Sheffield Startup Summer
– how to create your own

#digital #tech #leanstartup #startup #IoCWritten by Dr Helen Barber, Senior Project Manager for IoC Sheffield
August 2020


The #Sheffieldstartupsummer2020 – a form of tech-for-good for students and graduates, ran for the second year this June–July. Only, this time it was 100% digital.

Sheffield Startup Summer is a Student Enterprise event, open to any student or recent graduate within Sheffield. It is run as part of the Institute of Coding (IoC), within the Department of Computer Science, at the University of Sheffield (UoS).

In its first year in 2019, the Startup Summer was held in a physical location at Barclays Eagle Lab and Kollider, within the incubator space at Castle House, Sheffield. Participants were able to meet, socialise, build rapport, attend talks from industry, workshops, and collaborate and innovate in groups, with expert mentor input along the way.

Lean startup techniques are used to explore and develop ideas, eg problem identification, hypothesis testing, the build-measure-learn cycle, building MVPs, demonstrations and pitches. The 2019 pitches ranged from a powered articulated arm sleeve to a portal for overseas students seeking UK accommodation.

After successful feedback from last year, Andrew Stratton, our organiser and host, knew the need for such an experience would be intensified during lockdown. But, how to provide a successful, free, 100% digital format for interdisciplinary students/graduates?

A flurry of activity ensued. With Andy's contacts, experience and know-how, he pulled together a strong program for Sheffield related participants – located across the globe in various lockdown situations, to register on. Colleagues and contacts were happy to be involved, and their input was greatly appreciated.

What is Tech-for-good?

#techforgood is a movement about intentionally using tech to tackle the world's pressing social and environmental challenges. It can use code, AI, IoT or other forms of tech, to create impactful solutions through specific focus. The largest #techforgood is the 'call for code'. This was created by David Clark Cause, with founding partner IBM, in partnership with the United Nations Human Rights and the Linux Foundation.

Our event kicked off with a focus on IBM's 'Call for Code Challenges' - climate changes and Covid 19.

Why we wanted to do this

Innovation is one of the five types of Student Enterprise engagements that we have previously identified. Specifically, there is increasing interest in digital innovation.

At the University of Sheffield and the IoC, we are committed to knowledge exchange between students and industry, including our local and regional digital networks. The University of Sheffield was founded on civic principles and we signed the civic university agreement, due to continued commitment.

Participants receive exceptional learning, employability skills, and inspiration from accomplished and seasoned industrial experts. In turn, any future entrepreneurial success, eg through later incubation, can benefit the local economy.

Employer recruitment can also be assisted, as participants develop the much needed softer skills, eg collaborative experience and communication. Employers can potentially talent spot too.

Finally, we wish to disseminate what we did for our community of higher education institutes (HEIs) within the IoC consortium, and beyond.

How we did it

  • Advertised program through contacts and social media.

  • 66 interdisciplinary students (mostly engineering and law) registered online via Google Forms – there was a small drop out rate.

  • Used Blackboard collaborate, in parallel with a Slack channel.

  • Participants were split into groups of around six.

  • A 'main room' held seminars and talks from industry and academic staff (20 videoed).

  • Breakout rooms were held for guided group work, workshops and team development. Google Drive was used for developing team ideas and documents.

  • Mentoring from experts from diverse fields.

  • Polls and regular feedback forms were given, and queries were monitored in the Slack channel and 'chat' sections. This enabled responsiveness and solutions.

  • Initial pitch mentoring and short pitches to a panel of experts.

  • Refined videoed pitches after further seminars, group work and mentoring.

  • Post startup, funding of £1,000 per participant was available for pre/incubation of selected ideas by the University of Sheffield Enterprise Hub.

Participants benefited from talks by senior and highly respected industrial partners, eg senior inventor at IBM, director of Sheffield digital, The Floow, Assistive technology, Entrepreneurs in residence.

Participants worked on solutions relating to climate change and Covid-19. Ideas included

  • specific and geographic recycling advice

  • international pandemic information network

  • super smart homes/appliances

What we learned along the way

  • Feedback forms found participants valued mentors 'popping' into their different 'rooms' to offer encouragement, guidance, challenges and ideas.

  • The format was popular with most attendees. A mixed delivery appears popular and will be considered for next year.

  • Making a visible draft plan available as early as feasible and permissions to use video/resources to be sorted beforehand next year.

Invitation to engage

We look forward to running Sheffield Startup Summer again, and a significant portion is likely to remain digital. We'd be delighted for others to join in delivery, or participation.

Aspects of the program will be uploaded to our website for registered users to access – once relevant permissions are gained.

We are proactively seeking funding to further develop student startup, consultancy and incubators.

Special thanks

Special thanks go to Kollider, Barclays Eagle Labs, IBM, Twinkl Hive, and all the valuable mentors and speakers who dedicated their expertise.