The University of Bath runs a Business Plan competition each year, which is run by Enterprise Bath in conjunction with Deloitte. This really is a brilliant initiative where we write up our ideas with the help of mentors and pitch our ideas to a select panel. The prize for winning is a trip to New York and Boston, where the winner has the opportunity to meet UoB Alumni to get their advice on their business plan. This year, I was the lucky one and set off to the United States full of enthusiasm, alongside University Enterprise Education Manager, Siobain, Richard from Rocketmakers and Molly from the Department of Development & Alumni Relations.
My business idea is a rewards card for the restaurant industry. I will be kicking it off alongside my studies at Bath and am planning to work on the venture full-time during my placement period, which begins in February. I am working with Rocketmakers, a local Bath firm, to develop the software needed to launch the mobile application and am hoping to launch in the near future.
Please feel free to get in contact if you would like to find out more about the business. If anyone would consider mentoring me, working with me, sponsoring my placement or investing in the business - please do get in touch. I cannot express enough how passionate I am about this business and making it a success, so any support would be greatly appreciated.
Day 1 – Sunday
My first full day in America began just as it should, with brunch! I’m afraid food may become a common theme during this blog, they just do it so much better out here. As it was the weekend, we had the whole day to explore the historic city and we definitely made the most of it.
First on the list was the MIT museum, which was full of the weird and wacky. There were a whole range of interesting exhibitions, from photographs of East Germany to gestural engineering sculptures. A personal favourite was their exhibition on artificial intelligence and how they make robots appear more human.
An exhibit at the MIT museum
We then headed across the city to the Fanueil Hall market, which begins with the iconic old market but as we walked through to the new market we became overwhelmed by the smell of freshly cooked food (including the largest toffee apples I have ever seen!) and the hustle of the lunchtime rush. You got a real sense of the city, with stalls selling Boston Red Sox toys and toy lobsters. A real find was the replica pub from the TV series ‘Cheers’. I have to confess to having to Google the show afterwards, but it had a great atmosphere and was a perfect photo opportunity.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace
Coincidentally, the market was located on the freedom trail. This self guided tour involved following the red bricks across the city, which took us via their famous landmarks. It was an ideal excuse to wander around the city and soak up the atmosphere. We walked past the harbour, through the Italian district and discovered the iconic statue of Paul Revere.
The Paul Revere statue in Boston
Day 2 – Monday
We began Monday with what I like to consider my first American road trip, though in truth we only travelled an hour north of Boston. We fuelled up at the place which claims that “America runs on Dunkin’” and experienced Munchkins for the first time.
This was all in preparation for our first meeting with Nobel Prize winner and honorary graduate Sir Richard Roberts. I was unsure what to expect from a lab, imaging a very plain office. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Surrounded by acres of beautiful land were two spectacular offices. The first was modern, architecturally brilliant and filled with a gallery’s worth of art. In contrast, the second office was a former monastery which had been beautifully restored. Sir Richard gave me some fantastic advice, with a key takeaways being that it is okay to start small and grow, made me consider some key aspects of the business, to continuously innovate and to make sure that staff feel valued (they operate a profit sharing scheme and he joked that they probably had the best paid dishwashers in the world!).
Harvard Business School
That afternoon we headed over to Harvard Business School to meet another Bath Graduate, Professor Alan MacCormack. Not only were the buildings themselves incredible, but Harvard’s approach to innovation was extremely impressive. They have adopted open plan classrooms with moveable whiteboards to enable group work and had built a creative workspace specifically for start-ups. It has definitely become a dream of mine to study there! Alan provided some extremely useful insight on my idea, including the challenges around double sided markets and the coefficient of viral spread.
Day 3 – Tuesday
Tuesday didn’t start off quite to plan. Our Uber driver got wildly lost and ended up getting pulled over by the police! However, the day took a turn for the better when we met Chris Hall, Bath graduate, serial entrepreneur and programming expert. His latest venture is a 3D photo business which places cameras 360 degrees around people to produce a 3D image, and he kindly let us try it out. In addition to having started up his own business, he is a keen restaurant-goer and these experiences helped us to come up with a fountain of new ideas. These included the use of data, techniques to aid cash flow and the importance of status for rewards cards.
That evening, we visited the famous Legal Sea Foods restaurant and I had my first ever taste of lobster. Following this we headed to an alumni reception and it was a great to hear everyone’s stories about their time at Bath. Coincidentally, some of my friends from first year were on academic exchange in Boston, which was a really pleasant surprise!
Day 4 – Wednesday
Bright and early on Wednesday we began our trip via train to New York. This was a fantastic opportunity to catch up on my blog and also to see the beautiful coastline on our journey down, which included Molly’s hometown.
Being slightly overwhelmed by the sheer size of everything in New York, we inadvisably decided to walk all the way to our hotel from the station. Incredible sights, but carrying an enormous suitcase across town in the midday heat probably wasn’t the best idea! No time to stop though as we were onto our next meeting, with Will Rhind from the World Gold Council. Will is a frequent user of rewards cards and we discuss his thoughts on what made the best rewards card.
That evening, we were in for a real treat as we headed to Citifield for a NY Mets baseball game. It’s not quite cricket, but there was a fantastic atmosphere. Let’s go Mets!
Watching a Mets game!
Day 5 – Thursday
Thursday began with a trip to Hell’s Kitchen, where we met Phil O’Brien who has founded a magazine there called ‘W42ST’. Phil has previously set up businesses in the UK, so it was insightful to hear the differences in operating in the US and the challenges he has faced. Should my idea take off, expanding abroad would definitely be an option, so it was extremely useful to get his thoughts on the American market.
We then headed over to Google to meet Emma Williams. I have heard the tales of incredible offices with free food and I wasn’t disappointed! Emma is a recent graduate and studied the same course as me (Business Administration), so it was really helpful to hear her experiences since leaving University.
After eating more food than was probably advisable, we set off for our final meeting of the day with another Bath graduate, Jo Thorogood. Jo was great fun and talked us through some useful ideation techniques. We then put this into practice by coming up with a host of name ideas for the rewards card. We wrote these ideas out on a flipchart and took it to the alumni reception that evening, where they all voted on which name they preferred.
Day 5 – Friday
Friday was the last day of meetings but we definitely finished on a high! First up was Paul Murphy, CEO of Dots and member of Betaworks. It was extremely useful to meet someone who has successfully launched and advertised a mobile application, as this is a key element of my idea. He was also able to look at the idea from an investor perspective and advised that we perform quick tests to back up some of the assumptions made in my plan. We also discussed how to effectively target our online adverts to increase the return on investment.
For our final meeting we met Anne MacDonald, former CMO of Macy’s and Citigroup. Anne was able to advise me as a highly experienced marketing expert but also as a long-term rewards member. We discussed how to drive action from members, grandfathering as a concept, expiring points after a certain period to remove long-standing liabilities from the balance sheet and potential partnerships with credit cards. It was a pleasure talking to Anne and it was the perfect end to a fantastic week of meetings.
Day 6&7 – The weekend
I managed to stay on in New York for a couple of extra days with a friend who studies at Fordham University. This was a fantastic experience to understand what it was really like to live in New York and also gave me further opportunity to explore the city. After a week of far too much food, I decided to combine sightseeing with some much needed fitness, and went on a jog through New York. I managed to tick most of them off my list: Central Park, Times Square, Ground Zero and The Empire State. By the end of the trip, I had some serious neck pain for staring up at the buildings for so long!
The Freedom Tower, New York
On the final day, I was invited to Fordham’s homecoming. Experiencing what it was like to be a student in America and watching the football (not soccer) match was great fun. I was tempted to miss the flight and buy a flat in New York, but this whole experience has whetted my entrepreneurial appetite that I couldn’t wait to get back and start the business.
This was undoubtedly one of the best weeks of my life. It was an incredible opportunity to meet a number of experienced alumni and my business plan has come on leaps and bounds. It has given me the confidence to push my idea forward and I hope to be launching within a couple of months of my arrival back in the UK.
This trip wouldn’t have been possible without the generous donations from Bath Alumni and I am extremely grateful. Opportunities such as this trip are having a large impact within the University and really help to grow entrepreneurship, I cannot thank you enough.
Thank you to all the alumni who took the time out to meet with me during the week. The idea evolved so much during the week and your advice has helped to dramatically improve the business. Please do keep in touch and thank you again.
I would also like to thank everyone involved in the Bath Business Plan competition. Siobain and Aiste, from Enterprise Bath, did an excellent job organising the events. Thank you also to Deloitte, who kindly invited all applicants to their London office and helped us to develop our presentation skills. This was in addition to judging the competition and hosting the final event. Also thank you to Matt Parfitt who mentored me during the competition, and to all the other mentors who kindly donated their time.
The Alumni Office organises the trip and special thanks must go to Molly for all her hard work. It was probably the best week of my life and wouldn’t have happened without you.
Richard, who works for Rocketmakers in Bath, was a fantastic addition to the trip. He organised two of the meetings and his experience was invaluable in helping to get the most out of the meetings. Thank you for coming on the trip and for all the valuable input you gave.
It was an absolute pleasure spending the week Siobain. She is extremely passionate about driving enterprise at the University and does some fantastic work. Thank you for organising the competition and for your help with the trip.