Jane Imrie

Newcastle Startup Week: A snapshot of day two

After an inspiring start on day one, Newcastle Startup Week (NSW) ventured south of the river to Gateshead for day two: ‘Getting Started’.

Kicking off with fringe events in the morning including a VR and immersive tech experience at Gateshead’s PROTO centre in the Baltic Quarter and a creative industries event at Gateshead College, the second day of NSW saw St. Mary’s Heritage Centre play host to the main event, welcoming entrepreneurs and businesses from across the region.

After offering one-to-one sessions with a range of partner organisations (and a tasty lunch break courtesy of local entrepreneurial eatery Pop-up Wok!), NSW got down to business with a series of speakers.

Covering topics from how to promote a business properly to sourcing the right funding and making an effective pitch, today’s insights built on the inspiration ignited in day one and focused on practical tips for putting ideas into action.

We’ve shared a couple of our favourite talks from the day below.

Alan Mahon, Brewgooder

Alan Mahon is the founder and CEO (which he modestly called “a grandiose title”) of beer company and social enterprise Brewgooder. Tracing the story of his company right back to his childhood, Alan talked about being brought up with the ethos of “you’re the best”, instilling him with the idea that there were, in fact, no stupid ideas.

His time at university in Glasgow ended with the familiar ‘what do I do now?’ feeling as graduation loomed, spurring him to embark on a volunteering project in Nepal. During his time abroad, Alan became seriously ill from drinking untreated water and had to be treated upon his return home.

Applying for as many jobs as he could, Alan had an idea that he wanted to do something with water. However, after several attempts to find work, he accepted a position working for his friend’s brother, in a sandwich shop. The attraction? It operated a pay-it-forward scheme allowing customers to ‘buy’ food and drinks for homeless people to redeem.

After working on a PR project to get Hollywood actor George Clooney to visit the shop, Alan was asked the question: “What’s next?”. He thought back to his time in Nepal, and realised how easy his illness had been to treat compared with the suffering in developing countries due to a lack of clean water.

The idea of Brewgooder was born. Alan explained: “there was no beer on the market that delivered on a social aim.”

A craft beer company that funds clean water projects as stocking fridges, Brewgooder is on a mission to bring clean water to one million people. After smashing its £50k crowdfunding target, the business secured a distribution deal with Walmart as well as having 3,000 stockists across the UK.

Alan’s team have also been able to see the effects of their work, with the company having funded 132 projects in Malawi alone, bringing clean water to over 64,000 people.

He explained that Brewgooder still has a long way to go before it hits its one million target. But with brands such as Twitter, Monzo and Skyscanner as customers, he was confident that the company’s growth will continue.

Jeni Banks, Sunderland Software City

Business support specialist Jeni Banks works with startups and fledgling businesses in Sunderland and throughout the region to offer guidance and advice. Proudly declared that the best part of her job was “giving free stuff to businesses”, she set out her 11 top tips (she had meant to stop at 10, but she explained that her enthusiasm had got the better of her!):

  1. “Know your purpose“. Jeni was clear that without knowing what it is that drives you to start a business, whether that be career aspiration, money or more time to spend with family, you won’t get very far.

  2. “Commercialisation“. In other words, how is the business going to make money? Jeni advised budding entrepreneurs to “look at your figures” and said “if it doesn’t make money, it’s not a business - it’s a hobby” (“which is fine!” she added).

  3. “Find your MVP“. Working in Sunderland Software City, Jeni used the tech term of minimal viable product (MVP) as a template for all businesses. Warning against trying to aim impossibly high, she instead asked “What is the minimum you can do to get your business off the ground?”

  4. “Get a desk“. Relaying her own ‘soul-destroying’ experiences with working from home, Jeni recommended trying to get out of the house for at least one day a week will keep you socialising as well as creating a healthy divide between work and home.

  5. “Network“. Building on the previous point of being social, Jeni said that networking “can be the difference between success and failure”, and can be a way of meeting people to learn from.

  6. “Build your board“. Utilising the varied expertise of others is crucial, according to Jeni. She advised forming a ‘board’ of people with different backgrounds and skillsets who you can reach out to for ideas and advice.

  7. “Ask“. Seemingly self-explanatory, Jeni stressed how important it is for people to put aside their pride and ask for help if things aren’t going well within the business.

  8. “You’re not entitled“. Although she advises for a ‘fully-funded service’, Jeni explained that “acting like you’re entitled will not get you very far” and emphasised the importance of building relationships.

  9. “Drop the ego“. Jeni explained that although she doesn’t deal with this too often in her work, in her opinion it is best for entrepreneurs to exercise humility and be open with other people.

  10. “Listen“. Jeni recommended: “any opportunity you get, take the advice given”, and to “pay attention” to any valuable ‘nuggets’ of information.

  11. “Stop feeling guilty“. Jeni’s final message was simply “don’t feel guilty for not working 24 hours a day.” She pointed out that one of the benefits of setting up a business is that it grants freedom and flexibility that regular employment does not: “Don’t feel bad about taking time off for a sunny afternoon!”

Keep up to date with #NewcastleStartupWeek on Twitter, and follow Bdaily for the highlights of the event throughout this week.

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