Ex-TechStars head Bradford on pitching in at ICE

Jon Bradford caused something of a stir when he left as the head of TechStars London back in the middle of last year. Previous to TechStars, Bradford worked for the Northern-England publicly-funded start-up body The Difference Engine before launching the Cambridge University accelerator Springboard. He has now ‘gone plural’ and taken up a number of non-executive roles including advising the hedge fund Winton with its cyber security accelerator CyLon and serving as a  board member at workspace club operator Central Working. He will be speaking on the Thursday GamCrowd Studio day at Pitch ICE and ahead of the event he gives his opinion on the worth of such Pitch events, details how accelerator programmes can help give start-ups an ‘espresso-style boost, and talks about how new ideas need to be more than just a voice in the founders’ head.

GamCrowd: How do showcase events such as Pitch ICE help start-ups?
Jon Bradford: Raising awareness of your start-ups is very important - whether that is to attract investors, customers or employees. You might be making the most amazing tech but if no-ones knows about it there is little chance that it will progress. Engaging with and talking to others about your business can be incredibly valuable.

GamCrowd: What can an accelerator program do for a start-up?
Jon Bradford:  As Techstars would say - do more faster. An accelerator is an amazing opportunity to get access to mentors and mentorship that would ordinarily impossible - concentrated into an ‘expresso’-like format. The feedback that you can derive can help to shape the business going forward provide insights for entrepreneurs who have been there before and have the scars to prove it.

GamCrowd: How does mentoring work?
Jon Bradford: It is a great way for start-ups to get feedback from smart entrepreneurs and industry leaders. But they can also help start-ups to work through and deliver practical solutions and answers to this feedback as well as leveraging the mentors’ network for your benefit. Mentors not only provide feedback about your business but also help provide practical advice about how to tackle these problems that you might be faced with. Leveraging mentors can help for your business to get more done faster than would ordinarily be possible on your own.

GamCrowd: Are you as an accelerator/mentor putting your faith more in the idea or the person behind the idea?
Jon Bradford: Smart accelerators always put the founders and team ahead of the idea. In a world where it is possible to pivot many things including product, approach, distribution platform, market etc., the ability for a team to pivot its founding team is practically impossible. It is they who provide the bed rock on which everything else is dependent upon.

GamCrowd: What general issues around preparedness do you encounter when you first come into contact with a company?
Jon Bradford: The lack of a customer focus - concentrating only on the technology. Many of the businesses that I work with are very smart engineers who have identified what they believe is a problem – (but) how much of this is based upon a very limited amount of information? It is key that founders glean real feedback from the market and customers and really understand whether the ‘voices in their head’ are real - or whether the problem they think exists is real.

GamCrowd: Are you finding there is an increase in the numbers of aspiring entrepreneurs and what do you ascribe that increase to?
Jon Bradford: There are many more aspiring entrepreneurs as the market opportunities increase. But equally, there are many more ‘wannabes’. It is becoming increasingly harder to find ‘signal in the noise’. There is more funds flowing into the market than has ever been. Investors and corporates are looking for new novel and innovative solutions - we are definitely in an up cycle when it is normal to find a larger number of entrepreneurs entering the market. Finding an unfair advantage can be very important to anyone starting a business.

Jon Bradford will be speaking on the Thursday at Pitch ICE at 11am. Pitch OCE can be found at N7 460 talking about what start-ups should think about if they are considering either an accelerator or incubator program.

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