How the Imagine Cup UK finals shaped our startup company


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13af94aBy Max Maybury, Director of Backslash Build and former Microsoft Student Partner

Here is some free advice for any student planning to get involved in the world of start-ups: Don’t underestimate the importance of networking events. You will have heard this time and time again, but students are rarely seen to take full advantage of these opportunities. The Imagine Cup is an entrepreneurial competition, but it is also an occasion for professionals to get to know each other.

At every event, guests are invited to the pitching competition to discuss business ideas with participants. Last year, I attended the Imagine Cup UK finals hosted at the Microsoft Campus in Reading. As a student partner of the University of Bath, I was tasked with grilling the participants before they had to pitch. When talking to the competitors, I took a particular interest in one of the expositions: a restaurant analytics system, at the time named “InsightFull”.

Giacomo Poppi presented an IoT sensor network, which collects and analyses live operational information from restaurants. Competing in the Imagine Cup was intended to be a route to gaining exposure, get to meet interested parties and potentially raise some funds to go towards the product’s development. He presented the system to a panel of judges and won the Imagine Cup Innovation category. The idea evolved over time and grew into a startup now called Alitica.

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Alitica has gone from strength to strength since the Imagine Cup. The underlying technology is now patent-pending, functional prototypes have been developed and they are now organising a three month pilot case study with prospective clients.

“The Imagine Cup ended up providing the resources, motivation and contacts required to change the business idea into a profitable startup. The number of opportunities I have encountered because of the competition is surprising, and would recommend any student who has an active interest in technology and/or business to attend future events.” - Giacomo Poppi

Giacomo and I got in contact through LinkedIn a few months after the event. We arranged a meeting to discuss a potential collaboration with Backslash Build, a digital consulting company and startup powerhouse, that I had co-founded with Ashton Clapp and Steven Borrie. Today, we are based in Bath and are successfully running a number of startup initiatives together - some of which are already generating revenue and have raised funding.

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We promote ourselves as a highly competent team of individuals capable of developing any technological solution. Besides our consulting services, we are working on embedded system development for vibration analysis, chatbots for the transport industry, and automated evaluation software for educators. And that’s still just the tip of the iceberg.

I would highly recommend going into entrepreneurship immediately after graduation, and taking part in the the Imagine Cup and other hackathon events are a great way to see how you work together outside of the University environment. They help to develop your pitching, time-keeping, and problem solving skills, setting you on the right track to building a successful startup.

This situation is a common example of what is to be expected when hosting an event that gathers people who share common interests and have the same drive to succeed. So definitely get involved with this year’s Imagine Cup and take this advice: talk with the people around you - there is no better place to meet like-minded individuals.

Interested in taking part? Click here to find out more information about the Imagine Cup!

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