A view of the crowd in the auditorium at TEDxBristol 2019

How to start a startup with Bristol’s most inspiring people

After being asked to host an interactive experience at Europe’s largest TEDx event — TEDxBristol — we realised that we needed to do something special. Inspired by the big thinkers that give the TED talks, we came up with the crazy idea to start a startup during the event. It began as a bit of a joke, but we quickly realised it was actually the perfect challenge for us.

We spend our day-jobs helping people invent new products, services and tools. We believe that you can’t do anything great without trying something new. Doing something new is exciting, but it also involves risk. We wanted to show that we can walk the walk and take risks on the day. 

We wanted to show that we can invent something new, under pressure and without knowing exactly what the outcome was going to be. Alongside the people of TEDxBristol, we were going to start a startup in a day. 

The event

We arrived at TEDxBristol 2019 ready to tackle the challenge. Excited for a day of inspiring talks and interesting people, we set up our stand alongside the many other businesses in the experience room and waited for the doors to open.

1. The problems (Reflect)

The first step of any new business (or startup) is to solve a problem — and that’s how we started the day.  All we needed was a problem to solve. The theme of TEDxBristol 2019 was Reflect, Rethink, Reboot, so we divided the day into three sections. So, to find a problem, we asked the people of TEDxBristol to Reflect on their lives — to find problems they wanted to see solved. And we had a few rules to make things run smoothly…


The rules for finding a problem

  1. Reflect on your own life and personal experience.
  2. Be specific. (e.g. don’t say “climate change” instead say “reduce Co2 emissions from cars in the UK”).
  3. There are no bad ideas, no problem too small.

And so, with these rules in mind, we asked people to put their ideas onto Post-it notes on our Reflect Board.

Some examples of the problems people suggested were (large and small):

  • How can we help give money to homeless people in a cashless society?
  • We don’t own our data through social media. How can we gain the rights to own this data?
  • How can we help isolated elderly people stay connected with society?
  • Late buses! Buses never show up on time and then turn up full 🙁
  • How can 60+-year-olds become more social media savvy quickly?
  • I have loads of loyalty cards for shops but can never find them it’s a hassle. Some have apps, some don’t.
  • Pollution in Bristol is high and bad for our health.
  • How can we create space in our lives for what really matters?
  • Cat-calling in the bristol area has to stop.
  • How do we use technology to bring the high street back to life?
  • Encourage companies to compost more! Bristol Waste company accepts commercial waste.
  • How can we educate people about what their pensions are actually invested in? Most people wouldn’t actively choose to invest in deforestation but their pensions actively do.
  • Fresh juice in the morning! It’s a long boring process.
  • Education inequality due to a lack of afterschool education or tutoring for low-income kids.
  • How to get the whole world to go vegan?
  • Air travel is too cheap, resulting in far too many flights and a massive increase in carbon in the atmosphere.
  • How do you create environments where sharing is better than not?
  • How can the younger generation earn enough to live the life they want, and thrive into retirement?
  • How to tell friends in student houses to clean up their mess and make sure they do it?
  • How not to lose my reusable water bottle and not get a soggy hip/bag at the same time?

2. The solutions (Rethink)

The second stage was to start solving these problems. Everyone seemed excited by the ideas on the board and started suggesting solutions almost immediately. The problem solvers stood out from the crowd and helped us think differently and re-think the problems to help generate unique solutions. 


Solving problems

  • Homelessness
    • Problem: How can we help give money to homeless people in a cashless society?
    • Solution: provide low-cost card machines or contactless points for homeless people. They could collect their money from a central charity or social enterprise that would provide resources to them in exchange for the money.
  • Pollution in Bristol
    • Problem: Pollution in bristol is high and bad for our health
    • Solution: A mobile app with a range of features helping commuters, cyclists, families and more to track their pollution and make smarter decisions about their journeys and locations. This could be linked with an existing pollution tracker or we create a new one to help people understand the pollution around them. This data could also be fed into councils and organisations influencing policy decisions and the app could be used to bring communities together to make larger pollution decision about their community.  
  • Low-income tutoring
    • Problem: Education inequality due to a lack of afterschool education or tutoring for low-income kids.
    • Solution: A service that links up volunteers with expertise and young people looking for tutoring. People could post up the expertise they have, or students could post up topics they were looking to learn. 
  • Stop catcalling
    • Problem: Catcalling in the Bristol area has to stop. 
    • Solution: A charity dedicated to creating marketing campaigns and learning resources to educate young men. This would be aimed at schools and provide teaching materials for those looking to run workshops or educate young people in schools.
  • Social media savvy people
    • Problem: How can 60+-year-olds become more social media savvy quickly?
    • Solution: a company that links young people, looking to volunteer or interested in a career in social media marketing or social care, and older people looking for help with social media. Older people could also volunteer their expertise or tutoring in other areas to help the young people.

Interlude: “I see more problems” 

Interestingly, we had some people who had reservations about the idea of coming up with solutions to these problems. One person said “you see solutions, I just see more problems”. This is a valid point. When you create new ideas, new problems arise. The trick is understanding how to deal with this and there’s not just one answer.

For starters, uncovering new problems is an inevitability. It’s actually an essential part of the process. As you move through a problem, you will find more and more challenges. If you assume this is an issue, you won’t get off the line. The key is simply to start. Your goal is to rapidly create and prototype ideas, and by doing this, you uncover the real complexities of the project and its potential solutions.

Uncovering new challenges takes you closer to creating a solution that actually works. It can be seen as a positive thing. It is an indicator that you are starting to deeply understand the problem. Once you have understood it deeply enough, you can create a solution that tackles the real heart of the issue.

It is also a crucial mindset to be positive in the face of new adversities. Negative thinking too early on can kill a project. We are not suggesting ignorance or blindly assuming everything will be okay, but problem solvers should approach a project with curiosity and confidence. To some degree, you need a quiet confidence in the fact that if you are creative and flexible enough, any challenge can be solved. 

The reality is, most solutions aren’t a silver bullet. They are often an aggregation of lots of small problems being solved. In the end, a groundbreaking innovation may look like one solution, but was actually a process of uncovering and solving hundreds of small problems. 

Finally, a major key to success is expertise. You need the right people in the room and you want that to be a diverse team of creative problem solvers. As more problems are uncovered, you need to apply creative thinking, engineering, problem solving, technical knowhow, industry specific knowledge, primary and secondary research, human-centred design and more. The goal is to craft the team that gives you the best chance of success and solve all the problems you will find along the way. 

3. The wireframes (Reboot)

The first step of any real solution is the wireframe. You transition from talking about a problem, to really creating solutions, features, benefits, user flows, user stories and more. 


With all of our clients (and in the innovation kit), we get clients to move away from long lists of requirements, long documentation and long meetings and instead get visual as soon as possible. The moment the conversation transitions from hypothetical discussions to visually creating actual screens, the real problem solving has begun. 

With this in mind, we chose two ideas to take forward to the wireframe stage. This doesn’t mean that the other ideas weren’t worth following up on, just that we didn’t have time to do all of them!

Startup idea #1: Hyper-local pollution reduction tools

Problem:

Pollution in bristol is high and bad for our health.

Solution: 

A mobile app with a range of features helping commuters, cyclists, families and more to track pollution where they are and make smarter decisions about their journeys and locations. This could be linked with an existing pollution tracking device or we create a new one to help people understand the pollution around them. This data could also be fed into councils and organisations influencing policy decisions and the app could be used to bring communities together to make larger pollution decisions about their community  

Users

Parents, people with health concerns, councils, cyclists, commuters — walkers or drivers, people with concern about home or workplace pollution.

Benefits to users

Improve your commute, plan your journeys to avoid pollution, improve the air quality in your home or workplace, influence councils or policy decisions, improve health, optimise commute, warning of high pollution or notification of low pollution, sign petitions and influence people, we could tie in data for about impact of weather. The app could also benefit councils with hyper-local data.

The details

The solution requires a portable device to monitor air pollution levels that pulls the information into an app. That app aggregates data, provides recommendations and offers big data sets to councils.

The solution could collect data in a number of ways — from open-source data, existing devices or our own device. You can then capture and aggregate hyper-local pollution information and offer user friendly tools and recommendations to users. 

The key is that the tools are useful enough that people collect that data about their local area. This individual information aggregates together to create a large data set that is more useful, predictive and could be analysed by data scientists or AI algorithms.

Features

  • Home and garden — track levels, offer recommendations, offer products, suggest ways to reduce pollution
    • A forum to help link people to help reduce pollution in highly affected areas at a community level. 
  • Bikes — offer route tracking and alternative routes, offer products that can help.
  • Walkers and drivers — suggest routes, offer tips and products for keeping pollution out of cars (masks that might help).
  • Health issues — asthma products. Predictive —  try to predict what is causing attacks.
  • Councils — provide hyper-local anonymised information to councils to improve and influence policy. 
  • Communities
    • Surveys and petitions for communities to influence councils and government into providing more widespread changes.
    • Create collaborative groups to implement local, people-led solutions using plants and other new eco-tech. 
    • Update people with new pollution news and technology.
  • Business model — offer consultancy to individuals, organisations, councils and communities. Provide paid access to experts who can improve local areas, create an API and sell access to the anonymised data. We could franchise out the model to other cities and councils. We could sell useful eco-products that help reduce pollution. People could also pay for the app, pay a subscription or collect donations.

Who do we need help from?

Pollution experts, product makers, people who can make pollution detection devices (or already have one), councils. 

How to differentiate?

We could focus in on cyclists, commuters or families.

Interested in this project?

If you’re interested in this project, get in touch. We’d need a collection of pollution experts, passionate do-ers and investors to make this a reality.  If you’re passionate about this topic and could help fund it, you can get in touch here.

Startup idea #2: Education equality

Problem

Education inequality due to a lack of afterschool education or tutoring for low income kids.

Solution

An afterschool education volunteer platform that links tutors and children. It makes it easy to volunteer, manage your time, find and sign up local volunteer tutors, collects donation, link children with free tutors and provide booking tools. It also allows children to find the tutor they want with location and availability information. 

Users

  1. Parents/carers of children/young people from low-income backgrounds.
  2. The children themselves. 
  3. Adults offering skills/knowledge.

User 1: Parents

  • Details: The parents of the young people will likely be the people who engage with the website. Children are unlikely to seek out afterschool education themselves; The marketing materials should mostly be aimed at the parents to explain the benefits.
  • Benefits: They get their child access to free tutoring.
  • Challenges: they may be time-pressured as low-income families and parents; they may not trust the process and will need to feel their child is safe.

User 2: Young person

  • Details: Some young people will be interested in getting more education for themselves. 
  • Benefits: Free afterschool education; they can choose the tutor themselves; they do better in schools; 1-2-1 teaching; they can ask questions directly and easily.
  • Challenges: Engaging them in afterschool education; getting them to see the benefit of extra school. Making sure that they can find the app when they’re looking for more education. 

User 3: Volunteers

  • Details: Older adults with spare time and the expertise needed to volunteer and tutor young people. They likely are looking for something to do and add more purpose to their lives. 
  • Benefits: Older people with spare time can help their community and most at risk; limited training required as they should already have the expertise to help; a range of tools to help them manage their bookings; extra tools on how to tutor and help share on learning materials.
  • Challenges: Finding the right people for the job; we could also find some way of offering something in return to motivate them into volunteering their time (this could be money from donations; or skill swap). Ensuring the safety of children will be vital. 

Features

  • Home screen: navigates users depending on their group.
  • View tutors: students and parents can view a list of tutors based on their requirements and filter based on location, topic and ratings. They can also view their availability and book in a session with the tutor or contact them through the platform. 
  • Post a request: students can post up requests for topics or lessons they need help with. 
  • Volunteer signup: a signup process/form for volunteers to signup. This would including a vetting process and maybe even qualification vetting. Ensuring the safety of children would be a strong priority and all communication and vetting could be managed through the platform. 
  • Tutor tools: tutors require calendars, booking schedules, pass on learning materials and homework. 
  • Donations: campaign information and donation signup for people to donate money to help more children get better access to volunteer tutoring.

Names

Edunetics, Afterschool Equality, Free learn.

Who do we need help from?

Schools, education experts and consultants, children safety experts, initial volunteers, youth organisations, teachers. 

Interested in this project?

If you’re interested in this project, get in touch. We’d need a collection of education experts, passionate do-ers and investors to make this a reality. If you’re passionate about this topic and could help fund it, get in touch at our contact details here.

All in one day.

And that was it. In one day we went from having no ideas, no solutions and no startups to dozens of ideas and solutions and two projects that have started their journey to becoming a fully fledged startup. Would there be more problems along the way? Yes. Would the business grow into a huge success? We don’t know. But one of the hardest parts of a new business has been done…the journey has started.

What next?

From this point, we would transition into our full UX and UI architecture process. That would mean turning this idea into a real, clickable prototype and then onto development. 

As we said earlier, for this to become a reality we would need some funding but  if we found a team interested enough in taking these projects on and able to help fund the next stages we are willing to offer our own investment into the project as well. We look forward to hearing from you, we look forward to running this event again and we look forward to the next TEDxBristol. 



If you’re interested in working with Newicon on your next digital project, get in touch now.