Dragons’ Den reflections – follow the student startups’ continuing stories
Check behind the scenes in sunny Southampton this summer, and you’ll find an energetic entrepreneurial culture is quietly on the rise. As some students prepare to sit back and relax over their long summer break, others are hard at work behind the scenes continuing their ambitious startup stories.
Among them are six startup schemes which pitched to Future Worlds’ dragon investors in front of a live audience at Southampton Dragons’ Den this spring. Backed by expert mentoring and extensive pitching practice, the startups raised over £50,000 of investment to start them on their business journeys.
Re-live the action from all the pitches and interrogations in full for the first time through the videos below and read on to find out how the entrepreneurs have been getting on since their date with the dragons:
FuseMind – Maciej Szpakowski, Przemek Zientala and Mauro Cozzi Gasparotti
For the three friends behind FuseMind, May’s Dragons’ Den was the culmination of a year’s intensive planning and perfecting, and they opened proceedings with a positive pitch that immediately caught the dragon investors’ imaginations. Their modern academic search tool secured £30,000 of investment and the co-founders have gone on to build on this impressive foundation.
“Dragons’ Den was amazing,” Mauro said. “Needless to say, we’re more than happy with the outcome. Not just because of the investment we secured, but also because of all the amazing people we met and lessons we learned during the process.
“We’ve since been working closely with our most active users, seeking their feedback in order to build a product they really love. We’re still growing organically at a moderate rate of about 130 installs per week – but are focusing all our efforts on product development for now. We’ve secured another £5,000 of funding from the University’s SEED Fund competition, which is going to be incredibly helpful.
“Over the next few months, we’re aiming to reach a total of 10,000 people around the world. Their feedback will help us solve the larger technical challenges that lie ahead, before doubling down on our marketing efforts.”
Sagar Energy Solutions – Andreas Ostrovsky-Pereira
Social enterprise Sagar Energy Solutions presented the dragons with a solar powered fishing lamp that aimed to replace expensive and dangerous kerosene lanterns used in the night fishing industry of East Africa.
“The experience was really incredible,” Andreas reflected, taking a break from a Future Worlds Discover video that will be published in the coming weeks. “It was the first time that I’ve pitched on that scale and it taught me a lot about presenting and calming my nerves. Very importantly, I was mentored in how to tailor the pitch for the specific dragon investors that were there. It was a fun process and I enjoyed sharing the whole experience with the other startups that were there.
“Since Dragons’ Den we’ve been working with an incubator in London and have found a manufacturer in India to produce our first test batch of 25 lamps. We are preparing to take them to Tanzania to showcase to the whole market as we’ve been receiving letters of intent. We can now start to take official orders which we could then pitch back to our incubator to take up an option to join their accelerator programme.”
Aura Vision Labs – Daniel Martinho-Corbishley and Jaime Lomeli
Aura Vision Labs had audience members straining to see a secret demonstration on stage as they revealed a new technology that generates valuable data from video footage. “This is really cool,” exclaimed investor Lohan Presencer on stage. “It’s like Minority Report!” The dragons declared themselves “neither in nor out” as they planned to keep an eye on the emerging technology.
“Dragons’ Den was a definitive turning point for Aura Vision Labs and was a great opportunity to showcase our work to potential investors,” Daniel said. “The calibre of the mentors and their feedback has focused the development of our ideas and moved our venture to the next stage.
“Without a doubt, the outcomes from the event reshaped some of our initial assumptions, and Reuben Wilcock has been a fantastic mentor in guiding our journey. A key metric of our progress has been in terms of ‘learning’, and one of the most important milestones is learning how to interpret feedback.
“Signing up for Dragons’ Den was in fact just the beginning of a few very interesting months (and hopefully a successful venture in the future). The event boosted our exposure and generated some very good leads which we have been following up in the last few weeks. As we’re both now finalising our PhD work, we hope to be working full time on Aura Vision in the coming months – so expect some exciting developments!
“We thank the Future Worlds, Fish on Toast and ECS Entrepreneurs teams for organising the event. Pitching is usually a more private affair and so, the experience of pitching in front of the Dragons and the public, is a must for the start of any aspiring entrepreneur’s journey.”
Handy Kanji – Travis Ralph Donaldson
Web scientist Travis Ralph-Donaldson’s Handy Kanji pitch secured a Dragons’ Den first this spring in the shape of an investment from the audience. The interactive app, which already boasts its own Future Worlds Discover profile and video, gamifies the learning of the Japanese writing system.
“It was very helpful to crystallise my business plan and gain a thorough understanding of my market in the build up for the Dragons’ Den,” Travis explained. “This benefited me implicitly with my short and long term business goals, as once I had covered all bases for the Dragons’ questions I felt l could be even more confident in the validity of my product.
“Since May, I have been working on a bespoke marketing campaign that’s all a bit top secret at the moment but I believe it will help my app to achieve some exponential growth while expending very little resources. My goal is to scale the product to all modern languages and solidify its stake as the go-to app internationally for all language students.”
All In – Varun Gupta
Varun Gupta hoped the dragon investors would be ‘All In’ following his pitch for an information-sharing app. The Future Worlds Mentors identified potential growth in the innovation, with Andrew Doe sharing that the events market was “ripe for investment”, but they ultimately chose not to pursue his proposal.
One dragon investor felt that it “can be tough for apps to breakthrough”, but Varun’s positivity and persistence could help investors become All In on the venture in future.
“I found the Dragons’ Den experience incredibly useful as it helped formalise the ideas I had for my project,” Varun said. “The Future Worlds team gave me ample support and feedback throughout the process to ensure I was on the right track. Even though I didn’t get the investment, I feel like I’ve learned a lot of valuable skills and know how to take the project forward to hopefully bring it to success.
“The next stages will be to finish the app and release it to market. I’ll be targeting universities initially and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Igglu – Landon Vago-Hughes
Mechanical Engineering student Landon Vago-Hughes pitched his vision for a community-driven events platform in the Den. It triggered the investors to debate whether they would enter as chess party as they explored the startup’s potential.
There was no investment for Igglu this time round, but entrepreneur Landon will hopefully be able to continue driving this product towards market to capitalise on the University’s thriving social scene.
“I saw what was out there in the market and could see how it could be done better,” he explained near the event. “There is currently a monopoly and I want to change that. It’s been difficult to work on the startup alongside my studies – especially because I’ve needed to teach myself coding on the side – but I’m determined to get through the challenge.”
Check out Future Worlds’ Discover section in the coming weeks and months for new profiles and videos covering future student startup successes.