With its dedicated space for aspiring student and research-based founders – as well as its wealth of online learning materials – Future Worlds has supported over 200 entrepreneurs since its inception in 2015. Groundbreaking new companies have been launched in Southampton, London, and locations as far as Silicon Valley and Tanzania.
Since its founding, University alumni have been heavily involved in Future Worlds. They regularly form the focal point of events, such as 20MINFOUNDER – a monthly talk series where startup founders share their entrepreneurial journey – and Dragons’ Den – a version of the television programme with real-life on-stage investments. This year’s event took place earlier in the month, and saw the largest ever single investment of £120,000 in one of the startups that pitched.
Alumni also offer mentoring to support the startups, as well as generous donations to ensure Future Worlds can continue to grow and improve its offering. Explaining the value of alumni to the startup accelerator, Tom Simmonds, Events and Marketing Officer, says:
“Our highly valuable network of successful founders, investors, and senior executives powers everything Future Worlds does, and it is alumni that lie at the very heart of this network – bringing an outstanding array of knowledge and experience, gained through an amazing range of startup and corporate careers. Recently, for example, the alumni network in Silicon Valley has helped Future Worlds startups to get established in the Bay Area.”
So what’s inspired alumni to contribute to Future Worlds? We spoke to four of them – coincidentally all graduates of Electronic Engineering – about their involvement with the startup accelerator.
Chris Broad (BSc Electronic Engineering, 1984)
Chris was integral to the formation of Future Worlds, collaborating with founder and fellow alumnus Reuben Wilcock (BEng Electronic Engineering, 2001). “Future Worlds emerged from the efforts of Reuben and a strong alumni network in Electronic Engineering. As alumni, we were really happy to support the area of entrepreneurship that is becoming so vital all around the world,” he explains.
With almost 30 years’ experience in sales and marketing at Apple, as well as an MBA from INSEAD – a prestigious international business school – Chris feels more than qualified to offer his expertise; he was one of the four investors at this month’s Dragons’ Den event, and has already invested in – and continued to support – several of Future Worlds’ startups.
Chris is equally inspired by the wider benefits of contributing: “There is of course a wish to give back, but also I was thrilled to see something concrete that would help to set Southampton apart from other universities, and to attract the best students.”
Andrew Doe (BSc Electronic Engineering, 1986)
Andrew is a Future Worlds veteran, with this month’s Dragons’ Den marking his third consecutive year as an investor. He has a great deal of relevant experience, having managed three startups during his career at the forefront of e-commerce and digital technologies.
Andrew’s initial motivation to get involved was to give back to his alma mater, but he was soon astounded by the calibre of the entrepreneurs: “When I discovered the quality of startups that Future Worlds produces, and the amount of talent it manages to convene, I realised there was actually something much bigger and much more transformational going on. It’s a brilliant formula if you think about it: combine the energy, determination, talent and ideas of students and faculty with some real-world experience, contacts and access to funding.”
Shirin Dehghan (MEng Electronic Engineering, 1993)
Shirin founded, expanded and subsequently sold her mobile communications business for $85m; this makes her the perfect candidate to advise entrepreneurs on the many aspects of establishing and growing startups. Having been both a mentor and speaker at Future Worlds events, she finds that giving back to the University and its students is her main motivation.
Shirin believes that alumni can add unique value to Future Worlds’ offering: “The University has an excellent engineering school, and I am sure there are many alumni who can contribute. This could be similar to me, or alternatively, they can help with customer acquisitions, for example.”
James Vernon (MEng Electronic Engineering, 1987)
James is a newcomer to Future Worlds, with his first participation at Dragons’ Den earlier this month. Ahead of the event, he said: “I’m delighted to be part of it as I love dealing with energetic and dynamic people, I love the thrill of investing in small companies, and I love intelligent use of technology.”
After training as an engineer, James built a career in finance in a number of technical and management roles. As a co-founder of an investment business that grew to a substantial one, and a seasoned angel investor, James has know-how and experience to bring to early-stage enterprises, and is hopeful that Dragons’ Den will present some investable opportunities.
James believes that startup accelerators like Future Worlds are incredibly valuable in bridging the gap between academic research and business: “Many young entrepreneurs in university need help to transition into the real world – to understand what’s involved in turning an idea into a product, forming an organisation, raising funding to finance it, and establishing and developing a market.”
Earlier this year, alumnus Ben Clark (MBA Management, 2002) was appointed as the new Director of Future Worlds, following several years of involvement with the startup accelerator. Discussing his vision for its development, he said:
“The number of startups emerging from the University has multiplied, and the scale of their achievements keeps on growing. Right now, they stand shoulder to shoulder in Silicon Valley with the most promising startups from around the world.
“There are so many more success stories to come, which will have a lasting impact on the University, the city and the world, and make Southampton a powerhouse for tech startups. To seize that opportunity, I’m looking to connect with mentors, investors and external partners who want to engage with some of the most talented and ambitious startup founders in the UK to help them achieve their full potential,” says Ben.
You can find out more about Future Worlds and how to get involved here.