From the top · 21 June 2017

Pitching at 186mph: On-board the Eurostar startup masterclass

blinkx co-founder Surranga Chandratillake closed the masterclass with advice on becoming investment-ready
blinkx co-founder Suranga Chandratillake closed the masterclass with advice on becoming investment-ready
Ahead of France’s premier Viva Tech event in the heart of Paris, a Eurostar startup masterclass was arranged for founders selected to pitch their ideas to the cross-Channel rail network at the conference with a trial up for grabs at the end.

Travelling at high speed (up to 186mph to be exact) between two entrepreneurial cities, experts from three of Europe’s most prominent venture capital funds helped prepare the successful applicants with advice on scaling a business, attracting investment and growing a company either side of the channel. Business Advice went along for the journey.

As the entrepreneurs waited in the Kings Cross Eurostar Business Lounge for the 09.26am to Paris, Antoine?Baschiera, co-founder of Early Metrics, a startup rating agency for investors, began the first masterclass by explaining some of the differences between how the UK and France do business.

While France’s primary investors and decision-makers are centralised in Paris, Baschiera applauded the UK’s plural model, with several cities chasing London for a stake in business.

There are less public and private sector partnerships in France, Baschiera said, suggesting the UK startup scene had a greater emphasis on storytelling through a brand’s community.?

His message to the founders present was to appreciate different practices but not to try and replicate the French model when taking a company into Europe.

Baschiera concluded by predicting a pro-small business approach from France’s recently-elected president, Emmanuel Macron, which would be beneficial to entrepreneurs on both sides of the channel.

Anatomy of a UK entrepreneur

With everyone settled on board, Justin Cooke, founder of digital agency Fortune Cookie, stepped up. Now a venture partner with Northzone, which has invested in Spotify since 2008, Cooke knows a thing or two about putting startups on an international platform.

He began by emphasising the importance of focusing on international clients from the outset. Then, it makes it easier to grow outside the market. it’s about building collaterall, he said.

Cooke said this pan-European attitude was a crucial factor for him when identifying new investments.

Economic resilience, he added, could be built by constantly looking for that next market. don’t just focus on the UK use it as a springboard to the US. The investor highlighted the weak pound as a strong indicator of exporting potential for startups in 2017.

Justin Cooke shared his wealth of experience with the startup founders
Justin Cooke shared his wealth of experience with the startup founders
Reflecting on early experiences taking a startup stateside, Cook recalled walking into a meeting with investors and asking his co-founder: How do you talk New York

The deal wasnt sealed, but after the sucker-punch, it’s about having the energy to ask what went wrong, he told the audience.

After fielding questions from up and down the carriage, a slightly surreal environment for a business masterclass, Cooke took the empty seat next to Business Advice and offered up further pointers for scaling a company.

it’s vital to play a role in the wider industry. The more you put in, the more you get out, he said.

when meeting important people, ask what their own biggest challenges have been in business, Cooke added, it’s a disarming question that helps build a rapport.

Using the Eurostar startup masterclass to illustrate how the new business landscape has shifted during his 20 years in the game, Cooke pointed to the carriage full of ambitious business leaders heading to Paris to change the world with something that hasn’t been done before.

in 1997, the concept of a startup didnt exist. Access to capital is larger in every single way now. Raising money was difficult back then. Access to investment advisors has also widened, and of course the progress in infrastructure.

If were to take the advice of our experts so far, what are the qualities of our home-grown entrepreneurs?

were born shopkeepers buy a pound and sell it for two. it’s in our blood. Weve always been traders. Look at who we all are were a melting pot of different cultures and societies.

and, weve got a good track record of going out into the world and inventing things that don’t exist. For me it’s just natural that we have that outlook and philosophy.

Attracting investment

The final startup masterclass was delivered by Suranga Chandratillake, founder of online video platform blinkx and now a partner at Balderton Capital.

Chandratillake took the microphone after an informal on-board networking breakfast to provide guidance on building an investment-ready venture that can succeed internationally.

Working with investment budgets worth up to 7m, Chandratillake was able to outline the characteristics he looks for in a startup.

we want to see a global vision, he said. Those who start local but with sights on the world.

For Chandratillake, the greatest barrier for a founder is a lack of commitment for the journey ahead. We won’t invest in a startup if the team arent in it for the long-term, he added.

He ended the journey’s final masterclass by telling his audience to focus on a market, not their product.


 
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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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