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Why City, University of London Is A Great Place To Launch A Tech Start-Up

CityStarters Weekend sees students pitch ideas to expert judges

An MBA was once viewed as a ticket to the C-suite — but not for this generation of business school students.

They are shunning cushy corporate careers in favour of founding start-ups.

Twenty-one percent of MBA and EMBA alumni started a company, according to data released this month by the FT.

Business schools are rolling out a slew of programs to help their entrepreneurial students. Courses on new venture creation and product development, and venture capital funds and accelerators are now common on campus.

Students at London’s Cass Business School were last week treated to CityStarters Weekend.

They were invited to learn new skills, network and receive expert coaching from successful tech entrepreneurs.

They could also pitch their start-up ideas to a panel of expert judges. Sponsored by Santander UK, there was £6,500 in prize money up for grabs for ventures hoping to become Europe’s future unicorns.

Aurore Hochard is the event's organizer and head of entrepreneurship programs at Cass.

We asked her why business school is a good place to launch a company.

She should know — Cass is in the heart of the City of London and also on the fringes of the Silicon Roundabout cluster of tech start-ups.

Here's what she told us:

Q. Networking is essential to running a successful start-up, and also a key advantage to studying at business school. What opportunities to strengthen an entrepreneurial network will there be at CityStarters Weekend?

There were plenty of opportunities to interact with and learn from the 26 different mentors, coaches and entrepreneurial practitioners, who gave presentations and supported the students during the weekend. For example, Zoe Peden, an experienced tech entrepreneur who currently lectures on the MSc in Entrepreneurship at Cass, delivered a presentation on the importance of customer acquisition.

Our judging panel consisted of: Michael Wilson, universities regional manager at Santander UK, Lotta Olsson, who runs the Launch Lab at City University and Giulia Piu, a London-based tech entrepreneur. Again, this was a great opportunity for our students to learn from experienced professionals. 

Q. What's your advice for nailing an elevator pitch?

You need to have several elevator pitches. You need to know who you’re talking to and how much time you have. You can then tailor your pitch to the aspect they are most interested in. So if you have just 10 seconds in an actual elevator, you need to be able to sum up your pitch in one sentence. If you have one minute, you have slightly more time and can go into a bit more detail. But make sure you practice it first.  

Q. This is the second year of the CityStarters Weekend. How are you building upon the success of the inaugural event?

Last year’s event was very popular and opened a lot of doors for our students. One of our speakers this year was Cass alumnus Matt Bland (MSc, Marketing, 2016). With the idea for a Juice-it-Yourself bar, Matt was one of the winners last year. He was awarded a cash prize, which he used to fund a follow-up idea called EatSafe. He went on to win CitySpark, a business ideas competition open to all City students and recent alumni with his idea.

We wanted to make as many students and staff as possible aware of CityStarters this year. Having run a successful weekend last year really helped in reaching out to our students and raising awareness of the benefits of being involved – the opportunity to learn from experienced industry professionals, to gain relevant experience to put on your CV, to hear about potential career opportunities, to build networks and, importantly, to meet new friends and to have fun. 

Q. What prizes are on offer from Santander UK?

Santander UK donated a very generous prize pot of £6,500.  This was divided up as:

  • 1st prize: £3,000
  • 2nd prize: £2,000
  • 3rd prize: £1,000
  • Runner-up: £500

Q. An MBA is no longer seen as a ticket to a corporate career, that's for sure. What is driving interest in entrepreneurship among Cass business school students?

Entrepreneurship is a strong trend at the moment and of interest to many people – including our students. Some people want to have a break from corporate life, to follow a dream, engage with a new challenge and learn new skills. I think many people are attracted by the freedom to be their own boss and to work in a creative, independent and flexible way. Of course, it is very hard work launching a start-up but our students understand this.

Q. What entrepreneurial offerings are there for MBAs at Cass?

We hold the Startup Seminar series, a free eight week evening lecture program, which provides business and start-up skills to all those wanting to find out more about the process of taking an idea and turning it into a successful venture. The seminars are a chance for our students to learn new skills from experienced business experts and to network with other likeminded people and local entrepreneurs.

We are also hosting the KPMG Mobile Work Congress in December 2016.

Other exciting events include our Thomson Reuters sponsored series of EntrepreneursTalk@Cass, which offer intimate, in-depth interviews with some of the UK’s most innovative and inspirational tech entrepreneurs.

Q. London is a hub for tech, finance, venture capital, and more. How is Cass able to profit from links to the London start-up community?

Geographically, we are really close – right in the heart of the City of London and also in Tech City. This means that it is easy to connect with the many different entrepreneurs and businesses that are based here – it’s easy to attend events to meet potential collaborators and investors, and to learn about the latest happenings in the start-up community.

Cass and City academics are also involved with City Unrulyversity, which is a free pop-up university near Brick Lane. Its mission is to inform, inspire, and empower the next generation of Tech City entrepreneurs by holding educational workshops and seminars.

Q. What's your view on the impact of Brexit on London's ability to remain an entrepreneurial capital?

Brexit certainly raised a lot of questions and there remain many uncertainties. I’m positive (and certainly hope) that it will have some positive outcomes for the UK economy.

A lot of predictions were made before and after the referendum. I feel it is too early to express an opinion on what the impact on London will be. I feel London is a great place to start a business and I trust entrepreneurs are resilient enough to find solutions to the issues and challenges Brexit may bring to them.

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