How City helped kickstart a student success story
After his mobile phone ran out of battery again one afternoon in early 2013, City University London postgraduate student Frank Milani was inspired to come up with a solution to this very common problem.
Just a year later, Frank and his business partner Matt Sandrini (pictured), are about to launch Popcord - their portable smartphone charger. A Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for its manufacture attracted £47,000 worth of pledges - more than double their original £20,000 target.
Frank was studying for a Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership (MICL) at City when he and Matt decided to seriously pursue their idea. He says the course had a substantial influence:
"Being part of the MICL whilst developing Popcord has helped me in many ways. I am surrounded by inspiring people on a daily basis and this has been crucial in helping me maintain focus and motivation throughout the development stages. In addition, the wide spectrum of topics covered by the course has given me the expertise to tackle unexpected challenges like writing the screenplay for the Kickstarter video."
The pair also tapped in to the wide range of support City University London offers to entrepreneurs. Recognising the need to protect their product in the very early stages, Frank and Matt approached Start-Ed, The City Law School's business and legal advice clinic.
"We first attended Start-Ed in December 2013 looking for confirmation that we were taking all the necessary steps to protect our Intellectual Property and obtain legal cover in a global market. At a later stage, when we were setting up our pre-order website, we got comprehensive advice from the solicitors at Start-Ed. They helped us put in place the right legal structure and understand the terms and conditions required for international pre-orders. They really set us in the right direction".
Founded by Reader in Law, David Collins (pictured, right) and City alumnus Eric Klotz, Start-Ed has assisted more than 700 start-ups and small businesses since it was established in 2011. It is staffed by students from The City Law School who are supervised by local professionals including barristers, solicitors and accountants. David Collins says a lack of access to simple legal advice is one of the major barriers to success in the start-up sector:
"Legal advice, even in the most basic form, is essential for anyone thinking of starting a business or who is in the early stages of running one. But unfortunately legal advice can be prohibitively expensive for small companies. I was delighted to discover that one of Start-Ed's clients last year was Popcord, a highly successful start-up that promises to be an exciting and profitable venture. I am very pleased that we were able to provide them with that initial legal assistance and point them in the right direction."
Frank has taken full advantage of the services the University offers to support entrepreneurialism. In addition to the support from course leaders and classmates there has been input from the CityStarters team (City's student enterprise team) and The Hangout (City's entrepreneurship centre) which Frank describes as 'invaluable' in the development of both Popcord and the KickStarter campaign.
CityStarters and Student Enterprise Manager Ben Mumby-Croft says:
"Popcord is a great example of how student entrepreneurs can take advantage of new forms of finance to launch innovative new products and ventures. I'm a great believer in this approach and think it provides two key benefits for would be start-up founders over traditional options such as trying to secure a bank loan or win prize money via enterprise competitions. Firstly, it forces entrepreneurs to really think about how they communicate and sell their idea and secondly it is a great way to test and validate real market demand for new products and services."
Most recently, Popcord was one of the winners of the CitySpark competition. This year's final, held at The Hangout, saw 16 student start-ups pitch their business ideas to over 60 judges. The finalists were allocated a stall each within the CitySpark marketplace which the judges browsed while listening to the student entrepreneurs 'pitch' their ideas. Each judge had £1000 worth of City Spark 'dollars' to invest in as many businesses as they chose.
The five ideas with the most CitySpark investment dollars by the end of the evening were crowned the winners, receiving £3000 in prize money and places on the CitySpark Summer Accelerator.
"Being in the CitySpark competition put us in contact with innovative ideas and determined teams. Although the competition was fierce, the open and friendly attitude helped the entrants progress together - we definitely learnt a lot from our peers. This inspiring environment, together with workshops, the great support from our mentor and comments from the judges helped us to further refine our ideas. We are really looking forward to taking part in the CitySpark Summer Accelerator."