Several activities and events have been organised throughout the duration of WDAqua to provide its Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) training in broad range of technical and non-technical skills. One of these events has been the WDAqua Innovation Week, which took place in London in the first week of September (3rd to 7th) in the offices of one of its partners, the Open Data Institute (ODI).
The ODI organised the event, drawing on its competences and network within the field of tech entrepreneurship to gather a panel of internal and external speakers to provide participants – all of them WDAqua ESRs – with top-quality training and advice about startup and web entrepreneurship and career development. All of the speakers had several years of experience in their respective fields and the ESRs were able to receive tailored about any of the topics covered in the sessions.
Startups were the main topic of days 1 and 2 (3rd and 4th of September). Lisa Ellwood introduced the attendees to the basics of startups – what is a startup, how to get involved, and where to find support. The session included a number of practical activities, which helped students grasp the key concepts related to startups and innovation with more clarity. Following Lisa’s sessions, Alessia Camera guided the attendees through the main aspects of one of the must-haves for setting up a statup: an idea. What is a startup idea? How can it be developed? How can be effectively presented to convey its core message to an audience? These were amonmg the questions covered by Alessia. During the sessions, the participants developed their own startup ideas and used to they had learned to prepare a presentation.
A practical session, run by Lisa Ellwood and Alessandro Piscopo, kicked off the second day: after a description of the main features of the Lean Canvas Model, the ESRs used it to develop the ideas developed in day 1. The second session was held by Ryan Goodman, who first provided an overview of the language used with respect to funding and investment and then described various startup funding opportunities.
Following, the participants got a first taste of career development training, with Andreas Both giving a talk about pursuing a career in industry after a PhD. He provided participants with practical advice and examples from his own professional experience. A competition closed the day: the ESRs had to put in practice what they had learned in the first two days, continuing the development of their startup ideas using the Lean Model Canvas, describing the funding options and their revenue plans, and pitching that to three judges, Jeni Tennison, Louise Burke, and Andreas Both. All the ideas had an ethical focus, to some extent. Laura and Lucie’s project was called Talking drugs. Its aim was to support pharmacies in assisting foreigners, bridging the language barrier to understand their symptoms, prescribe the right medicine, and give them accurate instructions on how to take it. The solution they devised was to automatically generate text from structured data, especially in underserved languages. fairbuy was the project presented by Alessandro and José and focused on helping consumers and retailers to understand the ethical implication of their purchases. Other projects aimed at helping reduce plastic waste in organisations (Emilia and Kemele) or at supporting people suffering from insomnia (Niousha and Denis). The competition was tough but the judges eventually awarded the prize to Laura and Emilia, for the clarity of their presentation, the originality of their idea, and the soundness of their business plan.
The third day was entirely dedicated to social events, to foster bonding between participants. In the morning, they went to Bletchley Park, the place where the codebreakers, such as Alan Turing and Bill Tutte, worked during World War II to decipher the Enigma code. The exhibition is laid out across a large park and a number of huts, where the work and daily life of the codebreakers took place. In the evening, the WDAqua people could improve a skill probably neglected during their PhDs: cooking! Everybody took part in a cookery class, where they were guided by expert staff to prepare their dinner, learning various techniques.
The last two days of the Innovation Week focused on career development. Rob Nathan held the morning sessions on the 6th, carrying out different activities with the participants to help them consider which career option may be more suitable to their personality and interests. The remaining sessions were run by Michelle Prescott, who touched on several themes. In particular, she discussed with participants what it means to be an employee, providing guidance for a healthy work/life balance. She also provided advice on how to be a team manager and deal with the challenges deriving from managing equality and performance. In the last part of the last day, she outlined the best strategies to apply for a position and tailor a CV for it, giving the opportunities to those who desired it to have 1:1 coaching sessions at the end of the day.
WDAqua will draw to a close at the end of this year, but this was not the last event of the project. All the ESRs and advisors are looking forward to meet again at the final event in Hannover on the 13th and 14th of December.