Tuesday, 10 March 2015

10 Things I Learned at the BT Business Bootcamp 2015

1.   Acronyms

It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that those in the corporate world use a lot of acronyms, but they drop them into conversation with alarming regularity. Like, when this guy who’d just retired early from Microsoft (he was awesome) came to talk to us, he said he was CIO – Chief Information Officer – for Microsoft in EMEA. We learned EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) either from him or another guest speaker, but it was super confusing at first. His job was impressive, though. There were lots of other linguistic tricks, like the four P’s and the stages of team development (the cringily named forming-storming-norming-performing-transforming/adjourning). My team in particular learned CSR (Corporate-Social Responsibility), which one particular guy in our team just kept calling Corporate-Social Relations, with variations on the theme.

2.   Geographical Trickery

    There were only two people from Dublin with absolutely no one from Synge Street or Kinsale (who wiped the boards, as usual). I suspect some geographical trickery in choosing participants, because it was just too evenly spread to be coincidence. Rachael and I both won big prizes (hers significantly bigger than mine), but so did Conor Begley, another Louth project, and his wasn’t there. It was weird. The room mates were (I think) done by county.

3.   Culchies

As it turned out, there were a ton of culchies at Bootcamp. Probably due to the geographical trickery mentioned above. There was a huge range of accents, with some of them definitely hard to understand. Everyone found Limerick Emily’s very amusing, especially when she said “black hat”. All the culchies would just be there talking about their land. Strange experience, even for someone whose street doesn’t have a name.

4.   Nerd Parties?

That question mark up there is because I’m still trying to make up my mind. In Bootcamp, our #gaffparties consisted mainly of drinking and making tea (not in that order), Irish dancing, Conor lilting and of course the dramatic reading of 50 Shades, because no party is complete without people making fun of that book. So you could say that’s just how tame nerds are, but I really think it was the culchie influence because in my other big nerd gathering (CTYI) isn’t like that at all. So all I’m going to say to round out this entry is not to take The Big Bang Theory as your source for nerd culture and social interaction.

5.   Pitching & Communication Skills

Here I hear John/Caroline/Mari breathe a sigh of relief, because I’m actually talking about stuff we were sent there to learn. I did undeniably learn a whole lot about pitching and communicating effectively. On our very first real day, we had to have someone in our group pitching within about an hour of our arrival at UCD Nova. For us, that someone was Kate, and she blew it out of the water, surprising everyone. Not so surprising that she won Best Individual. But we all had to do it, and I think/hope I had to pitch in that room at least twice, plus all the other times that were more/less scripted (on one extreme we were given 30 seconds to come up with an infomercial, on another there was the official pitch where we had days to write and memorize it).

We also had a dedicated talk on the Thursday from Newstalk presenter Jonathan McRae, who taught us about effective science communication. The Microsoft guy spoke really well so we learned indirectly from that, as did Rhona. Daniel and James were also really cool.

6.   Stories of Those Who Came Before Us

So, one of my favourite parts of the Bootcamp was the talks (I’m concerned by the grammar in that sentence). I’ve mentioned my favourite speakers above, but it was also cool to see someone from Intellectual Ventures, because we could talk afterwards (she confirmed what MOR had said, that I needed an ESTA rather than a VISA. Phew).

I think I need to go on a bit more about Rhona from Restored Hearing, because she was just so awesome. She basically took us from the inception of her and her partner’s Young Scientist project to the current day, with production runs about to start in factories in China. In the intermediate years, they got help from their county board, her partner managed to get a clinical trial done for free as part of her Masters, an angel investor gave them €30,000 (!) and they made a new product to go along with their tinnitus cure (a prevention method). It was actually really inspiring to hear the passion in her voice about helping people with tinnitus, and also she just looked really cool standing there beside the podium with her coffee. That was a common factor with a few of the speakers, actually.

Rhona told us that it was absolutely necessary to have a co-founder or you’ll go insane, but choose them carefully because you’re essentially marrying them. Same with angel investors. She also advised delegation, reminding us that being an innovator/inventor is in fact a role in itself.

7.   Propaganda

We got blasted with a ton of propaganda at Bootcamp, mainly for BT and UCD. I can’t say it was unexpected; at the Exhibition you’re drowned in a sea of BT advertising (like on every single page of the Exhibition Guide), so we were already used to it. We saw that video of Émer Hickey talking about BT twice during bootcamp and more times during the Exhibition. It’s a nice video, apart from the ridiculously high-pitched whistling and allll the blatant advertising. Still, BT do fund and organise the Exhibition so they can get away with a lot.

The UCD advertising worked too, to a point. We had a talk from Prof. Orla Feeley about UCD to kick off the Bootcamp, which was sometimes interesting but mainly standard. Orla is cool, although I don’t think we’re on a first-names basis. It was interesting to see that a UCD researcher wrote one of the top 10 most cited papers worldwide, and that UCD ranks highly for producing venture-backed entrepreneurs. Also, the big UCD science building is gorgeous. 

We also had other propaganda/ads thrown at us, like that video about Intellectual Ventures. Still, propaganda is entertaining, and I like to think that those there have the mental faculties to compartmentalize the entertainment and the truth. I bet I’m misusing the word compartmentalize, but who cares? Not me.

8.   Inventions/IP/Venture Capitalists

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room where so many sixteen-year-olds were in the process of getting patents, nor will I probably be again. It’s not really a usual thing to do. Anyway, we had a talk specifically about patents from Mary-Lou of IV (Intellectual Ventures), plus other people mentioned it a lot (IP is another term we got familiar with, though I already was). Rhona mentioned angel investors and other venture capitalists. It was interesting, though seems intimidating.

9.   People are Obliging …

If all or any of the speakers were paid to be there with us, I haven’t heard anything of it. So they took time out to plan their speeches and to come and give them, to talk to a bunch of schoolkids when they’re all super successful. I do feel privileged, even though I know I worked to get there.

The experts, too – on the Wednesday, each group has an expert or two in fields relevant to their project come in to talk to them. Our experts were two engineers who were now doing business MBAs in UCD, Enda and Peter. They were involved in some other business for kids thing and were contacted about Bootcamp. So it turned out they’d been briefed on the project, and they actually had parts of the brief highlighted. It was adorable. I mean, I know all these people are only decent humans, but they still have obligations and yet they chose to come to us.

So thank you, everyone. You’re admirable.
10.                 …But BT is Also Powerful

Help, it appears the propaganda has got to me! Feel free to insert “organisers of the Business Bootcamp” “Board of the Young Scientist Exhibition” or “humanoid Zorbs from the planet Yog who pay for Elle’s stuff” everywhere I say BT in this entry if it helps rid the stench of corporatism.

So anyway. I think the YS has a prize fund of approximately 70K (though I could be way off), and I don’t know if that’s funding Bootcamp, but wherever the money is coming from, there’s definitely a lot of it. They paid for four-night hotel stays for 29 students plus BT staff, as well as all our food, taxis for us and for our luggage, and tons of other miscellaneous stuff too, like timetables and goodie bags.

They also have the connections to find and approach all these talented people to teach, mentor and speak to us, which is pretty damn impressive.

Bringing it all together? Sure. Inspiring ambition? Definitely.

And there you have it - a selection of the things I learned at bootcamp. 

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