I attended the event Cass Innovate which took place on the 13th November 2019 at Cass Business School.
Cass Innovate is an annual conference with the purpose of discussing entrepreneurial challenges and leading research within the entrepreneurship ecosystem. These topics are, thereby, discussed with the best of both worlds by drawing from both theoretical research and practical knowledge. The edge of this event is that everyone aspiring in entrepreneurial topics can attend – you can be a student who strives for gathering the latest research in this field or a founder of an existing business who wants to discuss recent challenges with other founders.
I was one of this year’s volunteers that supported running the event, welcoming the guests and speakers in the morning, answering questions and guiding attendees to the correct panels, workshops or talks as well as looking after the smooth course during the day and of the final panel in the evening.
I learned many things in terms of event organisation and what it takes to successfully set up and run a conference this size. The organiser Aurore Hochard gave us the responsibility to organise ourselves, react flexibly to upcoming challenges and, of course, decide when to ask for help.
Networking and discussing the raised issues with entrepreneurs and industry experts gave me great insight from the perspective of people who have been working in the field for 20+ years, which has definitely changed my opinion on some of the topics.
Professor Scott Moeller: What should a startup do next? IPO, Acquisition or Dual Track
My perspective on the topic of a founder exit was that it was a question to deal with in the later stage of launching a company, after successfully running it for several years. However, after attending Professor Scott Moeller’s session “What should a start-up do next? IPO, Acquisition or Dual Track”, I had a conversation with him on this topic, and he said it is crucial for an entrepreneur to think about the exit even when you haven’t yet founded your company.
From my own experience, I would encourage everyone who is an (aspiring) entrepreneur or interested in these topics to keep an eye out for next year’s conference.
From left to right: James Song (MSc Entrepreneurship at Cass, 2019), Aurore Hochard (Head of Entrepreneurship Programmes at Cass), Emily Brooke MBE (Founder of Beryl), Martin Mignot (Partner at Index Ventures)
EntrepreneursTalk@Cass returned with a bang to Cass Business School on June 5th, 2019 organized by Aurore Hochard, Head of Entrepreneurship Programmes at the University.
Martin Mignot and Emily Brooke MBE discussed advice for entrepreneurs seeking funding, and their experiences as an investor and investee in the transportation industry. They were interviewed by James Song, a Product Designer at Founders Factory and MSc Entrepreneurship (2019) student at Cass who stated, “It was a great occasion to learn from the experiences of a couple of successful people both from the VC side and entrepreneur side!”
Martin Mignot, a partner at Index Ventures, exclaimed early in the evening that his favorite part about the industry is the fact that “I get paid to learn and work with incredible people” and how much he enjoys helping solve problems for early-stage companies. According to Mr. Mignot, “Every company, no matter how successful, is just a sum of problems to solve” and he enjoys the process of finding solutions.
Index Ventures is typically Seed and Series A investments, and Mr. Mignot commented, “We like to be the first institution but not the first money in” for investments made. This is fairly common in the industry, with angel investors taking on the most risk and venture capital investors signing on later. The UK is a great ecosystem for early-stage investment due to the various tax benefits that angel investors make, especially EIS and SEIS.
SEIS stands for Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme and offers a 50% tax break for investors that put in part of the first £150,000 for a qualified startup. Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) offers a 30% income tax reduction for investments up to £1 million for an individual and £12 million for a company. These are some of the highest tax benefits in the western world for angel investment, and this helps to make London and the United Kingdom a healthy market for new startups.
Emily Brooke is the Founder of Beryl (formerly Blaze), and her company has benefited from this great ecosystem, getting early investment from the Richard Branson family, Index Ventures, and others. Beryl has gone through some rough patches, and Mrs. Brooke discussed the problems they have overcome when expanding internationally including trademark issues that forced them to change their name. Her biggest advice for entrepreneurs is to “Get on with it” when getting started, and to “Focus on doing one thing properly before diversifying”.
Mrs. Brooke’s advice for getting investment is to find investors that will let you retain a lot of control over your own company, stating “Our goal is light-touch investment” which has “…given us a lot of freedom”. Apparently, this approach has worked well, as Beryl has won multiple awards for their bike lights, including the iF Design Award (2019), Eurobike Industry Award (2018) and many others while expanding her product sales across Europe, the United States and Japan since its founding in the United Kingdom in 2012.
Emma Rowe, MSc Entrepreneurship (2019) at Cass Business School, attended the event and said “[the evening] was incredibly valuable. I loved having an insight into the speakers’ personal journeys, particularly the challenges they faced and who inspired them to do what they do today.”
The evening ended with a networking session and drinks, where up-and-coming entrepreneurs mingled with their experienced counterparts. The excited conversations were a sign that the next event will be well attended! These types of events are what help Cass Business School to stand out among its peers, and the evening offered real value to students and industry professionals alike.
The next EntrepreneursTalk@Cass event will be taking place on July 3rd, 2019 at Cass Business School attended by another Entrepreneur and Venture Capital duo. Please find details here.
My experience exploring the entrepreneurial ecosystem field trip so far has been largely a British one. To date, I have experience working in multiple accelerators in RocketSpace, a tech-focused startup accelerator, and Founder’s factory, a multisector accelerator. I have worked in business development as well as in product design. I was incredibly excited to discover different startup ecosystems abroad, so when I heard about the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Study Tour in Paris, it seemed like a great opportunity to learn more!
The British Embassy in Paris
During the trip, we visited a range of different organisations. Most notably, we visited the British Embassy and Station F, the largest accelerator hub I’ve ever seen and even Vivatech, Europe’s largest tech conference. It was great to understand the nature of entrepreneurship in France from these different angles. I didn’t know France was such a leader in tech, deep AI and innovation!
The highlight of the trip was definitely attending Vivatech. At this conference, I managed to see a wealth of different tech innovations ranging from young startups in robotics to new AI coming from Google and Facebook. I even managed to see French President Emmanuel Macron and my personal idol Jack Ma!
Throughout the week I had plenty of time to relax and enjoy the city with my peers. I was excited to meet and connect with other students from different backgrounds and master’s programmes. I found myself travelling by electric scooter everywhere – I highly recommend! And of course eating my way through the week!
James and his cohort by the Seine on electric scooters
The study trip has not only changed the way I saw Paris, but also the way I see entrepreneurship! Previously having studied French, I saw Paris as a cultural hub, but now I understand that there is a growing and thriving startup scene.
At the British Embassy
Moving forward from this trip and looking at my future after I finish my master’s, I am now more certain that I want to work in the startup space, whether that means starting my own venture or being part of an early-stage startup. I am hugely grateful to Cass and the team that headed up this field trip. I believe I have got the most out of it and may have potentially found myself a job in Paris!
I got to Cass early on the first night of CityStarters, a three-day event for students across Cass and City, University of London. I watched the energy build up as student arrived for the entrepreneurship competition – the opportunity to pitch their business ideas to experts for cash prizes.
The weekend kicked off with a motivational speech by last year’s winners – Lonbrella, London’s first umbrella rental company. The team shared tips, preparing us for the scrutiny we might face while building a business. We were encouraged to network, reassured that feelings of uncertainty were to be expected and pre-warned that not everyone would like our ideas, but to remain determined.
We watched 35 brave students from first-year undergraduates to Full-time MBAs pitch their ideas in under a minute. By the end of the evening, only 15 of the 35 people were chosen to develop their ideas over the weekend.
Students who didn’t pitch or whose ideas weren’t chosen, had to approach the newly designated CEOs to explain why they would make an excellent addition to the team. I pitched to Andrew, CEO of FreeCaffe – a coffee shop that gathers market research in exchange for free coffee.
After a couple of drinks together, we were sent home to rest before the next two days of intense work!
Refining our business ideas
The second day kicked off with a speech from Christina Richardson, CEO of Nurture, who reinforced that “customers are king”. Emma Obanye, CEO of Mindful Team spoke about some of the lessons she learned on her journey including the importance of short feedback cycles to refine a business idea. We were introduced to mentors and student ambassadors, ranging from intrapreneurs to writers, each with a unique set of expertise that they would share with the budding entrepreneurs over the next couple of days.
We spent the rest of the day developing our business ideas and as the day started to draw to an end, things got a bit heated – specifically for our group. Our idea had changed five times from the original pitch, and we couldn’t agree how to move forward!
Despite our ups and downs, eventually all five members of my team came to an agreement, reinforcing a lesson spoken by all three speakers – uncertainty is an unavoidable part of the process.
Day three rolled around and we really started to feel the pressure. Before we got started, we heard from Nina Ricafort, the marketing manager at Thread. She shared useful advice on how to implement marketing techniques on a big budget or a shoestring budget. This would soon become applicable knowledge for the three winning teams who would be awarded prizes for first (£2,000), second (£1,000) and third (£500) place to bring their idea to the next stage.
To build our confidence in presenting, Dr Ruben van Werven, Lecturer in Entrepreneurship, taught us how to craft the perfect pitch to wow investors and communication coach, Emma Zangs, taught us how to activate our confidence in an interactive session. We started to relax as we realised that regardless of what happened, we would take away many important lessons from the weekend.
Finally, it was time for the pitches. We all gathered in the big auditorium and were joined by three judges. Each group was given four minutes to pitch their idea and one minute to answer the judges’ questions.
The order of presentations was picked out of a hat and my team (Free Caffe) was chosen to go first. We had been practising for hours and it wasn’t mine or Andrew’s first time presenting in front of an audience; so the pitch went really smoothly!
Once all 15 teams presented, the three judges left to deliberate and write the cheques. Once again, the room was buzzing with the excitement of the new friendships we had made, the skills we had cultivated, and the special weekend we had shared.
The judges returned to announce the winners – in first place, Shellpod – a company developing environmentally friendly solid shampoo, followed by Facilitrip and then my team – Free Caffe!
My Team, Free Caffe, with our third place prize!
I am certain this is not the end of the road for many teams and they will go on to create successful businesses in the future.
And I know this is not the end of our journeys as entrepreneurs. Everyone I spoke to said this little taste of entrepreneurship has sparked something inside them that they are excited to continue to explore – perhaps at CitySpark in November!
It has always been a dream of mine to start my own business.
Fresh out of university without any knowledge or experience of running a venture, I decided to undertake MSc in Entrepreneurship at Cass to kick-start my startup journey.
I figured this course would equip me with international experience, technical skills and commercial abilities to start my own company eventually. More importantly, I was interested to meet like-minded people who had similar risk appetites and career ideals as me.
This course is unlike any other master’s degree in the world. Firstly, it is entirely focused on entrepreneurship; a route less taken by people who are more satisfied with conventional careers. It is meant for risk takers who thrive on competition, opportunities and uncertainty in the commercial world.
The course is unique in the way it taught me to think creatively and to address the root problem at hand. It taught me to be adaptable, versatile and to understand business as an entity.
With the modules covering a wide range of topics about startup ecosystems, I gained a holistic perspective of how to start and exit businesses.
From new venture creation to funding new ventures, I learnt how to conceptualise an idea, achieve proof of concept and conduct feasibility tests on my business.
Most of the modules involved collaborative group work and presentations, which was useful in understanding other cultures and conflict resolution styles. It also improved my pitching and public speaking skills and I personally enjoyed how it built my confidence.
The lecturers were a mix of academics and professionals with industry experience, which made it very helpful when I was trying to attain insights on a topic, issue or industry. All this was valuable for what happened next.
Image: Brainstorming & creativity problem solving activities in my Entrepreneurial Advisory module (May 2018)
Starting my own venture
Since starting school in September last year, I implemented the teaching from my course to initiate my own venture, Lonbrella, London’s first umbrella rental service.
I thought about this business idea one evening when it was raining heavily and I was stuck at Angel Underground Station without an umbrella. When I looked around the station, it came to my attention that I wasn’t the only one facing this problem.
This was the “light bulb moment” when I realised there was opportunity for such a service.
I first pitched Lonbrella during our first class, New Venture Creation, where we had to prepare a business pitch for investors. The pitch was well received by the investors, lecturers and peers who then motivated us to pursue and explore the business idea.
It seemed surreal how something that started as a mere idea now became a plausible business venture.
Shortly after that, I teamed up with two other classmates, Olianna Gonzalez and Rodrigo Camino and started working on Lonbrella. I definitely did not expect to start working on a business so quickly (it was a month after I joined the programme!).
That being said, it was a very timely decision since I could apply my classroom theories and practices directly to Lonbrella.
Since then, Lonbrella participated in four business idea competitions organised by City University where we pitched to compete for funding and mentorship.
The most recent competition we won was the GreenSpark award, an award rewarding sustainable businesses that help to reduce carbon footprint for customers.
We also raised £2,500 in funding to achieve our next milestones. Here is a video we produced to include in our pitch: “Good Men Like Steven”.
We are now fortunate to work closely with Santander Bank, one of our investors, that supports our brand awareness activities through pop-up booths in their branches.
Image: Pitching Lonbrella at City Spark, a business competition (April 2018)
Image: Lonbrella’s pop-up booth at Santander’s branch (May 2018)
Aside from competitions, Cass organised many networking events that benefited my professional network in London.
Having spoken to working professionals from different industries, cultures and backgrounds, I developed a clearer perspective of my career options. The insights and knowledge gained through these conversations have helped me understand London’s working environment and employment expectations.
I also attended talks by Tom Blomfield (CEO of Monzo Bank) and Eric Ries (Author of The Lean Startup); both very successful entrepreneurs in the global startup scene.
I found Blomfield’s journey very inspiring, as he is one of the best examples of a modern-day entrepreneur who successfully innovated within the financial industry; known to be cumbersome, expensive and complex.
For Ries, there is no doubt that he played a significant role in my academic and entrepreneurial course thus far. He taught me that entrepreneurship is ultimately about company building to maximise creativity and productivity potential of all members in the organisation.
Image: “The Startup Way” book launch with Eric Ries, author of The Startup Way
I am grateful for Cass’s MSc Entrepreneurship course for introducing me to the incredible friends I have made throughout the year. Although my class is relatively smaller than other courses, this was the best thing that could happen because we grew close quickly.
As a cohort, we hang out outside of school and often attend different events from dinner parties to rock climbing sessions. Furthermore, I was so lucky to meet my co-founders in this class. To me, it is truly incredible that we are all gathered here in London, bonded by our common interests of entrepreneurship and innovation.
Image: Class visit to Tech Hub, the global community for tech entrepreneurs and startups (May 2018)
Image: Self-organised class trip to Edinburgh, Scotland (February 2018)