02 May 2013

What we learnt from Call for Ideas

By Lily

A week of going through applications has both fried and fired our minds. Who would have thought you could tackle so many diverse problems, of such varied complexity in such abundantly different ways. From hardware to software, from healthcare to education, from peer platforms to networked communities, from games to databases, there was something for every #techforgood geek among us.

Before we start interviews and announcements, we wanted to pause briefly and reflect on what we’ve learnt over the last few weeks of recruitment.

First the numbers: over the course of the six weeks we held office hours with 72 different teams. When applications closed on Monday, we had 90 applications, which divided into roughly equal thirds between our three main topic areas of health and wellbeing, education and employment and social and environmental sustainability. Just over half of the teams applying have at least one female founder. Just under half of the teams are from outside London, of those half from around the UK and half from outside the UK.

Things we learnt:

  • Meeting People Works

During the call for ideas, we replied to every incoming email within 24 hours starting with “Thanks for getting in touch” and offering to meet or chat on the phone.

Office hours were on the whole a success. We learnt that you can’t quite get six sessions into 3 hours and retain brain function but scheduling one meeting per hour is very doable.  They worked pretty well on skype and google hangout as well as face to face.

We started each meeting with ‘how can we help?’ which seemed to set the right tone.

Having a launch event worked well, as it seemed to give a lot of the people who came more confidence in the programme and got people to spread the word.

  • People appreciate polite candour

If an idea wasn’t right for us we were straightforwardly honest, and where we could pointed them towards other programmes.

If it was something that has already been tried we weren’t dismissive but told them they’d have to go and learn from previous attempts and show why they were different.

When we met people they were usually open and honest about the stage they were at. We managed to avoid the ‘pitching trap’ where you only hear what they want you to hear. We think this worked because we pitched office hours as informal conversations to help teams work out if BGV was right for them rather than interviews for the programme.

  • We reached more women founders

Stating openly on our communications that we were looking for women founders was mentioned as a reason for approaching us by several people. It also meant we were invited to all the women in tech events.

We reached out to women’s networks to spread the word, and were met with a lot of enthusiasm.

We also invited women tech leaders to talk to us and to mentor on the programme.

We attended and pitched at all the women in tech events we could find!

The result was that we were approached by far more women founders, and applications seem to reflect this as over half of the teams have at least one women founder – a significant step up from last year when only 13% of applicants were women.

  • Hack weekends still drive applications

Even though none of us went along we got a spurt of people coming to see us after the Urban Prototyping Festival and the Global Service Design Jam.

Many of the teams had met at Hackathons.

Many ideas had developed out of Hackathons.

So despite the many recent moans about how hack days are no longer what they used to be, we reckon they are an excellent format for incubating early stage teams and ideas and will be keeping a close eye on them in future.

  • Having a network of scouts across the country could work

We partnered with a few organisations outside London to spread the word about BGV including the Watershed in Bristol, Fazely Studios in Birmingham, Future Everything in Manchester and Student Hubs in Cambridge.

We would like to do more of this next time, so please do get in touch if you’re interested

  • The most common questions

  1. Why aren’t you in Bethnal Green?
  2. How do I find a co-founder?
  3. Do we all have to be full-time?
  4. Can we have feedback on our idea?

These possibly indicate a lack of clarity in our communications, and definitely with our name!

  • Uncommon questions

Very few people questioned  the 6% equity this year.

Only a few people questioned our insistence that they be companies limited by shares.

This could be an indication that the mixed for profit and social impact model has gained more traction over the past year, probably due in part to the organisations such as Nesta, Nominet Trust and Google announcing large social investment funds.