In this blog Careers Consultant Emily Packer shares the discussions of 12 insiders from the entrepreneurial landscape in Cambridge, addressing 8 hot topics, from where to start to how to get funding, and more.
If you want to hear the panel discuss their views in full at the ‘Becoming an Entrepreneur in Cambridge’ panel , head over to our ‘Catch-up on past talks’ page and choose ‘Entrepreneurship’. At the end of this blog, you can access our entrepreneurship careers pages and catch-up with other useful blogs in the entrepreneurship series.
1. What would be the first step you would advise someone to take who wants to become an entrepreneur in Cambridge?
Ann Davidson, Entrepreneurship Centre “Don’t wait until you think your idea is perfect as soon as you have something start to speak to somebody.”
Katia Sith-Litiere, Postdoc Academy “Before you start reaching out to people, have a look at how other people describe their ideas, have a look at what information [you] need to gather so that the people you talk to, immediately understand what it is about. It is about a problem you want to solve, what is your solution? What is it better than anything else that is out there?”
2. What are some mistakes entrepreneurs tend to make, and how can we learn from them?
Amanda Wooding, Cambridge Enterprise “Over promising and underdelivering – those are the key things that really, really turn people off.”
3. Should I work for someone else before I start my own business?
Lara Allen, Centre for Global Equality “I would have thought that a person who is likely to be a very successful entrepreneur is probably not going to be that great working for somebody else. But what I would do is push your own project forward but, if you are coming straight out of university, bring on board more experienced people to work with you, so that you get that experience, but you are not losing your drive and your vision.”
I think it is really important that you ensure that your end users really want your product or your service.
4. In what ways can entrepreneurship do good? How do I shape my idea to have social impact?
Laura North, WeSpeak: “I would say the idea of social enterprise often starts with a problem, and often one you have experienced yourself. So WeSpeak is around helping people to speak, […] and I did a research project where I spoke to hundreds of young people and see how they felt, and what I have done since then is shape the programmes that we run based on that.”
Lara Allen – Centre for Global Equality:
“I think it is really important that you ensure that your end users really want your product or your service. And in social good in the main, sometimes the person who pays isn’t the person who benefits – so you need to ensure that both the end beneficiary, the person who uses it and the person who pays for it, thinks that your solution to that particular problem is what’s needed.”
5. How do you judge what a good investment is? What are the qualities of a promising venture when you look to invest?
John Yeomans – Angel Investor “Teamwork, we all say it but what does it mean? You can have a bad idea in a good team and the team will solve that problem. You can have a good idea in a bad team, and they’ll mess it up. Start with the team, absolutely.”
Amanda Wooding, Cambridge Enterprise: “It is about building to understanding that value proposition, providing the evidence to support all the claims you might be making around your product – its potency, its potential; the market understanding of that; the market acceptance of that – even conceptually or actually, in reality if you are further down the journey.”
6. How can you protect your idea from getting stolen?
Amanda Wooding, Cambridge Enterprise: “First of all, think about what you actually need to say to introduce your product offering. Give away as little as possible of how you do something but describe as much as you can about what you are capable of achieving with the product as possible.”
Anca Belu, Wellcome Genome Campus: “Take advantage of some of the office hours that innovation centres offer – there would be an IP lawyer there that is happy to have an informal chat with you.”
7. How important is the working space to the business?
Ben Hartley, ideaSpace: “It’s incredibly important, especially when people are working by themselves as single founder. […] It is incredible some of the formal events that we do are really important, but is amazing how much important stuff is actually done when we are just doing a social mix and mingle, where at the end of the day the people within the community get together and just have a chat over a coffee and just help each other out.”
Prof. Tony Purnell Trinity College, Entrepreneurs Network: “Cash is king when you are really at the very, very start of getting a business going and the kitchen table is pretty good – it costs you the minimum and to formulate your ideas, I wouldn’t underestimate it.”
Anka Belu Wellcome Genome Campus: “You may also like to take advantage of innovation centres who do test days […] You will get exposure to the ecosystem, enables connections with peers and having meeting rooms can be very useful, especially if you want to bring investors in for a chat.”
if you can get a couple of good mentors at the beginning who are like your non-executive directors when you get established it is a huge advantage.
8. Is there value in finding a good mentor?
Laura North, WeSpeak: “For me having a mentor has been absolutely vital – I am a sole founder and it does get lonely. My first mentor came from the School for Social Entrepreneurs, and he is now my First Director.”
Ann Davidson, Entrepreneurship Centre “I would say ‘yes’, I think they are not only a sounding board but they give you the skills and experience of setting objectives, taking advice and that whole early stage of pointing you in the right direction. But I think also challenging some of your assumptions.”
Prof. Tony Purnell Trinity College, Entrepreneurs Network: “I think this is hugely important, and if you can get a couple of good mentors at the beginning who are like your non-executive directors when you get established it is a huge advantage. […] If you can force them into a regular slot, it really helps…if it is too informal, they can just drop off the table.”
John Yeomans Angel Investor: “[you find a mentor through] lots of networking, interact with people at events. Don’t find one – find three.”
Benedetta Spadaro – CU Femtech “Once you have a mentor, be mindful of their time and their schedule. Don’t be scared to ask: “when is the best time to contact you? What is the best way to contact you?”. Come prepared to your mentorship meetings, that can mean sending an email with some points you want to discuss a week ahead.”
Resources to support you
- Entrepreneurship & Self-employment career page
- Watch our “IFounded” podcast series, interviewing founders of social ventures
- Entrepreneurship in Cambridge Guide will help you find the support you need – over 40 pages there is something for everyone, from the first seed of an idea to support to build an established start-up. Find it in your Handshake resources under ‘Graduate Digital Publications > Entrepreneurship’. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any trouble accessing your copy.