By Mischa Dohler, CTO, Worldsensing
While there are many accelerator programmes and boot camps available to small businesses like ours, the practical benefits for entrepreneurs can vary dramatically – as does the opportunity to attract funding from business angels and investors. Businesses need to consider some important areas when assessing a mentoring or accelerator event:
First, ask if the event has commercial focus. Although there are lots of boot camps where experts and journalists attend and positive coverage often follows, many of these sessions don’t focus on whether the start-ups have a viable idea or a product that customers really want. The best events are far more engaging and constructive: not only do the experts know what they are talking about, they also want the start-ups to succeed. Well-organised one-to-one sessions provide clear feedback and mentoring to help your firm transform its ideas or fine tune the business model – in our experience, in a matter of hours.
When we attended IBM SmartCamp in London, we presented our idea to 20-30 experts in the morning. The hard feedback in the interim made us reshape our vision: one academic even told us that our product, the Fast Prk city park ing application, wouldn’t work. Our final pitch, in front of 100 or more mentors, commercial executives and journalists, was well received and we won outright.
This no-nonsense approach makes you focus on what customer want to buy. Our FastPrk product uses sensors in the field to notify the driver where best to park – it not only saves drivers’ time but also helps city governments and shopping malls design smarter cities that are more efficient and more pleasant to visit.
Second, be realistic and honest when talking to potential investors and business angels. Investors don’t want exaggerated numbers; they are already very good at doing risk calculations. They also like to see and ‘feel’ your enthusiasm for your business. Potential investors want to see how you will hit the numbers – they instinctively recognise the type of person that will succeed and those that may struggle a little more.
Honesty means accepting that, though many start-ups are founded by technology people with great ideas, it’s the customers that buy the product. If people don’t want to buy it, you have to change the product or the way it’s sold – however much you like it or whatever you devoted to it in the past. We eventually gained financial backing from a fund which is the investment arm of a global construction group which saw the need for the different sensors used in our FastPrk product.
Third, take a look at what opportunities the sponsors’ and mentors’ wider networks could open up for you. After the SmartCamp finals, our company maintained relationships with IBM’s global teams. It was beneficial to be able to talk to the technology people and visit their Innovation Centres. We collaborated with sales people that really understood different clients’ needs; when we were talking to a large customer or city council, we would even co-sell with IBM since they were naturally well equipped to work with that size of organisation.
When you look at a technology accelerator, find out if the event has a true commercial focus, be honest about your business goals with mentors and investors and consider the networks and introductions that the programme sponsor can provide.
IBM SmartCamp KickStart London takes place on October 5; entry is open until September 14. Details at: http://bit.ly/IBMSmartCamp2012
World sensing grew into a serious market player after winning the 2010 London heat of IBM SmartCamp, a global technology accelerator programme; its FastPrk software application helps motorists to park more quickly in congested cities.
About Smarter Cities Start Summit and IBM SmartCampKickStart in London
IBM’s Smarter Cities Start Summits taking place this year specifically target the goal of more sustainable living for many of our global cities. The London event on Oct ober 3 will debate the issues and then create action plans to help five cities achieve it.
To support the technology innovations that will contribute to the smarter cities agenda, the company is running parallel IBM SmartCamps, an annual technology accelerator programme for early stage firms world-wide. This year, the company has added a KickStart event in London on October 5 aimed at UK start-ups interested in building more intelligent local infrastructures for more sustainable life choices.