Venture Up: Inside week three of NZ’s youth entrepreneurship accelerator

For the first time in my life, I can proudly say I do not think I can make it through the day at full speed without a coffee, and Wellington’s reputation for having more cafes per capita than New York is definitely coming in handy.

Three weeks in, Venture Up has bred a new generation of caffeinated entrepreneurs, and we’re loving every second of it.

I come from a coastal city where people are more fond of hitting the beach than hitting the books. However, I’ve always been a misfit – actually craving productivity – and Venture Up has provided an environment where like-minded 16-24 year olds have come together to spend six weeks of their summer holiday working on businesses, building teams and making connections. At Venture Up ambition is the most sought after resource, and motivation is the new black.

The Venture Up cohort has come from all over the country to participate in a six week youth entrepreneurship accelerator in Wellington. The programme involves founding and designing our own start-ups in teams of three to six, with the help of intensive mentoring to guide us along the way. In the sixth week each team will be presenting their progress at a final showcase to sponsors, investors, big business and the startup ecosystem.

What’s involved?

Right from the get-go the programme was full on. After a morning of going through the necessities, we were thrown into the deep end, with everyone pitching an idea for a start-up, hoping to attract their peers to form teams. We were provided a canvas for us to throw our random splashes of innovation at and hope they’d stick. After a chaotic afternoon, eight teams of various sizes had formed from the 38 of us - around eight ideas - and suddenly we were all founders.

I joined a team of five based around an idea to launch a peer to peer delivery service. We are now called Relay and you can find our website (which we launched today) at https://relayapp.nz/.

This was just the beginning. Adapting to new people is messy, but strong relationships formed quickly; with some of us even feeling like we’re two halves of one brain. Most of us came into this straight from our summer vacations, and adjusting to the rhythms of the daily grind hit us hard. We’re lucky the reality of business isn’t as taxing as the Wolf of Wall Street suggests. Based off that you’d think our lives would be full of ambulances, rides in police cars and stays in the hospital alongside long days filled with big numbers, when we’re actually just a bunch of young people trying to work out what MVP and due diligence mean and building projects we love (while daydreaming of our beds).

The past three weeks has been a whirlwind of learning. Learning from speakers. Learning from mentors. Most importantly, learning from failure. Failure is a word that tends to hang around any entrepreneurship oriented project, often found alongside ‘resilience’, ‘adaptability’ and ‘I’m going to go take a quick power nap’. One of the first people to bring this up was Claudia Batton, who quickly made us realise failure was crucial to success. Fail fast and try something new is a methodology many of us have adopted. ‘0 days since pivot’ is proudly displayed in our workspace. The assumptions you’ve made about your market aren’t always accurate, so follow Nike’s advice; “Just do it”. Fail. Move on.

Our days are packed with talks from speakers just like Claudia Batten, who aim to make us consider new business concepts we’ve never heard of and apply it to our own developing start ups. They’re continuously generous with their time (and patience), even offering up their emails to us to stay in touch should we need to.

Breaking out of the office

Field trips have been a crucial component of our journey. 8i, TradeMe, Xero and StarNow have been hosts of our large group so far, and all given us the lowdown of their different paths to success. We had the chance to explore their territory and have a chat with some staff, jumping at every opportunity to network and share our own journeys.

As each of the eight teams has their own mentor to act as a guide through the challenging start-up process, this theme has continued as they are introduced to their mentors spaces. Relay’s mentor is Matt Innes from Strategy Design & Advertising and walking down to have a meeting at his office is now a regular occurrence.

Being exposed to the workplaces and cultures of functioning companies has been crucial to the development of our own environments. This includes frantically naming and claiming plants, drawing all over the windows and sticking up our Kanban boards for all to see.

As for outside of the programme…well…we are young adults after all. Between desperately trying to get enough sleep, bonding with Brigit the food lady at the hall of residence we are currently calling home and trekking across Jimmy’s Bridge to the cheaper New World, the inside jokes are stacking up. The bonds aren’t there just as business partners. We leave our doors unlocked because we trust everyone here explicitly. When someone supplies food late at night, we worship them. We shout each other coins for laundry without keeping track even though we’re poor students and money is tight. We even trust each other to dye our hair (even though, to be fair, that was probably a bad idea). Most importantly, we definitely don’t trust each other when playing Mafia, and some friendships are bound to be ruined (temporarily) playing Monopoly - signs of true bonding.  Even though some of us may be craving a little taste of home, particularly those from down south, we soon get caught up in whatever’s happening, because there is always something happening at Venture Up.

During one of our many talks we were asked to note down some measurable goals for our teams and ourselves. For me, this included having a key moment that changes your perspective. I can proudly say, I have had many more than one of these moments and we only just reached the halfway mark.

One of these occurred during a talk from Jessica Venning-Bryan (general manager of Flick) where she asked us to write a six word story representing our lives. I thought it would be fitting to include what I came up with to spur you to think about how you can define your entire personal story in six words.

“I was disrupted; now I disrupt.”

On an appreciative note – big shout out to Nick Churchouse (creator, father-figure, protector of Boulcott), Oliviah Theyers-Collins (organiser, not-basic and motivator) and Lingy Au (organiser, camouflage expert and the snapchat guy) who are the reason this opportunity exists for us and I want to thank them for that. We would be lost without you, and probably working minimum wage jobs over summer and hating every second of it.

Venture Up is run by Creative HQ and generously sponsored by The Ministry of Youth Development, Young Enterprise Trust, Wellington City Council, Callaghan Innovation, Lightning Lab and Victoria University of Wellington.