It’s early evening on Sunday, May 31st. Like many people around the world at the time, I’m sitting at my laptop, the open-window of my bedroom hinting at a beckoning yet forbidden realm. In the culmination of many months of effort, the RGU Startup Accelerator’s Startup Sunday is drawing to a close and the announcement of winners is fast approaching.
Tonight, knitting needles clash with biodegradable toiletries, warring mobile phone applications eschew the benefits of attendance information and local history knowledge and one competitor uses his dog to appeal to the crowd. This gladiatorial combat is not of sword and steel, but of spoken word, as various startups attempt to convince the world that they can make a mark on the real world. All of this to the backdrop of a rapid-moving live chat where family members scream the support of a distant relative, and notes of interest from potential investors are treated with humble reverence.
It is within this atmosphere I find myself nervously awaiting the outcome for my own horse in this race. Attendr, the company which I helped to co-found as COO alongside its CEO (Nirmalie Wiratunga) and its CTO (Chamath Palihawadana) is a competitor in this melee.
Attendr has come a long way from its roots in a short international research project. Originally intended as a mechanism to gauge the mental health and wellbeing of students, the form of the business took shape when my fellow co-founders Chamath and Nirmalie realised the very marketable potential of the mobile phone application. Hundreds of hours of development later, the idea was successfully pitched to RGU and a pilot phase was green lit. A dream come true for a budding business aiming to flower in the educational market. Access to real users, both students and staff, nurtured our idea into something much grander.
It was on the back of this pilot phase that we successfully applied to the Startup Accelerator, along with some 25 other prospective businesses. Being accepted into this cohort was another success in Attendr’s short history, but at the time we probably failed to appreciate how meaningful this was. The accelerator promised something that my and my other co-founders were sorely lacking - knowledge on how to run a business, given to you at break-neck speed. Let me tell you that the connotations of the word ‘accelerator’ are undoubtedly most fitting here. We walked into the first session quietly confident about Attendr surfing on a euphoria from recent successes. How blissfully unaware we were of the rapid-pace we would traverse the rocky road that lay ahead!
True to its title, the Startup Accelerator pulled us along at a frightening pace. The words ‘business canvas’ and ‘value proposition’ are forever branded into my very soul. My internal dictionary grew and grew as terminology at first alien to me became standard practice. More than that though, I could feel amongst the entire cohort that a change of mindset was taking place. We went from computer developers, engineers and sportsmen to entrepreneurs.
This change was facilitated, guided and occasionally gently nudged along by our mentors. Even if I did not entirely believe that he was from a line of famous magicians (much as he may claim), our meetings with Graham were always a poignant reflection of how much we had advanced.
All members of the EIG team have had a hand in Attendr and its co-founder’s growth; Chris, with his relentless drive, pushing us to be the best we can be; Ed with his boundless and infectious enthusiasm; and Sally with her dry witticisms encouraging contemplation.
My reflections were interrupted by a surge of on-screen activity. The final pitch finished, and Ed appeared on the screen. A palpable stillness entered the air, as he stated “I will now announce the winners of the RGU Startup Accelerator 2020…”