.
Lessons from day 2:
1) If you really love your idea, try your best to destroy it. Chances are if you fail to do so, your idea will be successful.
2) Listen to your customers before you expect them to listen to you.
3) If you think your business idea is perfect that’s because you have received enough feedback from your friends but not from your customers.
Day 3: IDEAspace in Cambridge and Antwerp incubator, Belgium
Day 3 started in a lecture theatre at the famous London Business School. We had a case study workshop on business plan writing and Idea Evaluation with Professor Ben Hallen – a fascinating few hours that made all of us realise that a few days work did not a watertight business idea make. I think we all knew that Professor Hallen would not invest in any of our ideas. Ah well. At least we could always remember that free pizza.
Next, IDEA space; a Cambridge incubator where the “next big things” are currently being developed. Once arrived at IDEAspace teams had the rest of the day to work on their business proposals; occasionally visited by experienced local entrepreneurs who were kind enough to give us all feedback on our ideas. One night to go. Time to put on the coffee.
Lessons from day 3:
1) Deadlines are the greatest motivator
2) Caffeine does help productivity, especially at night
3) Entrepreneurship is not a career but a lifestyle, yo!
Day 4&5: Antwerp incubator and Paris
Was it one day? Was it two? Difficult to say when you don’t get any sleep. Firstly, back on the bus we went to make the trip from Cambridge to Antwerp, and the pitches began. The winning teams from the UK bus went as follows: Time Square, a mobile app that shows you events and things to do during the empty slots of your phone calender, and Spinning Jennie; a crowdfunding platform for aspiring designers who don’t have the resources to display/sell their work through conventional channels
The winning teams (not us, sadly!) were to attend the final pitch at Microsoft HQ in Paris – and the rest of us were ready to go along to support them. The problem? It was 2am by this point, and the bus left at 4am. A couple of hours to catch up on sleep, or to drink our commiserations away? Increasing the Belgium GDP it was.
Finally arriving in beautiful Paris, we barely had time to admire the sights before being thrown through the Microsoft doors and watching the finalists from around Europe compete for the big prize. The winning team came from the German bus; an idea by the name of Haystack. The concept centred around a mobile app that turns your Facebook friends into matchmakers, linking ‘friends in common’ and allowing the mutual friend to suggest great matches. It was a brilliant pitch, and the win was very well deserved.
After the pitches it was finally time to mingle with all others FounderBus teams. We all headed off to a club near the Tour Eiffel and danced what remained of the night away. Who needs sleep, eh?
Lessons from day 4&5
1) If you are an entrepreneur a single day lasts as many hours as it needs to.
2) Germany is a good place to join Founderbus 2013. Just an idea.
3) Having fun is everybody’s need but for an entrepreneur it’s also a business opportunity
It was only on the way back to London that I realised that – though we’d all been promised four days worth of entrepreneurial madness – in reality FounderBus 2012 wasn’t over Most teams were still enthusiastically working on their ideas, planning to meet up in January, and making the most of this sudden new network of brilliant, ideas-y colleagues. People seem to give the most when they are surrounded by those who’s passions and goals are aligned – and above all, the Founderbus experience could continue to give us that.
So, this article is dedicated to you, my fellow buspreneurs and to all the others who have or will take part to this great experience. May the legacy live on!
Keep In Touch;)
By Paolo Bertolero
To learn more about Founderbus, take a look at their official site here