Startup Genome Highlights: Leicester, UK

Startup Genome Curator Ben Ravilious tells about the Leicester startup community in this week's "Startup Genome Highlights".
Startup Genome
on November 07, 2013

Today we're launching "Startup Genome Highlights", a regular video series where we talk with the individuals who are curating various communities around the world.

First up is Ben Ravilious (@benrav) who tells us about Leicester, England, UK.

In the video, Ben mentions:


Geoff: And our first curator is Ben Ravilious. He is from Leicester, England in the United Kingdom. Ben is our Startup Genome curator there. Ben, so I want to welcome you to our video blog and then also ask you what is it that makes Leicester so unique?

Ben: Hi, thanks for having me on. Leicester’s a very interesting place. It’s not somewhere where many people would be familiar with. But it’s actually Britain's 10th largest city. And I think it kind of sometimes hides it’s light under a bushel. It’s got a lot of things going for it. But it isn’t necessarily famous for very many things. In my industry I’ve always known there are lots of great tech people in the city. But I’ve never really gone to events or seen things happening particularly aimed at them. So it’s something that I’m trying to change this year.

Geoff: What is it that you’d say thats really working in the community? The startup community.

Ben: Well, what’s so exciting is kind of starting from nothing. As I’ve said, there are lots of people out there but the overall sort of feeling I’ve got is that not very many of them have actually met each other. So, when I first called a meet up, first public meet up in January, saying "what do you think about the idea of a tech startup community in Leicester?", 45 people turned up first time. I thought that was brilliant. And there was such a diversity of people as well. It wasn’t just sort of geeks and entrepreneurs, it was people who are investors, academics, professors, all sorts of different people. So there was a real diversity from the word go and that was really encouraging for me.

Geoff: That was in January you said. What other events have you seen that have sprung up in the last year?

Ben: Well, ya. We’ve had all sorts of things. I’ve been running fortnightly open coffee sessions on Fortnightly Wednesdays and we always have a minimum of 20 people, sometimes it’s as many as 40 so those have been great. And there the sort of place where people meet up and we have some short talks and people. That’s the kind of watering hole where everyone meets up. What’s been really nice is that other people in the community have sort of put their hands up and volunteered and run things themselves so it’s not just me doing things. Theres also a lot of others doing things. We’ve had several significant things that have happened since then. One group of people have spun off a lean methodology group, which has been really helpful for those who want to get to know about lean startup methodology. They run their own things, they also mix up with us. We had our first hack-a-thon. It was part of NASA's Global Space Apps Challenge. We were one of the locations. That was fun too. A lot of university students came down to that. But, I think biggest of all, only a few weekends ago, we had our first Startup Weekend, which was amazing. A real game changer because so many people came and actually got their hands dirty and started doing things rather than just chatting over coffee. I think Startup Weekends are a fantastic thing. This was by an organization called Launch48 which is based here in the UK. But it’s the same kind of format of a weekend bootcamp of going through crazy ideas to serious business plans at the end of it.

Geoff: That’s awesome. Yeah, we’ve certainly seen the value of those here in the States as well. If I was going to visit Leicester and I wanted to meet the startup community, what’s the one place I should go? Is there a coffee shop or a pub that is the place to go for entrepreneurs?

Ben: Ya. I think the Phoenix Cafe Bar in the city center is, I mean that’s where we have our Wednesday sessions, our Fortnightly Wednesday sessions. That would be the place to go if you sort of wanted to meet people, that’s where most people go. We don’t exactly have sort of pet pub or bar as of yet. I hope that might at some point. But, it’s difficult for me. I can really only do day time things, but other people like to do social things, too. The Phoenix Cafe is a good place to start.

Geoff: Well next time I’m there I’ll certainly check it out.

Ben: You’re very welcome.

Geoff: Is there one thing that you, piece of advice you can give other community builders based on what you’ve seen that’s worked in Leicester, in the time that you’ve been doing this?

Ben: In terms of practical advice, I was very much inspired by Brad Feld's Startup Communities book. I wouldn’t haven’t gotten this far without that. I got a hunch that something could be done and that I might be suitable person to do it given that I run a web development agency. Brad’s book really kind of got to the bottom of what you want to achieve and who you want to involve and who should be running it. In terms of ethos, the main thing is it’s got to be run by entrepreneurs. That’s the biggest deal of all. If you are someone who is an entrepreneur, aspiring to be one, or you are running a company relevant to startups, you may well be the very best person to start. My suggestion is to get up onto Meetup or Facebook or EventBrite or something like that and just start. Call an event, give people a little bit of details about what you’re trying to achieve, and I think that if you’ve got, if you’re in any reasonably large sized city or town, you’ll get people coming along. That’s what’s so great about it. People come along and they get involved and they start doing their own things as well as long as you give them the freedom to do that. You can see the thing blossoming. So I think that’s the most important thing to start with.

Geoff: Absolutely. That is a great book. If you haven’t checked that out it’s Startup Communities by Brad Feld. Is there one thing that our community builders and other curators in other cities can do to help you with what you’re working on in Leicester?

Ben: Well, I’m always keen to, I’m always, I feel like I’m probably still only scratching the surface in terms of making contact with potential involved people here. It’s a big city. There’s 300,000 people in this city and probably another 100,000 in the sort of outskirts surrounding towns. By no means have we reached saturation so people locally in England and in the Leicester-area or anybody who is keen to get involved, I invite them to contact me or go to is our main website. It’s a wide world and we’re always happy to have people from outside come along. We do get people from other places and other countries visiting us quite regularly and thats really cool.

Geoff: Well that sounds good. Well we certainly appreciate your time this evening and look forward to seeing more out of Leicester in the future.

Ben: That’s great. And thanks for doing the map. It’s been really important to us. It’s kind of revealed who’s there and we’re able to show off the talent we’ve already got.

Geoff: Well, thank you for curating it. We’ll see you soon.

Ben: Cheers

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