The Catalyst Challenge at the Southampton Science Park

We had a brilliant day yesterday, seeing the Science Park doing what it does best – putting together a panel of experienced entrepreneurs and business mentors, and challenging the next generation to direct some youthful enthusiasm and fresh ideas towards starting a business from scratch. 16 students from Southampton University were split into four teams, and given 3 hours to work out how best to structure their team, how to work together without conflict, and ultimately, to develop a pitch which outlined their business plan and made a compelling case to the “investors”.

The challenges they were set related to two of the current Catalyst Centre tenants; JabbaLab, and Cherry Bird, (although they didn’t know this until the end). The groups were required to work with a business idea already used by the Catalyst Centre tenants to establish their proposition. The teams had to consider their businesses value propositions, potential customers, pricing strategies, revenue streams, essential activites, key partners and costs, as well as the investment required to launch the business, and where this might come from. They all made a huge effort to put together four compelling propositions, including some business financials, that were tested by the judges with their wealth of experience of investors and growing businesses.

The panel, made up of Southampton Science Park CEO Peter Birkett, Catalyst Centre judge and business mentor Phil Sharpe, Science Park tenant Layla-Jane Stacey (MD of React Marketing), and SETsquared Centre Director David Bream, judged the teams based on a ten minute presentation, a Q&A session, and a simple business plan that follows the guidelines in “Business Model Generation” by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur. The judges picked apart the teams’ business models, testing their understanding of their business plans, and gave them constructive criticism in order to improve their future entrepreneurial endeavours.

One of the many lessons learned during the day was the importance of carefully considering team structure; selecting the right person for the right role. It is clear that a natural leader will not be content to take the back seat, and that someone who prefers to work behind the scenes will never be comfortable with standing up and presenting. The teams had to decide which two would give the initial presentation, and which two would be best at thinking on their feet and taking the Q&A. Identifying different strengths, weaknesses and personality traits is a crucial skill for the business owner, and one which will considerably simplify the recruitment process. Layla-Jane Stacey spoke to the teams before they set off on their tasks, and gave some honest insights into the trials and tribulations she faced starting her own business. One of the main challenges was the hurdle of recruiting, and finding people that bought into the values of her business and embraced her vision for the future. As well as this, one of the key points she outlined was the need to let go, an incredibly hard but crucial lesson for any business leader to learn!

Watching the student teams working out who was best suited to each role was fascinating, and a reminder to even the most experienced business owner that we should never stop grasping opportunities to learn from observing how others work around a challenge!

Congratulations to the winning team: Agata Frankowska, Anthony Man, Ignacio Willats and  Sanaz Yeganefard (pictured below) for an excellent proposal and some great ideas!