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RSA Fellows joined Dotforge Impact in Sheffield as mentors for pitch days last month; Fellows-turned-Dragons made up social enterprise, technology and business expertise panels, feeding back to teams about their tech-enabled products and presentations. James Garnett FRSA reflects;

The call from the RSA to ask for my involvement in a Pitch and Mentor day at Dotforge Impact in Sheffield was unexpected – but it demonstrated the importance of filling out my RSA profile. My interaction with the RSA up to this point had been an annual dinner at Kelham Island Museum - a fascinating evening with interesting people - and use of the café and quiet rooms in John Adam Street while writing up a Masters dissertation or as a sanctuary between London meetings. Living in Sheffield makes attending sessions in London challenging and although I have watched live streamed events, they are not the same as being “there”.

My previous involvement in pitch and mentor sessions has been with 14 year old students across thirty schools pitching ideas for apps with a strong education theme. I come away from those experiences buoyed by the passion and enthusiasm they have for entrepreneurship and issues affecting them and their ability to present coherently. I hoped to see such passion from the accelerator teams pitching at Dotforge in Sheffield particularly as these were social entrepreneurs looking to make positive change; I was not disappointed.

Once the introductions were complete, and my apprehension enhanced knowing that my fellow mentors were experienced in the field of entrepreneurship (and I was not – invited to mentor wearing my Technology expertise hat), the pitches began. As if to settle my nerves, the first pitch was from onShowcase, an educational startup looking to improve communication with parents and reduce the time it takes teachers to share updates of the school day with their community and improve engagement. There was good feedback on ensuring that the pitch had a clear focus on the problem it was aiming to solve and its charging structure.

The second of the morning pitches was PiP Payments, whose development appeared to be much more mature from a team of experienced entrepreneurs. A very clear financial model and social impact on those disenfranchised by online purchasing; those who do not have bank accounts – whether in Europe or the emerging economies of Africa or Indian subcontinent. A really elegant solution with huge potential providing mobile phone operators do not push into this space, as they are doing with RFID and small payments.

The final session before lunch was Learner Lane and the provision of 1to1 tutoring by matching learners to tutors. The model for generating income from paying parents to support the social element was unclear and the confusion generated would have been overcome with an additional slide – but this is what the session was about, improving their pitches; missing the year 5 and year 6 market for transitioning to independent senior or grammar schools was also raised.

Lunch was provided by one of the Impact Accelerator’s teams, who would be pitching after we had eaten, giving the mentors a nutritionally balanced meal to discuss and compare notes on the first three pitches. Deliverd, the producers of lunch, provided a clear pitch to some satisfied customers, and received lots of feedback on ensuring there was consistency in the food, its provenance and possible places it would be successful to fulfil the social element.

Stroke Care are bringing their already established platform for supporting families and individuals suffering from strokes from Spain to the UK. Although nervous and not speaking in their first language the presentation was delivered well. Issues around different models of healthcare in the UK and Spain were highlighted and challenges around technology and the NHS were raised, received positively with the awareness continued research into UK healthcare need be sought.

After a brief break for comparing and feeding back notes, the final teams pitched. Chummunity provoked real interest as a way of collecting life stories for sharing with families and friends. Ownership of the finished article and wanting to see a finished book were key points raised here. Again a really good pitch not in their first language. CoverVideo looked at revolutionising the recruitment process with short video CVs; I felt they may struggle against equal opportunity bias, although aiming to help people who find applications and CVs challenging is important! The final pitch from Polen was perhaps one which I had difficulty with; it looked to drive advertising and click through revenue to charitable causes but as someone who is already time poor the thought of more adverts did not appeal.

At the end of a days’ pitches I hope that the novice and more experienced teams pitching took away some useful lessons from what went well and what could have gone better from their first time pitching as part of the accelerator.

We, the mentors, spent some time after the last pitch giving detailed feedback to the Dotforge team, with the opportunity to speak to the teams prior to departing also useful in making links and answering questions they may have had.

I enjoyed supporting the teams and would encourage others to get involved with the Dotforge Impact Accelerator, as well as sharing skills to help Fellows’ projects.

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