John Fagan, Founder, Sync the City, Norwich

Please tell us a bit about Sync the City. How long has it been running for and what was the reason for setting it up?

Sync the City is a 54-hour event that brings together entrepreneurs, developers, business managers, marketing gurus, graphic artists, and students. The event starts with a 1 minute pitch-off, where anybody can pitch problems and solutions. The best ideas are taken forward and we form teams around those ideas. Those teams make that idea a reality in 54 hours. It’s based on the StartupWeekend format, which is like an episode of The Apprentice, followed by Dragons Den. We are lucky enough to have £4,000 of cash prizes available.

Its been running for 4 years now. We set it up because we wanted local companies, organisations and universities to come together and build something from nothing, for fun or profit! Put your money where your mouth is, and start shipping!

What happens after the event? Do any of the startups remain intact?

People smile with a warm glow for at least a week after the event! They cannot believe what they achieved. The biggest tangible outcome is people get jobs. What better job interview could you have? I often see the event appearing on graduate CV’s. We have a couple of companies (The SenLab Group & Prison Voicemail) that span out of the event by pivoting their initial idea.

What are the main skills which the event aims to foster?

Confidence and new attitude to embrace failure, with that uncomfortable feeling you get outside your comfort zone. An appreciation and understanding of all aspects of digital startup building (technical and commercial). Ability to work under severe pressure very close to people with different experiences, backgrounds and skill-sets.

Who comes to the event and how do you ensure the teams have people with different skill sets eg. marketing vs technical, and how important is this mix to the success of the idea, build and pitch?

We get 50% students and 50% experienced professionals. We control the ticket sales to ensure we get the right mix of skills so we can get well balanced teams, with 50% on the technical and 50% on the commercial and marketing side. Controlling this is super important to us, so it can reflect reality as much as possible. We are not a hackathon, we want attendees to have more of a life experience.

What are your plans for Sync The City? How do you imagine these changing as the sector develops.

We are focusing on improving the quality of the event to further maximise the learning experience, which in turn helps the broader community when attendees return to their day jobs/classrooms or choose to build their own business.

We also want to attract more people outside our tech community, people with real problems working in local companies from “traditional” sectors like health, education, environment, agriculture and energy.