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What is a start up week?

My experience of Quantum Start Up week (10th - 13th July 2018)

By Sarah Jelbert 

At the beginning of July I made the jump out of academia – leaving behind a post-doc position at the University of Cambridge, to join the team at Spin Up Science. Getting to grips with everything in a new company can be intimidating, so I was particularly enthusiastic to start week 2 in the job by experiencing what Spin Up can offer. I took part in QTEC’s Quantum Start Up week, organised by Spin Up Science, as a fully committed participant; here’s my account of what we got up to and how the programme works.

QTEC is Bristol University’s Quantum Technology Enterprise Centre. They’re funded by the EPSRC to help develop new quantum companies and run a year-long funded programme to assist aspiring entrepreneurs (have a look here to find out more, and perhaps take note of their generous salaries for participants). The Quantum Start Up week was a short programme organised by Spin Up Science for current PhD students, post-docs, academics and other individuals with a background in quantum technologies, to experience what pursuing a start-up would entail. Mild panic about not being a quantum researcher aside… the course was not as niche as it sounds. The aim was to rapidly learn what information and skills you need to get a fledgling science business off the ground, finishing on Friday with us pitching a business idea to real members of the local quantum and business community. We had 4 days to go from strangers, with varying (read: minimal) levels of business experience, to teammates with a clear plan for how to turn an innovation into a company.

So… how did it go?            

  Assessing the potential markets for our technologies, fuelled by a healthy supply of coffee and biscuits

Assessing the potential markets for our technologies, fuelled by a healthy supply of coffee and biscuits

 
 

The program kicked off on the Monday evening when we met at the harbourside for dinner and had the chance to get to know each other in a friendly setting and form our teams for the week. Those members of the group who already had a business idea they wanted to develop (not essential, but several people did) explained their ideas to the rest of us, and within an hour we’d formed into four teams, each focussed on developing a different novel quantum technology. Excited and slightly daunted by the prospect of what lay ahead, we spent the rest of the evening in our teams sharing our backgrounds and coming up with strategies over drinks, huddled in the corner of a pub – the way all good start ups form.

The course began in earnest on Tuesday morning at Unit DX. The days were structured around the idea of engaging in practical activities: mixing talks and workshops with the opportunity to actively practise the skills we needed, such as how to work out a potential market for our technologies, how to negotiate, how to develop branding, and how to devise a financial plan. Over the course of the week, we had sessions with accountants, lawyers, investors and current entrepreneurs, all knowledgeable and enthusiastic about sharing their skills and experience with us. Working in small groups gave us the opportunity to ask questions (big or small) to the professional experts, who helped to demystify a lot of the concepts we needed to get things started. And it was refreshing and encouraging to chat with individuals who were in the process of getting their companies up and running, a few years further on from us, who had practical lessons to share. All of the sessions gave us time to come to grips with the business idea we were working on, and built towards consolidating this information into our pitches by Friday. Together the activities and advice had the effect of increasing my confidence that big problems can be tackled - in a way that no business themed lecture I've been to has ever done...

 
  Keith MacDonald, Chairman of Unit DX, and an investor in science start-ups sharing his insights.

Keith MacDonald, Chairman of Unit DX, and an investor in science start-ups sharing his insights.

   Luigi Distefano  from Keltie answering all of our IP questions, well into the coffee breaks.

Luigi Distefano from Keltie answering all of our IP questions, well into the coffee breaks.

 

While the business ideas themselves were all related to quantum or other areas of deep science, the skills we were learning were broad and widely applicable. Even with my own academic background being largely based in Psychology (possibly as far from quantum physics as you can get while still being a scientist…) the sessions were accessible, encouraging and (surprisingly) fun! The content of the course was tailored towards understanding how to solve business problems, rather than scientific ones, and the lessons learned would apply to any start-up.

Overall, the pace was fast and the pressure – to stand up and present to a legitimate audience – was both real and highly motivating! Thankfully, the training really guided us towards putting together our presentations - we weren’t dropped in the deep end, but nor was this a simplistic, easy overview. I ended the week with a notebook full of useful connections, information and ideas. 

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Fully acknowledging my own bias here – I found the Quantum Start Up week incredibly enjoyable and useful. If you’re even slightly tempted by the possibility of starting your own venture, or joining an early stage start-up, then this is a great place to explore whether this path would be right for you. Do keep an eye on our upcoming events and if you’re interested get in touch with us. We’re excited to help expand awareness of the options available to PhD students and established scientists, and happy to hear from researchers and businesses alike.

 
 
  A panel discussion with the founders of three start-ups currently operating out of Unit DX .

A panel discussion with the founders of three start-ups currently operating out of Unit DX.

  QSUW came to a close with an afternoon of business pitches, hosted at the beautiful offices of  TLT Solicitors  in Bristol. Our team picked up the award for the idea with ‘the biggest impact’, shown here squinting into the light of the projector, alongside the judging panel.

QSUW came to a close with an afternoon of business pitches, hosted at the beautiful offices of TLT Solicitors in Bristol. Our team picked up the award for the idea with ‘the biggest impact’, shown here squinting into the light of the projector, alongside the judging panel.