San Franciso BayThe right story in front of the right people

If you are an ambitious company with plans for rapid growth, one key task is to get the right story about what you have to offer in front of the right people.

One of the best support programmes I have seen to help companies do this in the clean technology space is the Clean and Cool Entrepreneur Missions.

The missions have been supported by Innovate UK and the UK Government’s trade and investment programme, together with a number of other sponsors, and are managed by The Long Run Works.

These missions take small groups of companies to specific overseas markets for a week long intensive programme on the practicalities of working in that market, coupled with the opportunity to meet and pitch to customers, investors and partners. These are young ambitious companies developing products and services that provide environmental benefits.

The companies are selected through open competition to showcase the best of the UK, and they are given help to strengthen and develop their story and pitch before the mission.

I have had the privilege of participating in two of the missions, and of meeting many of the companies on other missions. When I was on a mission, I saw people constantly questioning and thinking about their business model and how it could be implemented. Being excited by the contacts they were making, and just getting better and better at explaining their innovation and their business. Everyone I spoke to talked about how much they had learned and how much stronger their business was after the mission.

What are the benefits?

So why participate in a mission rather than just identifying your own target market and going it alone? What are the benefits?

  • You are there because you have been selected through an independent and open competition – you have been recognised as a high potential company.
  • You are part of a group – 15-20 companies representing the best of UK cleantech gets much more interest; not least from the media.
  • Local trade and industry teams embedded in UK consulates will help you. They know the details and peculiarities of the local markets. They can guide you, and they can bring together the people you want to talk to.
  • You get intensive guidance and support before the mission on how to make the best use of the time, and how to develop and strengthen your story.
  • You get invaluable guidance from local organisations on the practicalities of working in the target market; from marketing to employment law. Professional advice that would be expensive or unavailable for a single SME.
  • The organisers will make sure that the workshops and sessions you attend are tailored to the needs of the group.
  • You get to meet and pitch to significant investors because a strong, qualified group of companies is more interesting to listen to than a single company. One participant picked out as a highlight that “I made contact with a potential investor that I had been trying to reach for 7 years. I just walked in and met him!”.
  • You spend most of the week explaining to different people over and over again what your business offers. Your story gets clearer and sharper day by day, and a great ‘elevator pitch’ is a powerful asset.
  • You network with other companies on the mission – they have similar challenges and can offer you different ways of looking at the problems and alternative solutions.
  • Experienced mentors travelling with the mission are there the whole time to be a sounding board and to help you refine your business model and story.
  • You have time to think – and that is a precious resource very hard to come by in early stage businesses.

“I made contact with a potential investor that I had been trying to reach for 7 years. I just walked in and met him!”

What difference did the missions make?

A key test of the value of the missions is their impact on the companies that participated. What happened to them when they came back from the mission, and how were they changed? The participants gave up a week of their lives for the mission, not counting the pre-mission sessions. That’s a major investment for a top executive from a young company, and it needs to be worthwhile.

In 2015 an audit of the 64 Clean and Cool mission companies involved over the first five years of the programme was carried out. This showed:

  • The 64 companies brought in an additional £650 million of investment after their mission; the bulk from private investments and share placements
  • 92% of the businesses said the mission will help their business to grow faster
  • 100% said it had improved their pitch
  • 88% said it increased their ambition in the target market
  • 92% said it provided valuable links to future customers and partners

All in all, good evidence that the missions really worked for the participants.

But there are also intangible benefits. I remember hearing from one company representative that through the week of pitches, advice sessions and the constant networking with other businesses there came a dawning realisation that they had their business model wrong. The product was fine, but the target customers and the value proposition were wrong. Whilst on the mission they rewrote the business model and plan and tested it live on potential partners with great results.

Others found that by listening to the other companies and getting immediate feedback on pitches they could make their story so much more engaging and compelling.

Still others found that there were potential partners amongst the other mission attendees and began to look at ways of building a stronger proposition by collaborating.

The intangible benefits may seem less important than a cold hard £650 million of additional investment, but many of the companies believe that it is these intangible benefits that enabled the £650 million.

But don’t rely on my assessment. Head over to the Clean and Cool site and their video channel to find out more about the missions and the companies, and to hear about their successes in their own words.

The next mission is to Silicon Valley in June 2017, and you can apply until 13th April.

What’s to lose?

The Clean and Cool Entrepreneur Missions
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