The Next Big Thing?: Pitching for MassChallenge UK

We at Access Solicitor just completed our MassChallenge UK pitch yesterday, and they asked us to say something about the experience. Not a problem I said, since the experience was great.

It all started with an email from Hailey in the middle of March. She said she’d seen Access Solicitor on Angel List and would we like to apply because they were looking for high quality UK start-ups to join their accelerator. Feeling flattered, I remembered I’d not updated our info on Angel List for about 12 months. Some quick research showed that MassChallenge was new to the UK, which made me feel less bad about not knowing about them. My research also told me that a good friend who launched Mopp! and went on to a multi-million pound exit within 24 months was an alumnus. I got in touch with my mate to learn more, and it turned out the alumni were actually my friend’s acquirers, Handy, who went through MassChallenge Boston in 2012 and by 2015 were raising 10 million dollar rounds. Not a bad story I thought!

Having been through quite a few angel network pitches during 2014, I knew by now that you have to do anything possible to stand out. MassChallenge UK ran plenty of info sessions, which I genuinely couldn’t attend, but even if I could I would have still made the excuse to speak to someone directly. My follow-up conversation with Justin, the Entrepreneurship Manager, happened within a matter of days and was memorable for both of us because he was travelling and the call dropped at least a half dozen times — something I could later remind him of when we eventually met.

The online application was pretty simple, and the questions pretty standard. The one thing that was different was the focus on “impact”. Unlike other accelerators which invest money up front for equity and a clear goal to accelerate for a financial return, it was immediately apparent that MassChallenge UK’s charitable status influenced its focus. They still want their alumni to be massive financial successes (and Handy is proof of that), but by paying prize money without taking equity as a competition, they have unshackled themselves to fully consider non-financial impact as well. I hoped that this would play well for Access Solicitor and our aim to improve access to justice.

A month later we got the good news that we were through to the semi-final pitches, and I attended the Round 2 pitch practice session to meet the MassChallenge UK people I’d spoken to earlier, and also because familiarity with the pitch format is critical. We learned this the hard way when as a Seedcamp finalist our pitch was completely (and justifiably) ripped apart. After the info session we got feedback from the three Round 1 judges (1 very positive, 1 positive and 1 quite negative), reminding us of the precarious and often random nature of early stage business application processes.

The pitch itself, at 20 minutes, is the longest we’d done (MassChallenge UK recommends 10 minutes to pitch and 10 minutes for Q&A), however I think it works great. It made the pitch experience less prone to misunderstandings that happen with less time, and enabled all six judges to really engage. The use of a “proctor” to manage the pitch process will forever reminded me of university exams and also the charm of the different use of language between the UK and US. That the pitching day wrapped up with a few drinks for the judges and applicants was a nice touch as well.

Throughout the whole process the timetable was clear, and the MassChallenge UK team were incredibly helpful and friendly. The judges list was an A to Z of amazing people, from whom those selected will get mentoring. The transition of the Boston formula to London is a resounding success, and we’re feeling positive. Hopefully next week we’ll be joining the first cohort of like-minded and driven entrepreneurs to take our business to the next level with MassChallenge UK.