The Sheffield Startup Summer case study

In 2018, students at the University of Sheffield (UoS) were already engaging in several innovation focused extra curricular activities, including:

  • Hackcessible – an accessibility challenge hackathon.

  • SELA – the Sheffield Engineering Leadership Academy.

  • Startup Weekend Sheffield – Techstars.

  • HackSheffield – which is run by students.

All these activities run during the academic year, when academic studies are often the priority. The Sheffield Startup Summer was therefore proposed, targeting individuals and teams from the above events, as well as other interested students.

A summer event was seen as allowing students to focus on practising, and reflecting on, Lean Startup processes over three weeks duration, ie longer than a Startup Weekend. The event was scheduled for June; the first week of the summer holidays. Three MSc students also chose a 'Create your own Software Startup' dissertation and were also enrolled.

Eventbrite was used for signup to make it available to other students, ie outside of the Department of Computer Science and outside of UoS.


The event was hosted by Barclays Eagle Labs and Kollider, on the third floor with professional space reserved for the duration. One of the main benefits identified by students was working within a professional space and being able to meet with and work alongside industry professionals.

Week one – discovery and exploration

The week kicked off on 10 June with a workshop on 'Finding your Startup Why', which explored the attendees personal reasons for wishing to create a startup; feedback from students was very positive. Several activities (on user experience mapping, questionnaire evaluation, interview techniques and personas) focused on a 'throwaway challenge' as practise for the earlier stages of Lean Startup, including identifying a unique proposal and hypothesis testing using MVPs (minimum viable product).

At the end of the week, the teams presented their proposal and made the decision whether to continue with the challenge or pivot on a different startup idea. Most of the students chose to pivot to an idea they had before the week; feedback was positive about having a throwaway challenge to learn on with one comment being 'that was actually really helpful to get our bearings on how we wanted to do things'. A free pizza networking event followed with students mingling with professionals and entrepreneurs.

Week two – digital design and startup testing

After a well-deserved weekend, the focus shifted towards digital MVPs, design and technology use, with workshops being given by IBM, including free hosting and support and training in IBM Cloud and Watson Artificial Intelligence services. These workshops were also attended by professional developers from the region.

Students commented very positively on the opportunity to work alongside/network with industry professionals. One observed benefit was that all the training attendees became students, which is rarely the case in which industry and students meet.

The teams specialised more during this week – some were working on building physical representations of their portable 'smart healthy home' environment and needed to spend some time in the iFoundry maker lab. Others were assembling motors and control devices for assistive living in the Kollider space.

Several talks were given including established Startups such as the Floow, a very new, three week old, startup 'bobforit' founded by two experienced professionals and an experienced startup founder of a failed startup; student feedback included '... talks... were the most useful part'.

Local SMEs also visited to mentor students and give feedback in areas including software development, entrepreneurial, banking and legal aspects.

Week three – final prototype

This week was deliberately more student driven and some students gave feedback that three weeks felt too long and that more structure would be better. In the next Startup Summer, the timetable will be compressed to allow for this and two weeks will be used instead.

One of the arranged events was a visit to a local EdTech provider 'Twinkl', which students were very positive about. The teams also worked on their final prototype with presentations given at the end of the week, with questions and feedback from an expert panel including SMEs and investors. The demonstrations included a working prototype (from a Hackcessible project) that allows a person's arm to be raised/lowered.

Eagle Labs and Kollider staff were very positive about the students being present and said that they missed them when they left.

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