Starting from a brief conversation in early November, we decided to test some new messaging we had been developing by entering into the competition to participate in the Accenture Fintech Innovation Lab Dublin 2016. We were very pleased with our entry as we were very easily able to complete all questions on the form; something which we would have found difficult in the past.
We were extremely pleased to get an email to tell us we had been selected for the ‘speed dating’ event in Enterprise Ireland on November 13th primarily because it meant there was interest in what we were saying but also because the work we had completed on our messaging over the previous 6 months was resonating.
Company Speed Dating - Guidance / Research
As we were now into the competition proper, it seemed prudent to get as much background on the speed dating event as possible. To that end I hooked up with Gearóid Power (no relation) from An Tuar, who had participated in the program in 2015, and Maeve Kneafsey from Real Market Finder, who participated in the speed dating event in 2015, both of whom gave me some invaluable advice in advance of the speed dating event.
The speed dating event was quite a pressure cooker in itself. 18 companies, including Ostia, had been selected and had 9 minutes to get our message across. A lot of effort was put into refining the message as much as possible and the effort seems to have been worth it. Six months ago I’m quite convinced that we could not have put our message across in 9 minutes but we managed it with each of the 9 companies. A very tiring morning’s work but perhaps even more so for the mentor companies who had to listen to 18 very different pitches.
Accenture's Dragons Den
More good news followed that we had been selected for the dragon’s den event. Another trip to Gearóid for some excellent advice and into Accenture with the other 10 companies who were competing to be accepted as one of six. Initially the room where we were stabled in advance of the pitch was pretty quiet, however, as the evening wore on, there was some great banter in the room. What was clear was there were 11 companies at the top of their game in the room so to be selected was going to be a great achievement for the chosen six.
The 7 minute pitch followed by 8 minutes of questions flew by and eventually the evening was finished off with some drinks in the Accenture canteen. I believe Ostia and the Juggle ‘brothers’ were last to leave the building; a pattern that was to be followed regularly over the following months.
News of our selection as one of six was extremely welcome in Ostia and it seemed that all the hard work we had put in on the messaging was paying dividends. We were now actually telling our story in a way that people understood. We were also thrilled that four of the mentors had offered to mentor us: State Street, Citi, Credit Suisse and Ulster Bank. Even now we ask ourselves how we could even approach such organizations not to mention getting mentored by them.
Mentor Companies & the Guinness Enterprise Centre (GEC)
The programme started with a bang in January with JC whipping us all into shape. We were going to be in the Guinness Enterprise Centre every Friday (at least) with various other activities to take place during the week. It has to be said at this point that the GEC offered us excellent facilities, excellent support and a great place to have coffee and lunch all in the same building….then again, these guys are professionals at this.
We had to start setting out expectations with our mentor companies for a start which involved an initial meeting with each. I have to say I was very surprised at just how helpful and open each of the mentor companies was willing to be. We set out our expectations with each and anything we asked for, they agreed to set up for us.
Then came the show case events at AIB, BOI, Realex, Fexco, Citi and Ulster Bank. The Fexco one had to be a bit special as it involved a train trip to Killarney followed by a bus ride out to Killorglin where we were offered a great welcome and an intense round of discussions with various people in the organization. AIB got some of their biggest guns down to talk to us which was great while the BOI formula of having each of us present a 3 minute summary of what we did gave people at the event a good view of who they wanted to talk to (and possibly more important the ones they did not !).
Our Friday sessions were intense but very useful. We had sessions on sales, how to woo an investor, the lean start up methodology along with having to present ourselves so many times I suspect we got sick of hearing the sound of our own voices. At one point, there was a half serious suggestion that we should each present someone else’s company we had heard the pitches so often. One session that sticks out in my head was from Pat Breslin from Accenture who tried to get us into the heads of the people in the bank and what their day was like with regulation and other pressures…..sometimes the next big thing may not have been high on their agenda. A sobering session but extremely useful for the insight it gave us.
All of the participant companies bonded really well and through the constructive criticism, we all learned a lot, bounced off each other constantly but all enjoyed the craic!
I must reserve a paragraph for the star of the show, John Coolican. JC has been professional, extremely patient and willing to go to the end of the earth to help any of the companies. I know with our final presentation for the event at the NDRC, JC’s hands were all over my presentation and, I suspect, the same could be said for all the other companies.
We finished off with an extremely pleasant evening hosted by the Accenture Partner sponsor of the programme Sinéad Barry. To a degree, it was akin to leaving school with a lot of high jinks and laughter during the evening and, like leaving school, the question on all our lips was ‘so what next?’. I think the programme has pushed all of the companies and participants way beyond our comfort zones in a very positive way and all I can say is that with this sort of boost, it’s hard to see how we can fail from here!