Networking events: more than just free beer

Whether you like it or not, there's a general perception that London is the epicentre for most industries here in the UK. Despite eye-watering rents, a rude unwelcoming populous, and nightmare rush-hours, people still flock to the place like its some sort of pilgrimage. 

Okay fine...I'm a massive hypocrite. I'm writing this entry on a train bound for London and I have lived in the capital for 6 formative years of my live. There is no doubt that it is an exciting city. Plenty to do, plenty to see, plenty of interesting people to meet. But for many, it holds sacred status. They couldn't imagine living anywhere else. And to be honest thats a disservice to the other great cities of our nation. 

Like Leeds. 

Regular readers will know that Leeds is where we plan to test and launch STAMP. For this reason i've recently been spending more time attending tech and business events in the city. There's plenty going on. Like a lot. Tech, startups and entrepreneurialism is flourishing here and there's a tonne of passionate people cultivating this community. 

Last week I mentioned Entrepreneurial Spark - a startup accelerator with 'Hatcheries' in a bunch of cities including Leeds. Keen to expand on my experiences attending some events there, this week I headed over to Futurelabs for a networking event organised by Leeds Digital Drinks. Futurelabs is a co-working space/accelerator housed in a building destined for demolition. (They have plans and funding for a new-build home in the future). Founded by entrepreneur Steve Wainwright, its home to a bunch of businesses and startups who bring a collaborative, creative vibe to the place. 

As with most networking events, my evening starts by heading straight to the drinks table, surveying the room, and sidling up to the nearest group of people - hoping someone extends a welcoming hand. (They did). 

I was in beta-recruitment mode. With the STAMP website open on my phone, I was reeling off the now engrained spiel I have for STAMP, then (un)subtly inviting people to sign up to our beta on my mobile. People liked the concept - more or less. One guy asked if I had heard of Foursquare...(errm, yes). 

Fortuitously, I met the committee of the Leeds University Enterprise Society (EnterSoc), who I had emailed a couple of days previously regarding beta tester recruitment. The society was well represented with basically the whole committee in attendance. We had previously run a focus group with the society in the previous academic year (about 4 people attended). This new cohort was taking the society a little more seriously with big plans for workshops, startup consulting and into-school programmes. I got two of them to sign up to the beta.  

After some short talks from Futurelab residents, people returned to the drinks table and continued to polish off the last of the drinks. Free drinks I might add. Kindly provided by Futurelabs founder Steve. I had the pleasure of meeting Steve. I felt a bit awkward when I asked who he was and he politely introduced himself as the founder of the place. (I thanked him for the stella I was holding at the time). 

Steve doesn't see why London is the de-facto home of startups and tech. He told me about the time he went down to the Shoreditch office for a company he had previously been involved with. Apparently it was a shithole. He ended up shutting it down. Good on ya Steve. In his mind, Leeds is a great place to start a business. Two hours on the train from the capital and with an arguably better standard of living, why would you want to be anywhere else? 

As the last dregs of alcohol were consumed (notably by the students in attendance), the remaining attendees headed off to the next drinking hole. I didn't because i'm boring and had to catch the last train home. As I sat on the platform, eating my discounted M&S sandwich I reflected on the people I had met during the evening. Its hard to know whether people like the sound of your business or idea, particularly when you have little to show them. But the feedback I had received that evening was for the most part - positive. 

I wondered whether it would be the last time I attend a networking with only my rehearsed spiel to sell the concept of STAMP. The next time, I may very well have a live demo to share...

til next time, 



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