by David Lee
Roll up your sleeves and get a taste for the fundamental steps of building a startup!
This is the tag line first read by David Lee when he went on the Wade Institute website to do an application. Unfortunately, the website is a little bare, so here are his insights on this awesome event.
Start up Spring is a weekend start-up event run by the University of Melbourne’s Wade Institute. The idea is to develop and validate a business idea in a small group whilst getting feedback from other attendees and mentors. The atmosphere is busy, but friendly as there are no prizes for the best idea, the goal of the weekend is to encourage creativity and collaboration rather then competition.
As a 3-day event, it is made clear that time is limited so getting it done, is far more important then getting it ‘right’. As a practical workshop based on the basic components of building a startup, the three core principles of working hard, moving quickly and pitching (selling) your idea, are built into participants mindsets from the start. The key notion is every idea should be tweaked, modified or completely discarded as quickly as possible and that being able to sell an idea is almost as important as being able to come up with one.
The first day was about idea validation. We were put into groups and given the task of coming up with as many ideas as possible. With the focus on quantity over quality, the ideas started strongly but waned in practicality and feasibility over time. From this pool, we chose our best 2 ideas and were instructed to pitch them to the class to see which ideas we would be working on. It was pretty hard to see some people part with ideas that they had spent a large amount of time thinking about which led me to realise, it doesn’t really matter if you’ve been thinking about an idea for 10 minutes or 10 weeks as at the end of the day, it depends how well you can sell it.
The finalist Ideas to be worked on over the weekend:
I think a common theme from these ideas is that none of them are really that unique which is fine; as one of the mentors said, “completely new ideas are usually unfeasible or will scare investors away with their uniqueness”.
I decided to join the baby food team as I thought it would be a simple product business while the other ideas would be complex or I thought were too technical to develop within the 3 day period. Our team was multi-disciplined and we definitely had no shortage of ‘smart people’ (5/7 people on our team had PHDs). The composition was:
So with this motivated group of mismatches we went about creating the greatest baby food product the world had ever seen.
Working with a large group of people is never an easy task and with strangers is even harder. Our initial discussions seemed to go around in circles as we all shared our thoughts on what we thought was the best way forward. We were given a guiding plan buy the mentors but were left free to go about the actual development of the product whatever way we want.
I think a reason we “wasted” so much time is due to everyone being nice to each other. In effect we had a product that attempted to please everyone which was actually impossible to sell as one of our mentors kindly pointed out to us. However, this is not to say that being mean and straight up telling someone’s idea is bad is the right way of giving your thoughts on an idea.
The second day was about product validation which meant going out and asking random people about their current problems and how we could potentially help them out. We decided to split our team to visit 3 different areas – parks, museums/libraries and baby food health stores.
After scoping out a couple of local parks for parents with prams we asked them for their insights on what they thought of store bought products. Receiving the mixed news of “we hate store bought products” meaning they weren’t interested in buying current offerings but also leading to the realisation that this also included our product, we went back to the college to share insights.
Up next was our first pitch to the judging panel. Unfortunately, our group didn’t do as well as we should’ve as the customer insights process had all given us different impressions which lead us to change the slide deck to the last moment before presentation. Compounding the problem was due to time constraints, I was forced to write up a narrative pitch which was only loosely linked to the slide deck rather then the standard process of narrating the slides naturally. As a result, our pitch wasn’t as well integrated as the other groups, though the judges were able look at our actual product offering and provide valuable feedback on that.
After this hurdle, we stayed up to midnight, reshaping our business idea and making sure everyone was on the same page. The final day, was dedicated to creating the final pitch we would show to the judges. We divided our team into components including a pitch team – story flow, design – making the pitch deck and our market statistics team – market and competitive analysis.
In conclusion, this is a fantastic event and definitely something anyone with an interest in entrepreneurship should consider attending. Working with a group of strangers to create a product and business model is not easy but a very rewarding experience. I think the diversity of the group was something I found very interesting. I was expecting a student cohort but found that 75% of attendees were professionals from a variety of top tier professions. Amongst a number of academics, Corrs had several lawyers present as while there was an investment banking complement from Credit Suisse.
As a free event, the Wade Institute provides all food and accommodation for interstate participants for the weekend so if you’re interested in learning about startups or have a cool idea you want to work on this is definitely a great way to spend your weekend.
Check out their website here: http://wadeinstitute.org.au/startup-sprint/
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