Interview: Startup Wales organiser Rich Woolley

In light of the launch of Startup Wales – a competition for Welsh start-ups due to take place in Cardiff this October – we speak to its founder and lead organiser, Rich Woolley.

TD: Can you tell us a little more about yourself and Startup Wales, please?

RW: I’m the founder of an app called Paperclip and head of the venture lab at a New York-based hedge fund vlab.ventures. We have a number of exciting projects in the pipeline for the remainder of 2015, and we’re always looking to kick off new projects with enthusiastic co-founders.

StartupWales is Wales’ first government-backed, national start-up competition, and we’d like to make it an annual occurrence, attracting talent from all over Wales to facilitate and accelerate the start-up process in a friendly and collaborative environment.

TD: Why (and when) did you decide you wanted to set up a Welsh start-up competition?

RW: I’ve been spending more time in Wales as I look to relocate my business, Paperclip, here. I was born and raised in Penarth, but I’ve been living in London for the past 5 years, so the first thing I did upon moving back was survey the Cardiff start-up landscape and meet with the likes of DevOpsGuys and Neil Cocker from Cardiff Start for help with scaling and promoting Paperclip when it launches.

I quickly realised that Cardiff (and indeed, the rest of Wales) is brimming with a young and creative pool of talent, and when combined with the Welsh Government’s appetite for entrepreneurial endeavours, there was certainly scope for bringing an event of this nature to Wales.

I founded Paperclip after pitching it at London Startup Weekend last year and achieving second place. Beforehand, I didn’t really know what to expect from that event, and it took a few beers to get me up on stage initially. However, the benefits of attending the competition have been massive; it gave me idea validation and the confidence to proceed along with a network of talent to help me get where I want to be, which I personally found to be major inhibitors in the past.

I want to impart those same benefits to Wales; I want Welsh people with good ideas to have the confidence and support to follow them through.

TD: What have you been doing to get it up and running?

RW: The first thing I did was ask Neil Cocker from Cardiff Start whether he liked the idea. He did, so I emailed the Welsh Government. They put me in touch with a number of different people (and even took me to the Ashes last week, which was nice!).

From the Cardiff Start Facebook group, I was fortunate enough to get meet with some really great people from the Cardiff tech scene, such as Steve Dimmick (dimmicks, smalljoys.co), Francesca Russell (FreshlyMadeContent.com), and many more who have been incredibly forthcoming in getting the event off the ground.

It has been good fun organising the event because I’ve also been able to bring in friends and others I’ve met; my friends Georgina Campbell Flatter (who runs the Regional Entrepreneurship programme at MIT) and Ralph Chiti (Google) are more than happy to get involved.

I’ve even messaged David Buttress (the Cardiff-born CEO of Just-Eat.co.uk) and will be getting in touch with a number of Welsh success stories in the coming weeks as I look to populate our inspirational ‘power hour’ part of the event where Welsh CEOs and Founders from various stages of their product lifecycles can share their experiences.

TD: Why do you think start-ups are so important in Wales?

RW: There is an enormous pool of talent in Wales, and startups can help provide the direction and support needed to nurture that talent. The de-centralised nature of modern startups makes it possible to rejuvenate some parts of Wales that don’t traditionally offer such opportunities locally; we could have the next Google, Amazon or Facebook founder in the valleys, but they might not have been given the motivation or opportunity to ignite the process yet.

Establishing just one of those types of startups in Wales would provide a range of economic benefits capable of rejuvenating entire Welsh counties both in the near term (job creation, the circular flow of income and such) and further down the line (knowledge and technology skills transfer, positive social change, and clustering to name just a few).

TD: How will the competition benefit them?

The talent, infrastructure and support are present in Wales, so there is relatively little in the way of start-ups forming and proceeding, asides from perhaps the confidence to take the first step, or the opportunity to get started.

Startup Wales intends to give Welsh talent a chance to get together and produce something. It’s not just about the competition; there’ll be plenty of guest speakers and experienced entrepreneurs to learn something from and other likeminded individuals to network and collaborate with.

On the Friday night, we’ll get a bunch of developers, designers and entrepreneurs in a room, get them boozed up (optional) and see what happens.

TD: What will they have to do when it takes place?

RW: Asides from simply showing up on the Friday night, all attendees will be able to pitch an idea in 60 seconds (if they want to) and vote for the pitches that they would like to be part of.

Once the votes are tallied, the top 10 to 20 pitches will be announced and may then proceed to the main competition. There’ll be a brief interlude where attendees can chat to the winning pitches and teams can be formed.

If attendees don’t like the ideas on offer, or their own ideas don’t get voted into the main competition, they may review a few of our own proprietary project briefs. The project briefs will be for exciting pipeline projects from our venture lab that haven’t been actioned yet and will also contain an indicative team size and skillset.

If you can team up with other attendees to form your own ‘dream team’ that fits the resource requirements, we’ll give you a more in-depth brief and get you started on producing an MVP, business case, and overall growth strategy over the course of the weekend. If you nail it, we’ll invite you to co-found the venture with your new team in collaboration with our venture lab.

Contestants have until Sunday night to produce their deliverables for both the main and co-founder competitions. During the Saturday, there’ll be a number of Welsh CEOs and founders presenting and workshops held in various areas from application development to mobile marketing – so there really is something for everyone!

TD: What does the future hold for you and the competition?

RW: For me personally, I’m excited for the rest of 2015. There are a number of exciting projects (about 6!) I’m involved that’ll start to launch as of September. The first of these, Paperclip, will be continuously refined throughout the summer, so every week there are big adjustments being made to it to complete the product in time for our full launch in September. Others to look out for include SportDraftr – a one day fantasy football league.

This week, I have investor meetings, a presentation for Product Hunt Cardiff and filming for The Money Pit, a crowd-funding TV show coming to Dave. No idea what next week entails, probably a load of admin at the very minimum!

For Startup Wales, I want to make the competition an annual occurrence, a staple of the Welsh tech scene that people look forward to each year as a launchpad for their ideas. It might sound a tad optimistic, but I want a billion pound Welsh enterprise to look back in 10 years and say “Startup Wales is where it all began”.