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Why early-stage digital tech company founders should apply for Rising Stars today
“We’re so excited to bring Rising Stars back for 2019 as the only truly national competition for early-stage digital tech companies in the UK,” says Esme Caulfield, Competitions Lead at Tech Nation. “We have set it up to shine a light on the UK’s best companies, which are supported from start to finish – including giving them pitch training to help them be at their best when they have to cross that line.”
It’s this commitment to support that saw participants of Rising Stars’ debut run gain much value out of the competition. Not just its 10 eventual winners who saw victory at London’s Grand Final back in March, but also its finalists, semi-finalists, and supporters who came along for the ride.
Shining a light
One of the primary ways that Rising Stars helped founders was by raising their company’s profile (along with their own), leading to more attention, connections and, ultimately, opportunities. It’s something that Leo Scott Smith, founder of Midlands-based early-stage personal safety company Tended, discovered after winning the competition.
“Rising Stars has been really beneficial for us, helping us with credibility, investment and increased press coverage,” Leo says. “Tech Nation placed us in touch with WIRED, who subsequently invited us to exhibit at its flagship AI event in London – for free!”
When it comes to finding press opportunities, early-stage digital tech companies are more used to trying to attract journalists’ attention than being approached. It made a welcome change for Tom McGillycuddy, founder of North West-based fintech Tickr, when the roles were reversed.
“Rising Stars is a great opportunity to get recognised – after appearing on it, journalists offering press-related opportunities started coming to us instead of us chasing them,” he says. “Similarly, a bunch of VC firms that we’d spoken to previously approached us to talk about funding.”
One of last year’s Rising Stars winners was vet-tech company Vet AI, described at Leeds Digital Festival as the “most exciting pre-revenue early-stage company in Leeds”. Its cofounder Paul Hallett, who used the pitch training provided to condense an hour-long presentation into a three-minute elevator pitch, says that the experience allowed him to “shift the company up a gear”.
“It was a really motivational step that saw us become a business recognised by a really reputable reward process – and that has opened a lot of doors for us,” Paul says. “I was worried that it would need a lot of time invested but we didn’t actually put much in, which was comforting.”
Rising Stars not only diverts eyes onto founders and their companies, it can also raise the profile of causes that they are championing, explains People Matter’s cofounder and CEO Nigel Winship.
“Rising Stars was great publicity for us as a company, and also for talking about mental health and taking stress in the workplace really seriously,” Nigel says. “It enabled us to do both things, so it’s been fantastic from that perspective.”
We tend to care about the issues that matter to our founders, which is useful as we’re known to bang the metaphorical drum here at Tech Nation. Since the first Rising Stars, we have hired 11 Entrepreneur Engagement Managers (or ‘EEMs’) working to support founders across the entirety of the UK.
A useful contact for any company that enters the competition, they will be on-hand to forge connections, write articles and generally generate positive impact for this year’s participants.
“Tech Nation and its EEMs offer frequent follow-ups and articles after the competition has ended,” says Revannth Murugesan, CEO of Rising Stars runner-up Carbon Performance, who after the competition chatted to us about his company’s grand vision of developing an electric car within seven years. “They have certainly brought about a strong sense of community among tech entrepreneurs in the UK.”
Indeed, Rising Stars aims to support ambitious scaling entrepreneurs in the UK, but its impact is truly international. Take London reg-tech company Heliocor, for example, which used brand equity gained from reaching the Rising Stars semi-final to enter the China market.
“Through the competition we started to gradually generate exposure and travelled to China to attend tech entrepreneur competitions while calling ourselves one of the Tech Nation Rising Stars,” says Elly Zhang, Director of Partnerships at the company. “People in the Chinese tech industry and the China government recognise that name, which will make it much easier to get into that market.”
Nothing to lose
If you were to add up how much money it would cost to buy the benefits offered by Rising Stars, well, let’s just say that it would take a bite out of any founder’s runway. Handily, as we’re supported by DCMS (Department of Culture, Media and Sport), entering and taking part costs nothing.
“Is it shallow to say that we liked that Rising Stars was free? Tech Nation even paid for our hotel room!” says GoRoadie cofounder Barry White, who pitched his driving instructor recommendations platform at the Rising Stars semi-final at the Barclays Eagle Lab in Manchester. “In all seriousness, bootstrapping a company is hard – funds are limited, and runway is tight. You can be frivolous with your cash and spend thousands of pounds that might not be right for your business.”
So, there you have it – if you’re wondering what your company might gain by applying for Rising Stars, the answer is (at the very least) a free hotel room. At most? Well, we hope the positive vibes from last year’s alumni founders help to give you a glimpse into what it means to be a Tech Nation Rising Star.