October 1st 2012 marked a very special day in my calendar. It marked the first day on Oxygen Accelerator, an investor funded startup incubator, which brings startups together into one place and bombards them with resources over an intensive 13 weeks to really accelerate their growth.
After much interrogation by mentors and investors, we passed two interviews to be shortlisted for the program and found out at the beginning of September that we had been accepted!
I say we, as our company is a two man team made up of myself, Dee of course, and a user experience professional by the name of Mez. We happened to meet at a launch48 event which I previously wrote about here, where I pitched the idea for my business and somehow ended up with a viable business proposition and proof of concept after just 48 hours.
This business has grown since then and has since been accepted on Entrepreneurs For The Future program alongside being featured as a success story on the Launch48 website.
Well, all the build up finally came to a head on Monday October 1st as some 20 odd entrepreneurs embarked on their first day at on the Oxygen Accelerator.
I don;t know why but for some reason I was very restless during Sunday night. I rarely get over excited, and it’s even rarer for me to get insomnia, however there was something about Sunday night which was strange. On Sunday night I somehow found myself being super productive and tidying things that I had left in a state for weeks. I ironed all my shirts for the week ahead and set my alarm before watching an episode of Sopranos and then falling asleep. By 6am I was wide awake and just could not get back to sleep. I wasn’t tired and I didn’t feel stressed but my body simply did not want to stay in bed so I got up and prepared myself for a day that would mark the start of an incredible 13 weeks ahead.
We all started arriving at Birmingham Science Park, a place that has been my office for the last few months so already a home to me. Other teams has travelled from various places such as Oxford, London and Scotland to be there, with one team even relocating from Italy.
The day started with a formal introduction by Simon Jenner (who has looked after us before on E4F) and Mark Hales, our lead investor.
Of course there were the basics of what to expect, which revolved around a lot of hard work and a real push to build a great product and business within the 13 weeks. We were told stories of teams in previous years who would work all night and sleep a few hours at their desks with the underlying tone being that we should not be scared to do the same if needed. Well I’m on the accelerator to build a business, my social life can suffer for 13 weeks if it helps me build a valuable business.
What stuck me at this point was the lack of women. There is not a single woman on any of the teams for this years accelerator. This is sad for me, as I feel a female presence can help bring some balance to the office and can even make teams function better. However it is what it is, and the class of 2012 is currently completely male exclusive.
We were then all made to pitch our businesses to each other so that we could all get to know the others in the room whilst also critiquing each other pitches. I’m not at liberty to discuss any other team whilst on the accelerator so my roundup will always focus on my business alone.
I’ve pitched my business multiple times along with my co-founder Mez. I usually do the introduction, explaining the problem, our solution, the market, our target and our plans, whilst Mez always handles a live demo, so we stuck with the same format and repeated the presentation that has been well received in the past. I think it went down pretty well, but we would find out properly in the afternoon when we were given feedback.
After the presentation we were all treated to some pizzas before an afternoon packed with meeting with Lawyers and presentation feedback from multiple parties.
Sadie is P.A. (personal assistant) to Oxygen staff and thus has a lot of contact with us. I already have a good relationship with her after being the same office space for numerous weeks, so she kindly put us first with all the important people of the day. We were first to hit the lawyers, and even though we started 15 minutes earlier than our scheduled meeting time we still managed to overrun by another 15 minutes, with Simon having to step in and tell the Lawyers to wrap up or everyone else would be off sync with timing!
The meeting with lawyers revolved around the clarification of any issues with formal paperwork we would be asked to sign. Since the lawyers acted on behalf of Oxygen they could not and would not answer anything outside their clients interest in the contract.
The next meeting was with Simon and Mark where they gave us feedback on our presentation. We thought we had done pretty well until we reached two pages of improvements that went into my notebook! This journey may be a serious bursting of some ego, but at least it’s all in an effort to make us better. We have to pitch our business again next week to all our mentors, so I guess it’s important to not just be good, but to knock the ball right out of the park.
A few more feedback sessions followed where we met with different teams and critiqued each others presentations. A bit pointless really, because if we are to trust Mark and Simon, then their feedback is all we really needed to hear at this stage rather than perhaps being confused by what other people have to say. Thankfully however both of the other teams we were scheduled to obtain feedback from, gave us very positive comments. Shows, that experienced eyes can see holes where others perhaps can not.
For some pointless reason Mez and myself, who both live in Birmingham decided to join the others on a quick half hour walking tour of surrounding facilities! It was actually a nice way to talk to a few of the others, but we gained zero knowledge from the points of interest!
We then all made our way to the incredible Marco Pierre White restaurant lounge at the top of one of the tallest buildings in Birmingham (it was about 6.30pm by the time we made it there). It’s an exclusive and rather expensive venue where we had a special area booked out. Free drinks and food flowed whilst we enjoyed the fabulous views and some relaxing company. I did have to think back to the morning, where one of the first things we were told was how hard we would be working, yet here we were enjoying the high life… but I guess not all things start as they mean to go on.
What was really interesting to observe, was how different groups seems to already be forming. Of course, teams in general stuck together, but you could see people aligning themselves with various others. 20 people is far to great a number to expect us all to act as one groups, but I didn’t expect to see the divides so early on. Groups don’t really bother me as I’m very independent however I always like to observe what is going on around me. I think some of these guys will be in for some shocks in the coming weeks, a lot of alpha male characters with no female team members too add a different vibe or way of thinking. Let’s see how this develops.
Sometime around 11pm (almost 5 hours from when we arrived), various groups of people began stumbling home, thinking it might be a good idea to get some sleep before day 2 of Oxygen accelerator.
Best Part of the day: The event at Marco Pierre White’s Lounge Bar
Downer of the day: Still not having sorted out contractual issues.
Lessons learnt: No matter how good we think we are at something, experienced eyes are always going to be able to suggest improvements. After giving me 2 pages of improvements for my presentation I was told, great pitch.. yeah right… but next week it damn well will be.