We recognise that businesses who are starting out are on a journey: a journey that grows from an idea, into a product, into a business. Getting started on that journey is the hardest step, and getting the right footing is critical to grow from an idea into a successful business.
Ignite offers real-world support for real-world businesses at the start of their journey. Ignite from NEM Ventures is a virtual incubator that can help businesses get the spark they need to become investment ready.
We interviewed NEM Ventures founder and Ignite mentor - Dave Hodgson, and NEM Software MD and Ignite mentor - Mike Sotirakos about their experiences of startups and successful businesses, and how NEM Ignite can help business startups who dare to think big.
Let’s start with you Mike, tell us a bit about some of the start ups you have founded? What was the journey like and what type of businesses have you set up?
What a journey it has been for me with startups! Like the road to Ithaca: long and eventful, full of ups and downs, success and failures all mixed up. One of the most successful startups I worked on was a Safety Critical Systems engineering company with global blue-chip clientele. We specialised in air traffic control, aircraft safety, complex systems, rail, unmanned vehicles, drones and more. We designed the death out of the system! Other startups included sports coaching for children, to AI for medicine and human productivity.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn
From your perspective Mike, do you feel like you matured as a founder with each subsequent startup ?
Every single startup experience provided a huge learning curve. I think I managed to not repeat the same mistakes and had the joy to learn from new ones. You know what they say: Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.
That’s all so true. Recognition of the mistakes we make help us learn. We often need someone to help us see the benefit of those mistakes and how we can learn from them. When you were starting out, what mistakes can you remember making and what support did you have to help you learn from them?
Oh I made many mistakes! I once worked on a startup that was using AI/ML to help GPs diagnose faster and better. It was a great product, but we were too early in the market and the project failed. Market timing is crucial.
And I’ve seen startups make mistakes as you would expect. One crazy mistake people make is the fear of success. I have seen many startup founders actually self sabotage.
Other mistakes I’ve seen are businesses trying to push a product or service that has no real market fit.
You have to be brutal, brutal! Have I mentioned you have to be brutal! You have to know without doubt what the market needs and start with the client in mind. Tech is brilliant, but it is nothing without usability and clients to love and use it.
I am grateful to have had a wise mentor, who became a lifelong friend, who helped me turn mistakes into a positive learning.
I admire founders that make a difference to the world.
Mike, you’ve gone on to become a founder of some very successful startups. What in your opinion sets a successful founder apart?
Many things can make a founder stand out. Some stand out for all the wrong reasons.
I admire founders that make a difference to the world. The ones that stand out for me are the ones that create wealth - for themselves, their employees, their clients, and their society - not the ones that just make money. There is a big difference being rich and being wealthy.
we have seen lots of strong projects and we have seen a lot of great ideas… some of the better ideas were not yet investable in a traditional sense
And so to you, Dave, can you tell us why you felt inspired to start the Ignite incubator programme? And what sets this incubator apart from the others?
NEM Ventures was created to further the NEM ecosystem by investing in viable companies, with credible teams, good ideas and well thought out plans. Over the past two+ years we have seen lots of strong projects and we have seen a lot of great ideas. We noticed a while ago that some of the better ideas were not yet investable in a traditional sense, but could be with some coaching, introductions to partners and general assistance in the early stages of startup. So we started Ignite primarily to help those ideas come to fruition and to give more assistance to early stage companies with great ideas.
What sets it apart? There are no other incubators that are focussed on projects working with NEM technology to start with, it also offers a strong connection for the successful entrepreneurs into mentors who are not only experienced in investment and running their own startups, but also in commercialising emerging technologies (including blockchain) and have easy lines of communication with teams developing the base platform on other products on top of it.
Thanks Dave. So what do you hope will be achieved with the incubatees?
That they go on to create viable, successful businesses with their great conceptual or early stage ideas and naturally they continue to use NEM NIS1 and Symbol from NEM as part of their technology stack while also staying connected with and enhancing the ecosystem and community in general.
Mike, you’re a mentor on the Ignite programme. We understand you’ll be helping participants qualify their business worth and market opportunity. Can you give us a flavour of your mentoring style? And what is it specifically you like about mentoring?
I was the recipient of great mentorship and coaching. The best athletes in the world, the best players, in fact, anyone that are the best in their game, constantly learn from the experience of others before them and from different perspectives. I was blessed with amazing mentors: from my grandfather - one of the best diplomats of his time who taught me the skills of listening and the thirst for constant learning and curiosity; to my dad who taught me how to pursue horizons that others don’t even dare to go for; to my business mentor, who taught me to believe in me without being arrogant. I love mentoring, as it’s a wealth creating pursuit - a truly joyful way of giving back and breathing life into new ventures and supporting young talent.
And finally, Mike if we can ask you this… If you could go back in time, what would you tell your young first-time founder self?
I’d say start now, start small, think big! Choose the right people to help you on your journey. Be open and coachable. And perhaps most importantly, trust your gut.
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