Edited and prepared by Oscar Michel, Masters in Journalism, DCU
Great Interview with Alex Potter
Your background briefly?
I grew up mostly in Asia, namely Singapore & Malaysia, but had to come back to London for University – as it was one of the best cities in the world to study Cognitive Science! I did this for my BSc – with Masters studies in Cognitive Computing next – before moving into the startup acceleration & investment worlds.
— Alexander Potter (@alexpotterVC) July 26, 2017
Does it seem like a logical background to what you do now? (Including European Philosophical approaches!)
Only in hindsight! Back then, there was purely academic interest in Cognitive Science and AI, and was the standard route expected in terms of career.
Like many people, I would say I fell into the venture scene by accident – working for a business centre during my studies, with the owner coincidentally also running an angel investment network! I ended up managing that for a few years, long before equity crowdfunding came along! Now, it’s funny as AI hype has obviously really taken off – with a lot of talent recruited straight out of university!
Cognitive Science, however, is still under-discovered – it’s not unlike doing a degree in tech startups and venture! It gives you outstanding scientific and technical skills – alongside the ability to draw & work with innovation from a web of different disciplines and fields. From computer science, programming & AI, through neuroscience and psychology, all the way to anthropology and sociology, a perfect fit for starting a tech company or even ending up on the other side of the table!
— Alexander Potter (@alexpotterVC) July 25, 2017
1 min pitch for what you are doing now?
Currently I’m helping The Bakery to scale and start high-growth tech companies using the power of corporate collaboration & open innovation.
We’ll spend a lot of time within a corporate or big brand, find out their biggest, largest problems and then solve them through our network with a series of venture-style ‘bets’ on startups who can apply their tech directly! This de-risks innovation for corporates while gaining the tech companies access to long-term partnership and sustainable revenues.
A lot of the startups come from accelerator & investment networks, often those I contribute to as a mentor and advisor, such as Capital Enterprise, Cyber London (CyLon), Wayra and, of course, [email protected] where I contribute as one of their ‘Elevators’
Why did [email protected] deliberately choose not to pursue a Venture/Fund model?
I believe HRH The Duke of York originally had the idea of setting up a fund-type model, however, what we’ve seen in the ecosystem is that this is predicated upon making many bets and hoping at least one or two will will generate oversized returns.
Often playing with large sums of capital from Pension Funds, Universities and the like, it’s a model that’s ultimately quite comfortable with risk – and the fact that many startups will fold.
It also pre-assumes hyper-explosive growth and valuation increase – through ever-expanding funding rounds. While this can work for the outliers, it’s certainly not the only way to build a company, and it’s clear that HRH Prince Andrew understood this when setting up [email protected]!
What I’ve seen personally at [email protected] – is that it’s often the ask the startups bring to the table that can make the difference, even if it initially seems almost impossible! A classic example is Yoyo Wallet asking for an intro to Caffe Nero – landing this later on (after a grilling from Her Majesty the Queen) thanks to a [email protected] introduction! The immense network of HRH The Duke of York & the Royal Family have, alongside their high-status audience, means that there’s not much that can’t be achieved – sometimes above and beyond what a purely venture model would bring to the table!
How startups/accelerators/VCs are changing over time?
More organisations are realising that you don’t need to adopt a typical accelerator or VC model to help start and scale companies. Indeed, I think the the UK is really pioneering this approach, as although the scene originated in the US, London really progressed the more ‘Niche’ Accelerators, such as CyLon for Cyber Security and Cinnamon Bridge for Food & Drink entrepreneurs. Now we have institutions and communities that aim to empower & scale tech startups – but in much more sustainable ways. We’ve already mentioned [email protected] and The Bakery, but organisations such as The Family coming out of France and into Berlin and London are worth paying close attention to!
What tips would you give to companies / startups looking to be successful and grow?
Three main tips.
Prolong Funding – It’s not always the answer!
We’ve seen too much capital, too early! Startups sometimes make the mistake of chasing this as soon as possible – and it can quite literally often kill a company! There are better ways to grow, for instance:
Grow with Win/Win Partnerships – Apply your solution to a pre-existing problem
You might already be solving a problem a large firm or brand is secretly struggling with – so rather than file them in the ‘potential acquirer’ bracket years down the line, you can involve them early and often – they might just be one of your first clients!
Seek out ‘Gatekeepers’ – instead of just chasing ‘Influencers’:
Try to spend a little more time identifying the ‘gatekeepers’ in a community- the well-connected nodes that exist in your target markets (even though they’re potentially a little under-the-radar!) They’re not quite as visible, but they’ll know the people that matter and will be able to provide a warm intro!
What are you excited about over the next 1 – 3 years?
I’m excited about realising the potential of Cognitive Science and what it can solve by bringing interdisciplinary areas together in tech application. I’m eager to see The Bakery expand worldwide; scaling and starting companies directly around existing challenge areas. There’s amazing potential for the industry in raising the level of diversity, as not only will it tackle the major inequality & power issues we’ve seen recently, but will start to bring the benefits of tech to the rest of the world.
Anything else we should have asked you / you’d like to add?
You haven’t asked me whether or not I think the Singularity will happen! A major focus of my degrees were on the non-computational nature of the human mind, which can be quite a contentious view! I’ve already seen some fantastic startups already, but we’d be extremely keen to connect further with the Irish tech scene!
How can people find out more about what you’re doing?
You can find us at www.thebakery.com where you can sign up to our newsletter to see if you can answer some of our exciting challenges! We’re also supported and part-funded by Capital Enterprise (www.capitalenterprise.org) which is one of the best networks to pay attention to – with regular meetups and events for startups and investors at all stages.