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By Marta Teperek

Nelly and Miguel, Cambridge biotech startup weekend participants
Nelly and Miguel, startup weekend participants

How to create twelve exciting business ideas in just fifty-four hours?

Here is a simple recipe – take:

50 passionate entrepreneurs + 10 expert coaches + an efficient organising team, mix them, and get them to work together.

 

How did it work?

Friday evening – hit the ground running

On Friday evening fifty-five life sciences budding entrepreneurs gathered at the Cambridge Judge Business School. Everyone started off quite shy and not very talkative, thinking: “What is it all about? Is it for me? I do not know anyone here…Why am I here?” A sudden change happened after Hanadi Jabado, the energetic Director of Accelerate Cambridge put people into pairs and asked each pair to take three minutes to come up with a business idea and a pitch around two randomly allocated words. And the ball got rolling – a sudden creativity burst! “chocolate – truffle”, “tablet – white”, “science – release”, “pyjama – cocaine” – all of these random two words combinations were suddenly turned into potential businesses. Magic!

Brice and Stephen scribbling crazy two-word combinations: ideas for the thirty second pitches!
Brice and Stephen scribbling crazy two-word combinations: ideas for the 30s pitches!

Brains now warmed up, spirits raised, people started to get to know each other… and the real work began. All entrepreneurs with ideas for a startup lined up to pitch for sixty seconds in front of everyone. It was amazing – more than half of the audience went on stage to pitch, one after the other. Everyone voted for their favourite ideas… 10 were to be selected but the choice was so tough, and the entrepreneurs so eager, that in the end, twelve ideas were chosen to go ahead. The next challenge was to find the right team: “Who do I need on my team? What skills do I need? Will we get on well?” – tough questions again and it took a while to form teams. But in the end, by 10PM, the teams were there, the ideas were created, and the teams began to work on their newly formed business ideas until midnight.

 

Saturday – intense

The teams were tired after working late on Friday night, yet arrived at 8AM at Cambridge Judge Business School in time for a quick breakfast with a cup of coffee. Everyone needed a strong coffee to wake up after the short night and get going. The brainstorming within the teams started: working at their laptops, running into town to conduct interviews, looking up information on the web.

The rapid pace slowed down only slightly over a working lunch with a lecture on business models delivered by Simon Stockley, senior teaching faculty in entrepreneurship. Expert guidance, excellent tips, and a strong but encouraging kick for the teams to further improve their ideas. Hurry! Coaches were to arrive at 2PM and they needed to know about the business models! 

Simon Stockley delivering the working lunch session about Business Models
Simon Stockley delivering the working lunch session about Business Models

Coaching sessions were super-intense – to that extent that no one turned up for the afternoon coffee break, so as not to waste time. The advice from coaches was invaluable… some ideas were turned upside-down, which meant even more work that night. Coaching sessions were followed by a quick break to grab pizza for dinner, and again – teams worked hard until midnight.

Caroline Austin mentoring the team, ‘Supernatural’
Caroline Austin mentoring the team, ‘Supernatural’

Sunday – more work… and the winners announced!

Everyone turned up even more tired on Sunday, but that was the last day to improve business ideas – so everyone arrived promptly for breakfast at 8AM. The coaches also joined from first thing in morning – understanding that it was the last opportunity to provide the teams with feedback. Intense work again, and some ideas had to be re-iterated.

PITSKY Systems mentored by Robert Tansley
PITSKY Systems mentored by Robert Tansley

No rest for the wicked, as lunch on Sunday was also a working lunch, but it was inspiring. Hanadi Jabado spoke on “How to pitch”, “What mistakes to avoid”, and “How to behave when pitching” and then the teams panicked before their final pitch! Everyone rushed to work on their final presentations – everything needed to be ready for 4.30PM for the tech check-up before the final pitches at 5PM.

Hanadi Jabado with Simon Stockley, giving final advice to teams
Hanadi Jabado with Simon Stockley, giving final advice to teams

5PM – the final hour: judges arrived and final pitches began…and what happened was astonishing: amazing quality, unbelievably good, appealing startup ideas created in just fifty-four hours!

Miranda Weston-Smith and Shaun Grady, who together with Alan Barrell sat on the judging panel
Miranda Weston-Smith and Shaun Grady, who together with Alan Barrell sat on the judging panel

In summary: these were all real, rapid stories of success. And here are the winners:

3rd place: nSense – Fight Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) with nanobodies that will guide repair machinery specifically to cancer cells;

2nd place: Zoomph – Chemotherapy and then what? Zoomph’s app will help you optimise your recovery with set of exercise, lifestyle and diet;

1st place: Endotraps – ‘mazing idea on novel therapeutic strategy as treatment of pre-eclampsia by lowering/sequestering the increased endothelin-1 levels in the circulation that would ameliorate pathology associated with increased endothelin-1 levels.

All three winners have secured their place on a 3-month long Accelerate programme to transform their ideas into real business opportunities. In addition to the three winners, the judges gave a special mention to MeDNA Diagnostics, working on a new approach to cancer diagnostics and stratification, who were also offered a place on the Accelerate programme. The people’s choice award went to ULTRUNIQ for their work on an Alzheimer’s cure.

In the end everyone was tired, but extremely happy and satisfied – hard work, a lot of fun, so many new friends, and most importantly – the ideas to work on and teams to execute were there! Everyone happily went for dinner and drinks to the Royal Cambridge Hotel. And everyone kept saying: it was a truly amazing weekend.

 

What did participants say about the weekend?

Great opportunity to experience almost real journey of a startup weekend in fifty-four hours

said Geylani Can, PhD student and a co-founder of nSense, 3rd place winner, who at the beginning was not even sure if his winning idea was worth pitching on Friday!

nSense receiving their 3rd place award
nSense receiving their 3rd place award

“I was inspired to believe in myself and to believe that if I follow my passion, I can really contribute”

added Helene Fox, PhD student and a co-founder of Endotraps, who won the prize for the best startup idea. Before the startup weekend Helene kept saying that she wants to observe, as she wasn’t sure if that’s something for her.

EndoTraps receiving their first prize
EndoTraps receiving their first prize

So that’s how the startup weekend changes you – from a tiny idea on Friday, or from being unsure if you want to take part, you suddenly create tangible business plans – and all thanks to teamwork and support. It is indeed a truly amazing experience and invaluable lesson for everyone.

 “Really high energy and it’s impressive to listen to them! Their passion is inspiring and I’m learning a lot!”

said excitedly Dr Hitesh Sanganee, one of the coaches at the Startup Weekend. Hitesh worked for fifty-four hours during the weekend, and his coaching sessions were overbooked from the start!

“The enthusiasm and innovative thinking from the teams and productivity over such a high-intensity, creative and fun fifty-four hours, has been a great inspiration.”

summarised Duncan Young, who did two days of coaching in one day (four hours of extra coaching!)

Duncan Young and Hitesh Sanganee listening to final pitches
Duncan Young and Hitesh Sanganee listening to final pitches

And finally: what’s my own opinion about the Startup Weekend?

I have joined the Startup Weekend as part of the organising team. This was an extremely valuable experience and it felt so rewarding to contribute to what was happening there, but from the very start I regretted greatly that I was not one of the entrepreneurs participating in the event! I so much wanted to join them from the first night, go and try pitching, join their teams, brainstorm together, listen to the expert feedback from coaches, be part of the creation and build something great together. I know for sure that I am participating in the next startup weekend, and I am so looking forward to it. The energy is really contagious, and it is incredibly inspiring. I was extremely exhausted after the weekend, but being part of it was so rewarding and satisfactory that I have a huge energy kick that will keep me excited for a long time.

I would highly recommend participating in a startup weekend to everyone – I guarantee that you will not regret it.

Marta Teperek

uk.linkedin.com/in/mteperek/en

@martateperek

Read more and see more photos on Storify – all prepared for you by Stephen Parkes – organiser of the Biotech Startup Weekend.

Maeve Thompson-Starkey