Billion-Pound Start-Up in collaborative mode
Female focus as panel ditches pitch 'grilling'
The second Cambridge Start-up Billion Pound Scale-up Challenge took place at the Bradfield Centre on Friday (October 12) – with a slightly different format.
“All the pitching events I’ve been to have been competitive – in front of a panel, usually of white men over 50 years of age, and they judge,” explains organiser Adelina Chalmers, whose stage name is the Geek Whisperer.
“While I’ve nothing against white men over 50 it gives the wrong message and I wanted to turn that message around with a panel of women – and one non-white man not over 50. It’s to drive the message that women can work in senior positions in technology firms as well.”
The panel consisted of:
- Helen Adams, former VP sales at Arm;
- Suranga Chandratillake, partner at Balderton Capital;
- Monika Biddulph, former VP planning at Arm;
- Elly Hardwick, former director of innovation at Deutsche Bank; and
- Poppy Gustafsson, CEO at Darktrace.
The reboot of the format extended to the presentations too.
“Suranga had said he was very frustrated that not so many companies from Cambridge get a £1billion valuation,” says Adelina. “They get more support in the US, so I thought ‘let’s do that’ – let’s pitch for help and support, not investment or a contract.
“So for this event the idea was not to grill people but to support them and give them a leg up.”
The new format worked well, according to those who attended.
“The new format is not a pitch for money, it’s more the entrepreneur sharing a business challenge and asking for help from the panel,” said Emily Mackay, former director of product management at PROWLER.io. “It’s refreshingly open!”
Suranga Chandratillake said: “It’s a great concept that turns start-up pitching into a collaborative affair for sharing ideas – helping companies out rather than a dogfight for a cheque.”
The other innovation was to give presenters more time to talk through their business model and strategy, so there were just three presentations at the event, which was attended by 80 people.
Of the trio, Graham Mills, founder of techspert.io, said: “As startups we always have to pitch to prove ourselves all the time: to investors, to customers, even to new staff. With this event, we get to pitch and instead of competing with each other or justifying our decisions we get support, advice and ideas.”
“I congratulate the organisers for putting together this extraordinary event,” said Mark Kotter, founder of Elpis BioMed. “As founders we were able to ask key questions relevant to our businesses. In addition to PR, we received very valuable practical suggestions from the high level panel of experts. ”
Watch out for details of the next Billion Pound Scale-up Challenge in February. And do not worry about the gender divide because Adelina says next time: “I’m probably going to invite a few more men!”