Monday 8 June 2015

Episode 28: Building a brighter future

From Under Dark Clouds is the story of a burnt-out British celebrity who, after scandal and disgrace, runs away to a little Greek village to seek asylum. All he had to do was keep his head down until the clouds passed. He couldn't even get that right, he got himself elected.

The future stars of business
Me and The Start-up Shed crew bowled through the teams of hopefuls. Aris high-fived and smiled, waving at those who couldn’t reach as we made our way to the entrance of the new accelerator facilities branded with Start-up Shed banners and a single poster with my cheery mug on it. The day had come for The Great Rookie Pitch and Putt, Dear Blogees and Aris had invited me to sit on the selection board. He’s a pretty smart guy, as it turns out, he’s got an MBA and everything. I really wanted to be an active member so I had done my homework. I tried to read the FT but watching Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank on YouTube had really whetted my appetite. We would be taking a risk on these ventures and I intended to test their mettle.

A girl shout from behind us. I looked round, my hand raised in recognition. “Danny!” My fat doppelganger turned and smiled at a young thing in a… well, it doesn’t matter. This guy has a big idea of himself, we may have grown up in the same area but we have nothing in common.

The venue for the First-Steps pre-seed incubator and accelerator programme is the new health centre that the previous mayor built. It was one of the few projects on the council’s balance sheet that ever really got built, needless to say it has never seen a white coat. At least now it would be used to do some service for the community.

We took our places at the top table with Aris at the centre and me to his right. He’d allocated Nigel a place at the end, he’d gone to cover some fracas in England but he promised to be back for today, he was cutting it fine. I could have given him some advice about schmoozing with the press but he’d have to learn his own way and I’m sure he knows what he’s doing, as I said, he’s pretty smart.

Aris looked to each of the members of the board, I clapped my hands and told him to bring it on. “Let the future begin!”

The first candidates came in and introduced themselves and set up at the easel.

“So, tell us about your business model,” Aris said in English. He spoke to everyone in English, especially the Greeks.

They looked to each other and one began. “Everyone knows that Greek food is the best in the world!” Obviously. “What is lacking is an international brand that stands for quality nutritious products such as olives, olive oil, yoghurt and feta cheese.” They proposed to build a brand name that would use the best Greek produce and market it worldwide. The other member rolled a poster down the easel with a very nice logo on some mock-ups of the bottles and packaging.

Aris grilled them on their SWOT matrix analysis, revenue streams and marketing strategy.

One of the Shedders asked about supply. They had been negotiating with some producers in Crete. What guarantees had they that once the brand expanded and with it, turnover that they could satisfy demand. They smiled and high-fived each other. We will continue to build a network of producers.

I shuffled the papers in front of me and cleared my throat. “And if your supplier gets greedy before you gain real traction?” Traction, eh?

They both chuckled, “He’s our uncle!”

The next team were two guys, with a video streaming service.

“Have you ever been out with you company, trying to decide which club to go to only to find that after you paid your entrance that it’s empty and you have a boring night?” he asked.

They had an app called iNight. They proposed to use camera feeds from a number of nightclubs throughout the city and users could get to see inside before they chose a club.

“What are your revenue streams?” Aris asked.

Clubs would pay to be featured. It would be free to users but there could be secondary revenue from beer and spirit companies.

Then another involving olives and feta cheese.

We had a another team who proposed a satellite system that took metrics of agricultural land to save farmers money with over watering and unnecessary over-use of fertilisers.

Aris went through the regular questions; revenue streams, competition, scalability. They passed on all points.

I decided to jump in, “So, very impressive!” They smiled gratitude. “Do you have the intellectual property on this technology?”

“Yes, of course, no-one else has this, yet.”

Aris, nudged me, this was exactly what we were looking for. To bring new technology from Greece that would change the paradigm of agriculture, worldwide.

“Could you give us a demonstration?” Aris asked.

“Well, no. But we are sure it can be done!”

Another with olive oil.

After that, things took a turn for the better, if only Jude had been there to see it. A cyber English school on Second Life. Students could have a classroom experience from the safety of their PC. I often see the kids coming home from English night-classes at the most unearthly hours. The streets are not as safe as they were in my day.

Another social network app proposed to help young people get the look they wanted by taking pictures of well-dressed bystanders then asking others to tag the pictures with opinions and where they could get the same clothes.

My phone buzzed, it was Jude. He was on his way from the airport.

More feta cheese and olives.

The last on our list was a brother and sister team with a video streaming service. It was the striking girl who’d called out to Danny on our way in. They exchanged smiles.

Subscribers would pay for personalised content including a gifting service to send the content to a friend on birthdays and special events.

“What is the scalability of your service?”

The young man explained that his sister was fluent in five languages including English and Russian. She said, “Hi!” and waved. Another member who couldn’t make it today spoke Chinese.

“Do you have any secondary revenue streams?” Aris asked.

Jude peeped round the door and slipped into his place on the board. Aris leaned round me and shook his hand.

“We are hoping to secure sponsorship from international agricultural producers for content marketing purposes.” He seemed to know his shit.

“Now, the internet is saturated with video content providers. How do you intend to differentiate your service?” Aris had assumed a stoney face but the team were unphased.

Jude opened his laptop and began tapping.

“Let me demonstrate,” said the guy. He reached into a bag and pulled a length of agricultural produce and passed it to the girl who made it disappear up to the Chiquita sticker. I crossed my legs tightly.

We all sat silent until Jude stopped tapping and leaned back. “So, is this the future?”

Photo Credit: S. Nirza via Compfight cc

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