Bringing the Silicon Valley mindset to London’s biggest stage

As the University of Southampton’s on-campus start-up accelerator, our goal at Future Worlds is to help researchers and students transform their ideas into globally scalable and impactful tech startups providing them with the tools, skills, and enabling environment they need to become successful founders.

Over the course of an intensive six-month programme, the cohort works on validating their ideas, refining their value proposition, learning how to connect with customers and understanding the market, and building a minimum valuable product (MVP). The programme gives these new founders autonomy and puts the ambitious development of their ideas first, so that by the end of it they’re ready to pitch for their first investment to launch their startups and pursue a globally ambitious outcome.

Demo Day gives the founders the chance to get on stage and pitch to a room full of investors, angels, and corporate partners to secure the support to transition from the University into world-changing companies. This year’s event was, for the first time, also part of London Tech Week, putting the cohort in the spotlight at the very heart of the UK tech ecosystem.

Lessons from the epicentre of the global startup ecosystem

Prior to Demo Day, the cohort underwent a week-long mission to Silicon Valley where they got the chance to meet some of the world’s biggest tech companies, accelerators, and investors - which this year included the likes of Google and Plug & Play. Being immersed in the epicentre of the global startup ecosystem is inspiring for the founders, showing them the outlandish scale of what is possible and prompting them to base their ambitions on that potential. In this year’s Demo Day the founders from the University gave a real-life demonstration of the mindset and culture they learnt during their time in Silicon Valley.

As anyone who has spent time working in the San Francisco Bay Area knows, we experience  a vastly different mindset in that ecosystem. The ‘Spirit of Silicon Valley’ is one of collaboration and optimistic, risk-taking, tech-enabled positivity. There’s a belief from their youngest interns to their CEOs that their ideas have the potential to change the world.

Every major city in the world has tech hubs of some sort, but there’s something about Silicon Valley that is unique. The flourishing venture capital ecosystem and dense concentration of world-class universities coexisting in a relatively small space means that there is so much opportunity for growth and innovation as networks become close-knit and expertise diffuses across the Valley.

One of the foundation stones of the ‘Silicon Valley’ mindset is not having a fear of failing - it seems to have been shaken out of the founders in the Valley, who fully embrace risk. Big risks are a necessary part of pursuing very big rewards. From my perspective, the frequently risk-averse culture founders experience in the UK holds many back from scaling their ideas into world-leading companies.

What I wanted from the trip was for our brilliant cohort to directly experience the dynamics of Silicon Valley and then bring this mindset back to the UK. The importance of the cultural difference is difficult to appreciate unless you directly experience it, but being immersed in the Valley opens founders’ eyes to the possibilities and impact they can have through their startup. Capital flows where innovation is happening - so for the UK’s founders it’s not a question of cash, but rather a shift in mindset that can turn the tide.

Taking what they learnt to the next level

This year’s cohort – innovating in sectors ranging from biotech to Web 3 to electric vehicles – are a display of the true brilliance of the researchers and students we have within our universities. The combination of technical expertise with the newly found big-dreaming mindset was on display at Demo Day. Watching the six founders speak with such assurance and clarity in front of some of the UK’s most influential investors was a sight to behold. The quality of their pitches and their world-changing potential, followed by the tough questions from the audience they were able to answer quickly and confidently, showcased the remarkable progress that they’ve made.

Nus Ghani MP, Minister of State for Industry in the Department for Business and Trade, remarked that, “the ground-breaking technologies of the startups pitching in Future Worlds Demo Day 23 demonstrate the enduring spirit of innovation that drives the UK tech sector.” She described Future Worlds as an, “outstanding example of enabling the UK’s world-renowned scientists and engineers to turn ideas in the lab into products and services to change the world.” I couldn’t agree more.

It is incredibly important that the science, engineering, and technology power in universities across the country is adequately funded – but also that the institutions themselves are properly incentivised to actively drive forward these ecosystems. Yes, we need investment, but we also need university administrators – having created the right environment – to then step back and release brilliant scientists and engineers to do what they do best: problem-solving, solution-building, and driving the UK’s innovation economy. This isn’t just about accelerator programmes, but also providing funding opportunities and enabling terms for scientists and engineers to launch, grow and succeed.

The belief that the founders who come through our programme will go on to change the world is woven into Future Worlds’ DNA. Our role is to embrace and encourage the resilience, ambition, and talent the founders demonstrate alongside their peers emerging from universities across the UK. We are truly excited to see where these startups will go from Demo Day because we know this is only the beginning!