This past November nearly 50 student-led ventures were invited to New York City to participate in the Blackstone LaunchPad Techstars Innovation Training Camp. Out of those, 8 were from Irish universities and 2 from NUI Galway. The event took place over two intensive days, full off presentations, pitches and meetups with prominent entrepreneurs to help develop the skills and expertise of the student ventures.
Before I dive into describing my experience of the event, here’s a little intro to me, my team and our venture, BladeComp. BladeComp is structural design software for wind and tidal turbine blades. It provides a faster, easier and more reliable process for designing blade structures. The team is made up of four people. Jamie Goggins (a senior lecturer in Civil Engineering at NUI Galway) and I are the co-founders, developing the software from my Ph.D. thesis work. William Finnegan and Yadong Jiang are the other two members, who’ve brought a wealth of experience with computational fluid dynamics, structural engineering and software design to the mix. We’ve developed BladeComp through multiple research projects since 2013 and have been incredibly lucky to work with some great companies in Ireland and Europe to test and refine our software.
The two-day training camp was structured around a couple of very effective events, these were the “mentor madness” meetups and a series of talks on different aspects of becoming an entrepreneur and growing your business. The mentor madness events brought together student ventures and mentors from the Techstars organisation in quick 20-minute meetings. The Techstars programme taps into a network of over 4800 mentors worldwide. These are people with years of experience in developing successful businesses who want to make their knowledge and skills available to early-stage startup companies.
The meetups started with a quick pitch from the student entrepreneur followed by discussion and feedback on their business model, the market and the needs of their growing venture. To say these events were informative is an understatement. The mentors we were paired up with gave us honest and actionable feedback that is already having an impact on the next steps to developing our venture. Our mentors came from a variety of backgrounds, not all to do with technology or our
sector. The two hours of the mentor madness absolutely flew by, and the combination of quick pitching, productive appraisal and experienced guidance were hugely beneficial. I saw my own confidence and skills at pitching our business develop at a rapid pace.
The second day was structured a little differently. A series of talks on topics ranging from personal branding to key performance indicator (KPI) strategy to marketing tactics were interspersed with pitches from selected student ventures and “fireside chats”. The talks were a high point for me, with the speakers passing on their expert know-how in fast-paced but entertaining ways. Coming away from the event I can’t say I know everything about the topics critical to developing a successful business, but I do feel like I have a solid basis of what I need to learn and where to go from here.
The “fireside chats” were also a high-point of the day. These were more informal conversations with key people in the Techstars network, where they could share their personal experiences of the path to success. The chats were an invaluable look into the motivations and emotional journey behind these figures and provided a welcome insight into what it takes to progress on this path.
Finally, the entrepreneur pitches gave everyone the opportunity to see the variety and calibre of growing ventures from universities across Ireland and the US. NUI Galway’s Barry McCann successfully pitched his Enterprise Ireland funded STERICISION project to over 200 people. Out of the 19 pitches on the day, 7 will be chosen to take part in a Techstars training cohort, receiving 10 weeks of intensive mentorship and guidance to develop their business. All of us from the BladeComp team wish Barry the best of luck with the competition!
I would recommend anyone who’s starting their own student venture to do their best to get involved in the next Techstars Innovation Training Camp. Our group gained a huge amount from the event and from meeting so many other student-led ventures in a similar position. This year, we competed in a pitching competition for entry into the training camp, so keep your eyes open for similar events coming from the NUI Galway LaunchPad. Our thanks to Natalie and Neil from LaunchPad who helped get us to New York and make the most of a fantastic event!