Inside Google's hub for UK startups

Ibrahim Maiga visits an east London entrepreneurship centre supported by the technology giant and finds out what it's like to work in a new business

Campus is located at the centre of east London's Silicon Roundabout zone, one of Europe's biggest clusters of technology-orientated entrepreneurial ventures. The building Campus is located in was donated and furnished by Google, and Campus opened for business last year.

Google's intention was to create an epicentre for startups in London. Five of Campus's seven floors host an organisation that helps bring startups together plus workspace for entrepreneurs, and there's also a café and an event area, both open to the Old Street community.

So how are things going now, and could you get involved? Ibrahim Maiga spoke to two people working for organisations based at Campus to find out.

Carlos Espinal

Partner, Seedcamp

What is Seedcamp and what part do you play in the Campus project?

At Seedcamp, which was started in 2007, we go across the world creating startup ecosystems and as part of that process we meet some really talented people. These people might apply to our programme and, if they're selected, they're part of a group of 20 we select every month who participate in training and mentoring and who may ultimately get investment from us. Seedcamp has space at Campus for the companies we've invested in to work alongside us.

What type of graduates are successful in applying to you for funding?

I think the practical skillset you have is more important than your academic skillset. So sometimes we have people who are not computer majors, but have practical coding or graphical design skills, just from their own interest.

The other thing is being naturally curious, a go-getter and proactive.

I think those attributes correlate more closely to what we're looking for than a beautiful CV. But if you have a beautiful CV and those attributes, even better.

Do you have any students who are studying as well as running a startup?

I think studying and working go hand in hand. I would say you never stop studying. Obviously there are some limitations financially and timewise to the extent to which you can be a student and work in a startup, which usually limits people to internships and limited engagements while they're at university. We've had many interns at Seedcamp and within our companies, and those participating have got so much more out of their education because they see it applied.

How would you advise students to prepare to work in a startup?

When you start thinking of startups as a career path, don't limit yourself to just the functional skill set that your major tells you that you have. If you're an English major, your course might involve creative writing, but you should also take a quick look at how to build a website, or marketing strategies. In a startup you have to take on many roles, so you can't afford to pigeonhole yourself into just one.

Are there any skills you suggest students focus on?

People should be able to build a basic HTML/CSS website and write blog posts that make sense, are grammatically accurate, and have passion behind them. You should also be able to understand the basics of tools like Google Analytics and other tracking tools.

What makes a good entrepreneur?

The teams that stand out in our programme are those that are resourceful and intelligent, and resourceful in how they apply their intelligence. Often they spot something before others do - for example, shifts and trends in the marketplace.

Tina Phillips

Partnerships, Memberships & Projects, TechHub

What is Tech Hub?

TechHub is a community and workspace for technology startups and entrepreneurs. We specifically focus on helping product-focused technology startups.

How would you describe how Campus works and how TechHub fits in?

Campus is a place where startups come together, by participating in programmes here, by taking on TechHub membership, or simply by using the café and meeting like-minded people there. Google isn't based at Campus, but works with its partners here such as TechHub to ensure the startups get the support they need.

What's it like working for a startup?

Startup life is great - very exciting and very varied, but also very busy. When working for a startup, everyone has to muck in, and the structures are much looser than when working for a big corporation. It's good fun, and, normally, the atmosphere is relaxed. But there's no "clocking off" and everyone needs to manage their own time well. It's exciting to be working around so many other exciting startups, helping them on their way. Their success is our success too.

What skills do you need to work successfully in the startup environment?

You have to be entrepreneurial, hardworking, resourceful, and creative. There's so much to learn, and things are changing all the time, so you have to stay ahead.

What do technology entrepreneurs need in their workspaces to boost their chances of success?

Superfast Wi-Fi, good coffee, and a support network of like-minded people. The ecosystem we created at TechHub enables everyone to share, bounce ideas off each other, learn from each other, and help one another. It's a very healthy way to work.

Who are you attracting? What do their ages and professional backgrounds tend to be?

About half our members are under 30, but we also have many members who are aged between 30 and 60, all of them with previous careers they abandoned to give their own startup a go. They come from very varied backgrounds.

Do you have any members who aren't technology experts, or are they all deeply into IT?

We have both - while developers may be what most people think of when technology startups are mentioned, many of our members are product people, ideas people and business people. You need a good mix if you want things to happen.

What advice do you have for current students considering the startup route as a career?

Go for it - it's the only way to be in full control of your destiny. It is hard work, but in this economy entrepreneurship is vital. If your venture fails, you can always get a job. Or better yet, just start over!

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