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!
Dr. Neil Ferguson Appointed New Programme Manager of Blackstone LaunchPad
Blackstone LaunchPad is delighted to welcome Neil to the team as Programme Manager. Neil will oversee the day-to-day operations of the LaunchPad and use his experience to mentor, coach and advise students, staff and alumni on commercialising their innovative ideas.
He joins the LaunchPad team from Science Foundation Ireland’s Centre for Research in Medical Devices (CÚRAM) which is a national research centre based in NUI Galway. Neil was Business Development and Industry Programme Manager. During his successful tenure at CÚRAM, he initiated and managed 20+ commercial partnerships with medical device companies and over €9M in investment. Neil also initiated and lead CÚRAM’s Future Innovators Training programme which provided entrepreneurial training to CÚRAM researchers.
Neil comes to LaunchPad with 20+ years of experience in business development and technology commercialisation in both Ireland and the USA. He has also held several management positions at NUI Galway’s Technology Transfer Office (TTO). While there, he was instrumental in generating a large portfolio of patents, commercial agreements and spin-out companies.
Neil holds a PhD from NUI Galway. “I am thrilled to be part of the Blackstone LaunchPad team. My entire career has been spent supporting the development teams and commercialization of innovative technologies. I look forward to continuing that tradition by providing all our students, staff and alumni with the tools and techniques required to identify, validate and develop opportunities that can make an significant impact on our society.”
€10,000 Prize Fund For New Ventures!
Blackstone LaunchPad, in partnership with EXPLORE, are excited to announce that we are launching a competition with a €10,000 prize fund! Click the poster to learn more!
Blackstone Charitable Foundation launch new initiative – #WeAreEntrepreneurs – to celebrate entrepreneurs everywhere!
Blackstone LaunchPad at NUI Galway are delighted to support and spread this initiative campus-wide. We will be hosting events and social media campaigns over the coming weeks to celebrate entrepreneurship at NUIG. We encourage students to share their entrepreneurial stories and insights by using the hashtag #WeAreEntrepreneurs and on Twitter @LaunchPadNUIG.
Blackstone LaunchPad are delighted to support Startup School in partnership with the NUIG Entrepreneurship Society and Local Enterprise Office. Startup School is where all students are welcome to pitch ideas, form teams, and build amazing startups over the course of five weeks. Watch these aspiring entrepreneurs make their ideas a reality for a chance to win money! Find out more about this exciting opportunity here.
LaunchPad: Year in Review – 2017
Paddy MacDonagh Wins Enterprise Ireland Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award
NUIG Commerce students Paddy MacDonagh, a Blackstone LaunchPad student intern, and his co-founder Chris Bogues, won the overall Enterprise Ireland Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award and were named ‘College Entrepreneur of the Year 2017’ for their innovative startup Coachbook. Their project developed as part of the ICE module at the J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics this year and was also supported by Blackstone LaunchPad. Coachbook is an online platform providing the facility for coaches to train athletes in real-time through the use of live video streaming. This eliminates the geographical restrictions currently faced by athletes, particularly horse riders, while also providing a marketplace for coaches to promote themselves. Paddy and Chris were awarded €10,000 to further develop their startup. Read more about his awardhere.
Blackstone LaunchPad Executive Director Natalie Walsh Wins Boots WMB Empowering Women Award
Natalie Walsh, the newly appointed Executive Director of Blackstone LaunchPad at NUI Galway, was awarded the 2017 Boots WMB Empowering Women Award at the Women Mean Business (WMB) awards ceremony in October. The award recognises the initiatives made by companies and/or individuals to facilitate and encourage the progression of women in their careers through mentoring schemes, training supports, networking events and personal development. Natalie has been an integral member of LaunchPad since its inception and plays a key role in building strategic plans to attract and develop student entrepreneurs. Natalie is also a WMB Gender Diversity Ambassador and previously a 2016 finalist for the award. Read more about her award here.
Joshua Chao, one of our venture coaches working with Blackstone LaunchPad, was crowned the 2017 Researchfest champion at Inspirefest in Dublin last July. Inspirefest is one of Europe’s leading science, technology, and arts festivals and PhD students were tasked to communicate their research in 3 minutes or less, without PowerPoint slides, to a non-scientific audience. The finals took place at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre and Josh won both the judges’ and audience vote with his three-minute rhyming soliloquy about his PhD research — using stem cells as a therapy for critical limb ischemia. Josh is a final-year PhD student at NUI Galway working with the Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) and Orbsen Therapeutics Ltd. Watch his video and read more about his award here.
Student Entrepreneur-in-Residence Edel Browne Wins Irish Early Career Special Recognition Award
Edel Browne, our student entrepreneur-in-residence and founder of Free Feet Medical, won the Irish Early Career Special Recognition Award at the Mansion House in Dublin last November. The Irish Early Career Awards, in association with KBC Bank Ireland and Lincoln Recruitment Specialists, celebrate excellence and recognise the achievements of brilliant young professionals in Ireland. Read more about her award here.
She also delivered a TEDx talk describing her fascinating and accidental journey into entrepreneurship. Well worth a watch! See her video here.
Two Student Ventures from LaunchPad Awarded Opportunity to Attend Techstars Training Camp & Demo Day in New York City
‘MistCalls’ and ‘the Geec’ — two student ventures at NUI Galway supported by Blackstone LaunchPad — were awarded the opportunity to attend and participate in the Techstars Training Camp & Demo Day in New York City last October. Blackstone LaunchPad, Blackstone Charitable Foundation, and Techstars partnered to create an intensive two-day workshop to support top performing student ventures across all 20 LaunchPad campus sites across the world.
Teams met with renowned startup founders and entrepreneurs, various Techstars managing directors, Blackstone employees, and most importantly, had the opportunity to meet and network with other student entrepreneurs. The rigorous and densely-packed schedule featured talks ranging from “Fundraising & Finances 101 + Bootstrapping Risk vs Traditional Capital” to “How To Effectively Market” to “Diversity in Technology & Building Successful Accelerators”. Teams then underwent one-on-one sessions with various mentors to help them effectively manage, scale, and launch their startups.
Des Dolan, a PhD student in Sustainable Engineering at NUI Galway, co-founded MistCalls, an early-stage technology company based in Co. Galway and Co. Roscommon. MistCalls is an innovative mobile call management platform aimed at business users, where a missed call could be a missed opportunity. Des’ startup provides a suite of analytics, context and organisational features to mobile calls to help professionals prioritise and manage the calls that matter most. Ultimately, MistCalls acts almost like an intelligent personal secretary to your mobile calls.
Des and Shane, co-founders of MistCalls, describe their experience here.
Laura Drudy and Niamh Keogh pilot the Geec — the Galway energy-efficient car, an eco-car designed and built by NUI Galway engineering students. Already Ireland’s most energy efficient car, the Geec has the capability to travel from New York to Chicago for just 16 cents worth of electricity, over 500 times cheaper than any average diesel car today. The team now wants the Geec to become the world’s most energy efficient vehicle and competes annually at the Shell Eco-Marathon, the world’s top ultra-efficiency competition aimed at finding the world’s most energy efficient cars.
Laura and Niamh, two drivers of the Geec, detail their experience here.
Hear About 2017 From Our Student Ventures
“In 2017, at Free Feet Medical, we focused on prototyping and growth. As a final year student, I also took time away from the business to focus on my studies. I was honoured to be named in the Sunday Business Post 30 under 30, and the Journal.ie’s 20 under 20 lists for 2017 and was also the youngest ever recipient of the Special Recognition Award at the Irish Early Career Awards. We are looking forward to a busy and productive 2018.” — Edel Browne, 4th year Biotechnology, Co-Founder of Free Feet Medical
“After my first year of Business Information Systems (BIS) in NUI Galway, I took a gap year and expanded my list of clients, improved my skills and spent several months working for a software startup in GMIT. During this time I met Michael Coyle, a BIS graduated who had started his own marketing business, Concordi. Together with him and another NUI Galway graduate, Cian McLoughlin, we transformed Concordi from an online marketing business to a fully-fledged digital agency offering online marketing, social media management, web and graphic design, photography and video, and IT consultancy. It’s been a great few months so far and I’m looking forward to the future with Concordi!” — Ruairí McNicholas, General Manager and Head of Web Design at Concordi
“Last year was a very successful year, with solid sales and a growing online presence – website and social media. This year, I’m working on developing new products using alternative materials to expand my market reach.” — Conor Lynch, 3rd year Mechanical Engineering, Founder of Conor Lynch Woodturning
“Since we first approached Blackstone LaunchPad with the initial idea, the MistCalls team has grown to five. We’re recently back from our trip to NYC with Blackstone LaunchPad and Techstars and we are just finishing the EI New Frontiers Phase 2 program with our initial product in Beta. We have big and exciting plans for the next 12 months. Right now, our current focus is on launching our initial product and making sure it’s a product our customers can’t live without!” — Desmond Dolan, PhD student in Sustainable Engineering, Founder of MistCalls
“APB Software and Hardware Ltd. grew significantly in 2017 taking on three major new clients. Our annual revenue grew by 210%. This is due to a continued and focused effort towards customer satisfaction and product quality. 2018 promises to be a bumper year with our main goals being the expansion of our team and continued partnerships both inside and outside of NUI Galway.” — Aidan Breen, PhD student in Computer Science, Founder of APB Software and Hardware Ltd.
Laura Drudy and Niamh Keogh, two drivers from the Geec, won the opportunity to travel to New York City for the Blackstone LaunchPad Techstars Training Camp and Demo Day through a campus competition run by Blackstone LaunchPad at NUI Galway. Read more about their experience below:
“The Galway energy-efficient car (better known as the Geec) is an eco-car designed and built by NUI Galway engineering students.” www.thegeec.ie
Already Ireland’s most energy efficient car, the Geec has the capability to travel from New York to Chicago for just 16 cents worth of electricity, over 500 times cheaper than any average diesel car today. Designed and built by undergraduate engineers, the team now wants the Geec to become the world’s most energy efficient vehicle. To prove the vehicle’s ability to compete on a global scale, the Geec competes in Shell Eco-Marathon, the world’s top ultra-efficiency competition, aimed at finding the world’s most energy efficient cars.
Aiming to get the knowledge and advice we need to bring our idea to the next level, we pitched the Geec to Blackstone Launchpad at NUI Galway with the hope of gaining a place at the Techstars Training Camp and Demo Day in New York. Last month, we were then selected as one of the two student ventures from NUI Galway for the event! Within two weeks we were in New York.
The two-day event proved to be everything we expected and more. From the moment we arrived, we were surrounded by enthusiastic and positive entrepreneurs – all wanting to share ideas and learn as much as possible. The event space itself, Galvanize, was creative and fun. Its artistic, innovative design set the mood for the event. From start to finish, the event was jam-packed with mentoring sessions and talks from the Techstars and Blackstone Launchpad teams. Throughout all of this, we had the opportunity to meet new people, share our ideas and learn how to improve our project. There was a constant energy and drive to succeed shared by everyone present.
We also got the opportunity to hear Steve Schwarzman (Co-Founder, Chairman, and CEO of The Blackstone Group) talk about how he built the Blackstone empire. To hear him speak so humbly about his experiences was fascinating and truly inspiring. Overall we felt that we gained a huge amount from the experience, despite the limited time frame. Meeting other start-ups, seeing how they think and seeing what drives them to build their businesses showed us a new way of thinking. Talks and guidance on everything from marketing and funding to diversity provided us with the invaluable advice we needed to bring our project to the next stage in its development. Now just to implement it!
MistCalls recently won a competition put forward by Blackstone LaunchPad at NUI Galway to attend the Techstars training camp and demo day in New York City. Two members of our team – Des Dolan and Shane O’Sullivan – jumped at the opportunity. We will describe our experience and some key insights we gained from our two days there.
Blackstone LaunchPad, Techstars and the Training Camp “Hosted at Galvanize in New York City, Blackstone LaunchPad Techstars Training Camp brought together the top performing Blackstone LaunchPad ventures from across its global network (20 Blackstone LaunchPad campuses across the US and Ireland). Over the course of two days, the teams heard from experts on specific topics related to entrepreneurship, and received mentoring sessions from members of the Techstars global mentor network”
MistCalls is a mobile call manager that provides a holistic suite of context, organisational and analytical features to help professionals manage their calls. Ultimately, MistCalls acts as an intelligent personal secretary that’s always with you. The company was started in the west of Ireland by the MistCalls team and at our very early stages, when MistCalls was nothing more than an idea, we were lucky enough to call into the Blackstone LaunchPad based in the National University of Ireland, Galway to seek some advice. The team there have been hugely helpful in getting MistCalls to where it is today – from its infancy state when we first knocked on their door and still provide great support to us as we continue to grow, as they have with many other companies. (We are especially grateful to Natalie Walsh and Joshua Chao, Executive Director and Venture Coach Extraordinaire at the NUIG LaunchPad respectively, who have gone above and beyond with their help and insights to date.)
We were fortunate to be picked to attend the Techstars training camp and demo day with another NUIG LaunchPad-backed venture ‘the Geec’, who are working on producing the world’s most energy-efficient car. With four other Irish companies from TCD and UCC, we flew to NY to join the 36 US-based start-ups for a packed two days of learning and networking.
The whole event was an exciting and busy mix of talks, workshops, 1-on-1 mentoring sessions, demos and of course networking. We learned a lot from some of the best mentors and entrepreneurs the Techstars family has to offer, such as John Hill, Ryan Kuder, and Brad Feld.
Workshops, Talks, and Key Insights
Both days started with talks from Brad Feld and David Cohen (cofounders of Techstars). These were then followed by workshops, talks, and deeper discussions from a number of speakers from the Techstars team, Boston Consultancy Group, Blackstone Charitable Foundation, and of course, a handful of successful entrepreneurs who have been through it all before.
We talked through everything from finance to the importance of culture and its effect on your bottom line to dealing with large corporations as an early-stage startup. We can’t begin to describe everything we learned through these talks and discussions, but we’ve listed some of the topics we discussed and a few of our key takeaways below:
On “Finance, Growth Projections, and Sales”, we heard from Clement Cazalot, Lesa Mitchell, Amos Schwartzfarb (Techstars team members) and Brent Grinna (Founder and CEO of Evertrue). Some key takeaways:
If you can’t answer exactly, ‘Why are you fundraising?’, you probably shouldn’t be.
It can take up to 12-18 months from first meeting a VC before receiving any money; make sure you plan for this.
If you want to raise money, ask yourself: Do you have a scalable mechanism? Will people follow you? Prove it!
Take advantage of non-dilutable finance opportunities like competitions, grants etc.
Don’t underestimate ‘Smart Money’.
When defining your market always go bottom up AND top down and be realistic.
We then heard from Ryan Kuder and Ryan Luikens from the Techstars team on “Brand Development, Identity, and Effective Marketing”. Some key takeaways:
For all things marketing: Keep it simple and always be learning.
Work on figuring out just 3 questions: Who are the customers? Where you find them? How will they pay?
Consider segmenting your market based on problems as opposed to demographics.
Always allocate a small percentage of your budget on trying new marketing platforms and ideas.
Know and understand the 3Ms of virality: Motivation, Mechanism and Message.
“Business Strategy, Dealing with Corporations, Building Roadmaps, and De-Risking Your Business” was then discussed with Jenny Fielding and Cody Simms (Techstars), Jesse Wolfe (Founder of O’Dang Hummus) and Cassie Newhouse (BCG). Some key takeaways:
You sometimes need to look bigger than you are to deal with large corporations (incl. retailers) and be very aware of the long sales cycles, decision processes, and who the real decision makers are if you want to succeed.
Think about pushing for a paid pilot if you are providing real value to larger enterprises.
A roadmap should be defined as ‘a prioritised view of things assumed to be most critical to the company subject to test’ and should be treated as such.
Assess your roadmap based on how crucial an assumption is and the quality of the data you have to back it up. In turn, don’t prioritise features; prioritise assumptions that need to be validated.
Test everything, if you don’t have data you only have hope.
Instigate daily, weekly or monthly learning goals for both your team and your company.
“The Power of Your Network, Dealing with Mentors, Communication Skills, and the importance ofDiversity in Tech” were all touched on by John Hill and Nicole Glaros (Techstars) and Kate Brodrock (CEO of Women 2.0). Some key takeaways:
Build your network now for when you need it later.
Don’t underestimate the power of LinkedIn; they have some amazing tools hidden in there.
Export/download your LinkedIn contact list (while you still can).
Don’t be afraid to just reach out and ask; the worst they can say is no.
It’s been proven that a diverse team does affect the bottom line and it’s a lot easier and cheaper in the long run to ensure you’ve instigated an appropriate culture at an early stage than later.
Be careful of unconscious biases your team may have, particularly in interviews.
When suggesting a meeting offer three times and an option for them to suggest a time
Ensure you follow up after meetings, introductions, mentoring etc.
Be specific when asking for advice
Email is like a science in itself, know when to use and how to use it, e.g. how to make intros, using the ‘bcc’ effectively, when to follow up or how to cold email.
Day 2 mostly revolved around the 1-on-1 mentoring sessions which we found was the most valuable aspect of the two days. The direct input on how we could take MistCalls to the next level was invaluable and truly highlighted the benefits of surrounding yourself with people who have scaled successful businesses before. Jon Zanoff and Lesa Mitchell (both MDs at Techstars), Jason Grad (CEO of Bstow) and Preston Junger (Co-Founder Mile Square Labs, Ex-Yelp) all provided their insights and feedback on everything from product innovation, initial target markets to growth strategies and team dynamics – all of which we’ve taken on board and begun instigating in the company since we arrived back to Ireland.
I don’t think the value of networking during the trip can be understated. Blackstone hosted an evening social at their new Innovation and Infrastructures office on Lexington Ave where we had a chance to network after the first day of talks. We also heard from Stephen Schwarzman (Chairman and CEO of The Blackstone Group), William Murphy (Sr. Managing Director and CTO at Blackstone), Amy Stursberg (Executive Director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation) and Alisha Slye (Global Director of Blackstone LaunchPad) on how they grew Blackstone into the multi-billion dollar company it is today and how they are continuing to innovate moving forward. Throughout this event and over the rest of the hectic two days, we met teams from over 40 amazing start-ups working on everything from cricket cookies to trading algorithms for digital assets through to the Techstars and Blackstone mentors, curious investors, and even potential customers interested in MistCalls.
To close out the event, seven companies were picked to pitch in a ‘Demo Day Competition’ and we were delighted to see Ireland being so well represented in the winners chosen. Josh Aviv of SparkCharge (portable charging for electric cars) won the event. Second and third place were taken by Irish companies ApisProtect (IoT solutions for bee hives) with Fiona Edwards Murphy, and Zorin OS (a Windows/MacOS competitor with 17 million downloads) with Artyom and Kyrell Zorin, respectively. The standard of all seven pitches was extremely high and the judges didn’t hold back with their questions so it was a great end to the event itself.
Ultimately, the Techstars Training Camp and Demo Day was a huge success and incredibly helpful to us as a growing startup. The insights we gained and the connections we made will be invaluable moving forward. We are looking forward to applying everything we learned over the coming months to the company and we are excited to get back to NYC soon again but hopefully next time, as we’re launching our product into the US market.
LaunchLab, powered by Blackstone Launchpad, offers two training programs aimed to enable students with advanced analytical and simulation techniques in the domain of financial risk modelling and social system simulation.
The first training program will use PERACTON® financial analytics platform (MAARS) to train students in risk assessment, algorithmic trading and portfolio management using diverse instruments of stocks, bonds and ETFs. PERACTON’s back-testing suite powered by Python will be used to train students to develop their own novel trading strategies.
The second program will train students in Social System simulation using large scale models run on Python. Students will be trained in simulating social models of choice, competition, conflict and cooperation using multi-level, multi-agent systems employing range of techniques, including game-theoretic techniques. The aim of this program is to enable students with interdisciplinary analytical skills to explore the complexities of social systems.
These two programs will run concurrently from the 30th of January 2017. These programs are open to advanced undergraduate students (3rd/4th year UG), Postgraduate students and researchers (PhD and Postdoc) from any discipline.
Blackstone LaunchPad is a campus based entrepreneurship programme at NUI Galway. The programme is accessible by over half a million students globally. Blackstone Launchpad is designed to support and mentor students, staff and alumni – regardless of their subject, experience or discipline.
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