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Launchpad Labs mentor Leonardo Zangrando discusses “pretotyping”, and how an incubator can also be a social enterprise

launchpad labsLaunchPad labs is an incubator with a difference. First of all, it’s a registered charity, a not for profit social enterprise. But it also has a lot in common with some of the best incubators; it has great mentors, has attracted some top talent, and it’s pushing the envelope when it comes to developing the techniques and expertise required to produce healthy, happy and successful start-up companies with long term sustainability.

It can be found 5 minutes from Old Street station on Corsham Street, the lower ground floor of an impressive and beautifully kitted out workspace that, less than 12 months ago, was being used as a garage.

David HardmanIt was founded by Eddie Holmes, a serial entrepreneur and mentor for the Prince’s Trust, and David Hardman, an Australian who has spent several years working with NGO’s in South East Asia. The 2 founders are of the same mind when it comes to the way they think about entrepreneurship. Great ideas can come from anywhere, and too often those with the most exciting business credentials lack the resources to fully develop their projects.

Those on benefits, single mothers, mental health sufferers, and other socially disadvantaged people can find it almost impossible to get back on their feet financially, preventing them from realising their business goals and re-establishing themselves as contributors to the economy.

LaunchPad Labs offers scholarships to anyone who meets specific criteria related to social disenfranchisement, allowing them to use the office space for free, and have access to the mentors in residence, to help them get a head-start. A fantastic opportunity and an idea that has already paid dividends, with 5 scholarships having already been offered, and taken up.

After 3 months the scholars meet with the mentors and permanent staff to discuss the project, and together they agree whether to extend their stay at Launchpad Labs. The team are trying to maintain a 70/30 split between paying members and scholars, and so far both groups are enjoying the experience of rubbing shoulders and swapping ideas. All of the profits from paying members are reinvested into the scheme. Long may it continue!

launchpad2So down to the serious business of turning a promising idea into a sustainable business model. Who better to help here than Leonardo Zangrando, a mentor any incubator would be proud to have on their books. An ex-engineer, Leonardo has worked as a business consultant for large corporations in the Pharma industry, and latterly as a startup mentor and coach with the Learning Startup Foundation to support startups in the early stages of development. He’s also a proud Pretotyping Agitator. More of that later.

At LaunchPad Labs Leonardo is working with very early stage ideas, and his initial focus is always to try to establish the right mind-set. Leonardo observed during his time spent working with large corporates that they did not do innovation well. For starters, they didn’t try to innovate often enough, but equally when they did, they tended to make a meal of it.

Above all else, Leonardo believes in market forces. You can develop a wonderful product, but if the market does not want that product at that time, it is worse than useless. So the key is to research demand for your product as diligently as you can. Don’t build it first and then wait and see what happens, only build it if there is demonstrable evidence that there is demand for it.

Hence Pretotyping; the concept was originally developed by Alberto Savoia, ex-technical director of Adwords at Google. Savoia describes it thus: “Pretotyping helps you test your ideas quickly, inexpensively and objectively before you invest major time and money and bring them to market.”

To give an example, if you have a new product, try building the landing page first before you develop the product. Leave a message on the page, “product not available yet, register your interest here”. Then if you receive enough expressions of interest, get cracking! It’s not dissimilar in this respect to specialist Crowdfunding sites where the project is not begun until a certain level of funding is met. It’s about gauging consumer interest.

leonardoLeonardo is an experienced boot-strapper and can help with this process too. He understands that each and every business is different and has to be treated differently, there is no “machine” for producing successful start-ups, as some accelerators would have us believe, only hard work, focus, and honesty. And, of course, only one measure of success. The marketplace. It’s what keeps Leonardo buzzing, you sense.

Currently there are 15 start-ups on Launch Pad’s books, all with exciting potential, such as Sales Gossip, where you can register interest in an item of clothing or fashion and be automatically informed when it has dropped in price, and Aniboxx, a digital video solutions agency that has completed work for Mother advertising agency, Google and 02.

With new companies coming on board at breakneck speed, LaunchPad Labs has, in the 4 months since it launched, already achieved the 12 month goals it had set itself. The staff are all volunteers and not talking salaries, which, David Hardman points out, has meant “a lot of shopping at Aldi and a lot of noodle soup!” To summarise: it’s lean, it’s not mean, and it’s big on the scene. Or words to that effect.

The best way to get a feel for what LaunchPad Labs does is to attend one of the many events it holds, usually after work hours. Tonight, for example, you can hear from Oxygen Ventures, but if you can’t make it the team aim to put on as many as 6 events a week. So no excuses not to pay them a visit, and maybe even rent some space for yourself.


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