StartUp Weekend EDU Cambridge May 2014

The third StartUp Weekend EDU was held on the May bank holiday weekend at the Judge Business School, Cambridge University, 16 months since the last event and the first to be held outside London.

Unlike the last event at Google in January 2013, I had nothing to do with the organization and instead volunteered as a coach for Saturday afternoon.

The Judge Business School is a 20 minute walk from the station and when I arrived I was overwhelmed by the architecture, which looks like a homage to Escher, with multiple staircases stretching up several floors.

My first few teams all had interesting ideas and came from very different backgrounds. The next two (Campus Motion and Chameleon) failed to show and I wasted an hour trying to find out if it was I or they who were in the wrong place, or if as I suspected they had just not bothered to come along. Unfortunately it was the latter.

At 6pm it was beer and pizza time and I spent the next hour chatting to the first team I had met. They were a terrific young group, full of ideas, enthusiasm and a real desire to do things in education. Sure they have loads to learn but this was a great first step and of the four teams I met, they had the number two idea but the greatest energy (something that counts for a lot at a 54-hour marathon like StartUp Weekend).

Two things stuck out as I thought about the afternoon on the train back to Kings Cross:

  1. There were almost no actual educators or at least practising ones, in any of the teams I met. This is a perennial problem and while ed-invent is trying to help change this, there is still quite a way to go
  2. Coaches all give different advice but I’m not sure they get it right when it comes to pitching. Having sat through all the ed-invent pitches, a 30-team edtech speed dating event and several incubator demo days, I really think you should at least try to pitch as a team.
    In this I seem a lone voice but single presenters for larger teams really seem to lack something. I saw this most starkly in the fantastic full team pitches at Thomas’s School. The worst I see are at demo days where the program and particularly the ‘expert’ pitch coaches advocate using one or two presenters and dumbing everything down so a 12 year-old can ‘get it’. What infuriates me with this anti-intellectual, anodyne approach is the final pitch which should be the team’s best ever is almost always far worse, lacking the spark and authenticity that got them chosen in the first place!

Finally, I said to every team that their pitch had to be as much about the theatricality of the delivery (it’s a performance) as it is about their idea and the substance of their work over the previous 54 hours. I always they have to ‘sell the sizzle and the sausage’ but this old Australian adage about selling seems to get lost in translation.

From what I saw the team of organisers have done a great job and this will be another great StartUp Weekend EDU. I hope that ed-invent can also work with the Judge Business School as I really want Cambridge to be not just the home of UK science but also of edtech.