Posted: Thu 28th Dec 2023
Back in 2014, Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones realised the idea of a gigantic event for start-ups. The StartUp Show aimed to serve the thousands of people who aspire to start a business as the year begins, but need fresh advice, support and inspiration to make it happen.
I've taken part in every one of these events over the years. And as we prepare for StartUp Show 2024, I wanted to reflect on 10 years of timeless start-up lessons shared by some of the UK's brightest entrepreneurial minds.
Consumers are looking to buy into a story
StartUp Show begin in 2015 and took over the entire first floor and Embankment level of London's historic Somerset House. Enterprise Nation transformed the building into a living and breathing entrepreneurial incubator and pitch platform.
As the event was hugely oversubscribed, we had a very long line of budding entrepreneurs snaking across the Somerset House courtyard. Although it was a challenge to navigate at the time, it told us that we needed to host this event for years to come.
The 2015 StartUp Show attracted a range of brilliant innovators, including Michelin chef Syke Gyngell, MOO founder Richard Moross and a number of stars from the BBC's The Apprentice. One of those was Melody Hossaini, who said:
"Social enterprise will no longer be on the sidelines but at the heart of small business. Consumers are looking to buy into a narrative, a cause and a mission."
Melody's comment still stands to this day, with more people than ever starting a mission-led business. StartUp Show 2024 will have a dedicated 'Business with Purpose' stage, featuring Rimi Thapar, co-founder and CEO of LoveRaw; and Anna Brightman, co-founder of UpCircle.
First impressions count
Quickly realising that we needed a bigger venue to fulfil demand, we moved the 2016 event across London to KPMG in Canary Wharf. Shortly after 9am on the day, the corridors and rooms were filled with enthusiastic people brimming with great ideas.
The MOO team joined us for a second year and delivered a popular talk on the fundamentals of branding:
"When executed well, a strong brand identity can transform strangers into customers and customers into loyal supporters of your company – the kind who make repeat purchases and champion your business to their own network.
"Beautiful branding can be a powerful tool for small businesses to attract new customers, build trust, and increase brand loyalty."
At StartUp Show 2024, the exceptional branding team that accelerated Monzo's growth will be sharing their top tips on 'How to build a brand customers love' in the 'Show Me The Money' zone. Not to be missed!
Retail is more than selling products
For the third StartUp Show in 2017, we remained at KPMG and attracted even bigger entrepreneurial minds, including Pip Jamieson, founder of The Dots; Rob Wilson, founder of ToastAle; and Rikke Rosenlund, founder of BorrowmyDoggy.
James Gold, co-founder of smartphone accessories brand Skinnydip London, was also on the line-up and shared many valuable start-up lessons:
"I believe retail today is more about selling just products. We try and offer a Skinnydip experience in our stores, whether that's having in-store DJs, photo booth machines, braid and nail bars, or food and drink.
"This is to make sure the customer has a great time when they visit a Skinnydip shop, whether or not they bought something. And most importantly, they'll visit us again. That positive feeling leads to brand loyalty, which is something we're passionate about."
At StartUp Show 2024, the Keynote Stage will host a talk on 'How to open a pop-up or full-on shop'. Connie Nam, founder of Astrid & Miyu, will tell us her secrets to getting stocked in top retail stores such as Selfridges.
Place community at the heart of your business
Our event in 2018 emphasised the need to support the next generation of entrepreneurs, and took place at Queen Mary University in Mile End.
Inspiring keynote speakers included three co-founder brothers Keval, Kunal and Savan from Mo Bro's; The Office Group's co-founder Olly Olsen; and The Gym Group founder John Treharne.
Olly Olsen spoke on the power of community:
"What we did was look at an existing business model and considered how we would do it differently and better. There was less risk because we knew there was an audience, but others were executing on the solution poorly.
"So, don't put pressure on yourself to come up with something entirely new. Just do it differently and better. We recognised the importance of community and honed in on that as a point of difference."
Prove your concept and get traction before talking to investors
In 2019, we brought the event back to Central London at a new home of King's College London.
Keynote speakers included:
Steve Moore, founder and CEO of darts social bar chain Flightclub
Lee Wilcox, founder of the largest niche online community On the Tools
Elizabeth McKenna, semi-finalist of The Apprentice and owner of Flowers by Susan and Lizzie's Bundles
Tugce Bulut, founder and CEO of Streetbees, was ahead of her time in using AI to disrupt the $45 billion market research industry. She recommends start-ups try to prove their concept and get traction before talking to investors, as the conversation changes dramatically when you're generating revenue:
"You need to have paying clients before talking to investors. We brought Innocent Smoothies on board and were profitable by month three. We knew that as we grew the smoke and mirrors technology we built wasn't going to take us too far. We needed to build tech and use AI, so we went to market for investment.
"Once we proved the model, we went to top-tier investors. We told them the plan for the next five years and six months. Risk never appeared in my mind. The world needs this, and we are giving the world what they need."
Focus on building a growth mindset
In 2020, just a few weeks before COVID-19 hit, thousands of blissfully unaware attendees gathered to learn how to become their own boss.
Matt Lumb, former CEO of Tangle Teezer; Rafe Offer, founder of the global phenomenon that is Sofar Sound; and Olivia Wollenberg, founder of Livia's Kitchen graced our Keynote Stage.
Simon Alexander Ong delivered a popular talk and shared three qualities you need to embrace to become a successful entrepreneur:
Responsibility: Accept full responsibility for where you are and where you're going to move from a victim position (i.e. a lack of resources) to an empowered position (i.e. resource fullness).
Commitment: Ask yourself whether you're really interested in launching your idea. If you're only merely interested, you're not fully invested, and you'll be easily distracted.
Acceptance: Don't be attached to any outcome and be open to everything. Focus on what you can control and be adaptable as business conditions change. Always be an eternal student and have a thirst to learn.
Customer feedback is essential to success
The pandemic forced us to run the 2021 StartUp Show online. But we could see there was more demand than ever, as lockdown and economic conditions spurred people's appetite for entrepreneurship.
The event attracted a host of successful business leaders, including the founders of Huel, Grenade, OLIO and Muddy Trowel.
Jacob and Anthony of Stasher had a 'lightbulb moment' for their business after graduating from university. They shared the importance of having an open dialogue with your customers, and offered business founders the following pieces of advice:
"Regularly ask your audience questions, such as 'Why did you need us?' and 'How did you find us?'. Feedback from customers should dictate your product's direction."
For another year, we ran the StartUp Show online as the continuing pandemic meant restrictions were still in place. Simon Squibb, founder of The Purposeful Project, inspired us to take more risk!
"The more risk you take, the luckier you get. Risk is linked to fear and in modern society, we often misunderstand fear. We believe fear is something to be scared of and avoid. Fear is an asset and a superpower given to us!"
People are the most important point of difference
StartUp Show returned to King's College London in 2023 – its first in-person iteration since 2020. It was a welcome opportunity for current and prospective small business owners to connect face to face with inspirational speakers and network with like-minded entrepreneurs.
Watch this video capturing the highlights from the event:
One of the most hotly-anticipated speakers was Timothy Armoo, who built and sold his first business at 17. Four years after this success, he founded marketing company Fanbytes, building a team of 70 people before selling the business in a multi-million-pound sale.
At the event, Timothy shared:
"Networking with like-minded people, and bringing them into your orbit and your community, is probably one of the most important things you can do as an aspiring entrepreneur.
"What an event like StartUp Show really excels at is giving you the inspiration to get cracking. But also you're going to hear very practical things about how people started. Couple this with the fact you'll be surrounded by a network of people who are also ambitious and smart, and you're onto a winner."
The StartUp Show takes place in London on Saturday 27 January 2024. Buy your tickets today and hear from over 100 expert speakers.