This past weekend I had the privilege of being a mentor for some budding entrepreneurs at a “3 Day Startup” event in Edinburgh organised by Launch.ED and supported by the Scottish Institute for Enterprise and the Open Innovation Project.

The 3DS has its origins in Austin, Texas and provides a methodology and a program that is being implemented in various different countries.  This was the first time the program has been run in the UK.  The basic structure of the program is to get everybody together, and on the first day do some brainstorming and deliver some initial pitches of concepts that can be worked on during the weekend.  A vote is held and the most popular pitches are chosen.  Then, the participants group themselves into teams and work together over the remaining time to deliver a final pitch and a working prototype for each of the selected ideas.  The program also includes getting thrown out of the building and interviewing the public to get some market validation of the ideas.

A very wide range of ideas were pitched, and the projects selected for completion included a new app to eliminate queues at coffee shops, a 3D-printed insole for ski boots, an app for teaching anatomy to medical students, a data analysis tool for academic researchers, a new cream for improving the appearance of stretch marks, and a letting service for students who want to find spare rooms in a family environment.

The energy and enthusiasm of the students was remarkable.  In the group that I spent most time with, it turned out that there were a lot of existing solutions in the general space of the idea.  But it soon became clear that there was an opportunity for a particular niche market to provide features that were not currently available.  The group then split themselves up into different sub-groups based on their different skills, and also recruited someone from another group who could help with some initial coding.  It was also realised that a full prototype could not be made by the end of the weekend, but they were able to put together some cardboard mock ups and to produce some initial CAD drawings and animations.

It was a really fun experience and I am sure that the students learnt a lot, not just from the mentors’ experience but from the group discussions and from actually putting their ideas into practice.  The practical nature of the course is its greatest strength, focussing on getting products validated and made rather than preparations of dry business plans.

Indeed, it is expected that some real companies will go on to be formed as a result of this weekend’s work.  But what is certain is that the participants have developed their skills and have gained some important encouragement and support for making their entrepreneurial dreams a reality!