Billion Pound insights into scaling a business
The Cambridge Start-up Billion Pound Scale Up Challenge is an attractively honest, super-supportive, event and this 2019 opener proved the breadth of its humanity as well as its wisdom.
Joyfully shepherded by Adelina Chalmers, also known as the Geek Whisperer, proceedings involve start-ups pitching a formidable local panel – not for their money as in Dragon’s Den, rather for their expertise.
This time round saw a quintet displaying stellar business acumen on a panel consisting of:
- Poppy Gustafsson, CEO of Darktrace
- Monika Biddulph, former Arm general manager
- Lauren Kisser, director of Amazon Web Services
- Elly Hardwick, chief digital officer of UBS Bank
- Jamie Urquhart, venture capital partner at Pond Ventures, and co-founder and ex-chief strategy officer of Arm.
Three entrepreneurs presented the panel with their issues or concerns.
First up was Patrick Short, co-founder and CEO of genetic data sharing platform Heterogeneous.
“Researchers say that they love the product. However, they feel like they need more data from patients,” he shared. “Obtaining this data quickly would be very costly without having specific projects from researchers. Our business challenge is how do we get the researchers to pay for the projects which would allow us to invest in researching particular areas and convince them that we will get that data to them?”
“The talk went really well and Patrick clearly and confidently explained both the platform and benefits of the product,” said one attendee.
The process was very rewarding, according to Patrick.
“It was a really great event,” he said. “The Unicorn’s Den event was one of the few pitch events that I’ve been a part of that feels truly constructive. It was great to be able to discuss our goals and our challenges openly in front of such an accomplished panel and audience. The event was great for meeting other useful connections.”
Next was Tony Ballardie, CEO of Capito Systems, which offers an intelligent voice interface which can work very successfully with delivery or takeaway firms.
“The idea is to order just by speaking,” he explained. Capito had a successful trial with “a very large food organisation” but this had not resulted in any firm progress. What might have gone wrong?
This is where the panel steps in. With a mix of cajoling and interrogation, they delve deeper. Monika teased out that in fact the trial wasn’t live.
“Initially it was just an internal evaluation,” Tony acknowledged.
“So the sales and online teams would be able to compare and see if they made more money in a given period of time using your technology?” Monika asked whether that metric was available.
“We’ve not had that – we’d love to have that data,” said Tony.
After some additional comments Jamie Urquhart weighed in.
“It’s nice to get the ‘wows’ but when the wows don’t become something more you’ve got problem,” he said. Jamie was concerned that the sales pitch maybe did not appreciate what really mattered to the client.
“Companies don’t worry so much about having a competitive edge so much as losing business to competitors,” he said. In other words, you might have some great technology but that won’t lead to an order unless the client thinks a rival will snatch up the product or service and that will then trash their business model. Useful insight.
Tony agreed, later saying the event is “unique in giving us the opportunity to pitch our most pressing business challenges in a ‘safe’ and relaxed environment to an esteemed panel of successful entrepreneurs and an eclectic audience”. He added: “Rarely will we learn so much in such a short space of time. ”
The third pitch was by Dan Cowell, CEO of mental health diagnostics company Psyomics. He also found the Bradfield Centre environment “tremendously supportive”.
It wasn’t just a useful event for the pitches. The panel also enjoyed the day. Jamie concluded: “What’s better than a few motivated people trying to turn a great idea into a business? Simple, a community of over 100 people packed into an event, along with some experienced panelists ready to hear your journey and share their ideas, suggestions, and networks. The positivity was buzzing after the formal part of the meeting, as various groups gathered and shared ideas. We need more of this in the UK.”
“The common challenge I hear in Cambridge is that often founders don’t talk to each other,” said Adelina. “My intention with this event is to get people to help each other, especially to get experienced unicorn founders and executives help aspiring unicorns.
“I am absolutely delighted to see how people shared not only their expertise but also offered introductions to useful contacts. One start-up said to me: ‘In 30 minutes here we’ve been able to get business insights and contacts that would have taken us six months to build’.”