Guiding light: The Bright Sparks programme is helping 10 lucky start-ups. Picture credit: Vodafone

Starting out is hard. You have an amazing business idea you just know will work – but how do you build a company around it and scale effectively?

Only a tiny fraction of the thousands of start-ups that are founded each year will make it – the Startup Genome Project found 90% fail. The ones that do make it past year one often have some help along the way.

Which is where opportunities like Vodafone Innovation’s Bright Sparks come in.

A mentoring programme for digital start-ups, Bright Sparks was developed in collaboration with Oxford University Innovation, an organisation set up to help university staff and students apply their expertise and research for wider social and economic benefit.

They selected ten, who have each been assigned a Vodafone mentor to work with, giving advice on things like strategy, marketing and digital.  

The 10 start-ups are:

  • Care Compare: Care and physiotherapy services comparison engine
  • CycleLand: Making bicycles affordable and available
  • Global Jet Watch: Helping children everywhere reach for the stars
  • Greater Change: Helping the homeless with cashless giving
  • Oxtractor: Delivering actionable insights from social data
  • Pidge: The ecosystem platform for amateur sports teams
  • Pinboard: One-to-one student skill sharing
  • SwitchThat: Simple, unified automation for smart properties
  • Total Mama: Maternal health - revolutionising pregnancy by empowering women with information and insight
  • Ufonia: Your talking artificial intelligence (AI) doctor

Burning bright: Mentors and mentees gather at Trinity College Oxford. Picture credit: Vodafone

The mentors and mentees are now two months into the programme.

At a recent gathering at Trinity College, Oxford, the startups mixed with senior leaders from across Vodafone and Oxford University. It allowed them to get a better understanding of the businesses and the challenges they face.

From bike sharing schemes, to using AI to track sentiment across the internet, to installing AI chips into boilers to monitor their effectiveness – the group is diverse.

The event was a chance to find hear from experts in their fields. Picture credit: Vodafone

Progress has already been made - securing much needed funding, re-focusing of strategies and go-to-market plans, and revising the user experience.

Guest speaker, the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, also spoke on the importance of ethics in AI.

Dr Croft, in his role as member of the House of Lords, was a founding member of the all-party parliamentary group on artificial intelligence.

He also sits as on the board of the Centre of Data Ethics and Innovation, tasked with leading the ethical development and regulation of AI across the UK.

“The motto for big tech companies in the past has been move fast and break things,” he said.

“We’re now at a point when we’re discovering that some things are too important to be broken like democracy, equality and social cohesion.”

Old and new: Trinity College recently celebrated its 600th anniversary. Picture credit: Vodafone

“What used to keep me awake at night, and did, was what AI might do in the future. What keeps me awake at night now, and does, is what AI can and is doing in the present and near future unless it is shaped by ethics.” 

Over the next few months check back for updates on the start-ups. We’ll be following their progress, and finding out more about each company. Who will be successful? Watch this space.

 

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