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Many hands make light work of mentoring at SMILE ‘show and tell’ event

28 September 2011

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Following the successful launch of speed mentoring in July, UCL Advances’ SMILE (Selected Mentors and Interims for London Enterprises) programme has introduced a new concept – ‘show and tell.’

On 28 September, three companies were given ten minutes each to present their business and the challenges it faces to an audience of mentors and fellow entrepreneurs, who could then ask questions and suggest solutions to pressing issues- such as how to sell more dodecahedrons (more interesting than it sounds, see below).

Ruth Hou, SMILE Project Manager, says: “The speed mentoring event was a huge hit and created a buzz but ‘show and tell’ turns that on its head – spending a lot of time with a few companies. Instead of an elevator pitch each company had the chance to fully brief the audience and ask for considered responses to the problems they face.”

“Think of ‘show and tell’ as a many-to-one mentoring session, a way to brainstorm together and support one another in the various ventures we’re undertaking. We’re all either starting up a business or developing our existing business, and getting feedback in a safe environment is precious.”

First on the podium was Ignaty Dyakov, whose company Periplus is a live interactive online learning environment for secondary school children using UK-trained and based teachers and is aimed at home educators, expat families, schools and local authorities.

Ignaty stresses that it is not a correspondence course or bank of resources, but its USP of real-time education with live tutors needs to be made clearer. How can he do this? Suggestions included a video stressing the careful selection and quality control of tutors; better SEO; use of internet forums like Mumsnet. More unusual were a game for children which would then engage parents; linkups with law firms specialising in the niche area of rights of children with SEN (special education needs).

Next up was Raoul Tawadey of Circalit, an online platform which gives film producers, publishers and agents access to the best screenplays, novels and plays from all over the world. He is concerned about achieving a ‘critical mass’ of users to satisfy the demands of VCs.

Raoul says: “Among the suggestions I'll be following up are to delay our revenue models [Circalit’s revenue derives from the fees people pay for reviews, and eventually will also come from royalties] and focus on building a thriving community using crowd-sourcing to filter content. I’ve also taken up advice to build our user base through partnering complementary services - book groups, literary festivals and publishing houses - and cross-marketing.”

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Last but not least was a moving presentation by John Sprange, whose company Mind Dice makes brightly-coloured plastic 12-sided die as a tool to engage with dementia sufferers. John developed the idea when his late father was admitted into a care home as a way to talk to him through ‘prompts’ – names of people, places and themes - that set him recounting his stories. John asked how he could sell more units.

The audience proposed expanding beyond dementia care to addiction recovery, with its 12-step programme, and then outside healthcare – a non-disposable Post-It note/calendar function, for instance. Other recommendations included approaching psychology departments to quantify the effectiveness of the ‘mind dice’. John even came up with an idea of his own: “I was surprised by the extremely low number of people in the room who had experience of dementia. This flagged up another possible use - to increase awareness of dementia and hopefully give people a way to deal with it and reduce some of the fear.”

Ruth Hou says: “The event raised as many questions as supplied answers, with contributions from those experienced in a number of areas from marketing and PR to legal and compliance. For start-ups run by one or two people, the support and encouragement they get from others in the same position – or who have been there – is invaluable. From that point of view, the evening was an enormous success.”